Archive for the ‘wine’ Category

Over at the Wall Street Journal

My Wall Street Journal image

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here and I owe Forklife readers an explanation and an apology… I’ve been blogging elsewhere! Specifically at The Wall Street Journal, where I’m one of the two wine columnists, along with Jay McInerney. And although the Journal blog “On Wine” is New York rather than North Fork-centric, I hope you’ll check it out and send me your thoughts. I’ve already found some terrific North Fork wines to write about there.

I’m not leaving Forklife- I promise I will be back from time to time- and in the meantime, please visit me at

All the best, Lettie

My Wall Street Journal column debuts tomorrow, April 17th.

A Rosy Start to Spring

It’s a holiday weekend and as my neighbor Joan said to me, “All the people are out.” I wasn’t sure if Joan meant everyone was outdoors enjoying the spring weather, everyone from Up the Island had come out to the North Fork for the day or, finally, if she meant from a census-taking perspective. Joan is officially employed by our federal government as a census taker and no one could possibly appreciate her job more than Joan- though I suspect part of it is the voyeuristic possibilities inherent in census-taking. “I get to see all the great houses,” Joan says.

But I digress. This post is about the first wines I tasted from the 2009 vintage of the North Fork – specifically those of my neighbors, Paula and Michael Croteau of Croteaux Vineyards and their rosé wines, which they call “rosé on purpose.”

Their vineyards, planted mostly to Merlot and a little bit of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc are not far from my house. The vines are fanatically well-tended- actually everything about Croteaux Vineyards is fanatically well-tended as well as stylish- the house, the vineyard, the Croteaus themselves. This isn’t surprising given that Paula was once in the fashion business and Michael is a first-rate designer. If they weren’t individually and collectively so nice I’d have a decidedly large inferiority complex about just being their neighbor. (Michael designs all their wine labels – above- admittedly not a great shot by me).  Three of us went over to taste the new wines- including my friend Louisa Hargrave, who driven from her house a few miles away.

“We just bottled some of these wines two days ago!” Paula said (In pride or exhaustion or as a disclaimer?) We tasted the first three ‘basic’ rosés, each made from a different Merlot clone, as well as the “sauvage” wine made from wild yeasts and finally, a rosé of Cabernet Franc that was more red than rosé. “Rosé for red wine lovers,” Paula said. I loved the Merlot 314 (the clonal number) which was bright and charming with a wonderful texture- more substantial than the lighter Merlot 181 and more accessible right now than the Merlot 3, which is a barrel-aged version of rosé.

Although it’s only the second  day they’ve been open (unlike most wineries on the North Fork, Croteaux Vineyards is closed during the winter),  the cars were streaming into the driveway. “We’ve had people calling up all week asking us if we’ll be opening this weekend,” Paula said. I bought a bottle of the 314 and told Paula I’d be back at the end of the week for more and maybe the Sauvage as well. “If we aren’t sold out by then,” she replied.

The Sea, The Sea

I showed this picture to my sister the other night (she was in town from Texas for her work) and she immediately declared, “The family is visiting you this summer.” I took the picture of a beach about three miles from my house – it’s the Long Island Sound though it looks like the sea. Perhaps it’s because she lives in landlocked Texas that it looked particularly ocean-like to my sister (and nothing like her hometown of Dallas) but looking at it reminded me -yet again – why I love the North Fork so much.

I was reminded of the North Fork in another way at another place in town (Manhattan) that very same night. I was at Cafe Boulud- the ‘casual’ outpost of Chef Daniel Boulud on East 76th Street, where I was doing a bit of research for my next FOOD & WINE column. Though it’s called a ‘cafe’ the place is actually quite posh and the crowd is very well shod, save for the couple sitting next to me, both wearing sneakers.  The food is superb and inventive and the wine list is equally stellar (if a bit pricey) and there were a couple of North Fork wineries represented, at prices their owners probably can only dream of obtaining back at home on the Fork. I wondered how many of the restaurant’s well-coiffed and well-heeled diners would actually consider ordering a $90 Long Island Cabernet – especially given the table of three, one man and two women, near me who ordered “a glass of Chardonnay” … that the two women would share.


Pruning Spring

One of the surest signs of spring in wine country: The Pruning Season Starts. Vineyards all over the Fork are getting a pre-season trim to ensure the vines are in balance once the grape growing season begins. My neighbors at Croteaux Vineyards were pruning yesterday when I rode by on my bike. I had a chat and a walk around the vineyard with Michael Croteau and took a few shots of his crew (above). I have to admit that I am even more excited about the vineyard work underway than the warm sunny weather that we’re supposed to have for the next several days. Grapes on vines can’t be far behind!

Why Write about Wine?

The First Wine Book I Really Loved

I taught a class on wine writing at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York a few nights ago. I found it heartening that anyone signed up at all — given all the talk about the ‘death of journalism.’ But the class (all women and one man) was clearly made up of believers in life after death- and possibly even aspiring wine writers as well. They were all in other professions of course- banking and real estate and law- and one magazine editor – who wrote the best tasting note on the two wines that I poured. (A wine writing course should always be accompanied by a couple glasses of wine.) Joe, the one man in attendance, was a political consultant “only for Democrats.” Joe came with his girlfriend, who had bought him a ticket to my class for Valentine’s Day. What a wonderfully romantic gesture! I commended her. (It turned out Joe had a copy of my book, Educating Peter and was also a fan of my ex, Alan. He had a copy of his book, Fork it Over as well. Alan was Joe’s favorite food writer. “I even read his blog,” he said. “I have his barbecue story in the glove box of my car.”

I talked to the class about some of my current-day favorite wine writers- and showed them examples or what I thought was good – and bad – writing. I also talked about some of my early wine-writing ‘heros’ the first of whom was Gerald Asher, the former Gourmet columnist whose old book On Wine inspired my own wine career- first as a wine salesperson and later as a writer. Asher was actually a wine merchant himself for many years before he began writing about wine, in fact, there is a venerable tradition of this in the UK (Asher is English) and famous English wine writers like Michael Broadbent and Hugh Johnson also sold wine – though I have no idea how well they actually did. (Broadbent’s son Bart is in wine sales; in fact, he has his own company, Broadbent Selections.)

There are a few American wine merchants who have also picked up a pen (or more likely, a mouse) to good literary effect as well – most notably Kermit Lynch (Adventures on the Wine Route) and more recently, Neal Rosenthal (Reflections of a Wine Merchant). But unlike Asher they’re both still selling wine. Asher had a wine company called Mosswood where I worked very briefly many years ago as a sort of sales trainee- it went out of business after a while but that wasn’t (just) because I was lousy at selling wine.

I don’t know why these wine salesmen turned to writing any more than I know why a banker or lawyer or real estate agent would want to write about wine instead of lawyering or banking (well, maybe wine writers are more beloved than bankers right now). I do know why I do. Wine is like literature to me- full of endless variations, narrative styles and possibilities for plot twists. There are always new people, new places, new wineries and new wines to be discovered. Great stories abound. It’s just a question of finding them out. Be curious above all else! I exhorted my class before they left – no doubt in search of (another) glass of wine.

Meetup In Mattituck

East End Wine Lovers Meetup at Love Lane Kitchen

The third meeting of the East End Wine Lovers meetup group (an unwieldy name admittedly) took place a few nights ago at our ‘usual’ spot, the Love Lane Kitchen in Mattituck.  The theme was wine paired with Asian food, in honor of the Chinese New Year’s, which began last Sunday. I’m pleased to report only one person brought a Gewurztraminer. Although it’s inevitably touted as the choice companion I find Gewurztraminer rarely goes well many Asian dishes. I have (more) strong feelings about the unsuitability of Gewurztraminer paired with potstickers and the like- but insufficient room to rant here – at least right now. (I did actually love the Gewurz in question – from Standing Stone, a Finger Lakes winery- just not with the food).

There were a lot of good Rieslings (including one from superstar Mosel producer, Donnhof) a few Pinot Noirs and even a North Fork Carmenere – from Osprey’s Dominion. The food was fabulous, as it always is at Love Lane and there was lots of it (some people, including yours truly, took home extras for lunch). There was even a large platter of fresh sushi handmade by Rick, the Love Lane Kitchen guest sushi chef, who is in Mattituck right now by way of Japan.

I wrote a column for Food & Wine that appears in this month’s issue of the magazine here about East End Wine Lovers and how I came to put the group together- with lots of help from Carolyn and Michael at Love Lane Kitchen- and I’m proud to say that people from as far away as Toronto and New Jersey have been petitioning to join our little group (85 members- so far). If you’re not a member right now, perhaps you’d like to join? Meetup here Our next meeting will be sometime in mid-March.

Fuisse on the Fork

Chateau Fuisse has a North Fork connection

“There are no coincidences in life, Oprah Winfrey once said to me, Everything happens for a reason. (She actually said that while sitting next to me in a car in Italy- but that, as they say, is another story for another day.) But it’s a good lead into what I’m going to write about now: a man that I met at a Burgundy dinner I attended in New York- though I think it applies to a lot of what has happened to me since I moved to the North Fork.

I was seated between two Burgundy producers, one who spoke English well and one who did not. As one who studied French for years to very little avail or verbal distinction, I spent most of my time talking to the dapper English speaker, Antoine Vincent, who also happened to be the scion of the Chateau Fuisse family of Burgundy.(Chateau Fuisse) that produces one of the top Pouilly Fuisses in Burgundy and whose old vine bottling (Vielles Vignes) is a truly complex and ageworthy wine. We made the usual small talk about New York. Do you live in the city? Vincent asked politely. I told him I’d moved far east of the city  to “wine country” aka the North Fork. Vincent nodded; he knew it well. How was that possible? “I was an intern at Hargrave Vineyards in 1995,” he said. Louisa Hargrave is a friend of mine! I exclaimed. I couldn’t wait to tell her. “Please say hello to her for me,” Vincent replied. “She is a very nice woman.” Yes, she is, I agreed and for a moment we sat in silent appreciation of our newfound bond. You should really come out to the North Fork sometime, I said. A lot has changed since 1995. There are a lot of good wineries now and some very good food. Vincent nodded. Perhaps sometime he would, he replied. A remarkable connection- and coincidence – to life on the North Fork.

Soon to be Snow

Snow on the shoreline

They’re calling for 12 inches of  snow starting tonight or to be more precise, “blizzard conditions.”  Why are they hedging their bets? Why not come right out and call it a blizzard? It’s so much more dramatic that way- and drama seems to be most of meteorology anyway.

But enough about weather- at least for now. I want to talk about eggs- specifically the organic eggs sold at KK’s farmstand in Southold, which I had for the first time recently. I was walking my dog Rudy this weekend and a man stopped his car and rolled down his window. Rudy approached, thinking he was due a compliment or better yet, a biscuit, but the man addressed me instead. “Are you the one who wrote that article for the Edible magazine?” he said. I was, I admitted. (Edible East End actually though I love the idea of an actually edible publication.) “I’m the caretaker for the farm down the road,” he said. “You wrote about KK’s farmstand in that article. Have you ever had their eggs?” I admitted I hadn’t. “Well,  I supply KK’s eggs. Here,  have some,” the man said, and reached over to the passenger seat for a cartoon of brilliantly-colored eggs -pale greens, pale pinks and pale browns. That is so nice of you! I managed to say, before he drove away.

The bounty of the North Fork can be found in the most unexpected moments- and the most wonderful ways.

Part Three of The Wandering German Winemaker

By the time Ulrich and I reached Paumanok, Charles and Ursula were waiting for us in the tasting room. Ursula greeted him in German; I asked her to have Ulrich to spell the name and his family’s winery- never mind he’d been speaking perfectly good English to me for the past hour. (I’d ascertained- somewhere between the dump and Paumanok that Ulrich and his brother ran a small winery in southern Germany called Weingut Gehrihof.)  The two of them produce an enormous ranges of wines, including sparkling Riesling, Pinot Gris which Ulrich called “Pinot Grigio,” and Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Riesling and Blaufrankisch and about seven other grapes I can’t remember. And they did all this on only seven hectares of land- or around 15 acres. “That’s a lot of grapes,” I gaped. Alas, I couldn’t taste any of them. Weingut Gehrihof didn’t export. “We only sell locally,” Ulrich said. “But you should come visit us.” Ulrich had also told me he’d been much impressed by Lenz wines and thought Eric was a very good winemaker (I didn’t ask what he thought of Eric’s politics.) He’d liked the Riesling of Raphael but hadn’t gotten to spend as much time with Rich – and neither Roman Roth or Chris Tracy were in town, alas.

When I waved goodbye to Ulrich at Paumanok, he was standing between Ursula and Charles, looking as if he’d known them forever. I felt sad about meeting- and leaving -him so abruptly but there weren’t two people I’d be happier to serve as his last impression of the North Fork.

Postscript: Charles and Ursula both wrote to tell me they’d enjoyed their time and tasting with Ulrich and that he was a very interesting young man. But Charles made a very good point. There has been a lot of talk lately from the MTA about suspending rail service out to the North Fork until the late summer and then only on weekends. Never mind that the region pays millions in taxes and the region’s commuters would be left largely stranded. If there are no longer going to be any trains, how could the next German winemaker- or any lover of wine- find their way out to the North Fork next time?

Post Office Pick Up Part Two

The Ongoing Story of the Lost German Winemaker with the Large Backpack (see Part One below)

I dropped Ulrich, the wandering German winemaker, off at Lenz Winery and winemaker Eric Fry promised to give him a “complete tour” and I arranged to pick him up within the hour, when I was driving west towards New York. I’d drop him off for a meeting with Charles Massoud at Paumanok and, well, if anything came up between now and then, Eric was in charge.

Eric called me an hour later to report he’d passed Ulrich to Rich Olsen-Harbich, winemaker at Raphael Winery (just across the street from Lenz). I could pick him up there. I found Ulrich in the barrel room; they were about to taste Rich’s Riesling.  “I didn’t know you made Riesling,” I said to Rich- who I hadn’t seen in a while. But we didn’t have time to chat. I needed to get Ulrich to the Massouds before they left for the city.

But first, we had to stop at the dump. “This is what people do in the country,” I explained to Ulrich, who merely nodded, as if the events as they were unfolding, didn’t surprise him at all. “There is no garbage pick up around here; you have to do it yourself,” I nattered on. Ulrich was impassive. “Don’t worry you don’t have to help.” I said, dragging out my garbage, my bottles, my newspapers. I waved to the Man in Charge who waved back. I was a Dump Regular after all. “Of course I will,” said Ulrich. And then we were on our way to Paumanok. Although it was almost two o’clock, Ulrich had yet to have lunch. He was a bit hungry, Ulrich confessed. What was in that giant backpack of his if not a sandwich or five, I wondered – but I didn’t ask. “Don’t worry. Ursula is one of the world’s great cooks,” I told Ulrich. “No one has ever left her house or her winery hungry.”

(To be continued)