Tasting our way through Long Island’s North Fork

Our short, one-day visit was nowhere near enough to justice to this pretty area.

The vast majority of our time was devoted to wine tastings. Rather than discuss each winery, I will just mention a few of our favorite wines from each:

  • Palmer. Our favorite, by far was the non-vintage Gallagher’s Private Reserve Red, a blend of Merlot, Cab Franc and Cab Sauvignon.
  • Martha Clara. The 2007 6025 blend (32% Merlot, 32% Cab Sauv, with Cab Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot) was our favorite, followed by the 2009 Viognier and 2009 Syrah.
  • Harbes Family. You must try their Chardonnay Ice Wines. While the 2011 was nice, the 2010 is extraordinary, deep yellow color and pure honey.
  • Macari. The 2008 Cab Franc and 2008 Dos Aquas (70% Merlot, 17% Cab Sauvignon plus Malbec, Cab Franc and Petite Verdot) were quite nice, but the 2005 Merlot Reserve was a delight.
  • Pelligrini. Two wines stood out–the 1997 Vintner’s Pride Merlot and the non-vintage Vintner’s Pride Finale Ice Wine (Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc).
  • Waters Crest. The winery is very small and does not grow its own grapes, but the 2008 Merlot is very nice.
  • Pindar. Check out the 2010 Viognier, 2007 Reserve Merlot and the 2008 Late Reserve Riesling.
  • Peconic Bay. The 2010 Lot #3 (60% Merlot and 30% apiece Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab Franc) was our favorite.
  • Osprey’s Dominion. Check out the 2007 Reserve Merlot and the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc Ice Wine.

Although we found wines at we liked at each of our stops, there was one winery at which we enjoyed virtually every wine we tasted. Castillo de Borghese, the oldest winery on Long Island, planted its first vines in 1973. We enjoyed a number of the Estate wines, including the 2010 Riesling, 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, 2007 Merlot, 2008 Cab and we even enjoyed the 2007 Pinot, a varietal on which we had all but given up hope. The reserve wines, however, were the highlights: Especially the 2005 Merlot, 2007 Cab Franc and, in our view, about the best wine on the island–the 2006 Meritage (40% Cab Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 20% Cab Franc).

In sum, although Long Island has a number of interesting wines, the best and most consistent are probably the Merlots, Cabernet Francs and Ice Wines. Look particularly for the 2005, 2007 and 2010 vintages.

Our sampling of restaurants was, unfortunately, extremely limited. Luce+Hawkins, in Jamesport, is located in the lovely Jedediah Hawkins House Inn. Although lovely, our dining experience was okay, but a bit of a letdown given the ambiance. The duck breast was good, but more medium than medium rare and the black beans wrapped in corn tamale tended to dry out a dish that could have used more moisture and flavor. Joyce could not resist the call of tempura soft shell crab. While the crabs were large, especially given the very reasonable $23 price, they were a bit over-battered, which tended to mute the flavor of the crab. The black garlic aioli with which it was served did complement the dish nicely. Although our server did not know the menu, it appears that she may have been a substitute, since the other servers appeared to be quite accomplished.

The only other restaurant we got to try was Claudio’s, in Greenport. And this was almost a mistake. Our plan was to go to Noah’s, which looked, and from everything we heard, was the best in town. We, however, decided to stop for an appetizer (steamed clams in an ale broth with jalapeños, butter, garlic and cream) before moving on to our main course. But the bar was so lovely, the bartender (Tony) so engaging and the clams and broth so good, that we had a second. As much as we tried, we were unable to do Noah’s.

There were also a number of other restaurants that were highly recommended. Among them are Lobster Roll, Taste of Venice, Grana, Braun’s, A Lure, Southold Fish Market and the Frisky Oyster.

I guess we will just have to return.

The North Fork, for all its wineries and restaurants, has much more. There is, for example, a particularly interesting one-block street in Mattituck, called Love Lane. It has highly regarded restaurant, Love Kitchen and at least two great specialty shops–a chocolate shop and our personal favorite, a cheese store It is a very pretty area with lots of farms and very nice farm stands, beaches, scenic harbors and some pretty streets. Greenport is, in our view, the prettiest town. It has two pretty commercial streets (Front and Main), a few credible restaurants (Noah’s, the Frisky Oyster and Claudio’s), one of the Island’s nicest hotels (the Harborview) and the ferry to Shelter Island, a lovely way-stop on the way to the South Fork.

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