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Articles by

Louisa Hargrave

08/21/14 6:00am
A plan for about 2,300 town-owned acres at Enterprise Park at Calverton was recently submitted to Town Board members. (Credit: Andrew Lepre)

A plan for about 2,300 town-owned acres at Enterprise Park at Calverton was recently submitted to Town Board members. (Credit: Andrew Lepre)

To the editor:

Are Sean Walter and the rest of the Riverhead Town Board playing Riverhead’s version of Netflix’s “House of Cards” in their new willingness to permit residential development in the EPCAL area(more…)

06/19/14 6:00am


To the editor:

The Town Board warming up to mixed uses at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

Before we embrace mixed-used residential development at EPCAL, let’s remember why we Riverhead taxpayers were promised that there would never be any residential development in that zone: Every home costs the taxpayers more than those homeowners pay in property taxes. Our schools are already overburdened. (more…)

08/03/12 1:41pm

The marked difference between the way Americans and Europeans experience wine became apparent to me when I first attended VinItaly, Europe’s biggest wine trade fair, in 1997. Unlike the typical wine event I’d attended here, where each producer served wine samples from behind a bar to ambulating tasters, in Italy attendees were treated like guests, invited to sit comfortably, eat a little snack and chat while tasting.

When I returned recently to Europe (this time to Moravia and Venice) I again found the attitude toward wine as a welcome part of everyday hospitality, but also found that the new glorification of gastronomy has, in some places, corrupted the old and charming ways.

In Czech Moravia, traditional generosity survives in abundance at the home of Radek and Lida Nepras. Radek, a dissident under the communist regime that ended in 1989, is one of Moravia’s leading vintners. Under a vine-covered pergola, he served an Alsatian riesling (not wanting to be just a promoter for his region, but a true host) with Lida’s special crêpes, filled with brandied cherries from their orchard. After leading us on a hike to the 12th-century castle above their vines, Lida made us soup from spinach just picked in her garden and traditional schnitzel with potato salad. Radek offered us two of his own wines, a dry riesling and a pinot blanc. Food and wine were all extraordinary, but instead of drawing attention to them, we talked of other topics: the Bronze Age cup and bracelet he had found while cultivating his vines, her uncle’s research into Paleolithic times, my plans to visit the caves up north.

The next night, I enjoyed an equally memorable evening with another Moravian family that also incorporated wine and food seamlessly into our activities. On a grassy hilltop with a 360-degree view of the surrounding countryside, our host took his two young sons (ages 5 and 7) into the nearby forest to gather firewood while his wife started a fire “Survivor”-style. Soon, a small group of us roasted corn and chunks of fresh local goat cheese on pointed sticks while kids cavorted with kites and a soccer ball. From good glass stemware, we guzzled wine made by students at the local enology school while eating chunks of speck bacon, crisped in the flame and dripping with luscious fat, on chunks of buttered bread. We also cooked short, plump sausages that had been cut at either end so that, as they cooked, they opened like blooming lilies. Salad, melon and chocolates completed the meal, followed by a sing-along under a blazing sunset.

On to the tiny island of Mazzorbo, in the Venetian lagoon, where the Bisol family, owners of one of Italy’s most prominent prosecco houses, has created Venissa, a much-touted “destination” restaurant and guest house in an ancient vineyard. Excited to see the dorona grape they rescued from extinction, and to taste locally inspired food of chef Paula Budel, I expected it to be the highlight of my trip.

Ah, the folly of great expectations.

Venissa is pretty enough, if you only look at the vineyard and bell tower, discount the burlap and imitation-Ikea décor and ignore the mosquitoes. Though artfully presented, the food did not merit its haut cuisine prices. For $45, an insipid little appetizer of raw bass deserved a squirt of lemon and my chunk of flounder should have been boned. A “glass” of wine contained about an ounce. One had the curious feeling of being in a temple of gastronomy where the high priest of a maitre d’ would rather be home watching soccer.

Surely the Bisols must be lauded for their effort, but the place was missing the very thing I had found in Moravia: warm hospitality, a generous spirit and that old European way of incorporating wine and food into a joyful experience. Maybe the change is a result of cable TV shows turning chefs and winemakers into celebrities; maybe it’s a result of too much money at the top of the world’s economy or maybe it was just a case of the place having supercilious management.

Whatever it was, that’s the last time I seek out a hot spot for wine and food. Give me some fire-roasted speck, a chunk of chewy bread and a quaffing of new wine; add to those pleasures some interesting conversation with lively people, a rising moon or a sunset — now, there’s the quintessential gastronomic experience. And (minus the ruined castles), we can replicate that here.

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.

07/19/12 12:46pm

On June 28, I attended a tasting for winemakers sponsored by Bouchard Cooperages, representing French tonnelleries (cooperages) Cadus, Damy, Vicard and Canadell. This tasting demonstrated subtleties in flavor and style lent by oak selected, seasoned and “toasted” according to the techniques of individual coopers seeking a particular “je ne sais quoi” to differentiate their barrels from others.

Today’s barrel makers are more like chefs than carpenters: barrels are used increasingly for finely nuanced flavors. What consumers want from a barrel has changed; it used to be “bang for the buck” with big woody flavors but now, less is often more when it comes to oak influence in wine.

Wooden barrels probably originated with Celts in the Balkans around 350 B.C., becoming common wine transport vessels in Roman Gaul by the third century A.D. Made using techniques adapted from boat building, with wooden staves heated, bent and bound with hoops, these were more useful (but more expensive) than fragile clay amphorae. Large barrels were used for fermentation; small barrels holding 30 to 60 gallons became standard for transport and also for aging fine wines that deserve the extra quality derived from time in wood.
Almost all wine barrels used today are crafted from oak. European oak is tighter-grained, and thus less aggressively extractive, than American oak. American barrels cost about $350 vs. their French counterparts costing $750 to $1,000. Per bottle, that’s about $1 vs. $3.

The rough inner surface of oak catalyzes the harshest tannins in wine to complex and mellow, while the wood, seasoned and charred, adds flavors like vanilla, nuts, dust, coffee, chocolate, smoke, lead pencil, bourbon, burnt toast, cedar, coconut, butterscotch, pie spice or turpentine.

The use of wood to flavor chardonnay in particular offers an example of how the public’s expectations have been formed and changed in the past 20 years. The signature white grape of Burgundy, chardonnay was cultivated by medieval monks and elevated to elite status there. Because oak barrels could be made easily in this region and used for both fermentation and transport, all white Burgundies were, for centuries, made in oak and hence bore distinctive oak flavors.

In the 1970s, when California winemaker Robert Mondavi wanted to make premium French-style wines that were different from the ubiquitous redwood-fermented California jug wines, he introduced French oak to his winemaking arsenal. From then on, French oak began to define premium American wines.

Pretty soon the French tonnelleries, who made a few thousand barrels a year from trees planted by Louis XIV and Napoleon, began offering designer barrels. As new wineries all over the world clamored for these barrels, coopers began also sourcing wood from Hungary and Russia, refining their techniques as barrel prices soared. Even Spanish winemakers who for centuries preferred American oak have adapted to suit critics’ taste for European oak, deliberately cultivating big Parker scores.

Since the 1990s, some critics and consumers have rebelled against overblown oak elements commonly used to obscure high alcohol levels and unfermentable sugars in warm-climate chardonnays. Many former chardonnay drinkers have switched to unoaked wines like pinot grigio or sought out unoaked chardonnay.

But oak still plays a key role in the finest wines, both red and white. Used judiciously, it lends complexity, character and finesse, balancing fruit, acidity and alcohol seamlessly. This was evident in the Bouchard tasting. A Bavard Puligny-Montrachet 2007 Premier Cru, aged in Cadus “medium toast” barrels, had great dimension, with oaky vanilla aromas just hovering over the fruit. A Fichet Puligny-Montrachet 2008 Premier Cru aged in Damy “long toast” wood from Allier smelled more distinctly of toast and caramel, though that classy Burgundian chardonnay still appeared with vibrant acidity. Two red wines (Ch. Gruaud Larose 2008 from Bordeaux and Domaine Courbis 2009 from the Rhone) in similar barrels from Cadus and Damy revealed consistency in the two coopers’ styles, with Cadus being more subtle — and less spicy — than the Damy.

A tasting of Villard 2009 Viognier from Condrieu showed how well this fruit benefited from the spiciness of Vicard oak from Nevers, but the Chateau Giscours 2000 Margaux, also in Vicard barrels, revealed a drawback to barrel aging: it suffered from brettanomyces infection and smelled like Band-Aids.

These were expensive wines. For vin ordinaire, many vintners now use oak “chips,” infused like tea bags. These add flavor, but not finesse. Ultimately, the added cost of fine barrels has to be justified by the price of the wine.

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.

06/08/12 11:40am

It’s June again, the glorious “days of wine and roses.” As a winemaker and wine educator, I’m often asked if rosé wines are really made from roses. It’s understandable that some think that, especially when a wine has some aromatic kinship to rose petals.

It has been customary, since ancient Persians planted vines, to adorn the perimeters of vineyards with roses. Even today, in Bordeaux’s Haut Medoc, growers distinguish their properties by planting signature rose varieties at the ends of each row. And perfumers do use rose petals to make their scents. But in wine, even where there are plenty of rose petals handy, the flowers don’t go into the wine.

Sorry to destroy any romantic illusion, but rosé wine is simply any wine that is rose (French for pink) in color. Pink can be loosely interpreted to range in hue from magenta to copper. Since most color is extracted from the grapes’ skins, it will depend on both the characteristic color of the grape variety and skin contact during fermentation. White and red wines can be blended to make pink; sugar is often adjusted to smooth over any defects. Because rosés encompass such a vast and ill-defined array of wines, until the past few years they have been grouped together as wines of little interest or importance.

Many who began drinking careers with pink Mateus, Boone’s Farm or “white” zinfandel have since avoided alcoholic pink drinks. For wine, as sophistication (or snobbism) increased, the tolerance for astringency did, too. No more soda pop wines, please!

In an assault on this anti-rosé sentiment, about 10 years ago a group of dry rosé winemakers led by Jeff Morgan (a Napa winemaker whose career began on the North Fork) joined forces as the “Rosé Avengers.” Whether it was their influence, or the social pages showing rappers embracing Domaine Ott (a rosé from Provence in a female-shaped bottle), suddenly rosé — especially dry rosé — became acceptable.

The quality of rosé wines is dictated, in part, by how much a producer can sell it for. In the days when no one would pay up for it, winemakers had to use the lowliest wines, blended and sweetened, to make the bulk of their rosés. But today, as fans clamor for shimmering, refreshing, even phenolic pink wines, more effort can be made in the vineyards and wineries to refine pink wines to a new standard of quality.

Several of Long Island’s winemakers have honed their rosé-making skills to serve the popularity of dry rosé. Even after increasing production, Wölffer Estate’s cold-fermented rosé sells out by autumn. Croteaux makes only “rosé on purpose.” This year, they have 12 pink beauties, including one based on sauvignon blanc, one sparkler and their new Elite Rouge rosés, more similar to claret, the historic Bordeaux wine.

In calling its eight pink wines “rosati,” Channing Daughters signals their Italian style. All are small-batch fermented from varieties ranging from syrah to lagrein. They present a study in pink worthy of any seeking a lesson.

Among other notable Long Island rosés are a plush, juicy afternoon rosé from Corey Creek and Pellegrini’s equally fruit-driven (happily well-priced) East End Select Rosé. Bedell Cellar’s stylishly complex Taste Rosé was made aromatic by a splash of syrah; Mattebella Rosé is delicately tantalizing and Sannino’s Bella Vita Snow Merlot hides its big flavors behind a blushing hue.

Marjorie’s Rosé from McCall is intricate and fragrant; it’s 100 percent pinot noir, as is the Lenz Blanc de Noir, a favorite of mine for its dry, Champagne cuvée quality and refined bottle age. These are joined for pure refreshment by Lieb’s delightfully taut Bridge Lane Rosé.

The joys of sipping summer wines were, alas, far too fleeting for poor Ernest Dawson, the English poet who coined the term “days of wine and roses” in his 1896 poem “Vitae Summa Brevis”:

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

Dawson’s dream ended when the young girl he had pursued for the past seven years (since she was 11 and he 23) married the tailor who lived above her father’s restaurant. Dawson’s consumptive father died of an overdose of chloral hydrate, after which his mother hanged herself. Not surprisingly, Dawson, who also penned the words “gone with the wind,” caroused his way to an early grave.

You may take that as a moral, or keep on smelling those roses.

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.

04/08/12 7:00am

Chile and Argentina are both defined by their shared border of the Andes Cordillera, that jagged mountain chain that runs down the spine of southern South America and affects the two countries in climate, history, politics and attitude.

On the Chilean side, the mountains are omnipresent. The country is so long and so narrow that the Andes seem to both protect and isolate the Chileans. On my recent jaunt to witness Harvest 2012, South American-style (discussed in part in my last column here), I got the sense that Chile has emerged from the domination of Spain, Peru, military juntas, aristocratic cabals and dictators to become a peaceful, prosperous, democratic nation. A week visiting Santiago and surrounding countryside gave me the snapshot impression of Chile as a laid-back, cheerful, generous place with many stray dogs.

Flying over the Andes from Santiago to Mendoza was worth the whole trip. Though the flight lasts barely half an hour, the view of the cordillera from above brought a lifetime’s worth of vivid images.

From the moment I exited the plane, I felt a different ambience in Argentina. The Andes are just as dominant as they are in Chile, except that between the mountains and the sea, Argentina’s lands are vast. Although her history is in many ways similar to Chile’s (both honor Bernardo O’Higgins, the illegitimate son of the Irishman who represented Spain in Peru, as a hero), Argentina feels far more touched by European influence. Argentines are serious about business.

In Buenos Aires, after their independence from Spain in 1816, the citizens replaced most traces of their Hispanic heritage with grand Parisian-style buildings, Italian parks and English railroads. Still speaking Spanish, they became fully international.

Argentina’s wine industry has also been distinctly influenced by European winemakers, especially in recent years, as some notable French vintners have taken advantage of Argentina’s recent financial crisis. My own interest in Bordeaux wines, and my curiosity about the globalization of wine, prompted my visit to a DiamAn­des and Atamisque, both owned by French producers and about an hour from Mendoza in the Uco Valley, where Argentina’s best vineyards are located.

DiamAndes, owned by the Bonnie family that also owns the Grand Cru Classé Chateau Lamartic-Lagravière and Chateau Gazin Rocquencourt in Bordeaux, is part of a new 2,000-acre vineyard development called Clos de los Siete (enclosure of the seven). World-renowned wine consultant Michel Rolland convinced seven of his Bordeaux clients to invest here, with him, creating separate wineries plus one joint winery that makes a keystone brand, Clos de los Siete.

Each winery is a stunning architectural statement, making the whole Clos an eerie mixture of ultra-modern glass, steel and concrete, set against a backdrop of the soaring Andes. The land is brilliant green wherever irrigation feeds the vines and landscaping, but quasi-desert on the periphery. Every winery in the Clos makes use of the most contemporary innovations, including micro-oxidation, sorting tables, large oak fermenters to augment stainless steel and inert gas presses.

Atamisque is similar, but also has its own nut and fruit trees, plus trout ponds, to make the farm sustainable.
Like the Maipo, Colchagua and Casablanca valleys of Chile, the Uco valley in March is a balmy paradise. Huge birch and eucalyptus trees form allées along dusty roads that pass vast orchards and vineyards, often marked by roses, sunflowers, hibiscus and other brilliant flowers. Although these new wineries are intended as tourist magnets, they are gated and require appointments. Most people come with tour groups, a good idea since (as I found, driving around in a tiny Chevy) road or route signs are scarce. But getting there is half the fun and, once at the wineries, the welcome is extraordinary.

I enjoyed spectacular five-course lunches at DiamAndes, Atamisque and Mendoza’s fine restaurant, Azafran, where I learned that “rare” beef is cooked medium-well in Argentina, and that Argentines are brownie-obsessed.
As for the wines, they were more California than Bordeaux style. Even with the guidance of Michel Rolland, Argentina’s winemakers must adapt French techniques to fruit ripened under a brilliant, blazing sun. Altitude and cool nights preserve acidity here, but some of the nuances of Bordeaux are absent. They succeed well with aromatic Viognier and voluptuous Cabernet, Syrah and Malbec.

French oak dominates their wines, but that may change as new Argentine laws preventing foreign imports (like French barrels) and taxing exports at 35 percent affect how wines are made and marketed. It’s a new worry for Argentine businesses.

Fortunately, they can’t tax the tango.

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.