Sparkling Pointe Vineyards and Winery

There are no wineries on Long Island’s North Fork that are anything like the palaces that have grown up in some parts of California’s Wine Country.  The closest is Sparkling Pointe, in Southold.  In fairness, the architecture is not palatial.  From the outside, the building that houses the tasting room is reminiscent of a mansion in an upscale suburb.  The interior is grand without being overwhelming, with widely spaced tables, crystal chandeliers and lively contemporary artwork.

The exterior of Sparkling Pointe.  Photo courtesy of The Knot.

However, if you visit on a day with fair weather (which we have been lucky enough to find when we’ve been there) you’ll walk through the tasting room, note the wide bar and allow yourself to be seated on the spacious patio overlooking the vineyards.  Ahh, this is wonderful…and it can only be improved by being served some sparkling wine.  Which, as the name indicates, is what they make at Sparkling Pointe.


The view from the terrace in front of the vineyards.

Although Sparkling Pointe advertises openly that they use the méthode champenoise, it’s not Champagne, which can only be made in the eponymous region of France.  There have been other North Fork wineries that have made wine with bubbles in it, but to our tastes there’s nothing else there that approaches the quality of Sparkling Pointe.  We at Power Tasting do not review wines, but rather the wine tasting experience.  That said, we find that this winery’s sparkling wines can stand up to those of their California cousins.

All tastings are seated, with service offered from a fairly wide cross-section of Sparkling Pointe’s wines.  Flights are available as are individual glasses.  There are assemblages of the three Champagne grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  They also make blanc de blancs, blanc de noirs and a rosé.

Of course, each sparkling wine has its own characteristics and each taster will find some that they prefer to the others.  We were taken by the rosé, but there’s no reason for us to believe that everyone will agree with us.  But, wow, it is fun to have six small flutes in front of yourself and get to make a choice.

Too many Long Island vineyards attract visitors with rock bands, pizza trucks and an overall carnival atmosphere.  Sparkling Pointe is all about the wines, so there’s none of that.  However, like many Long Island wineries, Sparkling Pointe has a side business as a venue for weddings.  For the most part, this shouldn’t affect wine tasters, unless they happen to be there near the end of the day when revelers are beginning to assemble.

To a degree, this problem is ameliorated by a “by reservation only” policy.  However, we have never had a reservation and have never seen a crowd at Sparkling Pointe.  That may be because of our policy of tasting at Long Island wineries on weekdays, just as we try to do in California.  If you know that you will be there on a Saturday afternoon in high summer, a reservation is a good idea.

As is the case with several of the newer North Fork wineries, Sparkling Pointe is showing how dedication and money can help the Long Island corner of Wine Country reach its potential.  It’s well worth traveling from New York City, or elsewhere, to be a part of the journey.


White Dessert

A few issues ago, we focused on red dessert wines that you might encounter at some wineries, where they are almost an afterthought compared with the table wines made there.  Of course, there are certain parts of the world where dessert wines are the main event and some of those are red: Port from Portugal, vin doux naturel from the south of France, Recioto from Italy’s Valpolicella region and Mavrodaphne from Greece.

In the United States, there are few if any wineries that specialize in dessert wines, and those who do usually make them from white grapes: Reisling, Vidal, Rousanne and sometimes Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.  There are many renowned wineries that do have white dessert wines on their lists, sometimes.  They don’t have the proper climatic conditions every year to make these wines so visitors won’t always have a chance to try them.  As is often the case, if those who come to taste the main production show genuine interest and some knowledge, we have experienced that the server “just happened” to have a bottle of their dessert offering in the refrigerator that could be shared.


            Grapes that have been attacked by botrytis, the Noble Rot.  Photo courtesy of Vinoble.

Unsurprisingly, California produces the most white dessert wines in the US.  But they are also to be found in Washington and New York states.  Some are the result of what is known as the Noble Rot, botrytis cinerea, a fungus that attacks the grapes, sucks most of the water out of them and leaves very concentrated sugars behind.  Naturally, it takes a lot of shriveled grapes to make even a half bottle, so that’s why producers are a bit reluctant to share tastes.  Botrytis doesn’t always occur – another reason it’s hard to find and get a chance to taste these wines, but in the Sauternes region of France it’s routine.  A trip to the Bordeaux region is incomplete without visiting Sauternes.

Making ice wine.  Photo courtesy of New York Upstate.

Another common way of making dessert wines is to let the grapes freeze.  The resulting ice crystals puncture the skins of the grapes, also letting out much of the water when they defrost.  In the US and Canada, we call these ice wines.  Of course, this requires very cold conditions while the grapes are still on the vines.  This does happen in Canada every year, so the Canadians are the world champs of ice wine, mostly in Ontario but also in Québec.  These wines tend not to be as sweet and are better at accompanying fruits and cheeses than with chocolate.

Lastly, there are late harvest dessert wines, made from grapes that are left on the vines to dry out.  They tend to be a bit raisin-y for that reason.  They are more frequently made in Europe than in North America.  Late harvest wines are known as Vendage Tardive in France (particularly in Alsace) and Spätlese in Germany.  Visitors to those places will surely get a chance to taste their dessert wines, after sampling Reislings and Gewurtztraminers.

Wine tasting in regions that specialize in white dessert wines can overload the senses a bit, but you can be certain to try them.  In regions of Wine Country where dessert is not the main reason to visit, tasters need a bit of luck.

Wine Tasting at Parties

Fine wine goes with fine dining.  No one serves an ’05 Latour at a barbecue (well, at least no one we know).  When anyone is planning a party, in the office or at home, he or she rarely scans the cellar to find the finest.  Alas, there are too many people who figure that the beer and the hard stuff are the beverages of choice and, if they serve any wine at all, it comes from one of two jugs – red and white.

Photo courtesy of Zonin Prosecco.

At the same time, there is no reason that the wine at parties has to be plonk.  With a little thoughtfulness and a budget just above rock bottom, it’s quite possible to offer a variety of wines that can please both the knowledgeable taster and someone who just wants a pleasant beverage to pass the time.

Here are some tips for potential hosts.

  • Don’t serve anything you haven’t tasted. Sadly, you can’t always trust the advice of a clerk in a wine store.  The wine so highly spoken of may be just the one the store couldn’t get rid of.  There are plenty of worthy wines under $20 and even some that are under $15.  Wine Spectator and the New York Times generally have issues each year dedicated to available bargains.  Use it as a guide.
  • Plan to serve at least four wines. Why four?  If you assume that most people who choose wine at a party will select either a red or a white, there may well be someone who doesn’t care for one of your choices.  If there’s only one offering, that person is stuck.  If you have two of each on hand, it significantly raises your odds to please most people.

If you find yourself a guest at a shindig organized by a thoughtful host and are confronted by a small array of interesting wines, here are some tips for you.

  • To begin with, try a little of each wine. Even if you’re partial to white wines, try those and the reds.  It shows respect for the hosts and the effort that they put in to please you.  It enables you to say, “I’m generally not into big red wines, but that Beaujolais really appealed to me”.
  • Think of the party as an impromptu tasting. Try to appreciate the wines for what they are, not comparing them to other labels of the same grapes.  And if you’re being served something from somewhere you never heard of, think of it as an adventure.
  • If there’s a wine you find particularly pleasing, don’t hog it. In fact, recommend it to other guests.  If nothing else, it gives you something to talk about with people you don’t know.  Again, your host will appreciate you talking up one (or more) of the wines served.
  • Don’t worry about the glassware. If it’s a catered affair the glasses will be of the sturdy restaurant variety.  At someone’s home, expect plastic cups.  After all, you’re not going to be the one washing up afterwards.  Sure, good goblets enhance good wines, but party wine can survive inferior goblets.



Americans have a lot of difficulty with the word, orange.  We’re not sure if it’s two syllables or one or whether the first two letters are pronounced ah, aw or oh.  With Orange counties in New York, California and Florida, we’re not even sure where it is.  So a discussion on Orange, a city in France’s Rhône valley, ought to start with the pronunciation, which is oar-AHNZH, with the r sort of strangled at the back of the throat and the n stuck in the nose.

The city of Orange has a lot of history.  First there were the Gauls. Then when Julius Caesar won his war, some Roman veterans set up what became Orange.  The name is based on the Gallo-Roman name for the fort that was there and over time it’s morphed into the color we know as the Syracuse University basketball team.  Oh, yes, and that fruit of the same name.

The Roman Theater in Orange, in performance.  Photo courtesy of All About World Heritage Sites.

There are no Gallic ruins that can be seen but there is a lot of ancient Rome still in Orange that can be visited and admired.  The best known is the Roman Theater, still in use for concerts and plays (in French, not Latin).  The seating was restored in the 19th century, but the stage – overseen by a statue of the Emperor Augustus – is original.  The theater accommodates 10,000 people to this day.

There is also an Arc de Triomphe that had been incorporated into the walls of the medieval city and now stands alone in restored glory.  The triumph in question was Caesar’s victory over the Gauls, which does seem a bit like rubbing it in.

Orange sits very much in the midst of Provençal Wine Country.  Châteauneuf du Pape is the next town over; Beaume de Venise, Vacqueyras and Gigondas are due east, twenty minutes’ drive on small rural roads.  There is no shortage of great wine to be had if you’re in Orange.

The market in Orange.  Photo courtesy of The Good Life France.

As wine tasters, you’ll certainly take advantage of travelling through the environs of Orange.  But be sure to leave time to enjoy this fine little city.  It is much more than ruins.  Of course, there’s a museum and a cathedral, as there are in virtually every French town and city.  But the people of Orange (Orangians? Orangeois? Orang-utans?) live there in leisure and comfort.

We have had the occasion to shop and cook in Orange, due to the pleasure of having friends there.  The chickens are plumper and more flavorsome than we’re used to in America.  The bread and pastries are indescribable.  And they grow more than grapes in the region around Orange.  If you manage to be there on market day, make sure to have some apricots, prune plums, figs and an incredible fruit called mirabelles.  They put whatever you buy at your local grocery to shame.  And for all you know, they could have been grown in an orchard only a few blocks away.

At those same markets, you can find the fabrics, table cloths, herbs, pottery and honey that Provence is famous for.  Take advantage of them while you’re there; you never know when you’ll pass that way again.