September 2007

A Liquid Symphony

Michael Braverman says...It takes a lot of skill and a sophisticated approach to winemaking to get it right, and Mr. Tracy, with each succeeding vintage, has been turning out increasingly original, engaging, and well-made blends... 

Most wines we drink are blends of some sort. Even a single varietal wine may contain up to 25 percent of other grapes. Winemakers do this to enhance color and aroma, to adjust such things as acidity, alcohol, oakiness, and tannins. But an even bigger challenge to a winemaker is to create an original blend, a nonvarietal wine based primarily on flavor and taste. 

I recently sampled some blends produced by Chris­topher Tracy, the winemaker at Channing Daughters Winery in Bridge­hampton. It takes a lot of skill and a sophisticated approach to winemaking to get it right, and Mr. Tracy, with each succeeding vintage, has been turning out increasingly original, engaging, and well-made blends. 

In a way, it is like creating a recipe for food. Proper ingredients are essential, and the way they are combined must be balanced and precise. It should come as no surprise that Mr. Tracy trained as a chef before moving on to the cellar, and that he is drawn to sophisticated blends. 

We tasted blends from the 2006 vintage that have recently been released or are soon to be released. I’ll comment in this column on two of those blends. 

Vino Bianco is a deceptively simple name for a wine that is intricate and subtle. It is inspired by the white wines of Friuli in northeast Italy, an area that Mr. Tracy often visits and that has greatly influenced his winemaking style. It is composed of 27 percent tokai Friulano, 26 percent sauvignon blanc, 22 percent pinot grigio, 19 percent of a chardonnay clone called Dijon 96, and 6 percent of a different chardonnay clone called musque. 

The result is a wine with clean, delicate characteristics, but with body and depth and layers of taste. Floral aromas, along with citrus, tropical fruits, and hints of spice, greet your nose, followed by minerality and a touch of what I can only call austere sweetness. 

Tocai is a lovely grape native to Friuli that Mr. Tracy has used over the years in both blends and varietals. It is rarely grown outside Italy; Bridgehampton is an exception. The European Court of Justice has forbidden Italy to use the name Tokai Friulano, ruling this summer that only Hungary is entitled to use that designation for Tokay or Tokaj, a sweet wine. 

The Friulians are fighting the ruling, and I hope they win. Of course we can drink and enjoy the same wine under a new name, but why should bureaucratic trade policies wipe out 800 years of history and tradition? 

Most blends emphasize the traits of the grape varieties or the method of winemaking, but a field blend, where grapes are grown in the same field and then harvested and vinified together in the same tank, emphasizes terroir. The rationale is to capture and express in the taste the location and season in which the wine was created. 

I can’t draw a direct line from field to glass, but I can say that Mosaico, an extraordinary new wine from Mr. Tracy, is absolutely sensational. Its composition is 34 percent pinot grigio, 33 percent chardonnay, 14 percent sauvignon blanc, 7 percent tocai Friulano, 6 percent gewurztraminer and 6 percent muscat Ottonel, all having spent their lives together. 

When you sit down to analyze it you realize that each element adds something important to the complete wine. Allison Dubin, the general manager of Channing Daughters and wife of Mr. Tracy, pointed out that there is a symphonic nature to Mosaico. 

She hit upon the perfect way to describe it. There is a lot happening, but it all works together harmoniously and seamlessly. The Channing tasting notes say, “This wine is a mosaic of grapes and a mosaic of vinification techniques, it is a mosaic of ideas and people, and it is inspired by the mosaic that is America as well as the mosaic of Friuli-Venezia Giulia.” It is a mosaic indeed, and a gorgeous one. 

Vino Bianco and Mosaico sell for $29 each at the winery.

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