Fall is in full swing here on Long Island, with fall festivals a plenty every weekend from now through Halloween. Unfortunately, the traffic is proof of that. Pumpkin pickers and folks looking to get lost in a corn maze flock to the east end – hence the reason why we buy our pumpkins at our neighborhood farm stand and wait until after Halloween to reclaim our favorite east end haunts. Once the ghoulies, goonies and gremlins make themselves scarce after Halloween, spend some relaxing weekends in November touring some of the vineyards.
As you take the leisurely drive east toward Long Island’s north fork, the idyllic scenery is peppered with beckoning farm stands bursting with colorful bounty and flora. Interspersed among those farm stands you will pass acres of lush grape vines, standing like soldiers at attention as they await their deployment to the winemaking facilities that are so abundant in this area.
New York State is the third largest wine-producing region in the United States. Long Island’s seaside climate and soil quality provide favorable conditions for growing and producing wine. Since the establishment of Long Island’s first vineyard in 1973, the east end winegrowing region continues to expand nearly forty years later, boasting over fifty wineries to sip from. While a vast array of varietals and blends are produced, Long Island’s most respectable achievements gravitate toward Bordeaux blends such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Most of the east end wineries are located on the north fork, many of them along the two main roads of Sound Avenue (County Rout 48) and Route 25.
To visit the oldest winery, which was founded in 1973 by the Hargrave family and sold in 1999 to an Italian prince by the name of Marco Borghese, you will find Castello di Borghese nestled on Sound Avenue in Cutchogue. For a reservation and modest fee, their ‘Winemaker’s Walk’ will take you on a guided stroll along the vineyard, a tour of the wine-production facility and barrel rooms and concludes with a tasting of several of their wines. This popular touring option is available on Saturdays from November through May, and on Thursdays and Sundays from June through October, all tours commencing at 1 p.m. If you opt for a more spontaneous sampling venture, the tasting room is open daily from May through December and on Thursday through Monday from January through April. Their velvety smooth Meritage is exceptional and their Pinot Noir is the star of their winning lineup.
Occupying over five hundred acres, Pindar is the largest wine producer on Long Island. Still under the original ownership of Dr. Damianos, Pindar was established in 1979. This winery is located in Peconic on Route 25. Pindar Vineyards prides themselves on their efforts toward sustainable agricultural practices and use of renewable energy, opting for organic composting over chemical fertilizers and pesticides. In the closing months of 2011, a 100-kilowatt wind turbine was erected onsite and now supplies most of the energy used in the winery’s operations. The vineyard grows seventy varieties of grapes, which are then crafted into a host of varietals and proprietary blends. Pindar’s most notable award-winning blend is called Mythology, which I first enjoyed in 1997 and the 2007 Mythology is equally sensational. For white wine aficionados, the Sunflower Chardonnay and the Johannisberg Riesling have reaped favorable accolades, from myself included. Pindar’s tasting room is open daily all year; complimentary tours are given at 2 p.m. from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. Be prepared for crowds, as the longevity of the winery and the variety of different wines make Pindar the island’s most popular winery.
My favorite winery on Long Island is Roanoke Vineyards, located on Sound Avenue in Riverhead, is owned by Richard Pisacano, who has been tending vines and producing world class wines on Long Island for over thirty years. The mission at Roanoake is to create limited production artisanal wines of premium superb quality. Winemaker Roman Roth has created three unique and exquisite blends: Blend One, a Cabernet Sauvignon base blended with Cabernet Franc; Blend 2, which is absolute red perfection, showcases Cabernet Franc as the headliner, blended with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Marco Tulio is the other blend in which the three aforementioned grapes come together in perfect harmony. Their staff is very outgoing, knowledgeable and eager to answer questions. Roanoke’s tasting room is open daily.
Other notable wineries include Macari Vineyards in Mattituck, whose Merlot and Rose are both personal favorites of mine, and Osprey’s Dominion in Peconic, where an all-encompassing variety of wines are offered. As you explore the area, fifty other wineries await your visit. You will be able to purchase bottles of their wines, and many also offer decanters, stemware, corkscrews and other wine paraphernalia in their shops. Some offer the opportunity to join their wine clubs, benefits of which may include discounts off of purchases made in their shops as well as receipt of featured bottles of wine on a monthly basis. Many wineries feature live music performances and art displays at their facilities, check the winery’s website for dates. The scenic ambience of their grounds have also made Long Island wineries highly sought-after venues for weddings that are sure to be elegant and sophisticated.
In between wineries, be sure to explore other gems that the east end of Long Island has to offer, from the farm stands and bake shops to the goat cheese farm and you-pick orchards along the way; not to mention a host of epicurean havens at which to pause for lunch. By the time you turn around to make the return trek home, you will likely have picked up all of the makings of a perfect, Long Island grown dinner, starting with the perfect wine.
Something tells me that I will not get away with posting a blog sans a recipe. Here’s a recipe for chicken Dijon, which does in fact include wine in the ingredient list.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8 chicken pieces, on the bone, skin left on (thighs, legs, breasts or combo)
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 onions, thinly sliced
½ tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
½ tablespoon fresh sage, finely chopped
½ tablespoon fresh oregano, finely chopped
1 ½ cups white wine*
2 large leeks, thoroughly washed, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (I like Maille)
¾ cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the chicken pieces generously with salt and pepper. Brown the chicken pieces on both sides in the skillet, about 7 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate. Add the onions to the skillet and sauté until translucent, then add the garlic and sauté another 2 minutes. Stir in the rosemary, sage and oregano. Add the wine, the chicken and any juices that accumulated from the chicken. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Stir in the leeks, cover once again and simmer for another 5-10 minutes, or until juices from the chicken run clear when pierced with a knife. Transfer the chicken to a deep serving platter. Stir the mustard and the cream into the skillet mixture. Once combined, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Pour the sauce over the chicken. Sprinkle with the parsley. Serves four.
* Note: we have all spied the bottles in the supermarket that bear the atrocity of a label that reads “Cooking Wine.” It comes in red, white, Marsala and even Sherry. They are usually displayed near the vinegars. Don’t even think about it! These concoctions are NOT wine, they don’t taste like wine, they’re loaded with sodium and they will ruin your dish! I cannot stress this enough. The rule is simple: if it isn’t good enough to drink from a glass, it is not good enough for the pot either. Use the same wine that you might drink; if you only need a small amount, open a nice bottle, measure out the required amount and then allocate the remainder to the evening’s wine glasses. Alternately, you can keep a larger bottle of upper mid-level wine on hand just for cooking and save the best wines for sipping.
Food for Thought
When one of Brian’s Facebook friends queried whether or not we enjoy wine, Brian naturally voiced his preference for craft beer. Lest the polling individual believes that we are a stereotypical ‘beer, he said; wine, she said’ couple, let me say this: why can’t I have both?! As it happens, I do enjoy both very much. I will admit that wine is my preference, and there simply is not a beer worthy of accompanying an authentic Italian meal, in my humble opinion. Then again, beer seems the only appropriate pairing for Indian fare. That said, I love dark, creamy stouts. I am also enjoying the season’s extensive lineup of pumpkin ales.
Craft breweries are popping up everywhere. On Long Island alone we have Southampton Public House, Port Jeff Brewery, Blue Point Brewery, Greenport Harbor Brewing Company and Long Ireland in Riverhead. Brewing restaurants include Brick House Brewery in Patchogue, John Harvard in Lake Grove and Black Forest Brew House in Farmingdale. A little further west we have Brooklyn Brewery, and Ommegang Brewery is producing world class Belgian style brews upstate in Cooperstown.
Several of these breweries have produced pumpkin ales. It seems that every craft beer maker is jumping on the pumpkin ale bandwagon. Of the two best pumpkin ales that I have imbibed, one hails from Greenport Harbor Brewing Company. They called it Leaf Pile and the flavor was perfect for a fall refresher. The number one rated pumpkin ale comes not from New York, but from Delaware: Dogfish Head’s Punkin never disappoints, year after year. When you relax around the fire pit at your fall barbecues, enjoy some of the many wines and beers that Long Island has to offer. For those who like neither, there are plenty of other autumn harvest libations to enjoy, including hard apple ciders, apple martinis and cranberry martinis.