It's no secret that I think our local wines are pretty bad when compared to WEest Coast wines. dannymay took a group to Raphael yesterday and invited my wife and I to accompany them.
My wife and I arrived before danny's group and were introduced to Richard Olsen-Harbich, Rafael's personable and enthusiatic winemaker. He poured us each a glass of their 2002 Sauvignon Blanc. After having many seriously disappointing Sauvignon Blancs from New York and the Niagara region of Canada, I was surprised. This one actually smelled like a Sauvignon Blanc. It had a floral nose of pears and apples with some apple flavor. I found it a little sharp but the best, by far, of all the local Sauvignon Blancs I've tried. 87
A little later, after my wife finished shopping in the winery's well-stocked gift shop, we were joined by dannymay and his entourage. Richard took us into the vineyard where he explained how the Merlot (the winery's pride and joy) was grown and harvested. We tasted the grapes and found them sweet. We then walked to the Cabernet Franc area of the vineyard and tasted those grapes also, finding them sharper and less sweet than the Merlot.
Next we were given a tour of the winery and the barrel room where we tasted a number of barrel samples and had a nice selection of cheeses, smoked meats, and breads. The Merlot samples all came from the same tank, but were aging in three different types of French oak barrels. It was clear the effect that the different barrels had upon the wine. The barrels were made by Seguin Moreau. The barrel samples of 2002 Merlot were:
Chateau Margaux barrel: The nose was a little musty and the wine had some richness. 85-88
Chateau Haut Brion barrel: Yeasty nose. Noticeably more tannic. A little thin. 85-86
Chateau d'Yquem barrel: Rich berry nose. Soft. seems almost ready. 86-88
A blend of the three barrel samples: Much more balance. The tannin from the Haut Brion barrel, balanced the softness of the d'Yquem barrel.
2002 Malbec: Cabernet Franc-like nose. Cherry flavors. 86
3 barrel sample blend plus the Malbec The Malbec actually seems to have accentuated the tannin. The wine was out of balance. 85
Next we tried two 2001 wines in steel that were to be bottled shortly:
Cabernet Sauvignon: Nose of tobacco and hay. Balanced. Needs a couple of years. 87-88
Merlot: Nice perfume on the nose but the wine is very austere. 85-87
What followed next was a major surprise to me. We were lead to a banquet room where we were seated around a large table. On that table were bottles to compared against each other in two flights. Unfortunately, the wines were all tasted immediately after opening, making an accurate comparison difficult for me. These wines all needed time in a decanter. The first flight:
1999 Rafael Merlot: Corn oil nose. Concentrated. Promising for wine from 3 year old vines. 85
1999 Duckhorn Merlot: From 375s. Medicinal shoe polish nose. Tannic. 86
1999 Newton Unfiltered Merlot: Rich berry nose. Ripe plummy flavors. Needs time. 88
The second flight:
2000 Raphael Merlot: Nose of plums. Elegant. Ready. I believe this is the best dry wine I've ever had from Long Island. 88
2000 Chateau de Sales (Pomerol): Nose closed. Rich. Needs a lot of time. 87-91
General impressions: As with virtually all wineries, the winemaker and staff are enthusiastic and proud of their accomplishments. The wines of Raphael bode well for the future but still lag behind West Coast wines. As the vines age and the idiosyncrasies of the local climate and its effect on the grapes become more manageable, that difference may diminish. I don't expect to see any 90+ wines from the region for a number of years yet. I most impressed by the wines opened side-by-side with Raphael's wines. The difference between the Duckhorn and Raphael was insignificant, although that determination was made immediately after the wines were opened. I would love to have had the opportunity to try these wines after they'd been in a decanter for an hour and a half. Thanks to the people at Raphael and to dannymay.
Just one more sip.