I heard a joke last weekend that goes something like
this: "Don’t wear orange on the North Fork this time of year. You might
be taken home by someone."

It’s probably not the funniest joke you’ve heard
lately, but it aptly describes the sometimes-chaotic behavior of the
pumpkin-picking masses. All those families, dead set on finding the
perfect pumpkin, the best hay ride and the curviest corn maze, have
been clogging the major North Fork arteries for weeks and will continue
to do so through the fall. Whether you call it the harvest parade, a
parking lot or bumper-to-bumper, the traffic on Route 48 and Main Road
these days makes it hard for those of us more interested in grapes than
gourds to get to the wineries we love so much.

Of course, that’s never stopped me before (though my
visits wane a bit this time of year) and it shouldn’t stop you either.
The wines are just too good, especially as the weather turns cool and
we all start looking for richer (and often red) wines to drink with the
food we eat.

So what wines are worth wading your way through the droves of SUVs? Here are some of my recent fall food-friendly bottles.

Wolffer Vineyards’ 2003 Estate Selection Chardonnay
keeps impressing me every time I taste it. It was fermented
completely in French oak and stands out as one of best barrel fermented
chardonnays made on Long Island. The nose is toasty and layered with
ripe peaches and apricot, vanilla and marshmallows toasted over a
bonfire. Medium-to-full bodied, the stone fruit flavors are rich and
mouth-filling with subtle toasty oak, vanilla and a earthy-mineral note
as well. Perfectly balanced by acidity, there is a bright citrus-kiwi
note on a very lengthy finish. Chicken or salmon with cream sauce, or
fowl with roasted apples seem like nice foils.

If you liked their very-underrated 2001 Merlot like
I did, I can’t recommend Peconic Bay Winery’s 2001 Oregon Hills Reserve
Merlot ($38)
enough. Winemaker Greg Gove blended 25% cabernet sauvignon
into this red that is among the best he’s made. An exceedingly aromatic
nose filled my kitchen with plum, cherry, spice, and cocoa aromas. Ripe
and very Old World in style, there are some plum and cherry flavors,
but secondary flavors of tobacco, dark chocolate, and spice set this
red apart. Mature, slightly dusty tannins linger on a lengthy finish
after a soft, lush mid-palate.

It’s not a new release, but Roanoke Vineyards 2004
Cabernet Sauvignon ($40)
is really starting to show well. Owner Richie
Pisacano’s western North Fork location allows him to ripen the king of
all red grapes more consistently-and it shows. Smoke, vanilla and burnt
sugar aromas mingle with black plum, blueberry, blackberry and Thai
basil on an ever-expanding and ever-evolving nose. The palate is rich
and flavorful, with loads of dark fruit backed by delicious black
pepper, spice, vanilla, sweet cedar and minty-basil notes. Finely
structured, the tannins are ripe and well-integrated, hinting at
potential longevity. The next time I make beef daube or pot roast, this
is what I’m drinking.

These are just three of the wines I’ve weaved my way
through traffic for. I’m sure you’ll find many others that are worthy
of the extra effort.

And, lest I come off as a pumpkin picker hater, I’ll
be hitting the pumpkin patch myself soon-with my 8-month old son in
tow. I’ll be stopping for a glass of wine on my way home, too.