Any day is a good day to visit the Hamptons, but being the kind of guy who likes to avoid crowds (and crowded roads), I prefer visiting the Hamptons wineries in the off-season. So, for my second day of my “Grand Tour”, I decided to swing down on the South Fork on a cold Saturday in late February and visit the three wineries in the Hamptons wine region of Long island.
First stop was Duckwalk Vineyards. Duck Walk was founded in 1994 by Long Island Wine Industry pioneer Dr. Herodotus “Dan” Damianos and his son Alexander, and is now one of the larger wineries on the East End producing 35,000 cases a year. The tasting room is a Normandy-style chateau on the Main Road in Water Mill, which once housed Le Reve, an early Hamptons winery. Duck Walk makes a large variety of wines: From their popular line of Windmill blends to the more “serious” Pinot Meunier to a Blueberry Port, which is crafted from wild Maine Blueberries. My tastes run to dry older wines, so I did the reserve tasting, which included their Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, all from 2010. Of these, the Cabernet Sauvignon was my favorite, which was just coming into its own with notes of cedar and leather.
Next was Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton, about five miles to the east. (Which during the summer season, can be a 45 minute drive during the weekend) Visiting Channing is like going to a great restaurant where the menu changes constantly. You never know exactly what’s going to be on the specials board, but you know that the chef, or in this case winemaker Christopher Tracy, is going to be cooking up something new and tasty. And this visit was no exception; there were five new sparkling wines to taste. All were Pet Nats, or Petillant Naturel, which is a method of producing sparkling wine by bottling the wine during the primary fermentation to capture the carbon dioxide that is naturally released. This differs from Méthode Champenoise, where the bubbles are produced during a second fermentation.
First up was a pair of white sparklers: Bianco (mostly Sauvignon Blanc blended with Pinot Grigio and Tocai Friulano) and Sylvanus (a field blend created from Pinot Grigio, Muscat and Pinot Bianco). Next a pair of rosati (Italian for rosé) sparklers: the Mudd West Rosato (a blend of Syrah and Cabernet Franc) and the 100% Merlot Rosato. Finally I tasted the Rosso Pet Nat, which was a blend of Refosco, Syrah, Merlot, Dornefelder, Zweigelt, Teroldego and Blaufrankisch. (How’s that for an interesting combination of ingredients!) Though my personal favorites were the Bianco and the Rosso, I brought home all five sparkling wines, as I thought this would make a rather fascinating tasting to share with my friends.
After a relaxing lunch at World Pie on the Main Road in Bridgehampton (I had the Tuscan pizza, which was a hearty blend of Rosemary roasted chicken, tomato, broccoli rabe and ricotta), I headed east to Wolffer Estate Vineyeard in Sagaponack for what was to be the centerpiece of the afternoon. Roman Roth, veteran winemaker at Wolffer (as well as Roanoke Vineyards) was doing a tasting of Library wines as part of the annual Long Island Winterfest. Not only was this a rare chance to taste some great wines, but it was a unique opportunity to pick the brain of one of the true legends of the Long Island wine region. To put this into perspective, its like watching a movie with Steven Spielberg. Or keeping with my opening day goal, like sitting next to Keith Hernandez while watching the World Series!
But first something new, a barrel tasting of their popular “Summer in a Bottle” rose wine, which was about to be bottled. Light, fruity with all the aromas of summertime. Not just a great palette opener for the library tasting, but a sure sign that winter was ending. We started our formal tasting with the 2002 Estate Selection Chardonnay. For anyone that thinks that Long Island whites can’t be aged, think again. This wine was just coming into its own. We then tasted a pair of Cabernet Francs, the Caya label from 2008 and the 2004 vintage. As these wines opened up (and warmed up, as the cellar was a bit chilly), they got better and better. And finally the pièce de résistance, the 2001 Premier Cru Merlot, a predecessor to the current Christian Cuvee. To eliminate any sediment and to give the wine a chance to release the aromas and flavors that have been bottled up for 15 years, the wine was decanted. And how was it? Absolutely fantastic, with no negative signs of aging. “To be mature can be a great thing!” Roman quipped.
A few samples of a great year (2010), a horizontal tasting of Pet Nat sparkling wines, a sneak peek at summer and a library tasting with a veteran winemaker. A day in the Hamptons doesn’t get much better than this. 42 days to the Mets home opener.
Today’s Line Score: 3 wineries, 13 wines and 149 miles.
Season Statistics: 7 wineries, 23 wines and 286 miles
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