December 2005

LONG ISLAND WINES: For East End, A Banner Year

Channing Daughters, under Christopher Tracy, its winemaker and a trained sommelier, generated some of the region's most exciting single-grape and blended whites.... 

A STREAM of first-rate East End wines made 2005 a pleasure for drinking. While I did not taste all of the hundreds sold, I found quite a few standouts; some of them remain available in wineries' tasting rooms, stores and restaurants. 

Raphael's 2001 First Label merlot ($30), which promises to evolve into an exceptionally sophisticated wine, was the best red I encountered. It was followed closely by Wölffer's 2002 Premier Cru merlot. At $125, it was the Island's costliest broadly available standard-size bottle. 

Bedell's 2001 Merlot Reserve in magnum ($200), with a label displaying a watercolor by Eric Fischl, of Sag Harbor, was indistinguishable from an outstanding St. Émilion. 

The No. 1 rookie was Richard Pisacano, Wölffer's vineyard manager, whose Roanoke Vineyards, a new North Fork estate, opened for business with a blockbuster 2000 merlot ($38) and a powerful 2003 cabernet sauvignon ($40). 

In the cabernet franc sphere, Schneider's 2003 Roanoke Point ($38) was significant; Pellegrini's 2001 ($17.99) echoed the weighty Bordeaux style; Osprey Dominion's 2001 (at $18, a bargain) was smoky and sultry; Peconic Bay Winery's 2002 ($22) was opulent and complex. 
Fans of reds may relish everything at the Diliberto Winery, a newcomer. Salvatore A. Diliberto keeps his North Fork estate beneath the radar, but it cannot stay that way long. His Italianate touch is a big draw. 

Macari's delicate 2004 rosé ($12), the most appealing version drunk last summer, was a charming blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. 

Channing Daughters, under Christopher Tracy, its winemaker and a trained sommelier, generated some of the region's most exciting single-grape and blended whites. This Bridgehampton estate has begun mounting a challenge to Wölffer's status as the South Fork's leader. 

To get Channing Daughters' whites, which disappear fast, consumers need to be alert to release dates or join the estate's wine club. The whites include the Channing Perrine Cuvée Tropical chardonnay, pinot grigio, Tocai Friulano, Vino Bianco and Sylvanus.

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Uncorked - If You Want to Try Good Wines Wrangle Dinner with a Winemaker

I think winemakers, as well as politicians, are entitled to private lives not subject to scrutiny. Except maybe their sipping habits. I constantly wonder what wines the pros and the pols drink at home. Rather than invoke the Freedom of Information Act, I try to cadge an invitation now and then to satisfy my more than idle curiosity. 

I did very well last week, dining with the winemaker Christopher Tracy and Larry Perrine, chief executive officer of Channing Daughters, along with Mr. Tracy's wife, Allison Dubin, the general manager, and Mr. Perrine's fiancŽe, Jacqui Smith, who is also involved with the winery. 

We started the evening nibbling on three delectable cheeses, Rochetta, Valtellina, and a truffled goat cheese, with some prosciutto di Parma and truffle mousse, accompanied by Channing Daughters 2004 Brick Kiln chardonnay ($20), a medium-priced and absolutely dependable wine, and their 2004 Clones ($29), a new wine composed mostly of chardonnay but mixed with interesting clonal varieties of four other grapes. Clones proved to be a successful winemaking experiment undertaken by Mr. Tracy. 

Once seated at the table, we moved on to a grilled shiitake soup with sautŽed chanterelles and lardons. The soup was accompanied by a flight of four chardonnay wines. (Wine professionals, it turns out, are comparative tasting junkies.) Each glass of wine was flawless - beautifully balanced, harmonious, expressive, and complex. And the perfect match for the accompanying soup. You could not say that one chardonnay was better than the next. The differences, rather, were stylistic. 

We drank two from Channing Daughters, L'Enfant Sauvage ($35), from 2001, their inaugural vintage of this chardonnay, and the newly bottled 2004 vintage ($35, available in March). I've written before about this extraordinary wine, which is slowly fermented using only natural, indigenous yeast. It is one of the most interesting wines produced on Long Island. 

The 2001 has richness and depth; the 2004 promises to be a real winner. Both stood up well, remarkably well, against the two world class and far more expensive chardonnays from France and California included in the flight. 

Kistler 2001 Dutton Ranch Vineyard from the Russian River Valley ($80) is a wine that demonstrates that California can produce chardonnay in a sophisticated New World style that does not overwhelm the palate with fruit or oak. Kistler is certainly among the best chardonnay made in this county. It's hard to find, so if you see it in your wine store, don't hesitate to buy it. 

A Corton-Charlemagne 2001 Grand Cru Maison Bertrand Amboise ($180) was an exemplar of the Burgundian approach to chardonnay: soft, ripe, dense, delicate, and nuanced. It is clearly a masterful stroke of winemaking, superlative in every sense. Less clear to me is whether, for a typical consumer, it is worth spending five times as much for this bottle as you would for the L'Enfant Sauvage. I suppose there is a time for each. 

With our main course of duck breast with rillettes and assorted vegetables, we had two full-bodied and rich, but not heavy red wines. Channing Daughters 2003 Mudd ($40) is a blend of 86-percent cabernet sauvignon with merlot and blaufrankisch. The combination is soft, velvety, and seamless. 

The second red, Sine Qua Non 1998 Veiled ($90), a pinot noir from Shea Vineyard in Oregon, but actually made in California, is a big, complex wine with earthy aromas, a silky palate, and long finish. It's a terrifically satisfying wine, and you know you're drinking something important. 

Madeira Boston Bual Special Reserve ($45) from the Rare Wine Company Historic Series, our dessert wine, was succulent, amber, and sweet, with enough crisp acidity to keep it clean. If you are not familiar with Madeira, give it a try. It was imported and drunk in our villages in Colonial times. 

If you know any winemakers, by all means drop a hint and get yourself invited to dinner. I can't guarantee all their dinners will be as ambitious as Mr. Tracy's. He trained and worked as a chef until leaving the kitchen for the cellar, and seems to have mastered both skills.