When most people speak about taking a vacation to wine country, it’s usually California’s Napa Valley that comes to mind: grapes ripening on the trellis, the transporting aromas of the barrel room — and, alas, the stratospheric cost of transcontinental flights.
But I’m happy to report that a wine vacation doesn’t have to decimate your life savings. You can have an equally joyous experience, with all the bells and whistles, for one-third the price: Simply head north to Long Island’s North Fork, aka NOFO.
It’s been 40 years since the wine pioneers at the Hargrave estate, now Castello di Borghese, began producing fine wines at the east end of Long Island. Now more than 60 vineyards dot the area, many making excellent wines. Most all of the wineries are conveniently located along a scenic 30-mile stretch on two parallel routes, the North Road (NY Route 48) or the southern Main Road (NY Route 25), so it’s easy to hit seven or eight in a day as long as you follow the sip-and-spit rule: Share your sips with a friend or lover, then spit into the dump bucket, so you can tour NOFO without putting yourself or anyone else in jeopardy.
Southwest runs daily flights from Tampa to Islip (about an hour away from Greenport and Southold, where your adventure awaits), including a nonstop or two depending on the day. I was able to snag a nonstop round-trip ticket for just $178.
WHERE TO STAY
Cliffside Resort Condominium
The Cliffside Condominiums proved an economical home base in NOFO wine country for my group of six friends. Each unit features a master bedroom with an en suite bath, a second bedroom, a queen sofa bed that sleeps two, and the second full bath to share. There’s a small kitchen, dining table and a porch or balcony overlooking Long Island sound. It’s well-appointed, if not luxurious, and extremely well-located for your wine country visit. Depending on whether you have a water view and what time of year you visit, lodging ranges from $179-$489/or roughly $30-$80 per person nightly if you sleep six. Try finding that in Napa. 61475 North Road (NY Rt. 48), Greenport, 800-269-4140, thecliffsideresort.com.
WHERE TO TASTE
I was utterly taken with the entire Lenz and Bedell portfolios, which is not surprising as these are two of the oldest and best regarded wineries on Long Island. There is much notable merlot, but what surprises me most is the quality of the cabernet franc, a grape usually relegated to minor contributions in Bordeaux blends. The old-world style NOFO versions of this grape are light and aromatic like a Burgundian pinot noir. Surprising and delicious.
The tasting rooms at the top wineries have knowledgeable, wine-loving server-pourers who are happy to indulge your inner wine geek or to take you by the hand and be your guide if you’re new to wine and the fine points of tasting.
Bedell Cellars 36225 Main Road (NY Rt. 25), Cutchogue, 631-734-7537, bedellcellars.com.
Castello di Borghese Vineyard & Winery 17150 County Rt. 48, Cutchogue, 631-734-5111, castellodiborghese.com.
Lenz Winery 38355 Main Road (NY Rt. 25), Peconic, 631-734-6010, lenzwine.com.
Macari Vineyards and Winery Macari’s Block E White is an ice wine crafted by a visiting Austrian winemaker, Helmut Gangl, who jets in, tosses the grapes in the freezer, and produces a dessert wine of note. 24385 Main Road (NY Rt. 25), Cutchogue, 631-734-7070; macariwines.com.
Paumanok Vineyards 1074 Main Road (NY Rt. 25), Aquebogue, 631-722-8800, paumanok.com.
Shinn Estate Vineyards and Farmhouse Although the wines here were a bit too light for my taste, winemaker Barbara Shinn leads a fascinating Saturday afternoon vineyard walk to explain her organic, biodynamic approach to farming, in which she plants and harvests by the lunar cycle. She lets the cover crops grow, embraces the growing cycle, and lets nature be nature. There’s also a chicly renovated century-old farmhouse with guest rooms overlooking the vineyards. 2000 Oregon Road, Mattituck, 631-804-0367, shinnestatevineyards.com.
Sparkling Pointe If you love bubbles, here’s your place. The entire array of sparkling wines produced by the traditional méthode champenoise is mouth-watering, highlighted by a prestige cuvée, aptly named Brut Seduction, that earned 90 points from Wine Spectator. Sparkling Pointe even offers a slightly sweet Cuvée Carnaval with a dazzling colorful label evoking shades of Moulin Rouge. 39750 County Road 48, Southold, 631-765-0200, sparklingpointe.com.
The Winemaker Studio This cooperative tasting room has limited hours, but they showcase boutique wines that are special projects by NOFO’s leading winemakers. We missed the opportunity to explore their wares, but a manager at one of our other stops said, “Don’t miss the special smallproduction wines called The Grapes of Roth.” 2885 Peconic Lane, Peconic, 774-641-7488, anthonynappawines.com.
North Fork Table and Inn
Zagat rates the North Fork Table as the #1 restaurant on Long Island. It’s the brainchild of two couples with serious street cred from the high-end restaurant scene in Manhattan. The tasting menu with impeccably matched wines is equal to anything in the Napa Valley, short of Thomas Keller’s landmark The French Laundry. Trust me on this one — just do it (even if you need to take out a second mortgage). 57225 Main Road, Southold, 631-765-0177, nofoti.com.
WHERE TO EAT
Blue Canoe Oyster Bar & Grill
With its water view and downtown Greenport location, Blue Canoe proves to be a perfect place for visitors intent on picking up a lobster roll. Their version swaps the traditional split-top hot dog-style bun for a lovely toasted oversize crusty roll topped with plenty of lightly dressed succulent lobster chunks, ripe tomato slices, and some shredded lettuce for added crunch. We also shared the beautiful diagonally cut tuna tataki towers with mango-miso purée. The tzatziki-sauced lamb burger is a great choice if you don’t opt for lobster. Don’t miss the caramel brookie — a chocolate chip cookie baked inside a brownie and served à la mode. It’s perfect for sharing. 104 Third St., Greenport, 631-477-6888, bluecanoeoysterbar.com.
Pretty sure I would be irate if it took two hours for my entree to…
This is a great article! Gary Mormino does a great job of illustrating the politics…
I will be honest, I've been keeping this place a secrect. So very happy for…
Best Thai food I have tasted, very accurate review, check this place out!