Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Taste Camp East: Day One

Day 1 of Taste Camp East: A reception and dinner at Raphael Winery with wines, almost all Merlot, from five wineries, all members of the Long Island Merlot Alliance.

I visited Raphael Winery last year and I recommend you check out my prior review. It is an impressive venue and they certainly put on an amazing spread for us. Initially we spent time tasting wine from the five wineries, moving from table to table. While this went on, servers came by with hors d'oeuvres for us.

These were exceptional appetizers! Raw tuna on a crisp wonton, quince paste atop warm polenta, scallop ceviche, crab meat on a plantains chip. I never wanted them to end. And I certainly had big expectations for dinner.

The five wineries included Raphael Winery, Clovis Point, Pellegrini Vineyards, Wolffer Estate Vineyard, and Sherwood House Vineyards. They were also presenting their Merliance, a special Merlot blend made in conjunction by all of the members. There were plenty of Merlot wines to taste, and I found them to be a mixed bag. Some I enjoyed, some I didn't, and a few really impressed me. I want to highlight the wines that I most liked.

The 2004 Wolffer Estate Selection Merlot ($35) is a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. It spent 19 months in French oak (50% new and 50% one year old) and has an alcohol content of 13.3%. It was bottled unfiltered and unfined and only 623 cases were produced. This dark red wine had a nice smell of cherry, raspberry and vanilla. On the palate, it was a dry wine with medium tannins and a smooth and complex taste of red fruit, vanilla, mild spice notes and a touch of chocolate. The finish was fairly long and left a delicious taste in my mouth. This is a wine that should get even better with time and I believe it it worth the price. I tasted the 2003 of this wine last year and had really enjoyed it too.

Clovis Point is a relatively new winery, named for the ancient sculpted tools discovered near their vineyard. Their 2004 Clovis Point Vintner's Select Merlot ($35) is exceptional, one of my favorite wines of the evening. This is a blend of 91% Merlot, 4% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot, and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon. It was aged for about 21 months in French and Hungarian oak and has an alcohol content of 13%. The Vintner's Select is only made in quality years.

This wine was silky smooth, with very mild tannins, and a complex melange of flavors, including lush fruit like black cherry, ripe plum, blueberry and raspberry with nice spice notes. The wine was well structured with a lingering and satisfying finish. It was very impressive and well worth its price. I could easily drink it on its own, or pair it with food.

Sherwood House Vineyards was established in 1996 and they have planted Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot in their 38 acre vineyard. I tasted a vertical of five Merlots, from 2000-2004, and in general, the older the wine was, the better I enjoyed it. These wines generally sell for $25. The 2000 and 2001 vintages reminded me of Bordeaux wines, more subtle and restrained, with dark fruit flavors, mild tannins, and underlying spice tastes. I slightly preferred the 2000 vintage, maybe because it seemed a bit smoother and with some additional complexity.

Pellegrini Vineyards, which was founded in 1982, also has some of the oldest vines on Long Island. Like Sherwood, they offered us a vertical of some their wines, extending from 1993 to 2005. Their wines are made from 85%-95% Merlot and all of the lots are fermented separately. Though they used to use 100% French oak, they are now moving toward the use of Hungarian oak. My favorite of the vertical was their 1997 Vintner's Pride Merlot, which had a nice spicy taste with more subtle fruit flavors, dried cherry and raspberry, beneath the spice. It had moderate tannins and a lengthy finish. It was complex, well structured and resembled a nice Bordeaux.

The Long Island Merlot Alliance showcased their Merliance (about $35-$40), a Merlot blend of the best grapes from their five member wineries. Their first vintage was 2004, of which only 250 cases were made, and their 2006 vintage is due to be released in the spring of 2009. I was able to taste their vintages from 2004-2007. My favorite was their 2006 vintage which was very spicy, with strong dark berry flavors, a bit of chocolate and mild tannins. It was smooth, complex and had a lengthy and satisfying finish. This would make for an excellent food wine, and went well with my dinner.

We found quite an elegant setting for our five-course dinner. Beginning with Foie Gras we proceeded through Bay Scallops, Open Short Rib Ravioli, Porcini Crusted Filet of Beef and ended with Chocolate Roulade. It was quite a delicious dinner, each course prepared perfectly. I was happily sated by the end of the meal.

I also had the opportunity to meet and chat with numerous other wine bloggers, to finally meet some face-to-face who I had previously only known online. It was fun comparing notes about the various wines we tasted, our impressions of the food, and just chatting about a wide range of topics.

This was a very nice introduction to the wines of Long Island and I looked forward to Saturday, which I knew would be a very full day of tastings and visits.

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