One day perhaps, Christopher Tracy, the winemaker at Channing Daughters, will take the easier road and make larger quantities of fewer wines. Until then however we can all enjoy the results of Mr. Tracy’s restless and passionate quest to produce small quantities of wine from unusual grapes or small quantities of wines that are unconventional expressions of more common grapes.
For several reasons, this seemed the perfect time to take a critical look at Mr. Tracy’s current work with white wines. To begin, Mr. Tracy has earned a reputation over the past for years for illustrating what Long Island is capable of doing with white wine grapes. Second, the harvest of 2005 was arguable the best we’ve had on Long Island. Local wineries, including Channing Daughters are now releasing white wines from this vintage.
Sylvanus is the name of a field at Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton and also the name of a wine. Instead of emphasizing the traits of a varietal or even a method of winemaking, Mr. Tracy’s focus is on terroir, the representation of time and place in a taste of wine. The three components of Sylvanus (muscat ottanel, pinot grigio, and pinot Bianco) are grown, harvested and vinified tog tether.
It’s a blend that begins in the earth, and continues to the glass. The idea is captivating, and so is the result; harmonious, smooth, serene, almost pastoral in its composure. No one element jumps out. Nothing ruffles the silky balance of this well-bred wine. There were 208 cases of Sylvanus produced; it sells for $24 at the winery.
The Friuli region of Northeast Italy has been a major influence on Mr. Tracy’s winemaking, and the simply named Vino Bianco ($29) is perhaps his most highly developed and subtle interpretation. A blend of four white varieties, medium-bodied and complex, this is a wine with a rhythmical, quickening edge to it. The name suggests country charm but the taste is urbane and sophisticated.
Tocai is a grape of Friuli, hardly grown elsewhere, but Mr. Tracy has made it one of his signature tastes. It’s an easy wine to like-wait, make that love. I go back to it each year as it is released. Very aromatic, with citrus, floral and pear scents, intricate, sensual and excellent with many foods. Channing’s 2005 Tocai Friulano is exceptional-not merely by its rarity but also by its quality.
The 146 cases were bottled, as Mr. Tracy points out, on Cinco de Mayo. I might add that at $24 per bottle it is numero uno for value and pleasure.
Other new 2005 white wine releases from Channing Daughters include: Cuvee Tropical chardonnay ($17); Pinot Grigio ($18, now sold out); Sauvignon, 76 percent sauvignon Blanc, 24 percent chardonnay ($24); Scuttlehole Chardonnay, reliable, delicious and only $14.
The raw material of the 2005 harvest was almost ideal. Excellence had to be the challenge for the winemaker on Long Island, and Mr. Tracy has taken that challenge seriously and produced a group of outstanding white wines.