Robert Parker's

New York State: Baby You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet

Channing Daughters, under the direction of co-owner and Long Island viticultural veteran Larry Perrine and husband-wife winemaking team Christopher Tracy and Alison Dubin, is bottling some of the most intriguing and delightful wines on Long Island, utilizing fruit from closely affiliated North Fork growers as well as from Walter and Molly Channing's South Fork "Home Farm." Like many of the best wines from Long Island, in addition to being well worth consumers' attention solely on their gustatory merits, these are also capable of raising the temperature in a blind tasting. "We really feel that Long Island is a spectacular white wine district year in and year out," says Christopher Tracy, "whereas red wines are more difficult," and for the latter the team here envisions blends incorporating such exotics as Blaufrankisch, Dornfelder and Refosco. Tracy characterizes his methodology as "between low tech and no tech," and even those wines that are lightly filtered are still moved entirely by gravity. Production of the whites here so far rarely exceeds 200 cases per bottling, so interested parties should get on the winery's mailing list. 

Climatic similarities along with inspiration at the hands of some of that region's foremost viticulturi prompted planting of Friulian grapes at Channing Daughters which end up in a wide range of wines, several of which were memorable. The 2004 Sylvanus, from 60% Muscat Ottanel, 20% Pinot Grigio and 20% Pinot Bianco grown and vinified together and aged briefly in older French and Slovenian barrels is predictably (given the ways of that variety) dominated by apricot and peach aromas of Muscat Ottonel. On the palate, the wine offers a lovely exchange of creaminess, hints of barrel, and juicy pit fruit and melon flavors, finishing with brown spices and a hit of apricot kernel bitterness that add lingering complexity. An aromatic surge of sage, passion fruit, and lemon worthy of Marlborough announces the newly-bottled 2005 Sauvignon Blanc, sourced from 30-year-old vines in Mudd Vinyeard on the North Fork. In the mouth, this wine - vinified in stainless steel save for one small barrel component - offers juicy citricity, a waxy texture, and underlying hints of chalk dust, all leading to a bright, persistent finish. The 2005 Pinot Grigio from the Channing estate is vinified in stainless steel "barrels" - 55-gallon vessels ideal for enhancing lees contact - as well as in one new Slovenian hogshead. Aromas of peaches, nutmeg, wood smoke, and chamomile lead to a creamy, subtly oily palate with hints of fruit pit bitterness playing against notions of honey and rich peach and pear nectar. An evocatively fruit- and spice-filled finish completes the picture of what will certainly be an outstanding value among its type. (This wine was assembled but not yet bottled at the time I tasted it.) A 2004 Tocai Friulano, vinified in older barriques, smells of flowers, pungent toasted grain, honey, almonds, and lanolin. In the mouth, fresh lime, honey and a faintly bitter hint of quinine are wreathed with floral and smoky pungent nuances that truly put one in mind of "the original Tokaj" (i.e. Furmint). A balance of brightness and textural richness is comparable to that of a number of other wines from Channing Daughters, but in this instance, yet more striking. Flowers, resin, citrus, honey, and lanolin really stick to the gums. "Tocai has been a thrill," says Tracy. 

"It isn't easy to grow and it doesn't behave so well in the cellar - it's a little nuts. But the wine can have such a great character." In fact, this grape is so sensitive to its environment that the team here has to pick their small parcel in three blocks in order to try to capture the fruit at optimum flavor. They certainly seem to have succeeded in this instance. 

The 2004 Meditazione, a wine inspired by Jasko Gravner (don't be surprised to see amphora here next!), unites Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Pinot Grigio, Tocai Friulano, Malvasia Bianca, and Muscat Ottonel. Toasted almond, apricot jam, caraway, sweet herbs, and a slightly stinky yet intriguing, narcissus-like floral aroma rise from the glass. An oily, rich palate features distilled herbal essences, pit fruits, brown spices, and a resinous hint of (a single new Slovenian) oak. A pungent pit fruit, spice and herb finish reinforces the impression of outstanding concentration and of a welter of flavors that may simply need a bit more time to organize themselves.