Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Day in the Rough

There are things that epitomize areas, cuisines, cultures, etc. These are the things that I seek out. While speaking to a colleague from Philly the other day, I asked him about Philly cheese steaks. While in Ireland, I ate lamb whenever possible. While in Scotland, you would be remiss if you did not have some haggis. While in Italy…you get the picture.

My final day of my recent trip to New England was capped off by a visit to Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough. This renowned seafood shack at the mouth of the Mystic River is open from April to Columbus Day. The menu, as the name suggests, is very lobster-centric but also includes other items such as clams, oysters, chowders, plus options for the seafood adverse. I overheard a conversation between a woman and her elderly mother as the woman scolded her mother for even thinking about getting a hot dog. I agree. This is like to going to Italy and having Chinese food (OK, I did that once, but I had a bad stretch of crappy tourist food, not to mention how cool and weird it was to have a conversation in Italian with a Chinese lady in Rome, Italy).

Columbus Day was sunny and about seventy degrees and quite breezy. The view couldn’t be beat; lots and lots of boats resting where the river met the sound. Frustrated seagulls flew overhead, their usual pesky behavior thwarted by the wires run over our heads forming a “net”. Unfortunately, I did not have as much time as I would have liked. I would have ordered a lobster dinner and brought my own wine, purchased the day before on the North Fork of Long Island AKA Long Island Wine Country. I ordered a hot lobster roll, lobster bisque and corn on the cob. The others in my party ordered shrimp chowder, clam chowder, stuffed clams, and of course more lobster rolls. The corn was kind of flavorless, but everything else was fabulous. The clam chowder was a light broth, no cream, not rich, just briny and full of clam flavor, clams, and potatoes. The shrimp chowder had corn, potatoes, and shrimp and was also very good. The lobster bisque was good, but very heavy for my taste. Too much fat deadens the taste buds, not to mention makes it even harder for my clothes to button and snap. The lobster rolls were served with slaw that had a nice little bite to it, individual bags of chips and a pickle.

This destination if a definite the next time I am in that neck of the woods. Next time I will make sure I have more time and bring a bottle of wine.

Long Island Wine Country

It had been a long time since I visited Long Island. By a long time, I mean decades. I have a picture of me with my family on the ferry from Bridgeport, Connecticut to Port Jefferson, Long Island that was taken in the seventies. A number of years ago I read an article about how far Long Island wines had come. The article specifically mentioned Wolffer Estates, located on the South Fork of the island. Coincidentally I spotted a bottle of Wolffer Estates wine in a local store about a week later. I purchased it, took it home, and quickly opened it. I could not have been more disappointed. It was no better than our local swill from Chateau Elan in North Georgia. Don’t get me wrong, Georgia wine has come a long, long, way and many are quite good, not just good for Georgia. But Chateau Elan is not one of those wineries that made that journey.

As the years passed and I witnessed the vast improvement of so many non traditional wine area such as North Georgia, and I continued to read good press about Long Island, my desire to return there increased. So I made plans to go to the North Fork of Long Island, where the greatest concentration of wineries is located, over Columbus Day weekend. As I flew to New York, I happened across an article in latest copy of Food & Wine. The article was a basic primer on American red wines complete with examples of examples of particular grapes and the premier regions from which they come. To my delight, Long Island Merlots were mentioned. The universe and I seemed to be in the same groove.

The Friday before Columbus we boarded the Port Jeff ferry with our car. A little over an hour later we were driving towards the North Fork. A “Welcome to Long Island Wine Country” sign greeted us a short while later. I was impressed by the map I downloaded of the Long Island wine country by the large number of wineries packed into that little peninsula. It was much more impressive in person. The wineries were nearly stacked on more top of each other, across the street from each other, one after the next. The signs were clear and gave plenty of notice as we approached each new winery. Interspersed with the wineries were farms, farm stands, pumpkin patches and signs offering fresh cider. The day was about seventy degrees and sunny, really rounding out the beauty of this picturesque corner of New England


We visited three wineries and sampled many wines. Across the board, the wines were good, with only a handful of “whatever wines and none that were really bad. At Pellegrini Vineyards we had the opportunity to contrast and compare three different incarnations of Chardonnay, three different merlots, a Bordeaux blend, and a gew├╝rztraminer. All were good and people were very nice. The woman behind the counter was kind enough to make dining recommendations and get us addresses and phone numbers.

We took the recommendation and went to the restaurant Soundview for lunch. We sat on the outside deck right on the sound. The day was nice but a bit on the windy side. The seafood was fresh, the food was hot, and I had a glass of wine from a fourth winery, a Paumonak Chardonnay that had a good balance of fruit, oak, and acidity.

We were heading to our planned stops at Bedell Cellars and Castello di Borgese, but decided to pop into Duckwalk Vineyards. The Merlot from Duckwalk vineyards was very good. The chardonnays ran the gamut from oaky and buttery to sharp and crisp to tropical and fruity. Duckwalk’s basic chardonnay was on special that day for $15.00 for a magnum. It was full of fruit and floral notesI was having a bunch of people for dinner at my sister’s house the following day so I picked up one of those. They also had a range of other wines we tasted including cabernet franc, sauvignon blanc, gamay, even a vidal blanc ice wine and a blueberry port. They offered a small square of dark chocolate with the blueberry port. What a treat!

Our $4.00 tasting fee included five wines plus, much to our delight, a complimentary tasting at the Pindar winery just down the road. So for our combined $8.00, my brother-in-law and I got to taste a total of 22 wines (they threw in a couple of bonus wines including the ice wine and blueberry port).

Overall, the thing that impressed me the most was not only the quality of the wines, but the overall terrior that was evident. The reds had a decided earthiness to them, no fruit bombs here. My biggest disappointment was that I have a rule of traveling light so I only purchased what could I use on my weekend in Connecticut. Everywhere I visited I case discounts, up to 25% in the case of Pindar. I would definitely recommend this as a day trip, or longer. It could take days to work your way through this area.

We completed our day by picking up some pumpkins, beets, apples, cider, and more for the festivities the following day.