I am a devotee of Long Island wine. It is a region that has a great deal of personal significance for me and one that I have a far more direct connection than the more heralded regions that are- sadly- far, far away. It is also a region that has substantial issues right now. Wine production on the North Fork began in the late 1970’s when the area was just farmland and fishing posts and the area gained what little traction it has in the wine world in the mid-2000’s, just about the same time I began venturing out there. More than a decade later, as the value of the land just North of the Hamptons is swinging up and up, the prices for North Fork wines have started to outpace their quality. The winemakers have improved, to be sure, but when your quirky Cab Francs are now twice the price of those coming out of Chinon, there is a problem.
One of the producers that has managed to make good wines consistently without getting too pricey for their own good is Raphael. Their Cab Franc, Estate Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc all retail for under $20 in most places and are typically a good value. I picked up the 2015 Estate Merlot for $15 this week and found it to be a good example of what the grape can do in the North Fork for the novice Strong Island hooch.
The 2015 Estate Merlot is deep ruby in color and the nose is bright with notes of cassis, blackberry and cedar with a hit of alcohol that signals the youthful bit to come. The fruit up front is tart. Blackberries and sour cherry run ahead of sharp tannins that could do with some mellowing over time. The finish is arid with a hint of black pepper a key flavor in many of the Long Island reds.
This wine is drinkable now, but there is some projection needed to see it get to its ceiling as it feels a little green overall. At the price, I like the value, but mostly I would recommend this wine as an introduction to the North Fork. The best reds from Long Island share some of the details in common with the Raphael Estate Merlot and bring different tones along for the ride. This isn’t basic exactly, but it no enigma either
50/80- could mellow to an above average pro at it’s peak.