Gimme Shelter Island, Fenway Park and North Fork wine

Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park, Boston, Mass.
June 27, 2013
Photo: Michael Godel

as seen on

There is nothing quite like a good road trip. No matter the intended destination, a journey through heartlands, heaving cities and bucolic paths stir, enrich and develop the final stew. A roadhouse in Syracuse, N.Y. The Blue Jays at Fenway Park in Boston, Mass. The Cross Island Ferry to Orient, N.Y. Shelter Island, N.Y. Sag Harbor, Montauk, Amagansett, East Hampton and Wainscot, N.Y. The East Island Golf Club and Greenport, N.Y.

All stops contribute towards what will eventually become a wine region’s interest in laying up the riches of the mind. The eastern tip of Long Island mesmerizes as a sandy headland of bluff and dune begging into the Atlantic. Shelter Island is equally if not doubly halcyon in pace and though tiny in mass, seems enveloped in rainforest-like green and canopy. I traveled across and back, circumnavigated its perimeter and sat motionless on its beaches for hours. Time standing still.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Shelter Island

Though other visits on the North Fork Long Island wine trail offered a taste of local flavour, the exception and lost time came from a small family operation in Southold. Here are my notes on nine heart struck wines not yet widely discovered.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Michael and Christine

Mattebella Vineyards

46005 Route 25 (Main Rd)
Southold, NY 11971

North Fork wines have yet to storm cellars and tables beyond metropolitan New York, but it’s not for lack of quality or concupiscence. Case in point Mattebella Vineyards. Drive up the gravel driveway, turn past the herb garden, overgrown fennocchio and try to figure out which quaint little building is the tasting room. Crawl inside, pull up a bench and spend two hours sampling, contemplating and discussing with Christine Tobin what just may be the least known, most complex set of wines you would least likely expect to discover. Walk away feeling a part of the famiglia. Cottage industry incarnate. “We’re so chill here” says Chris. Goosebumps.

Christine Tobin holds the fort while Florida to Southold and back commuter husband/winemaker Mark is away on business. The couple purchased the 1997 planted vineyard in 2005. Their photo resides in that dictionary entry titled “labour of love.” Low density, French existentialist-style, 2200 plants per acre viticulture cursed by an oft-inhospitable, maritime climate is what Chris calls a “lottery ticket” of vines. Chardonnay not to be considered as Mâconnais or Meursault. Bordeaux blends not to be measured by either bank of the Gironde. These wines are expressions of this terroir, this spit of sandy soil a stone’s hurl from the Sound. The Magic of Findhorn.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Mattebella Vineyards

Famiglia Chardonnay 2009 ($17) is the child of a wet and cold growing season yet composes itself with help from a persistent toast quotient that speaks of new oak. Tart green apple and juicy acidity beg for fatty fare; braised pork belly, buttery, braised rabbit or rillettes of either. Tree fruit brings game, brightly, like tangerine.  88

Famiglia Chardonnay 2010 ($19) spent 18 months in (20 per cent) new oak barrel.  Warmer, tame and propitious with a squeeze of lemon and a dusting of scorched earth. Butternut, in squash and roasted almond as if it were waving to Sebastopol, but only to shout, “hey, we are North Fork Chardonnay.” 90 

Reserve Chardonnay 2010 ($25) squared up the new oak barrel ferment for a butter and marmalade spread so rich and continental I could drink it for breakfast. The toast meets oceanic salinity intimates spa mineral, beach shell and fine stone. Deft winemaking has given this absolute steal structure and length.  91

Rosé 2011 ($18) seeks dry Provence and as far as the savoury strawberry/rhubarb is concerned, in that it succeeds. “A little more stark than in ’12,” concedes Chris, but the length follows a tine and it should never be envisaged as simple and sugary. Amazing what Merlot can concede here for Rosé.  88

Rosé 2012 ($18) is a fleshier, rounder style, savoury still and with more Cab Franc bell pepper. The rhubarb gives way to strawberry gelée and the complexity quotient warms up with a crumble of chèvre.  87

Famiglia Red NV ($18) serves a consistency of style for table wine purpose. A union from many plots and clones that sees some oak and more stainless. Raspberry, currants and tobacco smoke stand out. Perfectly reasonable Vino di Tavola.  86

Old World Blend 2007 ($35) murmurs in melodious tones flecked by iron and anise, like tender-aged IGT. From 667 cases, with black cherry, charcoal and plums rolling away. Tannins have a few lashes left in them. There is something Henry of Pelham ’07 Cab-Merlot about this Matebella. Heading soon to toffee and über relaxed REM sleep. A red to share with “a perfect circle of acquaintances and friends.” What the tasting room felt like on this day.  89

Old World Blend 2008 ($30) produced 489 cases of gorgeous, lush, velvety crimson fruit despite the wet vintage. Whatever underground anxiety may once have unsettled this Lou meets Nico meritage is now long gone. Deft winemaking here. When you’ve got Merlot, you make Merlot. When you’ve got Bordeaux grapes, you make Bordeaux. But this is pure North Fork. “I’ll be your mirror, reflect what you are, in case you don’t know.”  91

Old World Blend 2009 ($35) is the child of a tempestuous vintage, marred by a pittance of fruit set, no need for any drop and therefore only 220 cases produced. This one’s got the funk, smoking coal, pipe tobacco and licorice. Tight, focused and with a quick dissertation heard from the Petit Verdot. Tobin’s consistency of style shows once again, despite the rigours of fighting inconsistent vintages.  92

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Island’s End Golf Club, Greenport, N.Y.

Good to go!

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