By Lisa Penza

There’s something so wonderful about wine tasting, being able to sample and learn what you really love about wine. Becoming so intimately familiar with different wines and learning the differences between each type and each vineyard is what makes it more than just a drinking experience. It’s an experience of all five senses, and it’s best taken in when you aren’t being shuffled from bar to gift shop to bus.

In all, wine tasting is an educational experience, and I find the best vineyards are the ones that focus more on the wine and ambiance than how many people they can fit into a room at once. This takes me to two of my favorite places on the East End: Croteaux and Sannino Bella Vita at Ackerly Pond.

Croteaux specializes in Rosè wines – and only Rosè wines! Rosè doesn’t fall so neatly into the ‘red’ or ‘white’ category that we all default to when describing our favorites. But the beauty of Rosè is that it can take on many of the characteristics of both reds and whites, all while having its own charm and flavor.

Finding Croteaux on South Harbor Road in Southold, nestled back behind a canopy of trees, is like finding a little wine oasis. There you can take your tasting either in the tasting room or, my preference, in the tasting garden between the old barnyards. It has a distinctly rustic, rural French feel. Taking a seat at any table, or even in the barn, you will be served your tastings and educated about the wines and how they are made. You can sample their three Signature wines or all of the season’s picks. I recommend taking the time to enjoy all six. You’ll get a chance to sample their newest (and my personal favorite), Chloè, a refreshing Sauvignon Blanc Rosè. If you’re feeling a bit peckish after you’ve had a sampling or two, there are fresh made baguettes and cheese available as well! (I highly recommend visiting Croteaux early in the season, as they’ve managed to sell out quickly in the past few years).

Heading west from Croteaux on 25, and just a bit north on Peconic, I find myself at Sannino Bella Vita, an interesting tasting room that boasts two brands of wine; Ackerly Pond and Bella Vita. Each of these wines is created by different winemakers and the grapes are grown on different farms. They only share the tasting room, which is run by the winemakers for Bella Vita. If there is one thing that Bella Vita values, it is wine education. Classes are available on both wine tasting and wine making, and they even offer you the opportunity to create your own wine, from vine to bottle.

Personally, I’m there for the tasting, and you can sample any of Bella Vita or Ackerly’s fares. Their White Merlots are sweeter, more refreshing wines for Merlot lovers who are looking for something lighter than the traditional reds this summer. But if you are a red fan, these reds are unfiltered, which leaves the sediment in the bottle and adds to the sharp taste. Being a white girl myself, I have to say the 2010 Riesling was my absolute favorite, not too sweet, but with an underlying taste of citrus and even peach.

My adventures continue on the East End, as I take on new vineyards. My goal: to revisit ones I love and to find new ones I haven’t yet visited! Tell us, do you have any favorite spots?

You can learn more about Croteaux and Sannino Bella Vita at their websites, and respectively. Be sure to call ahead when booking your trip, as each vineyard has specifications on group size, and Croteaux does not cater to buses or limos.

Originally published July 2011
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