We <3 Wine

Wine is something that I’ve sort of learned to love over the course of the last few years, almost entirely as a direct result of dating J. Before he and I started spending a lot of time together, my wine-drinking habits were basically limited to a lot of cheap rose (bad white zinfandel, basically, that was more sweet than anything else) and the occasional glass of fruity white. But J was a wine fan long before he met me, and he taught me a lot about wine just by exposing me to more of it. Where I used to shy away from anything darker red than a white zin, I discovered that a good pinot noir or shiraz became one of my favorite alcoholic beverages to drink casually. Where my tastes used to revolve around the sweeter end of the spectrum, I began to appreciate the dry, the smoky, the tart, and the complex. And although my palate is far from refined, and any bottle that costs more than $50 is generally wasted on me, I feel I’ve come a long way from where I used to be – at the very least, I definitely know the difference between a bad bottle, a mediocre one, and a really good one, and the range of wines that I can enjoy has widened exponentially.

The exploration of the world of wine has become one of our favorite hobbies, just below our cooking habit and on par with our fascination with microbrews and local beers (though that’s a subject for another post).

Living on Long Island, we are just about an hour away from an already-huge-and-growing wine community on the east end. Both the north and south forks are just teeming with independently owned vineyards and wineries, nearly all of which welcome visitors for tours and tastings. Two weekends ago we made only our second trip out to the North Fork to tour Bedell Cellars and sample some wine, but I have to say it was one of the most enjoyable and educational experiences I’ve had for a long time.

We were joined by my parents who came up from the day from CT (where I as born and grew up). The vineyard tour was sort of a last-ditch effort to do something special on my birthday, since our original plan (Yes concert at Jones Beach) fell through (the band canceled the tour because Jon Anderson, the vocalist, was horribly ill). I was a little concerned going into it because I didn’t know what to expect, but the entire experience was really wonderful.

The old farmhouse that was converted into Bedell’s winery, offices, and tasting room. The big covered deck is new, just built within the last few years.

The Bedell building and grounds are really beautiful: the vineyards themselves are sprawling, rolling hills covered with grapevines; there is a grassy, shaded picnic area surrounded by an impressive flower garden; the covered deck is huge and houses lots of tables and chairs, a tasting bar, and space for a live band to play (which apparently happens every Saturday and Sunday afternoon during the summer); and the building itself which houses the barrel rooms, bottling room, offices, and the main tasting room, is simple and open and very modern in a sleek, clean, black-and-white sort of way. The vineyard owner is apparently a rabid art collector, so the winery building is heavily decorated in his favorite pieces, which are switched up every few months or so. The whole thing is also set back just far enough from the road and separated from it by just the right number of trees to significantly mute any road noise and make you feel like your way out in the country somewhere. All together, it feels very sophisticated and luxurious without being intimidating, which I think is made possible by the fact that everyone on staff seems to be extremely friendly, knowledgeable, and welcoming.

We began our afternoon with a picnic at a shady table on the side of the winery building, snacking on cold grilled chicken, red cabbage and fennel slaw, leftover stromboli, and some fresh goat cheese that my parents provided. It was delicious, light, and satisfying, especially when eaten outside, surrounded by all that beautiful scenery, with the soft sounds of live music wafting over from the pavilion nearby.

View of the vineyards from the picnic area.

Our private tour was scheduled for 3pm, and we ventured into the tasting room a bit early to browse the selection and let the staff know we were there. Our tour guide, Matt, showed up soon after and provided us with a glass of their First Crush White blend to take along on the walking tour, and off we went to the vineyards themselves.

Our tour guide, Matt (on the left) leads my parents and J down the corridor between two lengths of vines.

A 20 minute discussion among the vines gave us some history of both the tradition of winemaking on Long Island and the background of Bedell Cellars specifically, then the basics of growing wine grapes. Though there’s nothing basic about it – I always knew that winemaking was a complicated and delicate process, but I never though about how many details can affect the final product: the lay of the land on which the vines are planted; the number of weeds that grow around the base of the vines (which are apparently a good thing because they suck up water, and wine grapes like it dry – another thing I didn’t know); abnormal weather patterns that effect any of a number of minutiae, from the moisture content of the soil to the frequency and strength of winds to the seasonal migration of birds. There’s clearly a lot to think about and pay attention to if you want to make good wine!

There’s something really cool about seeing wine grapes on the vine. These are chardonnay grapes.

Then we moved indoors and into the barrel rooms for an explanation of the aging and blending process (and a welcome respite from the sun and heat). Bedell specializes in wine blends rather than true varietals, and they excel at it, again because they work at an excrutiating level of detail to ensure the best possible product. I don’t know how common their operating practices are, but I was certainly amazed to learn that they hand-harvest and sort almost all of their grapes, keeping grapes from each section of the vineyard separated, even if they’re the same kind of grape! Apparently grapes grown on a hilly patch of land will have a different flavor than grapes grown on a flatter patch of land, and they keep them separated to have the most control over the flavor of the finished product. They taste regularly, from once every two or three weeks to every other day depending on the variety and the age of the wine in question. And they use a mix of oak barrels from France and huge, modern steel tanks to age their wine, always in pursuit of what Matt repeatedly referred to as their “perfect, happy medium” – never too dry or too sweet, too oaked or too flat, always walking the middle of the road to make wines that are easy to drink but the best in their class.

Wine barrels. Matt uncorked one of the empty barrels and let us smell the inside – they smelled lovely, woody and dark and smoky.

Giant steel holding tanks. There were probably 8 of them in the room with the wood barrels, and probably another 8-10 in a separate room. They were massive and very, very shiny.

The last stop on the formal tour was the bottling room, which was shockingly small coming from the huge aging rooms. This was understandable, though, as the bottling process is entirely automated on a very nifty-looking piece of machinery. I would’ve loved to see it in action, but they weren’t bottling anything that weekend.

The tour completed, we finished our afternoon in the owner’s private garden for an hour of wine and cheese.

The lovely (though very warm) garden where we enjoyed our wine tasting, outside the vineyard owner’s private on-site house. We were given a quick tour of the house as well, and it was really beautiful. Very much the sort of place I’d like to have someday, if a bit on the small side.

The wine tasting was shockingly generous and extremely good. We were given two plates of at least 14 different cheeses, covering a wide ranges of styles, milk-types, textures, and flavors (there was manchego, brie, fontina, asiago, stilton, drunken goat, and I can’t even remember what else), with accompaniments like cornichons, grapes, blanched almonds, quince paste, and good crusty bread… and everything was delicious. The quality and variety of the cheese was nearly overwhelming, though in a good way.

And then, there was the wine portion of the tasting, where Matt provided 7 different wines for us to sample(on top of the glass of Taste White we were given earlier, mind you).

He started us off with their new sparkling white (apparently its so new that its not even on their website yet, so I can’t confirm what its actually called) which was crisp and clean and danced a bit on the tongue; a bit sharp perhaps, but refreshing and not too sweet.

Then it was their Gallery white blend, which was one of the favorites of the day. Very tart on the backend, reminiscent of one of our other favorite whites, the Louis Jadot Poully-Fuisse… but more intense and well-rounded. It had a distinct crisp fruitiness, very strong hints of green apple and perhaps pear, that lightened it up significantly and provided a nice balance to the more sour undertones. It seemed to work well as a table wine, but also seemed like it would pair well with the right meal.

Next was the rose – another winner – which is produced by Corey Creek Vineyards, their recently-acquired sister vineyard. Forget all those sickeningly sweet bottles of Sutter Home White Zinfandel; THIS is what a rose wine should taste like. Only barely sweet, slightly dry actually, with a round, complex, bright berry flavor that is strongest on the nose. Matt touted it as the perfect summer “patio” wine, and he was absolutely right – he poured it heavily chilled, and to sip it under the hot sun was just divine. This was absolutely the best rose I have ever tasted.

Next was the First Crush Red, counterpoint to the white we were given at the beginning of the tour. The white was quite good, bright and clean and acidic and nice to sip while walking on a hot summer day, and the red version was rather true to that profile. It was light on the heft and body that I generally look for and love in a good red, but retained a fair amount of the bright acidity boasted by the white, and the flavor of the grapes seemed very true. Both First Crush varieties are aged entirely in the steel tanks, so that fresh fruity aroma and flavor is probably a direct result of their unoaked status.

Following the First Crush was the 2006 Merlot, which to me was the only weak point in the entire tasting and absolutely convinced me that what Bedell does best are blends. The merlot, while certainly drinkable and not in any way bad, was simply flat and uninteresting compared to everything else we tried. Mind you, of all the red varietals I have ever tasted, I’ve always found merlots to be the most dull, so its possible this is just my own still-developing preferences talking. Regardless, I was unimpressed.

The next bottle put it right out of my head though: the Taste Red. A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah, this was very close to my perfect red table wine. It was fairly well balanced, leaning slightly to the dryer side of things, but had a complex, deeply fruity aroma and flavor overlaying a dark wash of smoky bitterness and subtle spice.

But if I thought that was good, it was nothing to the grand finale: the 2005 musee. Another red blend, this is Bedell’s highest quality, most sought-after, and most expensive bottle. I’m not honestly certain that this bottle is always included in their tour-and-tasting packages, or if Matt was just giving us a bonus (which he did several times over the course of our afternoon), but this was a true treat and a real pleasure to experience. If the Taste Red was almost the perfect red wine for me, this very well might have been it. I can’t really figure out how to describe it, except to have you imagine what the Taste Red would be like, then ramp it up a notch or two and add just a bit of extra sweetness that makes the whole thing smooth and velvety when it flows over your tongue. It was exactly what I look like in a table wine, in that it needed absolutely no pairing, no accompaniment, not palate-cleanser between sips and no outside flavors to develop the ones in the wine. It was perfect and delicious just as it was, and it only tasted better after each sip. Most definitely, this was a high note on which to end our vineyard experience.

Le sigh. The arbor-shaded walkway leading out of our little private garden haven of wine and cheese and back to the public area of the winery. It was a real shame to have to leave.

Before leaving we, of course, had to buy a few bottles. Sadly, the musee was quite a bit our of our price range (though I feel sure we’ll be grabbing up a bottle or two before they’re all gone – apparently there’s only about 30% of the original run left) but we went away with a bottle each of the Gallery white, the rose, and the Taste Red, all of which my mother generously footed the bill for as a birthday gift. Thanks Mom!

(And as further proof of the value they place on their customers, we were not only given a bit of a break on the price of the tour itself because of “the heat in the garden” but we were also given an extra discount over the usual one offered to tour members. Anyplace that gives us bonuses like that, completely unsolicited, is automatically ranked pretty high in my book.)

All in all, this was a truly wonderful experience, one that I’m grateful to have had. I learned far more than I would have expected about the process and business of winemaking, and got to eat and drink tons of good things, and spend lots of time outdoors in a beautiful place on a gloriously sunny day. Does it really get any better than that? I don’t think so. And in case you’re wondering, we will definitely be going back, and will definitely be buying more of their wine.

Of course, having a few bottles in our hand right now, we just couldn’t resist the opportunity to repeat the experience at home, albeit on a much smaller scale. 🙂

I can’t think of a better way to relax on a warm Sunday afternoon than with a great bottle of wine, a plate of cheese and munchies, and my honey to share it all with.

Our private wine-and-cheese party consisted of a bottle of that fantastic Corey Creek rose (which I must admit we did not properly chill – oddly, it seemed to be at its best when quite cool), two kinds of cheese (drunken goat, which is goat’s cheese that is aged with grape must, and fiore de sardegna, which was a random choice at the store this week and is completely delicious, nutty and almost tart with a texture like manchego), a fuji apple all sliced up, plus a few marinated mushrooms, almond-stuffed green olives, tri-color cerignola olives, and some tiny sweet grape tomatoes.

I just love the way this wine looks when the sun hits it. (Also, my pictures look so much better when taken in natural light! Our apartment is just too dark to take good photos, and I’m too lazy to set up a proper light box. I think I’ll have to work on that.)

Though our outdoor patio isn’t quite as quiet or pretty as the vineyard was, and though we didn’t have the extravagant collection of tastes to savor, it was still a perfectly lovely way to spend an afternoon. Who says you have to drive an hour just to feel grown-up and sophisticated?

(Clearly, though, we were just pretending, because just a few hours later we were walking to the grocery store for beer and Elios frozen pizza for dinner. What? I know its trashy, but even a gourmet cook just wants some Kraft mac-n-cheese every so often!)

Bedell Cellars Vineyard and Winery
36225 Main Road, (Rt. 25)
Cutchogue, NY 11935
Phone: (631) 734-7537

What we did:
Proprietors Garden VIP Tour and Tasting
Weekends at 12 & 3pm
$50 per person
Call up the vineyard and ask for Matt – he’ll be able to set you up. Just call a week or two in advance to be sure there’ll be an open spot for your party. For bigger groups, there’s always the snatdard VIP Tour and tasting, which is $35 per person and is the same tour, without the private garden tasting afterwards (though you still get some kind of tasting a tthe end – not too clear on the scope compared to ours).)

Click here for more photos from our tour of Bedell Cellars

This entry was posted in Food, Drinks and Cooking, Table for Two? Archives and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to We <3 Wine

  1. Leah says:

    What an informative and thorough review! We’d love it if you would write a brief version of it (perhaps with a link to your original post)and add it to our winery resource page. We have a wine/food blog and get many requests for winery recommendations (which is why we decided to begin putting the resource together). It would be great to see the East Coast wineries represented! If you have any other favorites, you can include them as well. By the way, great photos of your experience!

  2. Eri-chan says:

    Leah, I’d love to write a review of Bedell Cellars for your blog! We go out to the North Fork fairly regularly so I’ll keep your site in mind on future visits, it’d be really great to let people know about all the fantastic wineries on the island 🙂

  3. Pingback: Warm Smoked Salmon with Potato Gnocchi and Balsamic Glaze (FLC) | eri-chan*eats

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