Fall is a perfect time to get out to farmstands, smell fresh air and sample the products from American vineyards. It's also the perfect time to visit New York City: the weather is mild, days still long and light perfect. So how about combining the two -- and taking a breather from the city with a day trip to wine country?
It's not just San Francisco that has wine country conveniently near by. The North Fork of Long Island, the Hamptons' more laid-back and rural cousin, is covered in vineyards and dotted with farm stands, with the main road (conveniently called Main Road) running down to the charming maritime village of Greenport. It's cheap and easy to get out there, you can do it in a day, and you don't need to bring a car -- so you won't have to worry if you overindulge just a little.
If you're traveling from New York to Boston, a ferry from the tip of the fork zips passengers and cars up to New London, Connecticut, where you can pick up highways or Amtrak trains up to New England.
The best way to get out to the North Fork, about 85 miles east of Manhattan, is by train. The Long Island Railroad runs two trains a day out to the Fork, and two or three back. To tap into the North Fork's casks, take the morning train to Mattituck, a $14.50 ride of about two hours and 20 minutes. The train leaves New York's Penn Station at 7:39 AM on weekdays or 9:20 AM on weekends. Later risers can catch a Hampton Jitney bus from midtown Manhattan to Mattituck at 10 AM or noon for $18, taking two hours and five minutes.
Yes, you can take taxis such as Southold Taxi (tel. 631/765-2221), but nothing beats the $1.50 fare of the hourly S92 bus (requires Adobe Acrobot reader) that runs along Main Road, half a block south of the Mattituck train station, Monday-Saturday between 8am and 7:45pm. Tell the driver where you want to get off, and feel free to flag down oncoming buses at any corner to get picked up.
As I'm not a wine expert (I just like the stuff), I asked Tom Matthews, executive editor of Wine Spectator magazine for some picks in the region. Wine Spectator has more than two dozen Long Island wine reviews on their website at www.winespectator.com.
According to Matthews, Long Island wines are at best "very good" -- what makes the place enjoyable is "the whole cultural/geographic package, with its small towns, farm stands, casual restaurants and wineries." I agree.
Long Island wines are "elegant rather than powerful, with a balance of fruit, herbal and mineral flavors, medium-bodied and refreshing in texture, with crisp acidity and fine tannins. They are accessible young and complement food rather than dominating it," Matthews says.
Four of Matthews' favorite Long Island vineyards are arrayed along Main Road between Mattituck and Greenport, easily accessible by bus, taxi, or car. Tasting fees are generally $4-$5 for a flight of up to five wines, and tasting rooms are generally open seven days a week from 11 am to 5 pm. In the order you'll encounter them, they are:
- Pellegrini Vineyards (23005 Main Road, Cutchogue; tel. 631/734-4111; www.pellegrinivineyards.com): Open to the public for tastings and guided tours daily from 10am to 5pm.
- Bedell Cellars (36225 Main Road, Cutchogue; tel. 631/734-7537; www.bedellcellars.com): Bedell's tasting room is in an old barn with a cozy fireplace. The walls are dotted with the owner's art collection. Vineyard tours Saturday and Sunday at 1pm. Matthews says he prefers Bedell's reds.
- Raphael (39390 Main Road, Peconic; tel. 631/765-1100; www.raphaelwine.com): Raphael is open until 9pm on Thursdays, and has live music. Tours daily at 2 pm, reservations and a $10 fee required. Wine Spectator says Raphael's Malbec North Fork of Long Island has "black cherry and plum flavors" and "it's not heavy or overly tannic, and fresh fruit lingers on the finish."
- Corey Creek Vineyards (45470 Main Road, Southold; tel. 631/765-4168; www.coreycreek.com): Wine Spectator says Corey Creek's Chardonnary North Fork of Long Island Reserve has "a plush texture yet firm structure . . . it shows pear, melon, vanilla and floral notes . . . drink now."
Wine alone can't sustain you, so stop for a fish sandwich at Braun's (25500 Main Road, Cutchogue; tel. 631/734-6700), a fish market selling the local catch with a take-out restaurant attached to it or jump off the bus at Wickham's Fruit Farm (28700 Main Road, Cutchogue; tel. 631/744-6441; www.wickhamsfruitfarm.com; Monday-Saturday, 9am-5pm) to pick your own apples or see what they have for sale.
Braun's is strictly under $15 per person; if you want a more formal (and pricier) experience, save your appetite for the Seafood Barge, (62980 Main Road, Southold; tel. 631/765-3010). Getting on towards Greenport, it's port of the Port of Egypt Marina. The humbly-named Barge serves New American cuisine constructed from local fish, local vegetables and local wines, but make sure you bring the credit card -- these are Manhattan prices.
We'll excuse you if you're a little wobbly on your pins when you get to Greenport, though there's one last stumble you can make into Ternhaven Cellars in downtown Greenport at 4th and Front Streets (tel. 631/477-8737; open Fri-Mon, 11am-6pm). While there are motels we recommend, there's nothing really in the way of budget lodging there, so you may just want to head back to the city at night. Try the Greenporter Hotel, a basic motel downtown at 326 Front Street, where rooms Sunday-Thursday nights are $99 (tel. 631/477-0066; www.thegreenporter.com). Yes, it says it's an upscale hotel with a spa, but it isn't really; it's just inexpensive and centrally located.
There's good food in town: inventive, modern if expensive stuff at the Frisky Oyster downtown or more traditional port-town fare at Claudio's (www.claudios.com), which has a discount spinoff on the nearby dock, Crabby Jerry's. Take a spin on the historic downtown carousel, too. The train back to New York from Greenport's centrally located station costs $14.50 and leaves at 9:55 PM on weekdays or 6:17 PM on weekends, taking about two hours and 40 minutes to get back to the city.
If you're continuing on to New London by foot, the S92 bus will drop you off at the ferry dock up until 6:10 pm. The ferry ride costs $44 for a car on an 80-minute "slow ferry" and $18.50 for a foot passenger on a 40-minute "sea jet" ride; the last of 11 ferries a day leaves at 8 p.m, with a 9:45 p.m. passenger ferry departure on weekends. In New London, you can pick up frequent Amtrak trains to Boston; for more attractions in that town, see www.frommers.com/destinations/mysticandthesoutheasterncoast/0982028418.html
If you'd prefer a more structured exploration of the area, the Long Island Railroad runs two bus-and-train tours during the fall that take you to farms, vineyards and Greenport. The Vineyard Harvest tour on Sept. 23 and Oct. 21 costs $42 for adults, and $30 for children.
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