AN INTRODUCTION TO ME & WINE
In mid-summer Long Island's Vineyards are ripe with grapevines dangling new fruit, luscious and plentiful. I was out East yesterday at Wölffer Vinyards taking in the sights and the smells, the sea air mixed with the musky smell of earth and plants and, of course, a lovely bottle of wine. It occurred to me that this is as an important part of our dining experience as is the food, and we have a treasure trove right here on the Island. I started my wine experiences in my late 20's and, quite a number of years later, I'm still learning. Having explored many of these vineyards myself, I can tell you what I know about those I've been to, those I loved, those I liked, and those I would not recommend. I'll also connect you to some of the most popular links for winery tours, which will open up adventures of your own. After all, there is nothing better than the perfect bottle of wine to complement you favorite meal!
In recent years, New York has become a very fruitful wine-producing State, and Long Island, with its sandy soil and sea breezes, now produces wines in almost all varieties. Best known for our dry, crisp white wines, made from Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Chenin blanc and Pinot Grigio; you will also find numerous reasonable and readily availably red table wines made from Merlot or Merlot-based blends. For those of you stuck on the European wines (like me), don't despair. Some Long Island vintners also produce a decent approximation of your traditional sparkling wines, aromatic white wines like Riesling and Gewurztraminer, oaky Chardonnays, and an array of minerally to fruity dry rosé wines made from Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Refosco, and Syrah. Even better, you will also find some fruity red wines made from Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, along with a few fine, spicy red wines from Blaufrankisch, Lagrein, Malbec, and Petit Verdot, not to mention some luscious dessert wines.
So, off we go to a short & simple lesson, then on to our tour!!
WINE 101 - HOW & WHEN TO USE WINES
Long Island Rosés are said to be very versatile wines (not my opinion), ranging from pale with mineral notes to more deeply colored, medium bodied and fruit-scented. They are generally un-oaked, often dry, and well-suited as aperitifs with lighter vegetable and chicken dishes, they can be good with grilled fish and meats. In my mind, I would use a Rose' for my White Sangria and be sure to add lots of fruit and Brandy; you can put it in your punch bowl or champagne fountain, or serve it on the rocks - if you know what I mean.
Remember, Champagne comes only from the region in France called "Champane." Anywhere else, and its called its sparkling wine. The traditional method sparkling wines range from the young fun wines that are perfect as aperitifs (for a celebratory toast with a berry at the bottom), with brunch or at any special occasion, to the richer, late-disgorged sparkling wines that you would usually serve with a variety of richer foods from roast fowl, to truffled dishes, and fattier fish. Then again, if I'm going to the trouble of buying truffles, I'm going with the French Champagne.
WOLFFER ESTATE WINERY, Sagaponack (South Fork) NY
I'm going to start with Wölffer Estate Winery, which has recently become one of my favorite places to be in the Hamptons. Overlooking acres and acres of lush vineyards, this is undeniably one of the most beautiful vineyards on Long Island, and one of the most inviting and family-friendly. The Tuscan-style building with its warm handmade entry, houses a lavish tasting room with imported stain glass doors, an expansive portico and underneath is the state-of –the-art winery – an appropriate foundation for the Wölffer wines nurtured by winemaker Roman Roth.
Wölffer has become known for a highly popular dry Rosé (“Summer in a Bottle”) a bottle of which is seen at almost every table. This wine is not unusual in the region and reflects a classical style of winemaking, with a rich concentration of fruit and lively acidity. Personally, I'm not sure why the Rose' is so popular, and I don't prefer "lively acidity" in my wine. However, I'm going to let you in on a little secret: Try a bottle of Fatalis Fatum. It may not be the most popular, and its certainly not the cheapest, but it will be well worth your money. This is one of the best reds on Long Island. Dark red in color, rich and viscous on your tongue, with the aroma of oak and ripe sweet plums. You taste and smell black cherries, lightly tannic, with a residual oak and cocoa flavor. Mmmm, I can taste it now, days later. Although they say its food friendly, in my opinion, the finish is so daring and the flavor lingers such that you may not want to disturb it with food - or share it with your friends!! You gotta check this one out.
Go as a couple and find a lovely table for two on the patio overlooking the vines as they bloom, or take the family and you will be comfortable at the available tables for 4, 6 or 12. Even the dog is welcome.
THE OLD FIELD VINEYARDS, Southold Bay, (North Fork) NY
RAPHAEL VINEYARDS, Peconic (North Fork) NY.
BEDELL CELLARS, Cutchogue (North Fork) NY
PINDAR VINYARDS, Peconic (North Fork) NY
DUCK WALK VINEYARDS, Watermill (South Fork**) NY
WINE TASTING DINNERS / TASTING DINNERS
Here's a treat for you: To highlight the numerous wines, both on Long Island and around the World, there a few wonderful restaurants that host "Tasting Dinners." For the uninitiated, that could mean a 3, 4, 5 or 6 course dinner, consisting of a number of smaller portions beginning with appetizers, fish or light meats, then dark or game meats all the way to dessert. Of course, each course is paired with a special wine chosen to compliment the dish. Sometimes, the dish is created to compliment the wine. Sometimes the pairing is not wine, but Tequila, Whisky, and even Beer tastings. Whatever your preference, you can find a tasting dinner to suit you!
These dinners are a wonderful way to learn about the different wines from different areas, and the way the flavor of the wine is changed by the food you eat with it Even if you are well-versed in your wine knowledge, you can always learn a thing or two about pairing it with different foods, about the similarities and the contrasts, and the balance of flavors. The same really does go for beer, and your hard alcohols (especially when you are serving cocktails and appetizers). So, lets browse some of my favorites*:
*note: these are not reviews, rather they are suggestions and ideas, most of which I've loved, and definitely liked. In this section I will not put in anything I didn't like or don't recommend. This one is just for fun!!
VITAE RESTAURANT & WINE BAR, Huntington, NY
Most recently I was at my favorite place for a Tasting Dinner, Vitae. Here, you're always welcomed back like family, but treated like royalty, all while Chef Steve Del Lima makes magic behind the kitchen curtain. I don't know how he does it, but he can make even a not-so-good wine taste great, and he can make a wonderful wine taste better. He finds that combination of ingredients in his food and brings out the best in a wine: like pairing the wonderful French Fournier Sauvignon Blanc with an Oyster Escabeche Shooter (in a granita of pink grapefruit & mandarin orange salsa). This wine stood alone as wonderful. The pairing was heavenly. This was just a prelude to the pairing of a Spanish LZ Rioja by Telmo Rodriguez with deep rustic, earthy notes and a black cherry undertone, yet still too young - with "Lamb Lollipops", Moroccan Chick-pea Salad, Apricot Mango Salsa & Spicy Mint Mojo. The combination deepend the flavor of the wine and sent it over the top. However, the feat of the evening was his pairing of an Italian wine they call Super Tuscan by Vigorello, a blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Sangiovese grapes. I've never had this wine before, and now I know why, it smelled like glue and drank like a mish-mosh of indistinguishable flavors. Unbelievably, Chef Steve performed his wizardry and paired this "wine" with a plate of Smoked Bison Carpaccio, Watercress-Fennel & Mandarin Salad, Truffle Mac-n-Cheese Croquette & Pickled Shallot Marmalade. Notice the strength of the flavors in the dish. The bison melted in my mouth, creamy and strong at the same time, going perfectly with the peppery watercress - so that when you took a sip of the wine it suddenly became palatable, even likeable. Nice work Chef, your are always tops in my book!!
Whisky Tasting at VITAE, Huntington NY
Sticking with Vitae for a moment, I'll take you back in time to a Jameson Irish Whisky Tasting we attended a few months back. You need to check their website at www.vitaeli.com because they have different events monthly. That night Chef Steve was up to his old sorcery once again, with combinations of food and Irish whisky. We were treated to Cured Pork Belly w/Maple Soy Glaze, Pickled Red Onions & a Savoy Cabbage Mushroom Stir-fry. He paired this delectable delight with Jameson's Gold Reserve, bringing out all the sweet and spicy character of the whisky. However, this dish did not need the whisky, even though the whisky benefited from the dish. I don't recall if that was the first combination of the night, but certainly the most memorable. Another pairing: Vitae's Autmn Salad, designed to open up your taste buds with sweet, salty, spicy and savory flavors, was lovely w/ Jameson's Reserve 12 year; Then, a Zucchini-Red Onion, Roasted Red Pepper "Naan" w/ Mexican Oregano, Mozzarella, 25 yr balsamic & Artichoke Hummus. That was unbelievable paired with the Reserve Black Barrel. Last, but certainly not least (and this is where the sorcery comes in) served to this non-steak eater was a Seared Wagyu Flat Iron Steak, Charred Eggplant, Oven-Dried Tomato & Sherry Vinegar Emulsion. Imagine a crusted filet mignon, but with more flavor. I did not need the steak knife, I would have used my fingers! Jameson's 18 yr Limited Reserve stood up beautifully to the flavors of the meat with hints of nuttiness and spice right through to the end. Vitae knows how pairings should be done and if you're starting out for the first time, try it there.
ROOTS BISTRO GOURMAND, West Islip, NY
Also at the top of my list is ROOTS BISTRO, especially for Wine Tasting and Pairing menus. I have a soft spot for French Wine and Food so, if I'm in the mood for love, I'm in the mood for Roots! You can see a full review of my escapades at this charming French bistro in that section. Here I will pare it down to the basics of our various samplings, and here, one wine may pair with 1, 2 or 3 courses - especially if your tasting is 6 courses! First, the escargot were creamy and tender, simply sensuous. The Lobster consomme' with ginger/soy and assorted fresh garden vegetables, frog leg meat and grilled shrimp was simply unbelievable. The appetizer salad was a mixture of fresh thinly slices zucchini, marinated beets, watermelon & micro-greens on a base of drunken goat cheese, all atop a puff pastry base. By this point, I left myself in the hands of this amazing young French chef.
The tasting menu included a plate of fresh homemade ravioli stuffed with a sweet pea filling, topped with chunks of tender lobster meat and an oh-so-light creamy sauce. So fresh & light you could barely believe it was ravioli! Next was Seared Fois Gras w/ roasted figs and pear reduction. O.K., I tried it. Many of you know I don't eat liver and I generally don't like Fois Gras despite its fame. Well, OMG, this was absolutely, the best, most silky tender bite of any piece of meat/organ meat I have ever eaten, anywhere. And I have eaten Fois Gras in many a fine restaurant. Thank you Chef Philippe for finally making Fois Gras the right way in Suffolk County. There was more: a grilled ground veal (or lamb, I can't recall) sausage filled with veggies, over a creamy polenta, smoked and served in a plate with smoke and all -- which was incredible. Then, a seared Rib-eye, with a rich crust (they must have wood in that kitchen) and a perfectly red rare inside. Now, are you ready? Served with a delicate black truffle wild mushroom sauce and a beautiful rich red wine to accompany it. Who does that? Its genius. The contrast in flavors in this dish, and throughout the meal were perfectly matched and we did not leave a bit of anything. I'm not a meat eater, I'm not a liver eater, I don't eat beets. I was converted. The appetizer size pressed suckling pig was similarly unbelievable, with a crispy skin that melts in your mouth and meat that was fall-apart tender. Then, a very special dessert of Creme Fraiche' Ice Cream (made in-house) over a strawberry sauce of some kind and this unbelievable whipped cream, along w/ a raspberry napoleon, also baked in-house. The food at Roots is exciting, ambitious and original. They will expertly pair your wines, or you can pair your own. Roots is another one of the best places to go for Wine Tastings and Beer Tastings.**
**For example, they will typically have a six-course Beer Tasting dinner, beginning around 6:30pm from $65 to $75 per person. You will find delicacies like Carmelized Fluke, Ricotta Spiced Ravioli & Lime Caviar paired w/ a White Wheat Ale, or Duck Meatballs & Potatos Mousseline paired with an Abbey Ale. On a Belgian Beer tasting evening, you may find a Slow Cooked Farm Egg w/ Escargots, Purple Asparagus & Carmelized Bacon paired with a Palm Amber Ale; a Long Island Duck Leg Confit w/ Prune Stuffed Gnocchi & Fois Grois Emusion paired w/ a Monks Cafe' Sour Ale, or a Pan Roasted Venison Loin w/ Eggplant Caponata, Edamame Mousseline and Port Wine Reduction paired with a Gulden Draak Quadruple. That's quite a mouthful!!! Keep an eye on their website or Facebook for advance notice and reserve early.
You can find their menus at http://www.rootsbistrogourmand.com
TEQUILA TASTINGS: CARACARA MEXICAN in Farmingdale; MARA'S HOMEMADE in Syosset
If you're serious about your Tequila, a Tasting Dinner is the way to go. You get to sample a variety of Tequilas, straight and as mixers, and enjoy the fine spicy foods they can stand up to:
First, one of my favorites right around the corner, Caracara Mexican Restaurant. This past winter we had the pleasure of dining at Caracara for a tequila tasting dinner sponsored by Riazul Premium Tequila. Caracara is an escape from the usual, and the dinner was superb all the way from the guacamole, soup and scallops to the Flan de Coco. Each Course was paired with either a cocktail made from Riazul, or a straight up shot of each of their Silver, Reposado and Anjeo (my favorite). Even the desert cocktail made from tequila and a sweetened milk was wonderful. Caracara always has something special going on, so sign up for their email list and stop by! Thank you to the Owners of Caracara, and the proprietors of Riazul. Keep up the good work!! (photos below)
As far as Mara's Homemade, you have heard enough of me extolling the virtues of Mara's cooking. However, at the risk of trying your patience I have to tell you once more to stop by and check it out. All her recipes are her own and when you go there you end up with authentic Cajun home cooking with a touch of gourmet flair. This is definitely one of my favorites. A Tequila Tasting at Mara's is something special because the flavors of the Cajun Cuisine (as with the Mexican above) stand up particularly well to the strength of a great Tequila. Mara's always has something special going on and coming up is Mara's "Celebrate National Tequila Day."..a day early, Tuesday, July 23rd, 7:00 pm - 5 cocktails, 4 courses Tequila Dinner $90 per person - with specialist Richard Plutz er giving out t-shirts, flashlight key chains & more! (click the link for the dinner menu) . At Mara's, there is always a party going on, so check on her website www.marashomemade.com often or sign up for her newsletter to find events and other tastings like Scotch Whisky Night, National Bourbon Day and Beer Tastings. There are even Cigar dinners (same with Vitae). Don't miss out on Mara's. Its a real treat.
Stay tuned, more to come....
From Our Friends at LongIsland.com
This is the perfect time of year for a long weekend "Road Trip" and, here on the East End, we are know for our winers, farm stands, fresh produce, and pumpking and apple picking in the fall. You certainly don't want to get caught unprepared on your next Road Trip, whether you happen to be going East on the LIE, our taking the scenic Southern Route on Montaulk Highway. Before you go, click on this link and make sure you have your Emergency Kit on hand...just in case. Safe travels!!
|Some important information from LongIsland.com to keep in mind before your next summer road trip: http://www.longisland.com/articles/06-06-14/do-it-yourself-road-trip-emergency-kit.html|
You never know what’s going to happen on the road, be prepared with this kit that you can easily put together.