Wine tends to flow at holiday parties, and if you’re on the North Fork, you know you have a robust wine trail to find the perfect wine to pour. But rather than just picking a bottle or two from the winery you’re most familiar with, why not theme your holiday party around a local wine tasting flight?
We spoke with North Fork Table & Inn beverage director Amy Racine about creating the perfect tasting flight using exclusively local wines, from sourcing the wines to presentation and more. Racine, an advanced sommelier, oversees the beverage program for JF Restaurants, was named Esquire’s Beverage Director of the Year and is nominated for Wine Enthusiast’s Sommelier/Beverage Director of the Year for 2022, so we felt very safe in her hands. Racine suggests three wines for four guests. Beyond that, she notes that ¾ bottle per person makes sure there’s enough for everybody.
Curating the flight
Racine’s approach to a tasting flight is similar to how she curates food. “Try to program your wine flight the way you would do a food menu, going from lightest to heaviest, most acidic to fatty,” she said. “Look at not only the ingredients you’re using, but the way you’ve prepared everything. Salmon crudo versus roasted salmon is a totally different flavor profile that can take totally different styles of wine,” she added. Ingredients, preparation and what you like to drink come into play, Racine said, as does where you are in the world. “What grows together, goes together.”
Presenting the flight
“There’s a couple of fun ways you could do the flight,” said Racine. “You can do blind tastings, or you can line them up and have an ice bucket ready to keep them at temperature and keep the reds on the table. [The flight] is a way to have a centerpiece or display piece, a place where everybody can gather around and bounce their tasting notes and thoughts against each other.”
The perfect pour
“When you go out to dinner, a glass of wine is about six ounces,” said Racine. For a tasting flight, Racine recommends three-ounce pours. “That way, if someone really loves it, they can have another glass. You can also walk around and top people off.”
Her advice? Keep it on the lighter side, so no one feels forced to finish a full glass.
A sparkling beginning
As your holiday party begins and guests start to filter in, Racine recommends opening with some bubbles. “I’m always a big fan of bubbles,” Racine said. “Especially if you welcome people in with a glass of sparkling. Nobody says no to that. It’s a good icebreaker to go around and toast.”
Racine points to any of Sparkling Pointe’s offerings, as well as sparkling wines from other vineyards such as RG|NY, for this first tasting.
“Especially around the holidays, I’d definitely suggest getting started with some bubbles.”
Many North Fork holiday parties will have a raw bar, and Racine recommends Sparkling Pointe’s Brut Rosé to pair.
“If you’re doing a raw bar — crudo, raw salmon — with a rosé there’s usually some red skin contact and it gives it a little more body, whereas a blanc can often be a little more lean and polarizing. So for the sake of crowd-pleasing and covering all your bases, I’d go with the Brut Rosé.”
An uncommon varietal
One Woman Wines and Vineyards’ Grüner Veltliner pairs well with a salad, according to Racine, and is a varietal you don’t see as much from Long Island wineries.
“They do such a good job at One Woman Wines of being true to the variety. There’s a little white pepper spice, it’s a little savory, but still has citrus. It’s not too acidic or too tropical like sauvignon blancs can get. It tends to make everybody pretty happy. That’s one of our go-tos in the restaurant, as well, for larger parties wanting to start with one bottle before moving into something else.”
A favorite grape with a favorite dish
North Forkers love Long Island duck, and if you’re having duck as an entrée at your holiday party, Racine has a specific grape in mind.
“One of my favorite grapes from the North Fork is the cabernet franc,” she said. “It’s something that’s really fruit-driven and plays against the gaminess of duck. If you think of any wine as an accompaniment to a dish — not unlike a fruit compote on duck breast — cabernet franc is a great one. Macari makes a few different versions of cabernet franc, which is fun. They make more light-bodied bottles as well as some aged ones.”
A sweet finish
As your guests get ready for dessert, Racine recommends ending the flight with a unique offering from McCall Wines.
“McCall makes a brandy out of their pinot noir,” she said. “It’s something interesting and different.”
Theirs is a VSOP brandy, which stands for Very Special Old Pale and means the small batch spirit is at least four years old. Rich and warming, it has notes of apricot and butterscotch.
The most important thing to remember during this fabulous party? Have fun and be with your loved ones.
“Everybody’s getting together because they miss each other and want to be social and see each other,” said Racine. “Everyone tends to gather in the kitchen, so this is the liquid version of that. It’s a good way for everybody to bond, whether you have extensive wine knowledge or you’ve never really thought about it before. It’s a great way for people to connect, especially if you have people visiting from outside the North Fork. They probably haven’t had many North Fork wines. It’s a great conversation starter.”