Four friends from NYC tour Wine Country on a budget

SAMANTHA BRIX PHOTO | Bari on the Castello Di Borghese tour.

Three writers were given a day to tour the North Fork in three very different ways:

1 a trip from NYC

2 a guys’ day out

3 a family outing

Here’s part one of our series:

They say you can’t put a price on love, but I’m not so sure that’s true.

I am heart-stoppingly, mind-racingly, head-over-heels in love with Long Island Wine Country, but it sure ain’t free. So we decided to put a price on this love affair.

My assignment was to see just how much four 20- and 30-somethings from New York City could do in one day on the North Fork with only $500 at their disposal.

There was Bari, my gal friend who works at the same advertising agency as I do, and who moonlights as a stand-up comedian on the weekends.

There was Eric, my starving-artist pal who has traveled to no fewer than 50 countries.

And finally, Mark, my buttoned-up criminal-justice-student friend who is in the process of becoming a police officer.

Here’s the story of our day:

BANK: $500

The four of us hopped on a Long Island Rail Road train from Manhattan to Sea Cliff, where Mark’s parents were loaning us their Jeep.

BANK: $455

Mark intended to sip and spit his wine like a true taster so we’d have a sober driver. We piled in and filled the tank.

BANK: $435

We listened to folk rock with the windows rolled down all the way to Long Island’s East End.

When we took a wrong turn and passed a giant duck, fondly dubbed The Big Duck, on Flanders Road, we wondered aloud what was inside. “Nothing but ducks,” Eric hoped.

We pulled the car off the road and ran up to the iconic store only to find that it was closed — but, to our delight, we learned The Big Duck indeed sells only duck memorabilia.

The locked doors meant a free pit stop, so we were happy. After a few iPhone photo clicks, we jumped back into the Jeep and headed to Wendy’s Deli in Mattituck. We bought four sandwiches, a bag of North Fork Potato Chips and a bottle of water to share.

It cost us $30.

That’s half of what a Manhattan deli lunch for four would have cost, Bari pointed out.

BANK: $405

SAMANTHA BRIX PHOTO | Thumb wars can be huge entertainment when trying to fit within a $500 budget.

We drove away from Wendy’s and realized we’d been on the North Fork for a full 15 minutes and hadn’t had a sip of wine.

We drove on the sunny, 77-degree day under a cloudless sky — or one giant blue cloud, Eric said — to Macari Vineyards, which is, at 200 acres, the second-largest vineyard on Long Island.

One of the perks of working at a wine magazine is being treated to free tastings on the job. A tasting manager at Macari who recognized me gave us complimentary samples of Sauvignon Blanc and 2007 Chardonnay Reserve.

The Chardonnay had just the right amount of oak flavornicely balanced with tropical fruits that conspire to create a long, creamy finish.

“I want to put this in a crêpe with ice cream,” Eric said after downing the white wine in one sip, forgoing the three-sipsper-tasting-glass etiquette.

We each then bought a full glass of the tasty chardonnay.

BANK: $370

Next, we pulled into Leib Family Cellars and had a few complimentary tastes (as did other guests) before settling on full glasses of Bridge Lane Rosé and 2005 Reserve Merlot.

BANK: $340

We took our glasses out into the sunshine where local musicians Derek Cocks and Larrin Gerard were playing folk music at no charge — one of the reasons we picked the place.

When a breeze blew by, I wanted to kick off my sandals and stay there all day. Eric wanted to take a nap under a willow tree. (I mentioned he’s an artist, right?)

We sat at a white picnic table and entertained ourselves with rounds of thumb war instead. I lost immediately and focused instead on my light, easy-drinking rosé, enjoying its floral nose and hint of sweetness offered by the wine’s residual sugar contained during fermentation.

Next we headed to Castello di Borghese, the very first vineyard on the North Fork, planted by the Hargrave family in 1973. My friends wanted to walk the land that was the first to be planted with wine grapes, so we decided to take a tour.

SAMATHA BRIX PHOTO | Marco Borghese shows Bari around on the winery tour.

Our guide was Marco Borghese himself, the one-man show behind it all — the vineyard manager, winemaker and head of sales and
marketing.

Marco first grew fruit on a farm in Italy, where he was raised. He and his wife, Ann Marie, bought the vineyard from the Hargraves in the late 1990s after working as part owners of a wine store on Madison Avenue in Manhattan.

We followed Marco’s SUV along the dirt road from the tasting room to the production facility, his handsome Italian pointer pooch leading the way. Marco makes sure to drive just behind his dog, Brix — who is named after the measurement of sugar concentration in a grape (my last name was Brix first, ahem) — since Brix doesn’t like when Marco drives in front.

Watching the lean white dog race through grapevines against a bright green grass backdrop was an experience in itself.

At the production facility, a restored barn built in 1850, Marco showed us the stainless steel presser he uses to crush grapes — 4 to 5 tons’ worth — and giant fermentation tanks filled to the brim with aging wines, some releasing aromas of fields of rose bushes.

We explored the barrel room next, where dark brown barrels purchased (and not at a bargain, Marco says) from France hold gallons upon gallons of wine.

After our tour, the four of us headed back into the tasting room for some white and red, agreeing our wine had more significance after knowing how it came to be.

We tried a 2010 Riesling, which a tasting manager said won a double-gold medal at this year’s Eastern International Wine Competition and Riesling Championship. Just as you can taste individual ingredients in a masterfully made pie, we could taste fresh peaches and pears in each sip of our mineral-flavored drinks.

Next — the moment I’d personally been waiting for all day — we tasted the winery’s signature pinot noir. Visitors to the vineyard are encouraged to try the staple wine at first arrival — letters spell the name of the wine on large barrels positioned on a pickup truck on the vineyard’s front lawn.

A truly velvety, sexy wine, the Pinot Noir 2008 Estate holds generous aromas of black cherry, chocolate and even mocha. We took full glasses out to the front lawn, where we fanned out into a tapestry and nearly fell asleep in the late afternoon sun.

We went back inside for full glasses of Cabernet Franc, which a tasting manager called “the North Fork in a glass.”

Earthy and peppery, she said, “it smells like the North Fork and tastes like the North Fork.”

BANK: $190

After the tasting, tour and full glasses, we left Castello di Borghese with $190 to spend on dinner.

Sam, Bari and Eric take a little nap during a busy day out on the North Fork.

We headed to Greenport’s The Frisky Oyster, long touted as one of the North Fork’s best restaurants. Our waiter put tiny saucers of olive oil and red Hawaiian sea salt on the table to go with a luscious loaf of warm bread, which he placed smack in the middle of the clothed table without a plate.

“My dad always said if the bread is good, the rest of the food will be good,” Bari said, chomping on a crusty slice.

“Are you kidding me with this salt?” Eric asked our waiter out of enjoyment.

We ordered out-of-this-world oysters called Oysters Friskafella, with garlic-scented spinach, chipotle and parmigiano aioli.

For our main courses, we picked four dishes and shared them all: BBQ braised beef short ribs, seared sea scallops, Crescent Farms duck breast and halibut with fiddlehead ferns and walnut-cilantro pesto. We agreed everything we ordered was stellar, especially the sea scallops.

Eric and Bari ordered malbecs and I ordered a glass of Cuvée Carnaval from Sparkling Pointe. (The owners there told me sparkling wine is something to be drunk with all kinds of meals, not just on special occasions.)

Our bill, with tip, came in at $188.

BANK: $2

We had succeeded.

I asked my friends if the trip had been worth it. I felt a bit like I do after introducing friends to a new boyfriend. Would they
love Long Island Wine Country as much as I do?

“I don’t know why I don’t do this every single weekend of my life,” Eric said.

My friends approved of my love and of our budget. We said cheers to our North-Fork wine and drank every last drop.

Now what do we do with our $2?

Check back for Part II on Wednesday and Part III Friday. The entire Summer Wine Press 2012 will be available online July 16, or pick it up at a North Fork tasting room or restaurant today.