An Off-Season Visit to Long Island’s South Fork

After a short ferry from Greenport on the North Fork to, and a short drive through the gracious and leisurely Shelter Island, we took a second ferry to the very off-season, South Fork. After quick pass through the lovely town of Sag Harbor and the ultra-upscale East Hampton, we drove straight through to Montauk, before returning to the Hamptons.

Although we knew that our trip, which was timed around the spring opening of a number of Broadway plays, was about two weeks before the formal opening of the season in the Hamptons, we expected at least something to be open.

Montauk was effectively closed for the season. Then, our attempts to find a lobster roll were all but dashed when all the roadside stands along the Montauk Highway were closed. Our efforts to take in some art were also quashed when we found that two East Hampton art destinations: the Lighthouse Reserve (a gallery and sculpture garden) and the Pollock-Krazner (Jackson Pollack and his wife and fellow artist, Lee Krazner) House were both closed. So too, we discovered when we later arrived in Southampton, was the Parish Museum (which specializes in East Long Island artists).

While the drive through East Hampton’s ritzy retail district (Main Street and Newtown Lane) was nice, we were intent on finding our lobster roll, which we did (actually in the form of a very good, very large lobster BLT) back at Sag Harbor, at the historic American Hotel. After a brief stop at 161 Madison Street, to see the controversial Larry Rivers’ "Legs" sculpture, we proceeded to Southampton, and checked into the wonderfully British, A Butler’s Manor inn.

After a brief tour and discovery that the Parrish Museum was also closed, we decided to drown our sorrows at one of the South Fork’s few wineries. (As we discovered, the South Fork, where land can be priced as high as $500,000 per acre, is simply too expensive for the planting of commercial crops. These are generally reserved to the less touristy North Fork, where land is a relative bargain at about $30,000 per acre.)

Although we initially viewed our stop at the Wolfer Estate Winery as something of a consolation prize, it turned out to be anything but. Although we initially refused an offer to begin with Wolfer’s trademark Rose, which accounts for about one-third of its 20,000 case production, the hospitality room manager convinced us to try it. We are glad we did. It was dry and crisp, with hints of peach and pear. Although we did pass on the more heavily oaked Chardonnays, we enjoyed the very lightly oaked 2009 Chard, which spends a mere four weeks in oak and undergoes a modest 25% malolactic fermentation.

Although we weren’t overly impressed by the 2008 Cabernet Franc, were quite impressed with the Fatalis Fatum Bordeaux blend (earth, tobacco, chocolate and light tannins) and the Caya Cab Franc (earthy with red cheery and cassis).

All of this, however, was just a warm up for two extraordinary desert wines. The Diosa Late Harvest Chardonnay Ice Wine (via refrigeration) has peach and apricot. The Laica Vignoles/Riesling is one of those rare wines that has gone through botrytis (the "Nobel Rot")’ which provides the consistency and almost the sweetness of honey, with apricot and a slight tartness at the back of the palate.

After sampling these "royal" wines, we thought it only fitting to see how the royalty of American finance lived, or at least vacationed. After driving through Southampton’s "estate section", the home of Southampton’s mid-level “royalty”, we arrived at the streets of the Kings and Queens–Gin Lane and Meadow Lane, both of which back onto the Atlantic Coast. These homes, many of which start at $10 million, are extraordinary, and very humbling to us mere peasants. We were, however, relieved to see that those of us who can’t afford to buy such homes, do have a chance to rent some of them. Just to think, for a mere $550,000, you too could spend an entire prime month (July) in an 8,000 sq. ft., 8 bedroom oceanfront estate with your own heated swimming pool, tennis court and putting green.

But even Hampton Kings and Queens have to eat. After discovering that our first two choices (Plaza Cafe and Red Bar) were, you guessed it, closed, we felt that we had to accept another "consolation:" This one in the form of the Tuscan House restaurant. But, as with our South Fork winery experience, we were in for a very pleasant surprise. The Clams in Red Sauce consisted of 14 large little necks in a delicious, house-made tomato sauce with small pearls of orzo pasta. The real star, however, was the Brodetto con Fregola, a bowl that was heaped with massive amounts of clams, shrimp, mussels, tilapia and crab meat, with orzo in a light tomato sauce. A huge portion of very fresh seafood in a light, tangy tomato- based sauce. This, and a bottle of Chianti Classico turned out to be a perfect end to what turned out to be a nice (albeit very different than what we had planned) day.

The day ended with a very civilized glass of sherry in our beautifully decorated, very comfortable room at the lovely Butler’s Manor.

We will return. And when we do, it will be when the museums and restaurants are open. We will also make time to visit another winery, Channing Daughters, that our new friends at Wolfer recommended. We will also come when the weather is more conducive to exploring the South Fork’s many trails, which will allow us to walk off at least some of the many calories we accumulate tasting the island’s wine and food.

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