On Sunday, November 21, Peconic Bay Winery hosted its 3rd Annual Thanksgiving Barrel Tasting, just east of the tasting room on the Main Road in Cutchogue, to honor a founding father of American cuisine and to raise money to help the next generation of chefs. Larry Forgione of An American Place restaurant was the guest of honor and proceeds from the event went to a scholarship fund for NYIT’s Culinary Arts Program.

With the usual tasting room closed for the day, Peconic Bay’s staff set up a huge tent on its grounds, large enough to house tables featuring food from a dozen or so top area restaurants, live music, and, of course, barrels of wine for sampling.

Not long after arriving, I decided to head to the front of the tent to try some of the winery’s still-in-the-barrel 2003 vintage, which was being siphoned off by winemaker Greg Gove. One barrel was 2003 Cabernet Franc and the other barrel was 2003 Merlot. Both wines will spend another six months or so in barrels and then another two years in bottles before release.

As a wine lover who considers himself fairly knowledgeable about wine, I appreciated both wines as they are now – young and aggressive – with an eye toward the future. From a marketing/sales perspective, however, I’m a little surprised that they wanted “the masses” tasting them now. The Merlot was still pretty astringent and the fruit really wasn’t showing through very well yet at all –both the result of the wine’s immature tannins. The Cabernet Franc, for my palate, is much closer to being “ready” though it still needs time to develop some. Its fruitiness was still a little masked by oak, though its tannins were light and muted.

I couldn’t help but wonder how many people at the event would realize and understand that this is just a part of making wine, and that both could very well be quite tasty as finished products.

For me, the real highlight of the event was the food. Top chefs offered tastes of amazing, interesting and innovative food, served with some of the winery’s ready-to-drink wines. Restaurants represented included Tierra Mar, Coolfish, Polo Restaurant, Amuse, Eleven Madison Park, Fiddleheads, The River Cafe, The Bellport and Starr Boggs.

My favorite wines of the day were the 2003 Riesling ($13) and the 2000 Cabernet Franc ($22), which paired very well with pumpkin wontons with chili-lime dipping sauce and smoked Long Island duck with honey Dijon drizzle and fresh mango chutney, respectively.

My favorite “bite” of the day was River Café’s slow-roasted suckling pig with vanilla bean whipped sweet potatoes and toasted marshmallows. It was sweet and savory, hearty and delicate all at once, and paired nicely with the 2001 Merlot ($24), which is a well-made wine, but not as complex or sophisticated as other Long Island Merlots at the price.

James Ahearn of Deer Park was the $3000 scholarship winner for his duck confit roasted pumpkin ravioli with apple 2002 Peconic Bay Dry Riesling butter sauce, while Cesare Bonventre of Brooklyn and Karen Boughtin of Bay Shore each received $1000 scholarships for their entries.

For upcoming events at Peconic Bay Winery, visit www.peconicbaywinery.com