Monday, October 11, 2010

Pindar Vineyards

Pindar holds the title as Long Island’s biggest winery. Dr. Herodotus “Dan” Damianos (known to many as Dr. Dan), its founder, was one of the early pioneers in the area, entering the scene in 1979 with a 36-acre purchase of farm land. Today, he has grown a family-owned business that includes Pindar, the Hamptons-based Duck Walk Vineyards, and Duck Walk North.  Collectively, the business grows about 550 acres of grapes and produces nearly 90,000 cases of wine annually.

Dr. Dan can be credited with increasing interest in wine among locals through education. He did this by offering free tours of his vineyards, wine-making facilities and barrel room. Guides would teach visitors about the growing, production and storage process, followed by a wine tasting. Through that, wine became more accessible to Long Islanders, giving way to growing wine sales.

In addition to being the biggest, Pindar Vineyards is also the oldest winery under continuous family management. Over the years Dr. Damianos has transitioned more management responsibility to his children. For instance, his son Jason is currently the Director of Winemaking (as well as having started his own venture, Jason’s Vineyard), his son Pindar is the Vineyard Manager, and his daughter Alethea the CFO.

Tasting Room
Not surprisingly, Pindar’s tasting room is much larger than many of its North Fork peers. The large wrap-around bar in the center of the room provides plenty of space to accommodate a high volume of tasters. The staff behind the bar were quite efficient, and apt to manage a large crowd; but they did not seem overly insightful relative to staff at a number of other wineries in the area. The overall experience felt a little more like a flow shop - in other words, not a place you’d want to come and “hang out” out with a good glass of wine.

Pindar's tasting room

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 Glasses (Satisfactory)
All told, Dr. Dan’s contributions and success in managing his business have certainly been a driving force behind the broader growth of North Fork wine. But to me, Pindar’s claim to fame is centered around quantity more than quality. Generally, the wines I tasted had some good length, but none were particularly distinctive. That said, I could see how they could appeal to a less discerning palate.

I will give credit to Pindar for using some very clever and visually alluring wine labels. If I was a consumer tasked with selecting one among many bottles of Long Island wines, I’d most likely reach for one of the Pindar bottles. And today, within the segment of consumers with little wine knowledge, that’s an effective way to separate yourself from the pack.

While it’s not a place I’d be eager to visit again to sample new vintages or varietals, Pindar is one of the quintessential North Fork institutions you should visit at least once, to check it off your Long Island wine “bucket list”.

Tasting Notes:
Tasting options include any 5 wines, from a choice of about 16, for $4. Tastings of any reserve, specialty or limited edition wines can be done for $2 each.

2008 Sauvingon Blanc (The 2009 vintage is now available)
Color: Golden yellow
Nose: Musky, some citrus fruits
This wine lacked the characteristic lively acid you can find a number of other North Fork Sauvignon Blancs. This wine tasted more like a buttery Chardonnay than a Sauvignon Blanc, with a hint of honeysuckle, followed by a bitter finish. Because so many other North Fork wineries have created some fun, lively Sauvignon Blancs, I thought Pindar would too. This was a disappointment.

2009 Peacock Chardonnay
Color: This was more straw colored than the Sauvignon Blanc
Nose: Sweet fruits, pear, with some musty notes. The nose was subtle at first, but opened up after a few minutes.
This was more acidic than the Sauvignon Blanc, with some juicy pear, and decent fruit along the center of my tongue. It actually carried some decent length for a white. All told, some light, crisp fruit, but didn’t get much supplemental flavor from the oak. This was the favorite of the day.

Pythagoras (Bordeaux Blend)
Color: Magenta crimson, fairly transparent
Nose: Potent red fruit, green peppers
Spicy at first. Very light and soft with decent length, but no tannins. Wasn’t particularly memorable, but it goes down easy.

2007 Merlot
Color - Similar to the Pythagoras, some brown hues
Nose - Sweet red fruit, and some earthy barnyard
Spicy at first like the Pythagoras, but more tannic. Also light, but overall non-descript. As you drink more, you get more length, but a sour finish also starts to develop.

Cabernet Franc
Color: Burgundy, transparent
Nose: Not as much fruit as the other reds. Once it opened up, you can smell some raisins with a trace of barnyard. I would have expected more pepper and barnyard with a Cabernet Franc like this.
Like the other reds, it’s spicy at first, with some decent fruit coming in after the first few seconds, followed by a vegetal finish.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Jamesport Vineyards

Jamesport Vineyards is actually one of the first wineries you pass when heading east from the point on the island where it splits to become Hamptons (South Fork) and the North Fork. For those coming in for a visit from the City, this can be a great place to commence your with North Fork wine experience.

Founded in 1981 as Early Rising Farm, Jamesport is run by a father-son pair and touts exclusive use of their own grapes in production of their wines. Currently, they grow about 40 acres of grapes for 7,000 cases of annual wine production.

If you’re interested in doing more research, Jamesport’s website actually has some useful content (minus a few typos!). Beyond the requisite description of Jamesport’s wines and info on the Goerler family members who founded and manage the business, there is a list of Long Island and New York City retailers and restaurants that sell/feature Jamesport wines. This is something I wish every North Fork producer included on their website.

Tasting Room
The tasting room, in a 150-year old barn (recently refurbished with the help of another local vintner who also does some construction work in the area), was quite pleasant. There is also ample outdoor space for events and entertainment, and seating for folks just visiting on a nice day. Additionally, the staff behind the bar seemed very knowledgeable about the wines they were pouring.

Tasting Options
Upon arriving, one of the first things I noticed was the number of tasting options (five) you could choose from, offering more flexibility than many other tasting rooms in the region. No matter your preferences, you are likely to find a selection that works for you. These five sets of tastings include the: East End Series, Estate, Premium, Whites and Reds. I chose the Estate option, and my tasting notes below reflect that, plus the Estate Block E Merlot that we ordered for a supplemental charge.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Glasses (Very Good)
If you’re looking for well-made wines, a pleasant tasting atmosphere, and a knowledgeable tasting room staff, Jamesport Vineyards is certainly one you should add to your list. That said, for some of their wines, it’ll cost you. Based on my experience, there are other producers in the region with quality that rivals that of Jamesport’s, but represent a better value by charging a lower price for tastings and some bottled varietals for purchase.  Favorites: 2008 Riesling, 2005 Cabernet Franc.

Tasting Notes:
2009 Sauvignon Blanc ($23.95)
Color: Pale straw, almost no color
Nose: Citrus, peach, melon, and some lemon zest
There is a good burst of fruit at first, with peach and mango flavors. This wine was certainly made in the New Zealand style – fruit forward with crispy acidity to complement it. Nice length for a white and well-balanced overall.

2008 Riesling ($29.95)
Color: Golden straw with a greenish tint, a little more color than the Sauvignon Blanc
Nose: Honeysuckle, lychee, sweet floral, and some lemon/lime citrus after it opened up
This Riesling is a perfect balance between pleasant fruit and crispy acid. It is very structured, where you can feel the weight of the fruit right down the middle of your tongue and the acid on the sides and back of your mouth. This wine is not completely dry (some residual sugar), but pair it with some spicy food, and it’ll go down real easy.

2007 Pinot Noir ($39.95)
Color: Brownish red
Nose: Fruity, and a little smoky, with some cinnamon and brown sugar. Not as earthy a nose as many other Pinots.
This wine is spicy, with some noticeable tannins. The fruit is not particularly powerful, but there is some acid to complement it. Unfortunately, there was not much length, as all components faded rather quickly. All told, given the challenges that come with cultivating this grape in this region, it’s solid. But, I prefer Borghese’s Pinot at about $30 (see August 9 entry).

East End Merlot ($15.95)
Color: Dark magenta, not completely transparent. Darker than most North Fork Merlots.
Nose: Red fruit, with a smoky quality
Spicy at first, with decent fruit. At first thought, I was afraid it was going to be an onslaught of tannins, but it wasn’t. This wine is lively and the spicy qualities are pleasant, with nutty flavors on the finish. Unlike some of the other wines we tasted, this one is a good value.

2004 Merlot Estate Block E ($24.95)
Color: Dark magenta, more transparent than its East End counterpart
Nose: A little woodsy, nutty
Like the East End, a little spicy at first with subtle tannins, but with darker fruits. Good length and body, with a balanced finish.

2005 Cabernet Franc ($39.95)
Color: Dark magenta, purple hues
Nose: Dark fruits, green pepper, and a little meaty
While it does not possess the classic peppery/earthy characteristics of a Cab Franc, this wine goes down smooth, balanced with solid fruit and minimal tannins. Given my predilection for fruitier flavor profiles, this hit the spot. It’s not surprising that Jamesport’s Cab Franc has achieved “Best Red Wine” status in the esteemed New York Wine Classic.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Castello di Borghese: The North Fork's First Winery

I thought it was only appropriate to launch my series of winery recaps with the one that started it all on the North Fork - Castello di Borghese. Originally called Hargrave Vineyard, its founders Alex and Louisa Hargrave are regarded as the pioneers of Long Island wine, having built the region's first commercial winery essentially from the ground up. Their entrepreneurial spirit and hard work helped pave the way for the North Fork wine industry.

In 1999, the Hargraves sold their business to Marco and Ann Marie Borghese, and shortly after, the establishment's name was changed to Castello di Borghese. Marco Borghese, an Italian prince from the famous Borghese family, had never even heard of the North Fork prior to making an impromptu visit to the area while vacationing in the Hamptons. But, he became so charmed by the region, and the Hargrave property, that he decided to purchase it when it was up for sale.

Tasting Room
Borghese's tasting room is a fairly laid-back atmosphere, with a reasonable amount of space at the bar. Although there isn't interior space for sitting down at a table, there is some outdoor seating. There is an additional room behind the bar - used for special functions like weddings, parties, or small shows, adorned with paintings and photography from local artists - which patrons are welcome to enter and view.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Glasses (Very Good)
To be honest, before learning about the winery's origins, I was hesitant to give it a try, as the name "Castello di Borghese", and its corresponding emblem, always summoned thoughts of the cheesy Medieval Times dinner theater experience. Clearly, that was short-sighted. You certainly don't need the amusement of knights, jousting tournaments, or royal feasts to enjoy these wines.

All told, if you enjoy lively whites, or reds with a softer, lighter style that are drinkable now, this is your place. After sampling a number of wines, Borghese seems to do a great job at staying true to each varietal's character. Interestingly, critical winemaking decisions are not controlled by one person, but actually a committee. Through this, Borghese keeps their wines appropriately restrained. Unlike some others we've sampled in the North Fork, at no point during the Borghese tasting did I feel like they were trying too hard with any particular wine.

Bottom line, we actually had such a pleasant experience here, we stuck around for a second tasting! Favorites: Chardonette, 2009 Estate Sauvignon Blanc, 2005 Estate Merlot.

The signature antique truck in front of the Borghese property along Route 48.

Tasting Notes:
Chardonette ($10.99)
Color: Light straw, nearly colorless
Nose: Very mild, apart from some light tropical fruit
This wine starts with a nice splash of acid, and juicy pineapple flavors. It finished with zesty lemon and a hint of green pepper. All told, don't let the name and lack of color fool you, this one actually had some body to it, with more character than some other crisp Long Island whites.

2007 Estate Chardonnay ($16.99)
Color: Like the chardonette, nearly colorless
Nose: Pear and green apple, with a hint of green pepper
Very light, with a reasonable amount of acid to balance the fruit. The stainless steel fermentation keeps this wine crisp, with nice peach flavors. There is also a subtle buttery character, giving this wine an unmistakable chardonnay personality, unlike some other steel-fermented chardonnays out here in the North Fork that can be mistaken for sauvignon blancs.

2009 Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($21.99)
Color: Like the chardonette and estate chardonnay, a very pale straw, nearly colorless
Nose: Floral, orange blossoms, citrus, pear and a little mint
This wine comes from the oldest commercially planted vines on the North Fork (dating back to 1973), and judging from this wine, these veteran vines produce some tasty grapes. This wine yields steady fruit on the tongue, with peachy flavors, complemented by refreshing acid. This wine is perfectly balanced, with good body, structure and length. A real home-run.

2008 Estate Riesling ($21.99)
Color: Pale gold, a little more color than the other whites we tasted
Nose: Floral, slightly musky
This wine has some decent fruit with pleasant red apple flavors that lingered for some time. But there wasn't as much acid to achieve the balance I found with the sauvignon blanc. For the same price, the sauvignon blanc is a better choice.

Petit Chateau ($12.99)
65% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc
Color: Crimson
Nose: Some nice red fruit, eucalyptus, and a little "barnyard" earthy character
This wine is very light, with a hint of spicy pepper at first. This wine was more light-bodied than expected, but was a little too heavy on the tannins. Generally easy drinking, but not spectacular relative to some of Borghese's other varietals.

2006 Estate Pinot Noir ($29.99)
Color: Very light red, with a rusty tint
Nose: Cherry, melon, musk
Generally light and easy, with decent length. Given the challenges that come with producing a high-quality pinot on the North Fork, this is pleasant. Borghese's unique micro climate (good sun exposure and proximity to water on both sides of the vineyard - the Sound to the north, and the Bay to the south) enables them to take chances with a fickle grape like this.

2005 Estate Merlot ($19.99)
Color: Deep magenta, good transparency
Nose: Dark fruit, spice, and a little vanilla & cream
The nose leads right into the palate, where you get some dark fruits, spices and pepper early on. This wine has some tannins, but they're much softer than the ones in the Petit Chateau. The medley of acid and fruit lingers and holds together quite nicely. This wine is very balanced and coats the tongue well. It's generally a light-style merlot, but carries enough concentration to support a sturdy finish.

2003 Reserve Merlot ($29.00)
Color: Brownish magenta
Nose: Barnyard earthiness, with some red fruit
This is an easy-drinking merlot, with some lively fruit and soft tannins. This wine is not trying to be anything more than a traditional merlot.

2006 Estate Cabernet Franc ($24.99)
Color: Medium crimson
Nose: Not as much barnyard earthiness as you'd expect in a cab franc. In fact, not a strong nose in general. Some dark fruit and minty tones.
This wine delivers the classic peppery flavors that cab franc typically yields, plus some soft tannins. While generally pleasant, there wasn't as much length in this wine as other Borghese wines we tasted.

Cabernet Franc Reserve ($42.00)
Color: Like the Estate cab franc, a medium crimson
Nose: Dark berries and some nutty aromas, a more powerful nose than the Estate cab franc.
This wine was better than its Estate counterpart, with smoother fruit. It softly coats the tongue with balanced components and decent length.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Crash Course in Wine: Part III

Some Other Factors to Consider
Aging - As a wine ages, it will lose some of its fruity characteristics and color. In addition, its tannins will subside, but its acidity will remain intact. Tannins, acid and alcohol are all preservatives and play an important role in the aging of wine. When evaluating ageability of a wine, it is either ready to drink, in need of more time, or past its prime.

A wine is usually considered "ready to drink" when all its major tasting components are in balance, according to your individual preferences. It often needs more time when its tannins overpower its fruity characteristics. And it can be past its prime if it has lost a meaningful amount of color and fruit, leaving the taste of alcohol as its most dominant characteristic.

Cost - This is another attribute that's important to consider. The good news - there are lots of really great wines out there, from all regions of the world, that retail for less than $30 a bottle. Once you know what characteristics you prefer, you can begin to build a go-to list of affordable wines. More good news...many North Fork wines are at that price point as well!

Food & Wine Pairing - When considering which wines to consume with food, the cardinal rule is that the wine should never clash with or overpower your food. Zraly's general rule: "The sturdier or fuller in flavor the food, the more full-bodied the wine should be. For foods that are milder the best wines to use would be medium or light bodied". For example, think about a fillet of white fish and a NY strip steak. Would the same wine bring out the best in these foods? Probably not.

My Two Cents
Since a lot that I've just shared with you is just some basic facts, I wanted to put my own personal spin on it all...

The range in climate, soil, grape varieties, aging style and production techniques give way to an endless assortment of wines, each creating a different sensory experience for you the consumer. Moreover, since wine is a living substance that continues to develop in its bottle, your experience with it on one day will be different from your experience with that very same wine if it were to be opened at any other time.

What I find so neat is that in today's world of mass production and standardization, where else can you find so many options at such an accessible price? With that in mind, it's helpful for you to go through your own self-discovery process to identify which wines you enjoy most. As my clever friend Ellyn said recently "Life's too short to be drinking wines you don't like". I couldn't agree more.

As you start to determine what characteristics you seek in a wine, it's fun to share your thoughts with other wine drinkers. To that end, I give you a glimpse into my own evolving list of preferences that have come from my tasting experiences.

Whites: I have a high tolerance for acid, and enjoy the vibrant "activity" it creates in my mouth. I prefer very little or no residual sugar, and I typically seek crisp, refreshing fruits such as citrus, green apple and pineapple.

Reds: I also seek reds with a little acid to add some complexity, and enjoy red fruits such as strawberry and cherry. My tolerance for tannins is somewhat low, so I typically stay away from young, big red wines. I enjoy a lot of length, and have a particular weakness for wines with a creamy tasting finish.

How does this translate into varietal/regional preferences? I tend to go for dry Rieslings, New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, un-oaked Chardonnays, Zinfandels, North Fork and Washington Merlots, and rather uncharacteristically, French Rhone Valley Syrahs (where I tend to find those creamy finishes). And, when I can get lucky, a powerful red that's been aged properly, making it much lighter on tannins.

Meanwhile, my boyfriend, and tasting partner in crime, typically chooses the same type of whites that I do. But with reds, he has a higher tolerance for tannins and tends to favor wines with dark "stewed fruits" (think raisins and plums), as well as wines with a peppery or earthy profile. Accordingly, he often leans towards big California Cabernets, earthy Pinot Noirs, and Cabernet Francs from regions like the North Fork.

Next Steps for You
As you drink a wine, think about all the elements I discussed. And if you've never done so, don't be afraid to jot down some tasting notes. To get a better sense of what tasting notes look like, use a resource like the website Cellar Tracker, where oenophiles share their thoughts on a broad spectrum of wines.

Now that you're equipped with all of this wine knowledge, I leave you with this Mark Twain quote from Kevin Zraly's book. "There are no standards of taste in wine...each man's own taste is the standard, and a majority vote cannot decide for him or in any slightest degree affect the supremacy of his own standard".

The fun thing about wine is that there's no right answer, because it's so subjective. Everyone experiences nuances in the color, bouquet and palate differently. Only you can work to identify what you like, and once you do so, you'll have lots of fun selecting the varietals and regions that suit your taste. Cheers to that!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Crash Course in Wine: Part II

Ok, now we're getting to the good stuff! It's natural to think that when you drink wine, you're only using your sense of taste. However, we actually use three senses: sight, smell and taste. When pouring a glass of wine, it is tempting to jump right in and drink; but there are a few preliminary steps you should take to assess it and record your thoughts.

Sight: Clarity & Color
The first thing you should do once you've poured a glass of wine is evaluate its appearance.  Hold the glass at an angle against a white background. Does the wine appear cloudy or clear?  Generally speaking, if you can see through a wine, then it's ready to drink.

Next, you should note the color of the wine, and the consistency or concentration of that color. What is the color? Is it all the same hue, or does it fade at the edges? Color can tell you a lot about the age or condition of a wine, and even the varietal.

As seen below, white wines can range from pale yellow green to gold to brown, while reds can range from purple to ruby red to brown. As whites age, they generally get darker. Conversely, as reds age, they generally lose color.

Source: Windows on the World Complete Wine Course

Smell: Aroma & Bouquet
Contrary to popular belief, smell is likely the most important part of appreciating a wine. As Kevin Zraly notes, a person can only sense 4 tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, salty), but can identify 2,000+ different smells, with more than 200 of those commonly found in wine.

After you've evaluated the color and clarity of the wine, swirl it around in your glass. This motion "opens up" the wine by exposing it to oxygen to strengthen its smell. The aroma is the particular scent of the grapes, while the bouquet is the overall smell of the wine. Often, wine drinkers refer to the smell of the wine as its "nose".

Given the countless smells one can extract from a wine, it can be challenging to articulate many of them. Something that's been helpful for me is the scent wheel, seen below. This tool opens your mind to all the seemingly unconventional smells (stuff you seriously didn't think was possible) you can find in a wine. With it, the possibilities are endless!

After some smelling practice, you can begin to recognize patterns in common aromas associated with a certain grape, and even better anticipate what the wine may taste like once you actually drink it :)

Taste: The Major Components
Finally, on to the best part! Once you've noted the color and aroma/bouquet, it's time to drink. The first few times, let the wine sit on your tongue for 3-5 seconds before swallowing. This lets the wine warm up to your body temperature, sending the smells up through your nasal passage. Since 90% of taste is actually smell, doing this will actually enhance your tasting experience.

The major "tasting" components include: Residual Sugar, Acid, Tannins and Fruit. All of these elements can be recognized on a certain part of your tongue.

Residual sugar is any sugar from the grapes that wasn't converted to alcohol during fermentation. The sweetness from this can be felt immediately at the front tip of your tongue.

Acidity (sour or tart) can be felt on the sides of your tongue, cheek area and the back of your throat. White wines and many lighter red wines often have a noticeable level of acidity. Meanwhile, many fuller-bodied wines are lower in acidity. This occurs because grapes with more sugar - to be converted into alcohol - typically yield fuller-bodied wines. And as a grape's sugar level rises, its acidity falls.

Tannins are not a taste, but as Kevin Zraly says, a tactile sensation. They are a natural preservative that come from the skins, stems and pits of the grapes, as well as oak that may be used for barrel aging. Tannins tend to dry your palate. They are usually recognized first in the middle of the tongue, and if the wine has a lot of tannins, it can permeate your entire mouth.

Red wines are typically more tannic because the grape juice they come from is more frequently fermented with its skins, and they are aged in oak for longer periods of time. When wine, particularly powerful reds, is too young tannins can dry the palate too much, obstructing the fruity character of the wine. That said, as a wine ages, its tannins will fade while its fruit and color remain fairly intact, creating a "smoother" wine. This is why many robust wines are aged, and then consumed years later.

Fruit is also not a taste, it's actually a smell. However, the weight of the fruit (known as "body") can be felt down the middle of the tongue. Naturally, every drinkable wine will create that fruity sensation...since we know it's made from grapes!

Once you've swallowed the wine, pay attention to its aftertaste. Think about how long the overall taste and medley of components linger in your mouth. Typically a good wine will yield a considerable aftertaste, which wine drinkers call "length". The length of some really great wines can actually last for up to 3 minutes.

Overall, when consuming a quality wine that's ready to drink, good balance between the fruit, acid and tannins should be expressed - creating a complex, yet smooth, sensation in your mouth.

Part III coming soon...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Crash Course in Wine: Part I

Ahead of my posts about North Fork tastings, I thought it would be helpful to do some Wine 101 for those who do not yet consider themselves wine connoisseurs :) Since it can be a lot of content to digest, I’ve split the entry into three parts. In Part I, I’ll cover the major wine regions and varietals. Part II includes the major components one can see, smell and taste in a wine. And Part III will be a quick wrap-up.

As we jump into the fundamentals of wine, this is a great time to mention Kevin Zraly, who runs the Windows on the World Wine School in New York City, an 8-session class I took last spring. In the class, I not only learned the basic facts of wine, but also discovered key characteristics and how I most prefer they be expressed in a wine. The many amusing anecdotes Kevin shared with us during class were quite helpful as well!

Since most of my fundamental wine knowledge came from Kevin, much of the content below can be traced in some way back to his book, Windows on the World Complete Wine Course and detailed tasting notes I took during his class. For anyone in the New York area who is curious about the subject, I highly recommend the course.


No matter what you glean from the information below, the best way to learn about wine is to accumulate lots of tasting experience. Through this, you begin to develop a basis for comparison, and gain a familiarity for common characteristics in particular varietals and regions. How about that adage? Less reading and studying...more drinking!

What is Wine?                                                                                                             
I’m going to go with the bold assumption that everyone has a general understanding of what wine is. As Zraly mentions in his book, for the purposes of this lesson, the simplest definition of wine is fermented grape juice. Fermentation is the process in which grape juice is converted into wine. Essentially, the sugar in the grapes is mixed with yeast, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. The CO2 is released into the air, unless you’re making sparkling wine, in which case it would be captured.

The three major types of wine are: table wine (8-15% alcohol), sparkling wine, and fortified wine (17-22% alcohol). Unless noted otherwise, my entries will be about table wine.

Wine Regions                                                                                                              
Zraly notes that there are 70+ wine producing countries in the world today, and that more acres of grapes are planted than any other fruit crop in the world. Go grapes!

The top five wine producers in the world, in descending order are: France, Italy, Spain, United States and Argentina. Typically, the most important factors that make a region suitable for grape growing, and consequently wine production, are the right climate and ideal soil, or what the French call “terroir”. At the end of the day, a wine is only as good as the grapes used to make it, so these elements are very important.

Most grapes cannot thrive in just any climate or soil. To that end, familiarity with major wine regions can be very powerful, as it helps you learn what grapes will likely yield good wine, and which varietals to avoid from a particular region. For instance, the most venerable Rieslings (whose character is best expressed in wine when cultivated in cooler climates) often come from upstate New York, Washington State, Germany and Northern France, not California or Southern Europe.

In addition to the traditional wine superpowers, there has been a lot of growth in other regions around the globe, particularly in New Zealand, Chile, and South Africa. And, fun fact, there are now wine-producing regions in all 50 states here in the US! That said, after a recent visit to a winery in a remote part of North Carolina, I certainly cannot attest to the quality of wine produced outside of New York, California, Oregon and Washington.

Major Varietals                                                                                                           
Below are the most popular grapes used to make wine. They are listed from light to full-bodied. The notion of “body”, or the weight of the fruit and level of alcohol, is very important. Body dictates the order in which one tastes a series of wines. When tasting multiple wines in one sitting, you start with the light-bodied ones. Body also helps you determine which wines will best complement a particular meal.

The best varietals on the North Fork, based on the region’s climate and terroir, are light-style Chardonnay and Merlot. A less common grape, Cabernet Franc, has also shown some success. There are a number of other varietals produced in the region, but I’ve found that the caliber of wine produced from them is less consistent, depending much more on the quality and style of the particular winemaker.

Meanwhile, it’s more challenging for the North Fork to produce robust “big reds” like Cabernet Sauvignon that are frequently found in California, as the region's growing season isn’t warm or long enough for those grapes to ripen to their full potential.

Stay tuned for Part II...

Monday, July 5, 2010

Welcome Newbies!

Hello all. Or, to be more realistic about my current audience, hi Mom! Welcome to the North Fork Newbie.

First, a quick introduction: My name is Carey. I live and work in New York City, and spend some of my free time in the North Fork of Long Island. After immersing myself in a comprehensive wine class more than a year ago, I have developed a passion for the subject. I certainly wouldn't call myself an expert (yet!).  Instead, I simply take pleasure in tasting wines from numerous regions, grape varieties, and vintages, and focus on refining my own abilities to recognize subtle smells and tastes one can find in a great wine. And, as a New Yorker passionate about wine, I take pride in the wine-making region closest to the city - the North Fork.

Now, I'm sure you have some follow-up questions, so let me indulge you...

What's your connection to the North Fork? I did not grow up there; in fact, it was just two years ago that I first visited the region! However, it was closer than I thought. As a child growing up in Connecticut, I spent a lot of time on the state's southern shore. On a clear day, you could spot a stretch of land along the horizon, just across Long Island Sound. This mass of barely visible land was cloaked in mystery. Although it was just a few miles across the water, I had never been, as it would be a multi-hour journey by car (sadly, no bridges, but there were ferries!). I'd often think about what those "strangers from another state" were doing. Little did I know that some of these strangers were working hard to cultivate what was at the time, a burgeoning wine industry. What's more, I had no idea it would someday be one of my favorite escapes from the city.

How poetic. So what exactly is the "North Fork"? The North Fork - about a two-hour drive from New York City - is one of two regions making up the eastern stretch of Long Island, where the Peconic River empties into Peconic Bay, creating a two-pronged "fork" of land. The area south of the bay is the Hamptons, while the land along the bay's northern border is the North Fork. The Hamptons is hip, trendy and chock-full of A-list celebrities, while the North Fork is its gentler, down-to-earth sibling. In the North Fork, you have access to nearly everything that draws New Yorkers to the Hamptons, plus one other thing...

Wine country, which includes about 40 wineries adorning a 20-mile stretch along or between two main roads, Routes 25 & 48. The earliest vines in the North Fork date back to the 1970's. Since then, there's been considerable growth in wine production in the region. Yet despite this deep history and proximity to Manhattan, one of the world's culinary meccas, I have struggled to find many restaurants or retailers offering a critical mass of (if any) Long Island wines.

Note: In the spirit of full disclosure, there are a handful of reputable wineries in the Hamptons. However, this pales in comparison to the extensive offerings you can find in the North Fork.

Carey, that's great, but why the blog? Good question. First, this blog will encourage my friends and I to record our thoughts on the tasting rooms we visit and wines we consume. When tasting a new wine, taking some time to record your thoughts and observations can be very helpful. There are so many nuances from vintage to vintage, region to region, and producer to producer, that it's nearly impossible to catalog them all in your head. As such, tasting notes can be a great reference when you're seeking a particular wine to accompany a meal, enrich a special occasion, or just satisfy a particular craving.

And for those of you with a limited knowledge of wine, no fear! Reading someone's tasting notes are actually a great way to hone your own ability to see, smell and taste the many (and sometimes, surprising) characteristics in a fulfilling wine.

My goal: to visit each Long Island winery and share my thoughts with you.  From the observations I chronicle in this blog, I hope to provide you with a good reference point when planning your own visit the Long Island wine country. More broadly (and ambitiously) speaking, I'm trying to do my part to raise the profile of the North Fork :)

I'm hooked. And also thirsty. Which North Fork wines should I try? I like the enthusiasm! Stick around, and hopefully I can help you. I encourage you to take a look at the "Long Island Wineries" page above, which includes a complete listing of Long Island wineries. As my friends and I frequent each winery, I'll post a new blog entry and update the aforementioned list by adding summary thoughts, recommended wines, and an overall rating. And, to any readers who have experienced some North Fork wines yourselves, feel free to share your thoughts as we go along.

Up next: A crash course in wine, followed by some notes from a recent Long Island Rose tasting. But for now, I leave you with evening shot from the backyard of the summer house we are renting in the North Fork. Picture yourself here, and just add some fresh fish from the grill and a glass of summer wine, cooled to perfection. No need to wait and age...uncork and enjoy the North Fork experience now!