Fine winemaking on the east end of New York’s Long Island began only 30 years ago, barely a blip compared with European vineyards. Yet, it already has discovered the grape of its future. Although many varieties grow well here, none surpasses merlot. Today, 33 of the region’s 34 wineries produce merlot.
What makes merlot so outstanding here? According to Barbara Shinn of Shinn Estate Vineyards, it is particularly suited to the island’s maritime climate and shorter growing season. Add to that to the “sandy, well-drained soil,” described by Gilles Martin of Sherwood House Vineyards and it’s clear that both soil and climate are similar to those of Bordeaux, the world’s leading merlot producer.
This is why five top-quality producers have formed the Long Island Merlot Alliance.
“We believe we will be the leading merlot region in the New World,” Roman Roth of Wölffer Estate Vineyards said. “We want to emphasize our excellence in this varietal.”
All five keep production low. Shinn Estate, for example, makes only 2,000 cases of merlot a year, and that care shows in its 2003 — a delicious, silky, fruit-driven, plum-rich wine.
Wölffer Estate, at 19 years of age, is the oldest of the five wineries. Of the four styles of merlot it produces (5,000 cases total), Wölffer Estate Selection 2002 is an elegant, flavorful, well-integrated wine, concentrated and complex with a lingering finish.
Sherwood House Vineyards devotes half of its annual 1,200-case production to merlot, and what a wine it is. Its 2001 is warm, inviting, satiny, well balanced with a luscious, intense berry flavor.
“Long Island merlot tends to be aromatic,” Martin said. “Red cherry, black cherry, currant, blueberries; we find them all in Long Island merlot.”
“The year 2001 was hot and dry, and there was a high level of ripeness,” Richard Olsen-Harbich of Raphael said.
That ripeness shows in his 2001 merlot, a harmonious medley of flavors and scents from cassis to tobacco, a layered wine of subtlety and finesse.
Pellegrini Vineyards’ 2001 also shows the ripeness of the vintage with an intense fruit aroma and a robust, complex taste.
The price range of these merlots is $18 to $35. The quality range, on the other hand, is shorter — from excellent to extraordinary.
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