Wednesday, May 28, 2008

NY Wine Tasting: Some Thoughts

Brooklyn Uncorked is the annual showcase of Long Island wine and food that you should make a point of attending if you live in or near New York City. For about $50 you can sample almost every important wine that Long Island has to offer, meet and talk to the folks who make the wine, taste loads of interesting food, and mingle with the stars. Okay, no stars, unless you count Lenn or the location itself, BAM.

I am not on anyone's bandwagon, nor am I trying to get you to like what I like. So please don't misconceive what I'm about to say as part of the natural wine dogma. These are just my personal thoughts, that's it.

I had a problem with most of the reds I tasted. They were very polished, and dare I say - bland. When tasting Cabernet Franc (and Merlot, but I don't have enough context on that grape so I'm limiting this thought to Cab Franc), I found wines that smacked of vanilla and some sort of blackberry jam. Wines that if you removed the label, may not have been all that distinguishable from one another. Where is the soil? Where are the tannins, the grip? These are not high alcohol wines - most everything comes in at 13% or below. They are not overly sweet either. But it seemed to me that they had their soul, their uniqueness polished out of them, replaced with generically pleasing vanilla flavors.

Is this due to the industrial yeasts wine makers are using? Are these wines being manufactured to suit the broader tastes in the market? I would guess that they are, which is disappointing to me in that there is obvious potential out there to make delicious "real" wine that expresses Long Island terroir. Just look at Shinn or Wolffer, for example (although I have no idea whether or not Wolffer uses natural yeasts for their Cab Franc).

Again, this is not dogma, it's just my take on what I tasted. I think there are excellent red wines coming out of Long Island, but they are vastly outnumbered by wines whose real personalities have been veiled in vanilla and jammy blackberry. Just my .02 cents.

My favorites: Channing Daughters for whites. Located on the South Fork (where the Hamptons are, for those of you who are uncool enough to know), James Christopher Tracey is making interesting wines. The Chardonnays are quite good, but the wines that stopped me in my tracks were the blends. The 2007 Mosaico, for example, is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Muscat, Gewurtztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, and Friulano...but all from one specific vineyard site - the Sylvanus Vineyard on their estate in Bridgehampton. Everything is harvested together, pressed together, and fermented together. The wine is completely alive and delicious, and worth the $29 price. I also loved the 2006 Envelope, a fascinating wine with a rich nose of flowers and ripe stone fruit, like an Alsace wine. But on the palate the wine is bone dry and very mineral. James uses techniques that are common in Northern Italy, fermenting on skins in open top fermenters, and Slovenian Oak. It was my favorite wine of the tasting, but at $40, it doesn't come cheap. And I went back to the table later on and learned that they are fermenting with natural yeasts for many wines. Maybe just a coincidence...

Shinn Estate Vineyards and Wolffer Estate are the other producers whose wines I enjoyed pretty much the whole way through. Shinn's 2005 Estate Merlot is balanced and spicy, and just delicious. Enough to make you rethink Merlot. Shinn's 2007 Rosé is excellent, snappy and dry with good fruit and acidity. Didn't surprise me to learn that it was fermented using only natural yeasts. Wolffer's 2004 Cabernet Franc was, to my tastes, head and shoulders above the other Cab Francs. This one had real character, lots of mushroomy soil notes, hints of green vegetables, and plenty of ripe and perfumed fruit. But at $35, it's not a great bargain if your wine store also carries Loire Wines. I mean really - the utterly magnificent 2005 Filliatreau Saumur-Champigny Vieille Vignes costs $25. I have still not received a satisfactory explanation for the high prices on so many LI wines.

And here I will admit that I don't understand the fuss over Paumanok wines, even their famous Chenin Blanc. I went back several times to get another taste, and then again after an hour, and I just didn't get it. Everyone else loves it. See, this is one the most fun things about wine - we all have our own experiences, and they're all true.


Anonymous said...

Ah my Loire-funk loving brother. I think you might be overthinking a bit here...and also forgetting a couple things.

First, you forget that you're not the average wine consumer. A lot of people LIKE those vanilla-cherry reds.

Second, not every LI winery was there, and some that were there weren't pouring their entire portfoio.

Still, I can see your an extent. You were also tasting quite a few 2005 reds, which were made from much riper fruit than what you've probably had in the past. But maybe you're been hanging out with Alice F too much of late? Besides, weren't you only there for an hour or so? hehe.

You're right on with giving Chris Tracy props had been a while since I tasted his stuff in succession...and one wine after another impressed.

Did you get to the Roanoke table? I don't think their reds have that vanilla profile. Did you get to Pellegrini's 04 cab franc?

Oh, and I'm not a star...not outside of my own mind at least.

Anonymous said...

I've never had a NY wine, so I'm neutral on the topic. It must be tough, though, to sell $35 Cabernet Francs when they're up against old world, Loire Valley "originals" that cost less and taste great. I brought my parents along to Terroir the other night and even my Mom enthused over the Breton Bourgueil.

Brooklynguy said...

hiya lenn - i knew you wouldn't like this, but it's just my opinion, so it's not worth more than that. thanks for your thoughtful comments. i know that people like that flavor profile, which explains why so many wines are made that way. it's not something that i like, that's all. i don't think it's possible to hang out too much with alice f - she's a hoot. that we have something in common palate wise is what greased the wheel, but she has no more influence over whether or not i like a wine that you, or deetrane, or anyone else. that's one of the only things in life that i completely trust myself on: do i like this wine. i don't think it's a ripeness issue, i experienced it as a stylistic issue. the bare-bones soil expressive style of the wolffer wine is what i crave, and most of the other cab francs were of the vanilla jam style, which can be achieved in any vintage from any place, with the right chemicals. i did not taste roanoke, no, but i'd like to. thanks again for the comments, talk to you soon.

hey steve - i'm not sure that the LI folks see their wines as going up against the Loire stuff. more of a LI/Bordeaux thing. i hear people talk about the similarities between Bordeaux climate LI's climate. and the wines are more in that style than they are in the Loire style. within the Bordeaux framework, $35 is darn cheap. and if you like that style, Shinn and others will knock your socks off for far less $$$.

Anonymous said...

Gotta agree with Lenn above. There were some solid wines made from riper than usual fruit. Probably a good problem to have for Long Island. IMHO, some of the wines will probably show a greater differentiation as they age. Many of the wines being poured were fairly new releases and a bit more time in the bottle will show more individual character. I thought that many of the bottles had plenty of tannins and fruit to age fairly well, so it should be fun. One of the more interesting bottles I came across was Christiano Family Vineyards Merlot , nice wine from a new Vintner. Another was Old Field Reserve Merlot ,interesting and a bit rustic. Both showed nice balance of fruit and spices, with, yes, some vanilla. I know you weren’t opining on the Merlot, but for my $0.02 those were the more interesting reds available.

Anyway, good approach to the process: “we all have our own experiences and their all true.”

Lindsey A. Zahn said...

Wolffer Estate has some great wines, as do Bedell Cellars, One Woman Winery, and Pugliese Vineyards (I was impressed with their riesling!). A good red, generally speaking, is very difficult to come by on LI (exception being the merlot form Bedell).