By Dave Seel, Long Island Food Correspondent
My recent trip to WineBar was certainly a drive — it's out in Greenport after all — but checking out the new hybrid wine bar and tasting room inside the Portly Grape had been on my to-do list for a while.
Managed by former Bedell Cellars tasting room manager, Andrew Mestler, the WineBar occupies a large backyard tent in the summer months and the bar and lounge of the Portly Grape in the winter. After working at Bedell and seeing the growth of the North Fork wine industry, he jumped at the chance to help be an advocate for all Long Island’s wines.
Mestler’s vision for WineBar was to give small vineyards, like Scarola Vineyards, Bouké Wines and Comtesse Therese, a broader tasting platform. So, while his wine list changes often, you’ll always find small vineyard’s wines alongside some well-known names, and the list will always be 100% local.
Taking the tasting experience one step further, Mestler also works with The Portly Grape’s restaurant, Sim-Pah-Ti-Koh, and its chef, Mark Serrantino, to create a seasonally inspired three- and five-course pairing menus to serve with the wines. Working collaboratively, they take great care in harmoniously pairing the flavors of the food and wine.
Mestler told me, “I firmly believe that food and wine paring is a completely subjective exercise. That being said, what I’m looking for when pairing food with wine is ultimately to achieve a balance. Both wine and food should be showcased without one overpowering the other. Often times, we will go through a number of wines and ingredient choices in the meal before finding the one that we believe works best.”
On my visit to WineBar, we were fortunate to try a few items from Serrantino and Mestler’s newest collaborative menu, which — with fall in mind — combines warm, harvest flavors with crisp, well bodied wines.
We started with a Wild Mushroom Parmesan Cup with sautéed wild mushrooms, shallots, and fresh herbs. The flavor was nice and fresh, although the cup itself could have been a bit crispier.
It was paired with a 2007 Pellegrini Chardonnay, the wine’s tart, buttery flavors playing well off of the Parmesan and herbal flavors.
Serrantino then presented us with his wonderful version of surf and turf — Andouille Sausage and Grilled Shrimp with a Chai-Maple Syrup Glaze. The spicy sausage was perfectly tempered by the syrup and the smokey shrimp continued the subtle suggestion of a southern gumbo.
Next, we moved to my favorite, a Shaved Lamb Crostini.
The lamb was cooked for more than three hours in a classic braise of red wine, herb, and shallots. It was tender and melted in your mouth with classic Mediterranean flavors. This was paired with Merlliance 2008 Merlot, a collaborative wine produced by members of the Long Island Merlot Alliance.
Although not a heavy red, the Merlot held up nicely with the lamb and the merlot’s woodsy and rosemary notes complemented the herbaceous aspects of the braise perfectly.
We then moved to a Sweet Potato Bisque, which presented a balanced combination of sweet and savory flavors with a touch of spice. To pair, Mestler poured us a Macari Vineyards 2007 Chardonnay. The green apple aromas and toasted vanilla finish was a perfect match for Serratino’s bisque. The tartness of the chardonnay muted the sweetness of the bisque, as the vanilla notes complemented the depth of the soup’s spice notes.
Finally, we ended with Local Apple Beignets and a Bouké dessert wine. The apples for the beignets were actually picked on the Portly Grape’s property, and you could taste the fresh tartness in every bite. The dessert wine added a refined decadence, satisfying my sweet tooth and adding a nice finishing touch to the tasting menu.
The whole experience reminded me that fresh, well-prepared dishes and local wine should always be together. Mestler said, “Ultimately our goal is to pair the best food we can with the local wines we serve and many times the ingredients can be sourced locally. It is our goal to promote the local food movement and to help support other local businesses, farms, etc. We always look to source our ingredients locally based upon seasonal availability.”
305 North Road, Greenport, NY