August 01, 2007

Edible East End's Low Summer 2007 Issue is Out

Ls07_cover Just wanted to let everyone know that Edible East End has published its Low Summer 2007 issue recently.

It's one of my favorite local publications and the only one that I find myself reading cover to cover when a new issue comes out.

And, this marks the second vintage of my new EEE column "East End Oenophile." In this issue, I look at some of the first 2005 reds to hit the market and touch on the Italian and Italian-American influence on Long Island wine. I'm working on a larger feature story on that for another publication, so look for it soon.

July 06, 2007

Wolffer Has a Way with Chardonnay

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Chardonnay. It's a grape that makes many wine lovers shudder. I blame the over-oaked, buttery, flabby chardonnays coming out of California. The overly tropical ones coming from Down Under aren't doing us any favors either. I'm talking about barrel fermented chardonnay here, by the way. Gary over at Wine Library TV complains about these wines and the "Oak Monster." And he's right.

There was even a time when I turned my nose up at barrel-fermented chardonnay because so few winemakers seemed to know how to use oak judiciously--as a spice rather than main component.

Local wineries fell into this trap as well, resulting in gawky, disjointed wines that did both the grape and the region a disservice.

But in the wine world, there are always exceptions. I've always found the chardonnays made by Roman Roth at Wolffer Estate Vineyards exceptional in a lake of local chardonnay.

For casual, everyday sipping, I always enjoy Wolffer's La Ferme Martin Chardonnay ($14). The current release, from the 2004 vintage, is fermented mostly in stainless steel, preserving the bright fruit and fresh acidity that this wine is known for. Crisp pear, citrus and just a little minerality are the calling cards here. 15% barrel fermentation lends just the most subtle creaminess on the finish.

For the Wolffer Estate 2003 Reserve Chardonnay ($18), Roth fermented more than 80% of the juice in French oak, but it's not overbearing or heavy handed. The oak monster is around, but he's not in your face. The fruit is still at the forefront here, but it's joined by toasty, nutty aromas and a pear-driven palate is joined by roasted nuts, spicy yeasty notes and a little honeyed citrus on the finish. Malolactic fermentation was only allowed to 80% completion, which brings a liveliness and balances the wine.

Like I said, I used to eschew barrel-fermented chardonnay, but wines like Wolffer Estate's 2003 Estate Selection Chardonnay ($27) are the reason I don't anymore. It's fermented 100% in French oak (20% new) and it is among the best barrel fermented chardonnays around. The nose is toasty, as you'd expect, but ripe peaches and apricots are joined by marshmallows toasted over a bonfire, providing depth and complexity on the nose. Medium-to-full bodied, the stone fruit flavors are rich and mouth-filling with more subtle toasty oak and vanilla play beneath. Perfectly balanced by acidity, there is an intriguing kiwi note on a very lengthy finish.

Roth is the maker of the East Coast's most expensive, luxurious merlot, Wolffer's Premier Cru Merlot ($125). With chardonnay like this one, can a Premier Cru Chardonnay be far behind?

Visit www.wolffer.com for more information or to order.

November 14, 2006

The Thanksgiving Column

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Every wine writer or blogger has to write a wine-pairing column for Thanksgiving dinner. It's a must. It's one of the un-written rules — along with the mandatory New Year's Eve sparkling wine column, which you can expect to see in just a few weeks.

Of course, no two Thanksgiving wine-pairing columns are alike. As it should be, everybody has his or her favorites for the holiday. Sparkling wine, chardonnay, riesling, pinot noir, Beaujolais, syrah, Rioja, sangiovese, zinfandel…the list goes on and on and on. There are as many suggestions as their are wine raconteurs.

Me, I tend to like pinot noir and riesling best. The average Thanksgiving table is covered with a abundance of different foods with varied flavors and textures.

You've got somewhat neutral turkey, highly spiced stuffing — with or without sausage — sweet potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce and rich gravy. Pinot noir and riesling, with their typically food-friendly acidity will cut the richness of the heavier dishes while their fruit flavors will enhance and enliven the other flavors.

For local pinot, look to Jamesport Vineyards, Laurel Lake Vineyards and Castello di Borghese on the North Fork and Wolffer Estate in the Hamptons. If you want riesling, I like Peconic Bay Winery, Waters Crest Winery and Paumanok Vineyards — and a plethora of bottlings from the Finger Lakes and, of course, Germany.

Okay, my wine writerly duties are fulfilled — now let's get down to it. What am I actually planning to serve on Turkey Day?

Nena, Ben Roethlisbeagle and I are heading to Pittsburgh to spend Thanksgiving with my family and its — obviously — my job to bring the wine. My family's doesn't throw me many curveballs — we serve fairly traditional and straightforward fare, with the possible inclusion of 'macaroni' to keep my Sicilian grandmother happy.

Blancdeblanc I always like to introduce la familia to Long Island sparkling wine as an aperitif. This year, I'm taking two — both soon-to-be releases from Martha Clara VineyardsMartha Clara Vineyards 2001 Blanc de Blanc ($N/A) is made with chardonnay grapes and displays a lightly toasty nose with apple, citrus and minerals aromas. Those apple and citrus flavors carry over to the palate with great acidity and a lingering, appetite-whetting finish. It's dry, but not harsh, making it perfect for the beginning of a festive day..

Martha Clara Vineyards 2001 Brut Rose ($N/A) is made with both chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. It's fruitier with cherries and citrus dominating the nose. It's dry too, but softer, and flavors of cherries and raspberries live within a slightly fuller-bodied frame. Rose sparklers are an under-appreciated food foil.

Next, I plan to serve Macari Vineyards' 2006 Early Wine ($15) — a perennial favorite and I think the best edition to date. It features a clean, bright and fresh nose of  crisp apple, pear, lime and subtle minerals. Lively pear, green apple and lime flavors are delivered with terrific acidity and finish that is longer than you might expect. This might be the ideal Thanksgiving wine.

Considering we're going to be in Pennsylvania, I thought I'd also bring a bunch of PA wine for my family to try. Few of the wineries in Western PA making anything I'd write home about, but Chaddsford Winery in the Eastern part of the state is well regarded. So, I'll take a few of their wines that I picked up recently.

At the end of the day, just drink what you like. The "difficulty" in wine pairing is grossly exaggerated. As long as you don't serve cabernet sauvignon with delicate fish or a feather-light white with rustic lamb stew, you'll be fine. But, if you'd like a little help, there's always What to Drink with What You Eat by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, which I wrote about a couple weeks ago

November 06, 2006

A North Fork Gallery Worth Seeking Out

Gallery1 I consider myself fairly sophisticated and cultured, but a trip to an art gallery — and just an art gallery — isn’t necessarily my cup of tea (or glass of wine.) I need a fine meal either before the gallery or after (or maybe both) to entice me.

The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, right?       

But, there’s a new Gallery on the North Fork that I’m willing to visit — and open — any time. In fact, I plan to several times over the course of the next few months.      

Bedell Cellars has just released the newest of its art-inspired wines, the 2005 Bedell Gallery ($45). The press kit lauds this wine as “further evidence that Bedell is perfecting the art of wine.” A bold statement, but not as boastful as it might seem.

This complex, richly textured white is a blend of 52 percent chardonnay, 32 percent sauvignon blanc and 16 percent viognier — a unique blend for the North Fork or most anywhere else for that matter. Five separate lots of chardonnay were barrel fermented in French oak with primarily native yeast, then blended with viognier and sauvignon blanc. I tend to like Bedell’s chardonnays and used to love founding winemaker Kip Bedell’s varietal Viognier bottling, so this blend was intriguing even before I popped the cork.

Pale straw yellow in the glass, the aromas immediately rise up from the glass — before swirling even begins — with lemons, vanilla bean, toasty marshmallow and oak, minerals and subtle baking spice come together in a layered-yet-fresh nose. The blend is absolutely seamless on the palate, with the three varieties coming together without any rough edges. The result is an elegant, well-balanced wine that is nimble on the palate but extremely flavorful. Citrus, vanilla and mineral flavors fill the mouth and just the right acidity brings balance and potential longevity. Balance is truly on display here.

In a wine world where so many emerging regions look to classic regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy for wines to model their own after, this wine stands alone as distinctively Long Island. The winemaking team at Bedell Cellars has used thoughtful blending to create an outstanding wine that fully displays, and I think explores, the potential for white wines on the North Fork.

Perfecting the art of wine? Maybe. But this wine is exciting because it shows off our region’s terroir in a beautiful way — both the wine and the label, which was designed by globally renowned artist Ross Bleckner.

They only made 200 cases, so I doubt it will last long. Visit their tasting room or www.bedellcellars.com for more information and to order.

November 02, 2006

2003 Releases from Sherwood House Vineyards

Sherwood_1 2003 wasn’t a great vintage for Long Island wines — and many of the wines I’ve tasted from the vintage support that statement. Many, particularly the reds, tend to be under ripe and lacking flavor.

The whole growing season wasn’t sub-par, but one of the most important parts was.

After a perfectly fine spring and summer, untimely rain and then two October frosts did the vintage in. Basically, frost kills the vines’ canopy, stopping photosynthesis and keeping the grapes from getting fully ripe. You can talk about “hang time” (on the vine) all you want, but without the sugar factory, the grapes won’t develop any further.

Some vineyards dodged the frost — either both or the first, more detrimental one — and there are good wines to be had from 2003. Sherwood House Vineyards, one of my favorite small producers, has recently released its 2003 merlot and chardonnay, and it seems they’ve done okay with the down vintage.

Owned and operated by Charles and Barbara Smithen, Sherwood House Vineyards — and their little tasting room — located north of Route 48 on Elijah’s Lane in Mattituck, share a passion for the East End that comes through in the wines.

They purchased their 1860 farmhouse in 1996 and planted their vines soon after. In 1999, after selling their grapes to other wineries for a few years, they decided to make their own wine. Since then, they’ve focused mostly on Merlot and Chardonnay, while also bottling some Cabernet Franc. Their 2001 Chardonnay was and is one of the best examples of Long Island chardonnay made in a rich Burgundian style, and their Merlots always display the North Fork’s terroir under the watchful eye of winemaker Gilles Martin, who also makes wine at Martha Clara Vineyards.

Sherwood House Vineyards 2003 Chardonnay ($20) is a medium gold in the glass. The nose is reminiscent of buttered toffee and caramel corn, with only the most subtle hints of apple and citrus beneath. Medium-to-full bodied, it’s not as elegant or fruit-forward as previous vintages and the oak influence is more obvious. Still, there is just enough fruit for balance and subtle acidity to keep it from being weighty on the palate. This isn’t the Chardonnay style I typically favor, but if rich, barrel fermented Chardonnay is your thing, you’ll like this one.

Much more to my liking is the Sherwood House Vineyards 2003 Merlot ($24). Juicy medium garnet, this wine’s nose is straightforward with black cherries, blackberries and light smoky oak. This is a very Old World-style wine with a rustic edge that is charming even if the nuance and grace of a typical Sherwood House merlot is a bit absent. It’s not complex, but French oak influence, cherry-blackberry flavors and a medium-long finish are tasty nonetheless.

Stop by that tiny tasting room nestled among their vines. It’s not a big room, but the wines are well worth the trip off of the main drag and down the gravel driveway. If you get lucky, you’ll see the Smithen’s poodles, Rufus and Raven, who act as unofficial greeters and tasting room workers.

(This story appeared in the 10/27 issue of Dan's Papers)

June 29, 2006

Chardonnay Shines and a Sparkler -- err Sparkles -- at Lenz Winery

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For years, The Lenz Winery in Peconic has been one of the North Fork’s most respected and successful producers. Together, vineyard manager Sam McCullough and winemaker Eric Fry comprise one of the East End’s most experienced duos. Their experience and familiarity with North Fork growing conditions and fruit results in some of the area’s best wines — wines that the Wine Spectator was insane not to include in its recent New York-themed issue.

You’ve no doubt read about Fry’s merlot and how it rivals Bordeaux’s best at a fraction of the price in professional blind tastings. Those wines are well regarded for a reason — one needs only to taste them to understand. But, Fry is more than a merlot maestro.

He’s the baron of bubbly and his talent is responsible for many of Long Island’s best sparkling wines, both at Lenz and at other wineries.

The Lenz Winery 1994 Cuvee RD ($50) is a well-aged combination of pinot noir and chardonnay that is well worth the price. RD stands for recently disgorged. Disgorgement, degorgement in French, is the part sparkling wine making that involves releasing the cork to let out a small amount of wine that contains sediment and then topping off the bottle with wine and a new cork. Fry believes that RD wines should be enjoyed soon after this process — just as beer is best when fresh. Rich, expressive and funky (in a good way), the nose is toasty, yeasty and nutty with underlying apple-pear character. The palate features flavors that closely match the aromas, with medium body, vibrant acidity and a refreshing, apple-y finish. Too often, sparkling wine is thought of only on New Years Eve and for wedding toasts — which is a shame. Sparkling wine is perfect with a wine array of foods and this upscale bottling is deserving of a place at your dinner table.

Fry also does nice things with gewüürztraminer, the spicy, floral grape of Alsace. The last two releases have been nothing short of delicious, but Lenz Winery’s 2004 Gewurztraminer ($20) seems a little less intense. Floral and somewhat spicy on an austere nose, the palate is a bit flat compared to the 2003. Some light, citrusy pineapple flavors come through with a little ginger spice, but the balance seems a bit off to me.

Fry’s chardonnay program is another that sometimes gets lost in the mélange of merlot tastings. The Lenz Winery 2004 Gold Label Chardonnay ($20) is a example of chardonnay with significant, but not over-done, oak influence. Medium gold in the glass, the nose is reminiscent of honey-roasted pears with some toast and butter hints as well. Balance is important in every wine, but more so with chardonnay than some — it’s easy to over-oak chardonnay’s fruit flavors. This wine may have a bit more oak character than I prefer, but the balance is still there. The texture is somewhat creamy and medium bodied with subtle acidity. Apple and pear flavors peek through toasty oak and dried fruit flavors — particularly on a persistent finish.

For just five dollars more, I can’t recommend the Lenz Winery 2004 “Old Vines” Chardonnay ($25) enough. “Old vines” is a term without official meaning (much like “reserve”) but the grapes that go into this wine are from some of the oldest chardonnay vines on Long Island. An elegant, but intense nose offers fresh apples and pear with subtle oak and vanilla accents. Clean chardonnay fruit flavors are balanced extremely well with delicate oak undertones and nice acidity on the finish. This is an example of what East Coast chardonnay can be and what West Coast chardonnay is not. California winemakers wish they could make this stylish wine.

June 03, 2006

Wines Made With Care at Macari

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Do you know the name Paola Valverde? Probably not — but you should.

In a wine region dominated by well-known, pseudo-star winemakers — the Chilean-born Valverde deserves much more attention than she does for the work she's doing at Macari Vineyards. Yet, she flies under the radar perhaps more than any other local winemaker.

But, anonymity aside, her wines speak for themselves. And some of them speak quite loudly.

Macari has long produced one of my favorite roses, and the Macari Vineyards 2005 Rose ($12), which will be released in a couple weeks, continues that pedigree. A pretty salmon-orange-pink, its nose is lightly fruity — watermelons and ripe strawberries — with just a little wet stone. The palate is medium-light with fresh acidity and flavors that mirror the aromas with a hint of lime zest on a crisp, mouth-watering finish. Many 2005 roses are over-extracted and somewhat hefty, but this one avoids those pitfalls. Long Island rose at its finest.

Macari produces two different chardonnays (actually three if you count their nouveau-style chardonnay named "Early Wine") and both prove that Macari "gets it" when it comes to this common variety.

Macari Vineyards 2004 Estate Chardonnay ($15) is a lean, crisp white made 100% in stainless steel tanks. Vigorous swirling coaxes faint citrus and just-ripe pear aromas from the glass. Fresh and clean, the flavors are a little too simple and shallow, but are nicely balanced by acidity and minerality. A tart, kiwi-flavored finish is a highlight.

Much more "serious" and ambitious, Macari Vineyards 2003 Reserve Chardonnay ($25) skillfully walks the line between fruit and oak, offering the best of both. The nose is redolent of a toffee apple sprinkled with cinnamon spice. Creamy, but surprisingly light on the palate, this is one of the better barrel-fermented chardonnays on the North Fork. Its flavors are layered and complex — ripe and baked apple, butterscotch, vanilla, faint peach, baking spice — and the finish lingers with an alluring spice note at the end. The oak influence is obvious, but far from overdone. Make sure you don't over-chill this wine. Doing so will deaden the flavors and erase the nuances.

2005 has already proven to be a banner vintage in North Fork sauvignon blanc, largely because of its warm, dry growing season. Released this weekend, Macari Vineyards 2005 Sauvignon Blanc ($16) can stand proudly next to best. The nose is perhaps the most herbaceous-grassy around with lemon, grapefruit and stony accents. It's medium bodied and the grassiness isn't as overpowering on the palate, with lemon and grapefruit flavors taking center stage. Tantalizing acidity brings great balance and food friendliness. This wine manages to be juicy but delicate at the same time. Macari's other winemaker, Austria-native Helmut Gangl, made this wine with Valaverde.

Long Island actually has two female winemakers, not just one (Theresa Dilworth of Comtesse Therese) Get acquainted with Paola's wines and learn a bit about her in doing so.

May 31, 2006

Corks of the Forks: Tiny Tasting Room. Titan Taste.

Sherwood3This week in Corks of the Forks, I travel to Sherwood house Vineyards' tiny lil tasting room (pictured at right) in Mattituck.

It might be a small room, but the wines certainly aren't small on flavor. They make some of the best Burgundian-style chardonnay on the North Fork and I like their Old World-style merlot as well.

May 30, 2006

Long Island Winemakers -- What Do They Drink?

Think about your favorite food – roast duck, filet mignon, foie gras – whatever it is. Would you want to eat that food for every meal, day in and day out?

Chances are you wouldn’t, no matter how much you love it.

So it should come as no surprise that winemakers, who often taste dozens of wines every single day, don’t always drink the same wines when they are “off the clock.” In fact, most agree that drinking only their own wine is a bad idea.

We asked several local winemakers and winery owners what they drink when they are away from the winery. The answers are as diverse as the respondents’ backgrounds and goals.

Continue reading "Long Island Winemakers -- What Do They Drink?" »

May 26, 2006

Think You Hate Dessert Wine? These Will Win You Over

Galluccio_04_bariledolce Merlot is clearly the king of Long Island wine. Sometimes it’s the only grape we hear about. It’s the most planted variety and, in the hands of the best winemakers, consistently leads to many of the region’s best wines. But what else is out here on the East End?

Sure, there’s a bay full of chardonnay, made in any number of different styles, and there’s cabernet franc, the often-dismissed variety of Bordeaux. But the wines that too often get lost in the tasting shuffle are the delectable dessert wines. Think you don’t like dessert wines because they are too sweet/heavy/syrupy/high in alcohol? Not so fast. There are world-class dessert wines made right in your backyard that aren’t any of those things. You need only look for them.

And on occasion you really do need to look for them. Because dessert wines can be expensive, up to $50 or more for a 375ml bottle, many wineries don’t pour them in their tasting rooms as part of the usual flight, if at all. But, if you ask, and there is a bottle open behind the tasting bar, you just might get lucky. Most of Long Island’s best after dinner sippers are made in the style of ice wine or Eiswein, a style of wine that originated in 18th century Germany. In traditional Eiswein, grapes are left on the vines until the first deep frost. When wine grapes freeze, the water is trapped as ice, leaving concentrated nectar that is intensely sweet and flavorful. Most Long Island wines aren’t truly ice wines because the grapes are picked when ripe (typically long before they freeze) and then frozen in commercial freezers before being made into wine.

So which wines are Long Island’s best dessert wines?

Continue reading "Think You Hate Dessert Wine? These Will Win You Over" »

May 24, 2006

Corks of the Forks: Three Vintages. Three Styles. One Grape.

Corksoftheforks_final_1 My first column for Hamptons.com's food and wine section was published today: Three Vintages. Three Styles. One Grape.

It highlights what one North Fork winery, Paumanok Vineyards, is doing with their chardonnay program. You are all well aware of my love affair with low-to-no oak chardonnay, but I was reminded of an important lesson with these wines. Oak isn't always a bad thing.

Check it out and visit Hamptons.com every Wednesday to read my column, Corks of the Forks.

May 15, 2006

Summer Sippers from Sagaponack

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It’s not quite beach season yet here on Long Island, but it’s probably on a lot of peoples' minds. And, Wolffer Estate in Sagaponack has released three wines that belong on the beach — and at your next BBQ.

As you have probably noticed, Long Island wine’s “sweet spot” in terms of price-for-quality tends to be in the $20+ realm. Unfortunately, that turns a lot of wine drinkers off (silly, silly people), but one of my favorite wines for less than $15 has long been Wolffer’s simple-but-tasty La Ferme Martin Chardonnay ($14). My first bottle from the newly released 2004 vintage surprised me — the oak influence seemed much more apparent than past vintages — not a good thing in my book. Had one of our favorite summer “house” wines lost its decidedly East Coast style?

Perhaps it was just my palate that day or that individual bottle, but upon opening a second bottle a few days later, my fears were allayed. The nose was fresh with ripe pears and citrus with only a sprinkling of oak inflection. Refreshingly light but ripe, this is a fruit-driven summer sipper with abundant pear and apple flavors accented by a squeeze of lime. For $14 (and you can find it for as little as $10 at some wine shops) this is a great pool- or ocean-side wine that offers nicely balanced fruit and acidity. It also went nicely with the parmesan-sweet pea risotto cakes Nena and I enjoyed last week.

Despite what our friends in California might lead you to believe, rose wines, also known as “blush” in some circles, needn’t (and I’d argue shouldn’t) be sweet and syrupy like their ubiquitous white zinfandel. Wolffer Estate 2005 Rose ($14) is made in a dry style but is sure to appeal to white zin and more serious wine drinkers alike. More salmon-orange than pink, the nose reminds me of fresh picked peaches and red cherries. Made with 48% merlot, 39% chardonnay, 7.8% cabernet franc and 5.2% cabernet sauvignon, it’s fuller on the palate than I prefer, but fine acidity and a gentle zing of CO2 bring balance. Flavors similar to the nose — peach and cherry — are joined by a discernable lime character on the finish that makes this wine a good pair for Caribbean or even lighter Mexican fare. Fish tacos anyone?

If you’re looking for a more serious summer wine to enjoy at your next dinner party, see if you can get your hands on a bottle or two of Wolffer Estate 2005 Pinot Gris ($24). Winemaker Roman Roth only made 253 cases of this delightful white from grapes grown on the North Fork, so get some while it lasts. The fresh nose is redolent of honeydew melon, blanched almonds, lemon zest and flowers. With a slightly glycerin mouthfeel, this wine brings together citrus, melon nutty flavors with excellent acidity and minerality on the finish. Serve this white with grilled fish, pork or pasta with alfredo-walnut sauce.

The pinot gris was the real star here and if it ages anything like the 2004 bottling did, I'd hold onto it for a year or so. I recently drank a bottle of the 2004 and it was much much better with the added year in bottle.

April 28, 2006

LIMA Uncorks Merliance in Manhattan

 

Limamembers On Monday, April 3, the Long Island Merlot Alliance hosted a press and trade preview tasting at Craft restaurant in Manhattan of its first co-produced wine – 2004 Merliance.

Formed last fall by Raphael, Pellegrini Vineyards, Sherwood House Vineyards, Shinn Estate Vineyards and Wolffer Estate Vineyards, the LIMA believes that merlot is Long Island’s signature varietal, and as such has dedicated itself to its advancement and continued quality in our region. In addition to the collaborative production of Merliance every year, the group plans to hold educational programs and sponsor research into exactly why Long Island is so well suited to growing merlot and growing it well year in and year out.

To make 2004 Merliance, which is 100% merlot, each member winery selected the two barrels from their own cellars that they felt best represented their own individual style as well as Long Island’s unique terroir. With ten barrels of merlot, five wineries and five winemakers with differing styles, the LIMA knew that creating a smooth, well-integrated wine would be a challenge, but their hard work shows in the wine itself.

Continue reading "LIMA Uncorks Merliance in Manhattan" »

April 20, 2006

The Gilded Fork's Mother's Day Menu -- With Long Island Wine

Duckmorels_1Today on The Gilded Fork, Chef Mark Tafoya presents a delicious and delectable dinner menu for Mother's Day and I've contributed wine pairings for each course.

Yes, I focused on Long Island wines, but I gave enough direction to help even those unaware of the tasty local wines I love so much.

Of course, if you're reading this post...you're well aware.

Check it out and spoil mom this year.

April 17, 2006

Long Island Sauvignon Blanc: A Quartet of Quenchers

You always hear that Long Island and its wines are reminiscent of Bordeaux and its wines. But when winemakers and winery owners say that, most of the time, they do so to highlight their red wines — those made from merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon.

What about white wines? Chardonnay, the white grape of Burgundy rules the Long Island white wine scene, not Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, the white grapes of Bordeaux. But, while far from ubiquitous, a small number of local producers are doing what I consider great things with white Bordeaux varieties — particularly Sauvignon Blanc.

Two weekends ago,  I sat down in my sun-drenched dining room with four local 2005 Sauvignon Blanc bottlings for what was planned as a “battle of the blancs.” I wanted to find a favorite.

Picking a favorite from these wines is like picking a favorite episode of The Office — they’re all too good to pick just one.

Shinnestate_05firstfruit I started with the 2005 First Fruit ($20) from Shinn Estate Vineyard, the lightest and most refreshing of the lot. Made of 96% Sauvignon Blanc and 4% Semillon, the nose is dominated by citrus scents of grapefruit, lime and chalky minerality. Medium-bodied it offers a burst of ripe fruit flavor — tart lime, grapefruit and apple — accented by somewhat minty and grassy herbal notes, subtle thirst-quenching acidity and a minerally finish that begs for same day fresh scallops and oysters. This is the quintessential seafood wine, and that comes as no surprise given co-owner David Page’s pedigree as a Manhattan chef.

Raphael_2005sauvblancRaphael's 2005 Sauvignon Blanc ($22) is similar in color, but unquestionably different. Winemaker Richard Olsen-Harbich has long lauded Sauvignon Blanc as Long Island’s best white grape and he makes his in a distinctive Long Island style — not quite Old Word, but not quite New Zealand either. The nose offers scents of grapefruit, lemons and minerals and the palate offers similar flavors along with more tropical notes of kiwi and melon, with a slatey finish and even more acidity. I’ve tasted three or four vintages of this wine, and this is Rich’s best to date. 2005 really was a great year, even for whites. All of these wines reinforce that notion.

Channing_2005sauvblanc Every spring, there are a few wines I look forward to and Channing Daughters Winery 2005 Mudd Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($18), made with fruit from 25-year old vines, is one such wine. Winemaker Chris Tracy (another chef) blended 17% Chardonnay (Musque clone) into his Sauvignon Blanc adding appealing nuance and texture to this wine. Still citrusy, this wine is lightly floral on the nose, with fresh spring herbs in the mix as well. The tart acidity of the first two wines is less apparent here without losing any freshness. Complex and flavorful, I taste a wide array of fruit flavors — grapefruit, passion fruit, ripe melon — and 5% fermentation in new Slovenian oak brings subtle sweet spice accents. A stellar bottling and they made enough of it (500+ cases) that you could get your hands on it without being in their wine club. Don’t wait long though — it will still sell out soon.

Jamesport_2005sauvblanc The last of this quartet of thirst-quenchers, Jamesport Vineyards 2005 Sauvignon Blanc ($15) is a diversion from its all or primarily steel fermented brethren. The majority of this slightly darker wine was born in steel, but a more noticeable portion was barrel fermented as well. Once a strong smell of sulfer faded (the result of perhaps a slightly heavy hand during the winemaking process), green apple, grapefruit and vanilla-earthiness waft up from the glass. Much less citrus-driven, winemaker Les Howard has crafted a melony, appley and slightly tropical rendition of Sauvignon Blanc that still refreshing. Earthy and vanilla-honey notes are noticeable on a lengthy finish.

Again, with four wines like these, it’s near-impossible to pick a favorite, so I won’t. I’d recommend any of them — you really can’t go wrong.

(This story appeared in the 4/14 issue of Dan's Papers)

Continue reading "Long Island Sauvignon Blanc: A Quartet of Quenchers" »

April 07, 2006

Restrained, Elegant Upcoming Releases from Sherwood House Vineyards

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From my very first of their richly Burgundian 2001 Chardonnay last summer, I’ve been a Sherwood House Vineyards enthusiast. Owners Charles and Barbara Smithen, along with winemaker Gilles Martin (of Martha Clara Vineyards), share a devotion to graceful, Old World-style wines that really comes through in the bottle.

Next week, Sherwood House Vineyards’ cozy little tasting room will re-open for 2006 and to celebrate, they are releasing three new wines — two from the 2002 vintage and one from 2003. The differences between the 2001 and 2002 growing seasons (2001 was hotter) are apparent, but these 2002 wines are no less charming.

Starting with the 2002 wines, the Sherwood House 2002 Chardonnay ($20) is a striking light gold in the glass. The nose seems less intense than the 2001 but features similar aromas — pear, sweet toasty oak and citrus hints. Medium-full bodied, the texture is somewhat creamy with nicely balanced flavors of pear, toasty marshmallows and oak nuance. I would have liked perhaps a touch more acidity, but this is an extremely stylish Chardonnay that certainly carries on Sherwood House’s white Burgundy tradition. Lobster seems the ideal accompaniment.

Sherwood House Vineyards 2002 Merlot ($24) shows a similar, vintage-related dip in ripeness and concentration, but delivers an enchanting mélange of raspberry, cherry and wet stone on the nose — with nearly identical flavors carrying over in the mouth. This wine is medium bodied, features sultry, super-fine tannins that that give way to a vanilla inflected finish. Winemaker Martin didn’t overdo the oak — an excellent choice. His restraint is the key to this wine's length and overall quality. Pour this wine along side roast turkey or pork dishes.

Stylistically, Long Island Cabernet Franc is all over the map, with seemingly every winery having its own interpretation or style. Some are light and fruity, some are spicier, some are hefty and brooding. Sherwood House Vineyards 2003 ($24), their first Cabernet Franc release, is decidedly less fruity than most local renditions. While a little less aromatic than some Cabernet Franc, its nose presents plums and smoke with a touch of fresh herbs in the mix. Medium-to-light bodied, plum flavors are accented by smoky oak influence and black pepper notes. Though perhaps a little pricey for your next barbeque, this red is a nice pairing to grilled meats.

Sherwood House Vineyard’s tasting room is located north of Route 48 on Elijah’s Lane, and will open April 15. Keep an eye out for Rufus and Raven the Smithen’s vineyard dogs. For more information on Sherwood House Vineyards, visit www.sherwoodhousevineyards.com or call 298-2157.

March 31, 2006

An Early Spring Saturday in Wine Country

Every week, I get emails asking for advice on which wineries to visit or wondering which local wines I’m really enjoying that week. Truthfully, I always find these emails hard to answer because wine tastes are so individual and personal. My tastes may, and probably are, different from yours.

Yes, I love the floral, spicy-citrus zing of Corey Creek’s 2004 Gewürztraminer ($25) but that doesn’t mean you will. (For instance, Nena isn't a big fan.)

So, every time my wife and I visit wine country, we try to take a different path so that we taste different wines and meet different people.

But what’s a “typical” winery jaunt?

Last Saturday, we started at Roanoke Vineyards, where we enjoyed chatting with owner Rich Pisacano and sampling his 2003 reds, which were impressive and invitingly complex. Right now, my favorite is the elegant, aromatic, Cabernet Franc-dominated Blend Two ($36) but his Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) and Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated Blend One ($30) have excellent potential as well. Made by Roman Roth of Wolffer Estate, where Rich is vineyard manager, these wines are drinking well now, but will reward those patient enough to cellar them for another 3-7 years.

It was lunchtime by the time we left Roanoke, and we decided against Farmer Bar (4805 Depot Lane, Cutchogue), our favorite spot for a casual lunch of barbecue, sweet potato fries and fried green tomatoes. Instead, we stopped in at the Piping Plover Cafe & Gourmet Market (53345 Main Road, Southold) for a quick bite. We waited half an hour for two cups of soup and two salads, but my Thai beef salad with sweet chili vinaigrette was delicious and I like any place that uses un-ground beef in its chili. Severely under-ripe tomatoes detracted from our salads, however and should have just been left out.

Properly satiated, we stopped in at Bedell Cellars and its sister tasting room at Corey Creek Vineyards next. The wines were good across the board, as I’ve come to expect from the Bedell team, and I was extremely happy to taste the Bedell Cellars 2001 Reserve Merlot ($30) and Bedell Cellars 2001 Cupola ($30) again. Along with Corey Creek’s gewurtz, they highlighted that leg of our tour.

Heading back up to Route 48, we tasted some delectable olive oil in the foyer at Castello di Borghese before heading into the tasting room. Castello di Borghese’s 2002 Reserve Pinot Noir ($35) is still among the best local renditions, with supreme balance. I also got my first taste of their Hamptons-priced 2001 Private Reserve ($195 per 1.5L magnum). A refined, nuanced and pretty wine, I only wish it were even remotely affordable.

Waterscrest2 To end our early spring Saturday enjoying the North Fork, we attended a launch party at Waters Crest Winery for Waters Crest Winery 2004 Night Watch ($45), a luscious dessert wine made with frozen Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Chardonnay grapes. It is named “Night Watch” because winemaker Jim Waters did just that — watched it all day and night for four full days (without sleep). He’s since recovered from sleep deprivation and the fruit of his labor is a rich, intricate dessert wine that is sweet, but with just the right acidity to keep it from being heavy. Coincidentally, the party was catered by the Piping Plover Café, and the duck quesadillas were outstanding — especially with Jim’s 2003 Cabernet Franc ($30).

(This column originally appeared in the 3/31 issue of Dan's Papers)

Continue reading "An Early Spring Saturday in Wine Country" »

March 24, 2006

Steady Improvement at Vineyard 48

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Late last summer, I got my first taste of Vineyard 48’s first new wines(as opposed to the old Bidwell stock they sold under their label), all not-yet-released whites from the 2004 vintage. The best of the lot was a nicely balanced semi-dry Riesling, but the others seemed either taut and un-yielding, or a disjointed.

A little over six months later, I decided to re-taste a few of the whites along with three newly released 2004 reds — and there is reason to keep an eye on Vineyard 48.

The first of the re-tasted whites, Vineyard 48 2004 Sauvignon Blanc ($14) has a lean nose dominated by grapefruit and lemon zest accented by typical grassiness. It is medium bodied with lemony-citrus flavors and just a touch of minerality. Some of the acidity has faded in the half year since I last tasted it, but it’s still a pleasant, if simple, dry white.

The Vineyard 48 2004 Chardonnay ($15) is fresh and fruity on the nose, offering pear, peach and faint toasty notes. The palate begins with a luscious burst of juicy ripe apple and slightly tropical flavors with a little crisp acidity, with obvious oak aging bringing some toasted oak flavors towards the finish. I could do without the oak, but it’s not offensive or overdone.

Perhaps the most un-balanced wine of my initial tasting was Vineyard 48’s 2004 Reserve Chardonnay ($30). But, the wine has definitely developed with a little bottle aging. Satisfying toasted almonds and grilled pineapple have replaced heavy vanilla and oak aromas, and while oak influence is still substantial, it seems softer and creamier on the palate. The pineapples carry over from the nose and are accented by toasted marshmallows and a long, somewhat crisp finish. Six months ago, I thought the thirty-dollar price tag was a little preposterous, but this wine is starting to come around. I think I like this one.

I love the rich and often pretty aromatics that the Cabernet Franc grape can offer, and Vineyard 48’s 2004 Cabernet Franc ($28) is no different. Beautiful strawberry, red raspberry and anise aromas waft up out of the glass. Unfortunately, the palate isn’t quite as elegant and lovely. The fore palate is aggressive with charred oak and tannins that give way to nice berry flavors and eventually a fine, lengthy finish.

The star of the reds is the Vineyard 48 2004 Vignetta ($25), which is much more approachable and elegant. The nose is complex, mingling tart cherry, cranberry and leather aromas with cinnamon stick and earth dried leaves. Plummy fruit flavors greet the palate with soft, fine oak and tannins and excellent earthiness. This Bordeaux-style blend of fifty-percent Cabernet Franc, thirty-percent Cabernet Sauvignon and twenty-percent Merlot was my favorite wine of this entire tasting.

While many wineries are just now releasing 2002 Merlots, Vineyard 48 has released its 2004 Reserve Merlot ($35) and its youth is hard to miss. Extremely tightly wound, it takes time to coax anything but the faintest aromas of blueberries and earthy damp soil from the wine. The palate is similarly reserved, but does display refined tannins that are ripe and well incorporated. Right now there are just some dusty, earthy flavors and little fruit. I think this wine warrants tasting again in a year or two.

March 17, 2006

What Did We Learn at Lenz?

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As many of you know, last weekend I had the unique chance to blind taste several wines from The Lenz Winery against great (and much more expensive) wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux at an event held for Lenz wine club members.

Lenz is well known for using blind tasting such as this one to advance its standing in the overall wine market. In a 1989 tasting against French heavyweights like La Grande Dame, Chateau Petrus, J. Drouhin, Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche, and Veuve Clicquot tasters were unable to single out the Lenz wines as inferior in quality.

Saturday’s tasting wasn’t nearly as ambitious. Chateau Petrus is insanely expensive and buying it for 25 people would have pushed the $50 per person event fee to “$400 or $500” according to winery owner Peter Carroll. He seemed open to holding such an even, however, if people were interested.

The average price of the Lenz wines tasted was $20 while the French bottles averaged $90. But, this tasting wasn’t just about differences in price. As winemaker Eric Fry put it “This is a beauty contest. Whatever wine you like best is the winner.”

The first flight, dedicated to crisper-style chardonnay, pitted Lenz Winery 2003 White Label Chardonnay ($12) against 2003 Jean Louis Chevy, Puligny-Montrachet ($35). Tasted blind, I chose the Lenz as my favorite because of its nearly flawless balance. By comparison, the Jean Louis Chevy seemed tight, lean and flat.

Flight number two featured Lenz Winery 2001 Silver Label Chardonnay ($15) and 2001 Domain Leflaive Clavoillons, Puligny-Montrachet ($80). Again, I preferred the Lenz wine, by a narrow margin, which again seemed much more balanced while the Burgundy was a little raw in the oak department and lacking fruit.

It is worth noting, however that both chardonnay flights were served a bit too cold. Over-chilled Chardonnay is a pet peeve of mine.

Our next flight featured two cabernet sauvignon-dominated bottlings, Lenz Winery 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) and 2000 Gruaud-Larose, St. Julien ($115). The Lenz was complex, with intense berries, toasty-sweet spices and was almost meaty, with ripe tannins. Very approachable, I thought it was drinking much better than the Gruaud-Larose, which was a bit restrained and high in tannins. Five to ten years from now, when it’s peaking, I expect that I’d prefer it to the Lenz, however.

The last flight of the afternoon put Lenz 2000 Estate Selection Merlot ($23) up against 2000 Figeac, St. Emilion ($105) and 2000 Le Bon Pasteur, Pomerol ($110) in a supposed “Merlot Flight.” Only 30-percent Merlot (with 35-percent Cabernet Franc and 35-percent Cabernet Sauvignon) the Figeac seemed out of place, while the Le Bon Pasteur seemed a bit “off” to me and it may have been slightly corked. It was complex, smoky but extremely tannic and obviously not peaking. Again, the Lenz wine won me over as the most ready to drink today.

The room was a little dark and the flights were rather rushed, but what did we learn?

Never assume that a $100 wine is going to taste better than a $15 bottle — especially when the $100 bottle is a still-young Bordeaux. With substantial tannins, it really wasn’t fair to compare them to the Long Island wines, which are ready now.

We also learned that while Merlot still rules Long Island, our Chardonnay is a real bargain — especially the $12 White Label from Lenz.

As Fry put it, “The definition of a good wine is that you like it,” which means that, for me Lenz Winery makes good wine.

March 15, 2006

"M" Brings Merlot and Malbec to The Modern

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Recently, The Modern, the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) fine dining restaurant started pouring “M” as its house red. Every restaurant has a house red, so what’s the big deal?

Well, The Modern boasts a wine list of over 900 wines, but instead of choosing a wine from France or California as its house red, it stayed much closer to home -- the North Fork of Long Island. Richard Olsen-Harbich, winemaker at Raphael in Peconic, and Stephane Colling, wine director at The Modern, developed “M,” a custom blend of 95% merlot and 5% Malbec from the 2003 vintage.

Colling, a native of the Alsace region of France, is a veteran of two three-star Michelin restaurants (Au Crocodile in Strasbourg and Michel Roux’s The Waterside Inn in Bray, England). When asked why he chose Raphael and Olsen-Harbich to create this wine he said, “I chose Long Island because we are in New York State and I’m not (just) looking for ‘big’ names. I think Long Island has a great potential. I tasted a few wines from Raphael about a year and a half ago before The Modern opened and kind of fell in love with the style of their wines. I saw a great potential in those wines, something different.”

By the glass, “M” sells for $11 and it is $40 per bottle. But, do diners at The Modern turn up their nose at this Long Island wine? “Many are surprised but what is important is what they have in the glass. I sometimes just blind taste them, listen to them and ‘teach’ them a little bit. I don’t like pre-conceived ideas,” he commented. In fact, “M” is now his second most ordered wine by the glass.

In describing the wine to customers, Colling uses “Old World” and told me, “I compare the wine to the right bank of Bordeaux between Pomerol and St Emilion.” High praise indeed, but after tasting the wine myself, not as crazy as it might sound.

The wine is dark crimson with a nice balance between dark berry fruit and toasty-smoky aromas on the nose. The soft, somewhat fruity palate is dominated by merlot, but the 5% malbec is what makes this wine special and reminiscent of Bordeaux. It brings complexity with earthy, tobacco and smoky notes. The tannins are gently gripping on the finish and it’s easy to see this wine along side a wide array of dishes.

There are two important things I look for in any house wine — affordability and versatility — and this wine fits the bill.

Only 300 cases were produced, but Colling hopes to continue The Modern’s relationship with Raphael, even if they “haven’t spoken about it yet.”

(This column appeared in the 3/9 issue of Dan's Papers)

February 10, 2006

Bring on the Steel -- The Chardonnay Shift is On

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Heavy, over-manipulated chardonnay is one of the wine community’s least appealing members, at least in the eyes, and palate, of this wine lover. Wine geeks often label these wines “flabby” but I compare drinking them to sucking on a butter-slathered two by four. And, despite what some sales-minded winemakers will tell you, pairing these wines with food is a crapshoot at best.

Of course, chardonnay is a key chameleon variety, with a seemingly endless array of styles. On one end you have crisp, fruity, acidic chardonnay — those that don’t spend any time in oak barrels during or after the fermentation process. These wines tend to be lighter yellow color and their flavors lean toward green apples and tart citrus with a crisp, clean mouthfeel.

On the opposite end of the style spectrum are chardonnays that look like liquid gold. These wines have been born and raised in oak barrels and have gone through a process called malolactic fermentation — the conversion of malic acid to lactic acid — which gives the wine a fuller, more viscous feel in the mouth. The flavor profile in these wines is also richer, with more baked apple, butterscotch, buttery toast, vanilla and even popcorn.

Continue reading "Bring on the Steel -- The Chardonnay Shift is On" »

WTN: Channing Daughters Winery 2005 Scuttlehole Chardonnay

Cdw_05scutchardCrisp, clean and refreshing, this is a wine for those of you who think you hate chardonnay. Fermented 100% in steel tanks, you won't find any overbearing, heavy-handed oak influence. No...what you get is ripe apple and pear, fresh citrus and hints of minerals on the finish.

This is what chardonnay actually tastes like — and it's delicious.

(This "Vintage of the Week" appeared in the Long Island Press)

February 03, 2006

Some Good Wines, and an Even Better Cause at Martha Clara Vineyards

Mcv_01esrescabsauvAs mentioned right here a couple weeks ago, the 2006 Long Island Wine Country Winter Festival is taking place throughout the month of February. And it should come as no surprise that Martha Clara Vineyards, they of the jam-packed event schedule, is taking part in a big way. Cooking classes, chocolate-making demonstrations and oyster shucking dot the calendar. But one event stands out.

On Friday, February 17, Martha Clara Vineyards is hosting a dinner and auction to benefit Healing the Children – Northeast for a medical mission to Guayaquil, Ecuador, that will provide healthcare and surgery to the poor children of the region. Dinner will include authentic Ecuadorian fare, including locro, a potato soup made with cheese and avocado, chicken in peanut sauce, churrasco barbequed steak, shrimp ceviche, fried yucca, fried plantains and coconut cookies. For just $30 you get dinner, beer, wine and entrance to the auction, which includes items such as dinner for two at Tavern on the Green, tickets to a play in New York City, dinner for 10 at Martha Clara Vineyards, and many more prizes.

Reserve your seats by February 11 by calling 298-0075 ext. 22 or make donations to Healing the Children – Northeast by mailing them to P.O. Box 129, New Milford, CT 06776.

Arrive early and taste some of Martha Clara’s bottlings in their always-busy tasting room. Of their new and current releases, a few stand out and are certainly worth trying.

Continue reading "Some Good Wines, and an Even Better Cause at Martha Clara Vineyards" »

February 01, 2006

WTN: Martha Clara Vineyards NV Brut

Mcv_nvbrutLong Island sparkling wine tends to be a bit pricey, with the best bottles creeping up over the 35-dollar mark (and at least one going higher). At $20, this bubbly made in the traditional method of Champagne by Martha Clara Vineyards offers elegant, refined apple and biscuit aromas and crisp, refreshingly tart apple flavors. New Years Eve is a thing of the past, but this is a sparkler you can, and should, drink year round.

(This "Vintage of the Week" appeared in the Long Island Press)

January 27, 2006

WTN: Laurel Lakes Vineyards New Releases (North Fork of Long Island)

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Despite the warmer-than-usual temperatures we’ve been enjoying lately, this time of year calls out for comfort foods -- especially roasts and stews. They fill our kitchens with warming, alluring aromas and pair wonderfully with hearty local red wines.

Unfortunately, it seems like most of the East End’s recent releases are white wines -- either chardonnays with a couple years of bottle age that are finally ready for release, or fresh, young aromatic whites like riesling or steel-fermented Chardonnay.

Thankfully Laurel Lake Vineyards and winemaker, Claudio Zamorano, have bucked that trend, recently releasing two reds and an ice wine.

The Laurel Lake Vineyards 2001 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($23) represents the lighter, more refined style of Cabernet. Its color falls somewhere between rich ruby and vigorous violet. The nose is a bit underwhelming at first, but opens with some air time, offering light berry and currant aromas and faint hints of sweet vanilla. This wine is medium bodied and a little juicy, with currant and plum flavors dominating a rather one-dimensional flavor profile. The tannins are soft, but a short finish makes this a less-than-exciting wine that starts off with delicious front and mid-palates. 2001 was a tremendous growing year on Long Island, but Cabernet Sauvignon is hard to grow and make well here in most cases due to the long hang time the grapes need on the vine.

Much more intense and full flavored, the Laurel Lake Vineyards 2002 Cabernet Franc ($20) is enormously aromatic with blackberry, spice, fresh mint leaf and licorice on the nose. Also medium-bodied, slightly gripping, chalky tannins provide nice structure to an otherwise fruity wine accented by mint, licorice and smoky notes. This is the sort of flavorful, robust wine you should drink this time of year. Drink it with any hearty stew, lamb or venison. It is a great example of how good Long Island Cab Franc can be.

Laurel Lake has also recently released its 2002 Ice Wine ($30), made 100 percent of frozen-on-the-vine Chardonnay grapes. While many local ice wines offer intense, lush fruit flavors balanced by a zing of acidity, the Laurel Lake offering is more perfumey with floral and candied citrus on the nose. On the palate, the flavors are restrained and lighter than expected. Citrus and apricot are the primary flavors with pears and some Gewurztraminer-like lychee hints as well. Not overly sweet or cloying, this wine would be good with fresh fruit or cheese. Just make sure you don’t over chill it or its flavors will be too muted and the wine will disappoint.

For more information or to order wines, visit www.llwines.com or call 298-1420. And make sure you visit Laurel Lake Vineyards and other local wineries during the month-long Long Island Wine Country Winter Festival in February.

(This story appeared in the 1/27 issue of Dan's Papers)

January 24, 2006

WTN: Fox Run Vineyards 2003 Reserve Chardonnay (Finger Lakes)

Every week, I write a "Vintage of the Week" for the Long Island Press lifestyle section. For whatever reason, I hadn't been republishing them here, but thought I'd start doing so when the wine isn't written about in another post.
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The Finger Lakes are best known for their world-class rieslings, but with a cool grape growing climate, the region is well suited for other classic varieties, chardonnay included.

This bottling from Fox Run Vineyards — a nice value at $13 — is a nice example of cool climate chardonnay. Rather than being heavy and flabby like many California bottlings, it’s medium-bodied, redolent of apples and pears with just subtle hints of oak character that come through as butterscotch and vanilla cream. A bit more acidity would push this wine to great heights, but it’s still a nice pour.

December 30, 2005

Checking in on the 2005 "Winery of the Year"

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Last summer, Osprey’s Dominion Vineyards was named New York’s “Winery of the Year” at the 2005 New York Food and Wine Classic by winning seven medals, including two double golds, one gold, two silvers and two bronzes.

Winemaker Adam Suprenant, a graduate of the much ballyhooed U.C. Davis enology program, was and is proud of the accomplishment, but he’s certainly not resting on his laurels. Wines from the 2001 vintage (and a 2004 rosé) earned the winery all those medals, but the winery’s first three 2002 releases, a cabernet franc, a reserve merlot and a 2002 edition of the “Flight” Meritage blend show great promise and are sure to do well in competitions in 2006. The cab franc and Flight build upon the previous vintage and the reserve merlot represents a new beginning -- a merlot Suprenant will only make when he and fellow-U.C. Davis graduate and Osprey’s Dominion vineyard manager Tom Stevenson think the fruit is good enough.

2002 was such a year for the vineyard.

Continue reading "Checking in on the 2005 "Winery of the Year"" »

December 09, 2005

A Tale of Two Red Blends

BlendsBlended red wines – they are the best of wines, they are the worst of wines.

Have you ever been in a wine shop and seen gallon jugs of “Burgundy” for less than ten dollars? Those wines bear little (okay, no) resemblance to the fine wines of the French region with the same name. Jug “Burgundy” often comes from California’s Central Valley and is a blend of high yield Barbera, Petite Sirah and other red varietals.

Wine snobbery is never a good thing, but these wines are just awful.

But blended reds are not created equal. Some of the world’s greatest wines are blends. The great reds of Bordeaux are blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc (sometimes with Malbec and Petit Verdot as well). Joseph Phelps 2002 Insignia, recently named the wine of the year by Wine Spectator, is 78-percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 14 percent Merlot, 7 percent Petite Verdot and 1percent Malbec.

Some of Long Island’s best wines are also blends – even the top Merlots, which only have to be 75 percent Merlot to be labeled as such. You’ll often find blends labeled “Meritage” (rhymes with heritage), a term coined in 1988 for the purpose of identifying American wines produced with traditional Bordeaux grapes but with less than 75 percent of a given varietal. Two local producers have recently released new blends, and while they are both made with traditional Bordeaux varietals, they are quite different.

Castello di Borghese’s first entry in the Meritage game (65 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 21 percent Merlot, 14 percent Cabernet Franc), the Borghese 2000 Meritage Red ($48) is an elegant, refined bottling that offers a soft nose of smoky sweet oak, sugar plums, blackberry and pencil shavings. With well-balanced cedar and fruit flavors, and light, dusty tannins on the finish, this is a sultry, inviting wine that seems best suited for roasted fowl or pork.

Bedell Cellars Cupola blend has long been a favorite, and the 2001 Cupola ($30) continues that trend. Made with 51 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 22 percent Cabernet Franc, 22 percent Merlot and 5 percent Petit Verdot from the lauded 2001 vintage, this wine is significantly darker in the glass and nearly opaque. The supremely aromatic nose is redolent of blackberries and bittersweet chocolate with faint hints of leather. The inclusion of Petit Verdot not only gives this wine a deeper, richer color, but it also gives it a bit more structure and body in the mouth. The tannins are apparent, but incorporated well and the flavors complex and mouth-filling. When tasted again a day after being opened, this wine still showed well with less fruit flavor and more leather and cigar box character. Serve with “bigger” meats like lamb, beef or even venison.

These are just two of the diverse and delicious high-end blends made locally. Other ones of note include Martha Clara Vineyards 6025, Lieb Cellars Meritage, Paumanok Vineyards Assemblage and Osprey’s Dominion Flight. You’ll probably have to pay a little extra to taste these wines at the respective tasting rooms, but it’s worth it. These blends really show off the best of what Long Island, and Long Island winemakers, can do. Check them out.

(This story appeared in the 12/9 issue of Dan's Papers)
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December 02, 2005

An Introduction to Long Island "House Wines"

Rose_1Every wine-loving household should have three wines — one pink, one white and one red — that are always on hand for casual, everyday drinking or bought by the case for entertaining. Often called "house wines" these are inexpensive wines that you enjoy drinking on their own that are also versatile enough to pair with the foods you eat most often.

Long Island wines have a reputation of being over-priced for the quality (a definite falsehood), but there are several locally made wines that are great choices for house wines. The following are available for less than $13 per bottle when bought by the case (which typically means at least a 10% discount). Each is perfect for everyday consumption but it's also great to stock up on for your holiday party.

Continue reading "An Introduction to Long Island "House Wines"" »

Miscellaneous Sips for the Holiday Season

Thanksgiving has come and gone. Our sights are now set on Hanukkah and Christmas, with New Year’s lurking in the background.

It’s holiday season boys and girls...one of the busiest, most enjoyable and sometimes stressful times of the year. We all have a lot on our minds and your favorite wine columnist is no different. So, with that in mind, here are some miscellaneous sips (and thoughts) for the season.

Drink sparkling wine for Christmas and/or Hanukkah. Everyone drinks bubbly for New Year’s, but the fizzy stuff is a great way to celebrate any occasion. Plus, with racy acidity and freshness, it’s great with a wide range of foods. Drink Lieb Family Cellars’ Blanc de Blanc with appetizers and then move on to bottles of Wolffer Estate or The Old Field bubbly with dinner.

Drink it again on New Year’s Eve. Drink it just because there’s no better way to ring in the New Year. My choice: Lenz Winery 1991 Cuvee RD, the boldest and most interesting local sparkler.

Don’t depend on “expert” lists for wine pairing. Every year wine and food magazines bombard us with lists of “perfect” matches for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner – both of which usually involve a vast array of menu items. Use these lists only as a guide. It’s nearly impossible to find a wine that goes with everything on your holiday table. Try a variety of wines with your celebratory meals and see what you like best. That’s the best way to go.

Take wine every where you go. No matter what holiday party you’re attending, wine is always a welcome gift, especially a local wine. Sadly, most people have little experience with Long Island wine, so take the opportunity to introduce them. Plus, if you take a bottle you know you like (always a good idea) you can tell your host, “Hey, let’s open this bottle and see if you like it.” This will also rescue you from drinking the plonk served at many parties.

Let’s welcome Leucadia National Corporation to our backyard.
You probably heard that Napa’s Pine Ridge Winery bought Broadfields Cellars and Charles John Vineyard, but Pine Ridge is just another of Leucadia’s holdings. Regardless, their presence here just proves the promise our region holds. They could have bought a vineyard anywhere in the world, but chose the North Fork.

Diliberto Winery 2003 Chardonnay is worth seeking out. You probably won’t find it in your local wine shop, but Sal Diliberto’s elegant, Burgundian-style Chardonnay offers deliciously balanced acidity layered with citrus, butterscotch and toasted almond flavors. It is a real charmer. Call 722-3416 or email Sal directly to order.

Instead of a lump coal, give California chardonnay. We all have people in our lives who have been bad boys and girls, but you can't hand out lumps of coal to adults (can you?). Instead, buy some excessively manipulated Chardonnay from our friends on the West Coast. Tasting like butter smeared on a two by four, having to drink it is punishment enough. At least I think so. (NOTE: This item was pulled from the printed version, but I'm putting it back in for publication here)

(This column appeared in the 12/2 issue of Dan's Papers )

November 29, 2005

Long Island Wine: It Doesn't Get Any Fresher Than Macari

Macari_05earlywine_2 November 17th has become a bit of a wine holiday in America. Every year, the third Thursday in November means that Beaujolais Nouveau hits wine shop shelves and, to many, this marks the beginning of the holiday season.

In reality, this “event” is much more hype than holiday. In fact, it can be considered the Valentine’s Day of the wine world – an occasion created largely by marketing and advertising. Beaujolais Nouveau is made from Gamay grapes and is sold a few months after harvest, making it the first red wine many of us taste from any given vintage. And while 2005 was a particularly good year for Gamay in France, it’s not a serious or complicated wine. Its flavors are simple and while it has its place (it’s a great wine for turning white wine drinkers into red ones) it really doesn’t deserve all the fanfare.

Long Island has its own super-fresh wine, but it’s not made from Gamay grapes. In fact, it’s not even a red wine. This year Macari Vineyards picked Chardonnay grapes on September 22, the wine made from the grapes was bottled on November 2, and it was released on November 5. The vineyard calls it “Early Wine” and it’s made in the style of young whites in Austria. This makes sense because the wine’s maker, Helmut Gangl, was born there.

Continue reading "Long Island Wine: It Doesn't Get Any Fresher Than Macari" »

November 28, 2005

Long Island Wineries Weak at Web Marketing

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You know me as Dan’s Papers’ fearless wine writer (or the owner/editor of LENNDEVOURS), but Monday through Friday, I play a very different role – that of an Internet marketing manager in the high technology industry. Rarely do the two careers cross paths, but my experience with the local wine industry’s Internet marketing initiatives (or lack thereof) has finally driven me to consider Long Island's wine region from my “day” job’s perspective.

Simply put, the Long Island wine industry deserves good grades for its wine, but when it comes to using the Internet to promote itself and its wares, it gets an F.

Don’t get me wrong. This is a bit of a generalization because there are a few websites that do a better-than-average job of telling their story, but they are the rare exception. More often than not, winery websites are poorly designed, offer no interactivity and get updated once every year – if we, as visitors, are lucky.

Most local wineries don’t have the money to hire a full-time marketing manager, let alone a Webmaster, but there are some simple things every winery owner and general manager can (and should) do to improve their websites and email marketing. This requires very little effort in the grand scheme of things and can bring big returns – particularly now that the rest of the country is being introduced to Long Island wine for the first time. Your website is your number two way to build brand and customer loyalty (your wine being the first one).

Build a Website. In this day and age, the first place most people, especially those new to wine and in their twenties and thirties, are going to look for more information about you is the Internet. You need to be there.

Update at Least Once a Month. There is nothing worse than a website that is obviously out of date. Some Long Island winery websites list wines from vintages that have been sold out for months (if not longer) and feature events calendars that highlight events from last spring, but offer no information on upcoming ones. This information doesn’t do any visitor any good and it makes you look like you just don’t care.

If You Offer an Email Newsletter, Actually Send One Out. As a local wine writer and lover of our wine region, I’ve signed up for every email list I can sign up for. How many emails do I get every month? One……maybe. People sign up for your email list because they are interested in your winery and its happenings. Take advantage of that and talk to them – again, at least once a month – and make them feel a part of your winery’s family.

Make Buying Wine Easy. Most existing winery websites offer some sort of ordering functionality, but most are antiquated and so convoluted and tedious that people are going to give up long before their credit card gets charged. Upgrade your eCommerce system and make it easier to use. This may not be as important to local customers, but if someone from the Bay Area reads about your wines in the San Francisco Chronicle and wants to buy some, why make it difficult? If you do, they’ll just buy from someone else who does.

Check Your Email Every Day. We all have busy lives and the life of a winemaker or general manager is no different. But potential customers are probably sending you email to the address listed on your website, so you should check it every single day. Again, this is about building relationships with your customers. They are important to your success – treat them that way. The same is true for “Contact Us” forms. It’s annoying to fill out a form and click “submit” only to never hear from anyone at the winery again.

These are just a few general suggestions because every site has its own strengths and weaknesses. The Long Island Wine Council site (www.liwines.com) is pretty good, as are the sites for Macari Vineyards, Wolffer Estate, Bedell Cellars and Galluccio Family Wineries. But overall, Long Island wineries are missing the boat. The Internet is the most powerful marketing tool in the world – and one that is relatively inexpensive. It’s time that everyone start taking advantage.

                  

Long Island Winemakers Talk Turkey

Turkey_2 Because of its focus on food, friends and family (not to mention its post-harvest timing) Thanksgiving is often cited as a favorite holiday by local winery owners and winemakers. Each and every year, readers of magazines and newspapers are inundated with wine pairing advice and suggestions for Thanksgiving dinner.

This year, instead of offering advice, I decided to ask people in our own local wine industry what foods they were eating and what wines they’d be drinking this year on Thanksgiving. Here are the results.

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November 04, 2005

Schneider Vineyards 2004 Syrah and 2004 Cabernet Franc

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North Fork Negociants Release First Estate-Grown Wines
Several of Long Island’s smallest wine producers are Negociants. Negociants buy grapes from a local grower, then make, age, blend and bottle wine under their own label. This practice is common in many wine-producing regions, particularly in Burgundy, home to many well-known negoicant labels like Louis Jadot and Duboeuf. It’s an attractive endeavor to many winemakers because it can be difficult, from a financial perspective, to plant/grow/maintain a vineyard as well as buy all equipment necessary to make and bottle a finished wine.

In the United States, negociant-made wines have the words “produced and bottled by” on the label, which indicate that at least the fermentation and subsequent production was done by the producer or company. If you see “estate bottled,” that means that the grapes were grown, fermented, and the wine bottled on the owner’s property. Phrases such as “cellared and bottled by” or “made and bottled by” are fundamentally meaningless.

Schneider Vineyards, founded in 1994 by Bruce and Christiane Schneider, has operated as a negociant since its inception, buying grapes from growers on the North Fork. Their first wines were released in 1997 and were quite popular among wine drinkers and wine critics alike. Then, in 2000, the Schneiders planted their own 22-acre estate vineyard on Roanoke Avenue in Riverhead and the first wines made from 100-percent estate-grown grapes were released just a few weeks ago.

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October 17, 2005

Charles John Vineyard: A Newcomer Worth Watching

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Matt Campbell, co-owner of Charles John Vineyard along with his wife Jackie, can trace his love of wine back to when he and Jackie were living in Rochester, N.Y., in the early 1980s. “I knew nothing about wine. (But) we went to dinner and I ordered an ‘expensive’ glass of Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon for about $7 – to impress Jackie. I couldn’t believe how good it tasted.”

For a man who grew up on the Jersey Shore “listening to Bruce Springsteen” and knowing beer “as the only alcoholic beverage that had four letters,” that glass of Cabernet was a revelation that Campbell jokingly calls “getting religion.”

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Martha Clara Vineyards -- A "Glowing" Review

Marthaclara_releases Okay, it’s official. Martha Clara Vineyards (and its winemaker, Gilles Martin) have climbed up my ranking of Long Island vineyards. I don’t actually have a list from one to thirty-plus, of course, but what was once a winery highlighted by its high-profile events is really starting to win me over with what matters — the juice.

Sure, they still make (and sell) a ton of their white zinfandel-esque rose (isn’t the beagle-adorned label cute?) and the Glacier’s End line of wines, but a look further down on the tasting sheet reveals wines with nice varietal character that are worth elbowing your way up to their always-packed tasting bar for.

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October 07, 2005

Bedell Cellars Offers a "Taste" of the Busy Harvest Season

Bedellmain_1 The frenetic pumpkin-picking season is upon us, and while the throngs of families in SUVs and minivans can make it that much more challenging to get around the East End, this is one of the most exciting times to visit Long Island’s vineyards. Harvest festivals abound and wineries are filled with the intoxicating aromas of freshly squeezed juice fermenting.

Bedell Cellars, one of our region’s most well-known producers, has much more going on than harvesting and fermenting the 2005 vintage. To upgrade both the winemaking process and the customer tasting experience, they’ve been busy making exciting changes to the facilities in Cutchogue.

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September 30, 2005

Next Generation: Jason’s Vineyard’s Delicious, Affordable Wines

Jasonsvineyard2You’ve probably seen Jason’s Vineyard on the right hand side of the Main Road (Route 25) heading east in Jamesport. But have you ever tasted the wines made from those grapes?

I first encountered Jason’s Vineyard wines about a year ago when I was going from tasting room to tasting room looking for the North Fork’s best sparkling wines. My journey took me to Pindar, where I was able to taste a few Jason’s Vineyard wines. I was so impressed that his wines were the only bottles I purchased that day.

So who is Jason and why are his wines available at Pindar? The Jason in Jason’s Vineyard is Jason Damianos, son of Herodotus “Dan” Damianos, owner of both Pindar on the North Fork and Duck Walk Vineyards on the South Fork. Jason is Pindar’s winemaker and has also worked as winemaker at Duck Walk.

In 1996, the younger Damianos made a trip to Bordeaux that would inspire him to found Jason’s Vineyard in 1999. He grows Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay and uses the grapes to craft three different reds and a chardonnay – all priced under $20.

Continue reading "Next Generation: Jason’s Vineyard’s Delicious, Affordable Wines" »

September 16, 2005

The First New Wines From Old Vines at Vineyard 48

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I first introduced you to Vineyard 48 in early May when they released their first wines under the Vineyard 48 label. Even though Italian-born Rose Pipia and her son Joseph Pipia had taken over the old Bidwell Winery in Cutchogue a year before that, the wines were really old Bidwell stock that was tweaked by winemaker Mathew Berenz and winemaking consultant Roman Roth of Wolffer Estate. While most of the releases were palatable, the ten-dollar red table blend was probably my favorite.

                  

Everyone at Vineyard 48 told me at the time “Just wait for the 2004 releases, they’re going to be great.” And, with a quality winemaking team, the Island’s second oldest vines and Steve Mudd of Mudd Vineyards on board to help get them healthy again, I had similarly high hopes myself.

                  

Last week, Vineyard 48 dropped off samples of four 2004 whites — two different Rieslings, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay. These wines have yet to be released (but they will be soon) and the bottles were labeled only with Post-It notes.

Continue reading "The First New Wines From Old Vines at Vineyard 48" »

September 09, 2005

Orphan Wines Worth Taking Home With You

TastingroomEvery few months, the “wine for review” portion of my wine cellar begins to overflow with bottles that I refer to as “orphans.” These wines are new releases from local wineries that just haven’t worked their way into my articles – often because I can’t devote an entire column to just one or two new releases – not because they aren’t column-worthy.

Pet adoptions is a wonderfully rewarding experience (we just adopted a beagle puppy from Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton) and taking one of these orphan wines home with you can be, too. Adopt one of these wines today.

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September 08, 2005

Riding a Wave at Waters Crest Winery

Watercrest01_lores_1 Waters Crest Winery, co-owned by Jim and Linda Waters, is still a relatively new winery, tucked into a small industrial park in Cutchogue. And while the tasting room and production facilities may be among the smallest around, the wines that come out of them are far from diminutive.

To the Waters’, the winery is truly a family affair. Visit on most any day and you’re just about guaranteed to meet Jim, Linda or even their daughters. They are a warm, charming family and they’ll make you feel right at home as you taste the wines and, if you like, get a quick tour of the barrel room.

In the past I’ve called Jim’s Riesling my favorite local version, so I was looking forward to tasting his 2004 vintage along with five other current releases.

Continue reading "Riding a Wave at Waters Crest Winery" »

September 06, 2005

Taking Flight at Osprey's Dominion

Ospreys_dominion In early August, Osprey’s Dominion Vineyards was named New York’s “Winery of the Year” by the New York Grape and Wine Foundation at its annual New York Food and Wine Classic. The winery earned the honor by winning seven medals at the event, including two double golds, one gold, two silvers and two bronzes.

Winemaker Adam Suprenant, a Bronxville, New York, native who joined Osprey’s Dominion after graduating from the world-renowned U.C. Davis oenology program, is proud of the winery’s showing.

“It’s great to be recognized after more than four years of dedicated hard work here at Osprey’s Dominion,” said Suprenant, ìbut it also reflects well on the commitment and philosophy of the owners, Bud Koehler and Bill Tyree, to produce high quality wines. Much credit is also deserved by our vineyard manager, Tom Stevenson (also a U.C. Davis graduate) for giving me great fruit to work with.”

Continue reading "Taking Flight at Osprey's Dominion" »

August 26, 2005

A Balancing Act at Castello di Borghese

Cdb_cap Random House Webster’s Dictionary defines balance as “a state of equilibrium or equipoise; equal distribution of weight, amount, etc.” To wine lovers, the concept of balance isn’t all that much different. A wine is said to be balanced when all of its individual components — alcohol level, acidity, tannins (in red wine), flavors and sugars (if present) — are in perfect harmony and none overwhelms the others.

At Castello di Borghese Vineyard and Winery in Cutchogue, winemaker Stan Schumacher is crafting just these types of wines — clean wines with class and poise. I recently sipped some of his latest releases and came away impressed. In general, they are so well balanced that he may have been a world-class gymnast in a past life.

Continue reading "A Balancing Act at Castello di Borghese" »

August 19, 2005

Magnificent Merlot From a Marketing Maker

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Pindar Vineyards, one of New York’s most popular and widely-distributed wineries (they have great marketing), is known in some circles for its cheap, sweetish blended wines and its always-packed tasting room. But don’t be fooled. If you drink through the varied bottlings, there are a few gems to be tasted.

Personally, I’ve long been a fan of the 1999 Rare Cuvee Champagne ($28), despite the use of the term Champagne outside that region of France, and the consistently good Johannisberg Reisling ($15). Before recently, I thought these to be the only real gems buried in the impressively long tasting menu.

Winemaker Jason Damianos, son of Pindar founder/owner Herodotus “Dan” Damianos, is making some reds that may prove even better.

The 2001 Merlot ($15) was my least favorite of the three I tasted recently. Its nose was slightly sweet with plum, prune and black cherry aromas with sugary oak accents. Fruity and rather low in tannins, it offers more plum and some blueberry flavors, but its oak character is a bit raw for my taste. Even still, I’d serve it with charcoal-grilled burgers.

Damianos’ reserve wines are where his talents really shine through. The Pindar 2000 Merlot Reserve ($19) is darker and denser in the glass – crimson and nearly opaque. The first sniff is dominated by toasty oak, but subsequent ones filled my nose with vanilla, raspberries and plums. On the palate, softly gripping, dusty tannins frame an elegant but robust wine with fruit flavors balanced by hints of cigar box. It’s delicious right now, but give this another couple of years and watch it get even more complex. For the extra four dollars, definitely buy the reserve.

The Pindar 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($19), while not quite as good as the 2000 Merlot Reserve, was a slightly earthy surprise with blueberry and currant fruitiness backed by wet soil and faint oakiness on the nose. Each sip is very Bordeaux-esque, with nicely balance cherry-blueberry fruit, oak, earthiness and savory spice. Noticeable, but not overpowering, tannins really round it out. Many Long Island cabernets end up tasting under-ripe, but this is not one of them.

Visit Pindar in Peconic, NY or visit www.pindarwine.com for more information.

(This column appeared in the 8/19/05 issue of Dan's Papers)

August 12, 2005

Going Back to My Fraternity Days -- Sort Of

Sph_porter Long before I moved to Long Island and discovered an unwavering passion for all things wine, I was a beer-drinking fraternity boy, but not exactly like the rest of my brothers. While they were swilling the cheapest, coldest beer they could find in cans, I was the guy who would buy a different kind of beer almost every weekend, including any import or microbrew I could get my hands on in my college town in rural northwestern Pennsylvania.

Back then, if I did drink wine, it was likely a cheap, flabby Chardonnay, most often from Australia, with enough sweetness to please my then-unrefined palate. Of course we also drank our share of Mad Dog and Thunderbird, too. We were kids, and we didn’t know any better.

I still drink beer regularly – at ball parks, after my weekly softball games or at parties when the wine is awful. More often than not, I drink light beer these days to bring some control to my caloric intake. There’s still nothing better on a hot, humid summer day than an ice cold beer that you can chug down in a few minutes. But it’s been a long time since I really thought about the beer I was drinking.

So, when given the opportunity to review a few of the many beers and ales produced by the Southampton Publick House. I was admittedly a little nervous. I mean, I can recognize black cherry and earthy character in a fine pinot noir, but did I have the senses (and vocabulary) to review beers?

Continue reading "Going Back to My Fraternity Days -- Sort Of" »

August 08, 2005

Roman Roth Proves, Again and Again, That Wonderful Wine is Made in the Hamptons

Wolffer_2004_pinotgrisYou’ll often hear Long Island’s better wines compared to those from the Bordeaux region of France, purportedly because of the similarities between the East End’s climate and that of Bordeaux. But while there are some similarities, it’s a bit of a marketing spin, too.

According to Roman Roth, winemaker and general manager of Wolffer Estate in Sagaponack, “The Long Island climate is close to Bordeaux when compared to the hot climates of Australia or California. (But) Long Island is unique. We are much further south.”

In describing the differences between Bordeaux and Long Island, Roth continues, “Old World wines are not always fruit-driven and balanced like ours. Also, we are allowed to grow Chardonnay next to Merlot, which they can’t do in Bordeaux.”

Roth is one of the Island’s most respected winemakers and his wines are widely regarded as elegant, refined and well balanced. Wolffer Estate’s recent and current releases are no exception.

Continue reading " Roman Roth Proves, Again and Again, That Wonderful Wine is Made in the Hamptons" »

August 05, 2005

Twenty Square Inches of Art

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Artwork by Scott Sandell, a Minnesota native and Sag Harbor resident, is on display all over the world. His “works-on-paper,” as he calls them, can be found in the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela, the U.S. State Department in Havana, Cuba, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Chrysler Museum, Harvard University, Emory University and many other places.

But if serious art collecting is beyond your means, there’s another way to enjoy Sandell’s considerable talent – on a bottle of several local wines.

In the fall of 2002, Richard Pisacano, owner of Roanoke Vineyards in Riverhead, approached Sandell about designing labels for his new winery’s wines. Sandell jumped at the chance.

“When I was just out of college, my cousin suggested that we develop a taste for fine wines. He was in law school and we both anticipated great wealth,” said Sandell with a chuckle during a recent interview “We bought several cases of first growth Bordeaux, and we knew that Chateau Mouton Rothschild commissions an artist to produce a label every year. So, for the past 25 years I’ve been waiting for their call. In the meantime, I did develop a taste for wine And luckily Rich called me.”

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Pellegrini Vineyards Offers a Grand Finale

Pellegrini_finale I’ve never met Pellegrini Vineyards’ winemaker Russell Hearn. But through his wines, I feel a certain welcome familiarity. From my very first sip of his Vinter’s Pride Encore – a rich, complex blend of red varietals – a few years ago, I’ve been a member of his fan club, and I’ve enjoyed numerous visits to the Pellegrini tasting room ever since.

Australian born, Hearn began his winemaking career at the age of 16 and brought his substantial talents to the North Fork in 1991 when Pellegrini Vineyards first opened. By combining traditional methods with some of the East Coat’s most advanced equipment, he consistently makes top quality wines, including chardonnay, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc.

And his rosé, a blend of cabernet and petit verdot grapes, was my favorite in a Long Island pink wine blind tasting I hosted last February.

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July 29, 2005

It's Good to Be Back

(This column appeared in the 7/29 issue of Dan's Papers)

As you may have read in this space last week, I got married a few weeks ago. We had a perfect ceremony on a covered bridge in bucolic upstate New York, which was followed by a fun and lively reception filled with the best of friends and — of course — Long Island wines. In fact, instead of table numbers, we used Long Island winery names and wine from each was placed on the tables.                   

Needless to say, our guests loved the idea and hardly a drop of wine was left at the end of the evening.

After taking a day to recoup, we hopped on a plane bound for tropical Jamaica. We spent eight glorious days soaking up the sun (and one dodging Hurricane Emily in our room) on the island’s southern coast. The newly opened all-inclusive resort was beautiful and we had a great, relaxing and romantic time snorkeling, kayaking and just lounging around the pools.

But the food was disappointingly mediocre and the wine…the wine was just horrid. By the end of our trip, we couldn’t wait to get back home to get some great food and local wines.

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July 27, 2005

Le Clos Therese: A Tale of Two Merlots

Merlot is often touted as Long Island’s “signature” grape — the varietal and the wine that is going to put the region on the world wine stage. I’m not one hundred percent sold on that notion — some of the Cabernet Franc here is just too good — but the consistency and ripe-ability of Merlot makes it somewhat of a safer choice.
 
At Le Clos Therese in Aquebogue, owner and winemaker Theresa Dilworth, makes two interesting and decidedly different merlots with good results. These wines, along with her cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and rose are produced at Premium Wine Group, the custom-crush winemaking facility in Mattituck. In my experience, Dilworth always shows a deft hand and desire to make truly hand-crafted wines.
 
Her recently released Comtesse Therese 2003 Hungarian Oak Merlot ($16.50) spent 14 months in Hungarian and French oak (mostly Hungarian) and begs to be enjoyed with food. Ruby red in the glass, it has an aromatic nose of black cherries, raspberries, black pepper and smoky burnt sugar. Soft and spicy, with gentle tannins and a little acidity, its smoky and peppery-sweet berry flavors accented by almost floral notes make this a great wine for with burgers, BBQ chicken and even pepperoni pizza. Only 130 cases were made, so make sure you pick some up for your Labor Day BBQ.
 
Dilworth’s Comtesse Therese 2002 Traditional Merlot ($18) is a wine of a totally different color — both literally and figuratively. Much darker in the glass, the differences brought about by four extra months in mostly French oak (with a little American thrown in) are obvious. The nose is less peppery, but still fruit-driven with blackberries and cherries dominating. On the palate, it’s denser and more substantial with more, fuller tannins framing its berry flavors. The finish, while long, offers some still-raw oak character that will likely fade with more aging. Drink this red with more substantial red meats, like steak, lamb or venison. 188 cases were made.
 
I’ve long been a fan of Dilworth’s rose, because she always avoids overuse of sulphur dioxide in the winemaking process, leading to a wine lush with fruit flavor. The Comtesse Therese 2004 Rose ($14) continues this tradition. While many roses are bright, Kool-Aid pink, this one is an appealing salmony orange color. The nose is light and straightforward, with lime and strawberry aromas. The first sip is a little tight (this is a young wine) but with time it opens up nicely revealing strawberry, apricot and cherry soda flavors. The acidity is lively but not abrasive, resulting in a well-balanced summer sipper. I think you can drink good rose with most any food, and this certainly qualifies. 150 cases were made.
 
The Tasting Room, in Jamesport and in Peconic, carry these and other Comtesse Therese wines. Visit www.tasting-room.com for more information.
 
For more information about Le Clos Therese and Comtesse Therese wines, visit www.lctwinery.com or call 871-9194. Dilworth also plans to open a small French bistro in Aquebogue. The menu will feature Long Island wines, locally grown produce, New York State cheese and even Long Island-brewed beers. She’s hoping to open sometime in 2006.

July 22, 2005

Taste the North Fork in Westhampton Beach

WineboutiqueThanks to one Long Island wine veteran and one of the region’s rising stars (not to mention a personal favorite), visitors to the South Fork can get a taste of the North Fork without taking the ferry or driving around Peconic Bay.

Ray Blum, founder of Peconic Bay Vineyards in 1979 (now Peconic Bay Winery under new ownership) and owner of Ackerly Pond Vineyards, and Jim Waters of Waters Crest Winery have teamed up to open the Hamptons Wine Boutique, located at 118 Main Street in Westhampton Beach.

And, to help promote the local wine industry, and differentiate themselves as more than just another wine shop, Blum and Waters are only selling Long Island wine – from eight of the region’s best producers. Currently wines are available from Castello di Borghese, Waters Crest Winery, Ackerly Pond Vineyards, Sherwood House Vineyards, Cutchogue Cellars and Schneider Vineyards from the North Fork, Red Fern Cellars (the Island’s sole Kosher winery) in Queens and Wolffer Estate in Sagaponack

They are also selling locally made furniture, gifts and gourmet foods as well as prints and paintings by artist Doug Reina.

I haven’t had a chance to visit the store yet, but I did recently taste a couple of Blum’s wines, and while they aren’t going to unseat the Island’s best, they are good and food-friendly.

The Ackerly Pond Vineyards 2003 Chardonnay ($16) is a medium-to-light yellow and crystal clear in the glass. After a quick swirl, the nose offers fruity pear and tropical aromas with hints of vanilla custard. Flavors range from pear to pineapple and vanilla cream. This is a fresh, refreshing wine with good acidity for balance. A great food wine, I’d serve it with salmon or lobster dishes or as an aperitif. It’s not a great value at 16 bucks, but not preposterously over-priced either.

A Silver Medal winner at the 2005 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, the Ackerly Pond Vineyards Cabernet Franc ($19) is a relatively low tannin wine that offers a light nose of black fruit, cedar and a little smoke. Medium-bodied and somewhat rustic, its palate is filled with spicy plum and blackberry fruit flavors and smoky oak. I found the brief finish disappointing and a little tart-sour. I’d probably not drink it without food, so sip alongside grilled meat dishes.

Ackerly Pond Vineyards also makes a rosé made with Pinot Noir grapes and the mandatory Long Island Merlot, and all of Blum’s wines are bottled using synthetic corks.

If you find yourself in Westhampton this summer, check out the Hamptons Wine Boutique. It’s the best way to get a taste of Waters Crest Winery’s Riesling and Gewüürztraminer, Sherwood House Vineyards Chardonnay and the only kosher wines made with Long Island Grapes – without spending a day driving.

For more information, visit www.hamptonswineboutique.com or call 288-5015. And as always, visit www.liwines.com for more information on Long Island wineries.

July 03, 2005

Long Island Whine

Long Island Whine: Are LI Wines Really Over-Priced? Or are We Looking at Them From the Wrong Perspective?

Just like the wines we drink, any discussion of wine prices and price-to-value ratios is always a complex and layered one. There are dozens of factors that help a winery’s management decide what to charge for its wines, including land costs, labor costs, market pressures, and supply and demand. The list goes on and on. The idea of “value” is even tougher to pin down as it’s so subjective and affected by things like the media, mood and personal perception.

So before we can even tackle the question, “Is Long Island wine over-priced?” there are a few points that need to be made.

First, wine on Long Island varies from winery to winery and year to year. Richard Olsen-Harbich, managing director and winemaker at Raphael in Peconic, said it best in an email to me last week. “As in most areas producing wine, you have good value, you have great wines and you also have poor value and bad wines -- and because we are not that large a (wine-producing) area, it gets magnified.” Rich went on to say that he doesn’t even like talking about Long Island wine in general terms.

Next, when I contacted several winemakers and winery managers in the area, I found that very few customers actually complain about wine prices in winery tasting rooms themselves. “Interestingly enough," Olsen-Harbich noted, "the tasting room provides an overall wine experience that people are typically very satisfied with. The biggest complaints we hear are that we don’t have enough white wine – or that our wine isn’t sweet enough.”

Wine that isn’t 'sweet' enough is a topic for another time, but the “overall wine experience” point is very important. I personally am willing to pay more for a bottle of wine if the setting, the friends I’m with and the overall experience is memorable.

So now we know that we can’t generalize about Long Island wines and that people rarely complain about the prices in tasting rooms (even though they are almost always higher than at local wine shops). But people do complain about L.I. wine prices – just not in tasting rooms.

Continue reading "Long Island Whine" »

The Greenport Garagiste

(This story appeared originally in the 07/01/05 issue of Dan's Papers)

Ternhaven_winesIvy League Professor-Cum-Winemaker Harold Watts’ Approach: Small Production, Big Wines   

Garagiste, translated from the French, means “garage owner,” not something usually associated with wine country. But it’s a term often used in regions like Bordeaux to describe a winemaker who produces small lots of high-quality, handcrafted wines – sometimes right in his or her own garage.

Harold Watts, Ternhaven Cellars’ owner and winemaker, also started out at home, but instead of making wine in his garage, Watts made wine in his Manhattan apartment. Today, with an unintentional though amusing nod to the European description, Watts literally is a garagiste: his winery and tasting room are in a renovated service station, a former garage, on Front Street in Greenport.

In 1994, Watts, a retired economics professor who taught at Yale and Columbia Universities, bought five acres of land on Alvah’s Lane in Cutchogue. He initially leased the land a local potato farmer but eventually planted merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc grapes himself. In 1997, Ternhaven Cellars was born when Watts’ tasting room opened.

When asked about the origins of his winery’s name, Watts replied with a chuckle. “I enjoy watching terns at work catching fish here on the East End. I know they nest around here, and the name sounds sort of warm and fuzzy and maybe a bit ‘green.’ So I just grabbed it out of the air and it ‘terned’ out to be registerable.”

While his winery and production levels are small, fewer than 1000 cases per year, Watts’ wines are not. Last summer, at the New York Wine & Food Classic, he won a double gold for his 2000 Merlot, a silver for his 2000 Claret D’Alvah and a second silver for his 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Continue reading "The Greenport Garagiste" »

June 30, 2005

Bedell Cellars 2004 "Taste" Artist Series White

ArtistserieswhiteBack in April, Bedell Cellars released the first wine in its Artist Series. To get the Eric Fischl-designed label on that 2001 Reserve Merlot, you had to dish out $200 bucks for a magnum (750ml bottles are $30, but don't have the special label.) Probably out of most of our price ranges...even if I think it's the best wine I've tasted from the winery.

This weekend, they will release the second wine in the Artist Series, a blend of 50% Viognier, 35% Chardonnay and 15% Gewürztraminer, dubbed simply Taste.

The label was designed by reknowned artist Barbara Kruger, a reknowned artist whose artwork has appeared in galleries and museums as well as on billboards, buscards and posters.

The wine's label (pictured right) features a black and white image of a woman's face with the word "Taste" written in red over the woman's mouth (thus the wine's name).

Eyes:  Pale, lemony yellow with slight fizz visible around the edges

Nose: Citrusy aromas of grapefruit and lime are joined by light melon notes and a little sweet spice.

Tongue: This wine is medium-bodied and tart with lime, honeydew, cantelope and even a little fig flavor. It's very bright and crisp and yet the finish is a bit coating and lingering.

Price:$25 (150 cases produced, half pre-sold to the wine club, restaurants and wine shops)

Nena's Grade: B
Lenn's Grade: B+

Overall: Tasted from a hand-labeled 375ml pre-release sample, the varietal character of each grape was noticeable, with the blending also created something above and beyond. I expect that with a little more bottle age, some richer fruit flavors will develop and poke through, adding layers of complexity and depth. Definitely worth buying in a few months, or buying and cellaring.

June 24, 2005

Sure Bets at Sherwood House Vineyards

                   

Sherwoodhouse

As the resident wine aficionado (or geek) at Dan’s Papers, I’m “forced” to taste several wines each and every week. In just under a year with the paper, I’ve already filled up one whole notebook with notes and comments and have started another. It’s hard work, but someone has to do it, right?                   

Through hundreds (thousands?) of sips, I’ve learned that when I taste a winery’s new releases, I can almost always find at least one I enjoy. Just about every winery on Long Island has at least one noteworthy bottling, or at least something that shows potential. It’s truly rare that I dislike everything I try. This week, as I sampled wines from Sherwood House Vineyards in Mattituck, something even more rare and extraordinary happened – both were remarkable and delicious. In fact, for the first time, each release scored an A- in my blind tasting.

                  

Owned and operated by Charles and Barbara Smithen, Sherwood House Vineyards is the manifestation of an intense passion for both wine and the East End. A cardiologist and vintage jewelry dealer, respectively, they purchased their 1860 farmhouse in 1996 and planted their vines soon after. In 1999, after selling off their grapes to local wineries for a few years, the Smithens decided to make their own wine, a Chardonnay. Since then, they’ve focused solely on Merlot and Chardonnay, and have developed a bit of a following among those who have tasted them. After tasting these wines, I’m a believer, too.

                  

The Sherwood House Vineyards 2001 Merlot ($22) is a well-extracted and rich example of Long Island’s showcase varietal. The nose offers ripe raspberry aromas with a mineral background and light oakiness. On the palate, the raspberries are joined by vanilla cream and more minerals. This medium-bodied wine is highlighted by sultry tannins, a soft-but-rich mouthfeel and an indulgent, lingering finish. 600 cases were produced.

                  

While garnering the same grade in my tasting, the Sherwood House Vineyards 2001 Chardonnay ($20) is even better. A light, shimmering gold in the glass, its nose is refined and light, offering Bosc pear, vanilla and hints of toast. Full-bodied but far from heavy, this exceptionally balanced chardonnay displays lithe pear flavors with hints of tropical fruit as well as butter, toast and minerals. I don’t think there’s a better 20-dollar chardonnay on the North Fork and few will cellar as well, either. 645 cases were produced.

                  

Because they don’t have their own tasting room yet, these wines are available for tasting and purchase at both The Tasting Room locations, one in Jamesport and one in Peconic, or at www.tasting-room.com. The Smithens do have plans for their own tasting room however, opening in the next 18 to 24 months.

                  

Sherwood House Vineyards will also be releasing its 2002 Chardonnay in the fall and a 2002 Merlot in the early winter. They are also working on their first Cabernet Franc bottling, which will be released sometime in 2006.

                  

For more information on Sherwood House Vineyards, visit www.sherwoodhousevineyards.com or call 298-2157.

June 10, 2005

Diliberto Winery -- Truly and Individual Winery

(This column originally appeared in the 6/10 issue of Dan's Papers)
Diliberto2

In a recent issue of Wine Spectator, columnist Matt Kramer wrote a thoughtful piece discussing large wineries versus smaller ones, concluding (convincingly) that smaller really is better. Though Kramer doesn’t define what a “small” winery is, you can take my word for it – most, if not all, Long Island wineries qualify.

Of course, being a small winery doesn’t automatically mean your wines are any good. Anyone who has tasted wines from some of our lesser local wineries can attest to that. After all, doing the wrong things in the vineyard or in the cellar will lead to poor wines, regardless of how big your operation is.

Salvatore Diliberto, owner and winemaker of Diliberto Winery in Jamesport, is doing all the right things – and doing them himself. He’s truly a one-man winemaking show.

He planted his first vines in 1998 and first harvested fruit in 2001, a locally well-regarded vintage and one that led to two of the three gold medals he won at last summer’s New York Wine & Food Classic. Diliberto isn’t new to Long Island fruit, however, having used it to make wine in his Queens basement since 1986.

I tasted all four of his current releases, all reds, and found each of them appealing and extremely food friendly. The Diliberto Winery 2002 Merlot ($20), one of the gold medal winners, is a charmingly soft and straightforward wine with plum, cherry and light raspberry flavors. It’s medium bodied with fairly low tannins and a slightly lingering finish that offers faint hints of vanilla. I’d serve this with pasta and red sauce and similar Italian fare.

While still relatively simple, the Diliberto Winery 2001 Merlot ($22) is richer and more extracted in the glass. Rustically elegant, it is fuller flavored and offers more intense cherry and raspberry flavors with earthy notes in the background. The tannins are firmer than in the 2002, but still well integrated. This wine, another award winner, has better aging potential and can stand up to more serious meat dishes. This was my favorite of the lot, getting a B+ in my notes.

The last of the gold medal wines, the Diliberto Winery 2001 Tre ($25) is a Bordeaux-style red blend that offers a bit more complexity. Though still offering black cherry flavors, this wine shows a spicy, black pepper character that makes it stand out. I think this blend would benefit from another year or so in the bottle to round out its flavors and tannins.

The Diliberto 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon ($25), while maybe overpriced, is another enjoyable, food-friendly wine. I enjoyed its nose, which offers raspberries, blueberries and vanilla. On the palate, it’s fuller bodied than Diliberto’s other wines and while nowhere near a California Cabernet, it out-flavors many local bottlings.

Until their tasting room opens in early 2006, you can contact Diliberto directly to set up an appointment to taste and purchase his wines. Call 722-3416 or email diliberto1@msn.com.

June 06, 2005

Palmer Vineyards’ New Summer Sippers

 Palmervineyards
(This column appeared originally in the 6/3/05 issue of Dan's Papers)

I was invited to a Memorial Day party last weekend and, as usual, volunteered to bring wine (along with my famous-in-some-circles grilled chicken wings). Because not many of the party’s attendees drink wine and those that do usually stick to light, fairly innocuous whites, I knew I had to leave my favorite BBQ wine – cabernet franc – at home. But I also knew Palmer Vineyards in Aquebogue was releasing four new whites, so I figured I’d take those with me after doing a private tasting. The folks at Palmer called these wines “perfect summer wines.”                   

Perfect? No, but because the wines are all from the 2004 vintage, they are young and, in some cases, still a little tight.

Palmer Vineyards 2004 White Riesling ($14) is a nice, light-bodied white for the wine newbies in any crowd. Its nose is lightly floral with hints of citrus while its palate offers tight, slightly underwhelming peach and other fruit flavors in an off-dry style. I think with time, the fruitiness will develop and grow, but I was left wanting a bit more acidity to balance the residual sugar.

I tell anyone that will listen that gewurztraminer is the ideal white to serve with spicy Asian or Mexican food, and that goes for spicy party foods like my grilled wings, too. Palmer Vineyards 2004 Gewurztraminer ($17) features the expected exotic citrus aromas and flavors with a gently spicy finish. Again, it’s made in an off-dry style and a touch more acidity would have improved its balance. Make sure you don’t over-chill this one; it’s better only slightly chilled.

Pinot blanc is one of the most under-appreciated  varietals around and Palmer Vineyards 2004 Pinot Blanc ($13) was my favorite of these releases. Through a combination of steel and barrel fermentation, winemaker Tom Drozd has crafted a medium-bodied wine with delicate lemon aromas, fresh melon flavors and a citrus finish that is slightly creamy.

If you think that sauvignon blanc from New Zealand is too harsh and California versions are just flabby Chardonnay wannabes, Long Island Sauvignon Blanc is for you. Though not the best one available, Palmer Vineyards 2004 Sauvignon Blanc ($13) is quite tasty and well priced for daily summer      sipping. It delivers the grassy aromas I like and even a little “cat pee” (that’s a good thing with this    varietal). On the tongue, it’s fresh and crisp with grapefruit and lemongrass. This is a good, everyday style of Sauvignon Blanc.

It’s important to say again that these wines are still pretty young and they’ll certainly evolve  with a few more months of bottle time. Try them at Palmer’s tasting room this summer and taste for yourself. Remember, ultimately it’s your palate that you should listen to.

Me, I’ll stick with the Blancs – Sauvignon and Pinot.

For more information on Palmer Vineyards, visit www.palmervineyards.com or call 722-9463.