First time we tried Wölffer Estate the skies were bright sky blue and the winery was just closing; two days later, Priya and I dodged rain in Sagaponack, Long Island, at this South Fork winery, open since 1987, and now producing annually over 13,000 cases of wine. Driving through wire-trained vines, we neared Wölffer’s pale mustard stucco exterior against smoky gray skies, its entrance elevated atop stairs of stone, and adorned with large urns, juniper, and hemlock.
Greeted at the entrance with a bird’s eye view of stainless steel tanks, we entered an elegantly rustic room with terra-cotta floors and high beam ceilings, wood tables and chairs. On dryer days French doors open onto vineyards. There is a wall of illuminated display cases showcasing urns, goblets, and steins. At the center of the room is a bar, where one might typically stand and taste, except that at Wölffer, the bar is a flutter with waitresses and everyone must be seated to be served.
At first, I was offput. I enjoy talking with staff and fellow quaffers while sampling wines. But then both Priya and I both warmed to the experience. I found that being seated at one of these massive round tables forced me to slow down; to not speed through the tasting, but rather to sit and savor as if each healthy pour was an entire glass of wine. And while one couldn’t have vine rambling conversations with the pourers behind the counter, our waitress did talk about the wines as she poured and didn’t hesitate to answer any questions asked.
There were four tasting available–Premium Tasting ($12), Spring Taste ($14), Chardonnay Tasting ($16), and Grand Tasting ($20). I chose the Spring Tasting and opted for the Estate Selection Merlot in place of the Chardonnay; and Priya sat this one out. It began with Wölffer’s just-then released Rosé ($16), made from Merlot (53%), Cabernet Sauvignon (12%), Cabernet Franc (9%) and Chardonnay (26%). It’s light salmon in color and showing lots of fruit. Strawberry, citrus, and a touch of peach, juicy acidity, and earthy minerality.
This next wine was titillating in comparison, 2008 Pinot Gris ($22). Pale lemon in color with pink grapefruit, peach, and stony minerality on the nose and palate, the Pinot Gris was surprisingly structured without the puckering acidity that I was expecting. It’s the blended Chardonnay (12%) that serves as the backbone upon which the Pinot Gris is hung.
The Pinot Noir 2006 ($35) was equally uplifting, pale ruby in color and made in the style of Burgundy. With violets on the nose and wetting acidity, it is indeed somewhat Burgundian, and slightly astringent with cranberry and red cherries.
Not a fan of the Merlot, I was offered a touch of Cabernet Franc 2005. Dark red ruby, this wine is darker than I’d expected, earthy with black berries and cherry, slightly floral, and finishing with some cedar spice. With a mouthful of acidity and balancing tannins, it’s a structured act. I left with a belly warm enough to brave the stormy ride back.