06/08/12 11:42am
06/08/2012 11:42 AM

It’s June again, the glorious “days of wine and roses.” As a winemaker and wine educator, I’m often asked if rosé wines are really made from roses. It’s understandable that some think that, especially when a wine has some aromatic kinship to rose petals.

It has been customary, since ancient Persians planted vines, to adorn the perimeters of vineyards with roses. Even today, in Bordeaux’s Haut Medoc, growers distinguish their properties by planting signature rose varieties at the ends of each row. And perfumers do use rose petals to make their scents. But in wine, even where there are plenty of rose petals handy, the flowers don’t go into the wine.

Sorry to destroy any romantic illusion, but rosé wine is simply any wine that is rose (French for pink) in color. Pink can be loosely interpreted to range in hue from magenta to copper. Since most color is extracted from the grapes’ skins, it will depend on both the characteristic color of the grape variety and skin contact during fermentation. White and red wines can be blended to make pink; sugar is often adjusted to smooth over any defects. Because rosés encompass such a vast and ill-defined array of wines, until the past few years they have been grouped together as wines of little interest or importance.

Many who began drinking careers with pink Mateus, Boone’s Farm or “white” zinfandel have since avoided alcoholic pink drinks. For wine, as sophistication (or snobbism) increased, the tolerance for astringency did, too. No more soda pop wines, please!

In an assault on this anti-rosé sentiment, about 10 years ago a group of dry rosé winemakers led by Jeff Morgan (a Napa winemaker whose career began on the North Fork) joined forces as the “Rosé Avengers.” Whether it was their influence, or the social pages showing rappers embracing Domaine Ott (a rosé from Provence in a female-shaped bottle), suddenly rosé — especially dry rosé — became acceptable.

The quality of rosé wines is dictated, in part, by how much a producer can sell it for. In the days when no one would pay up for it, winemakers had to use the lowliest wines, blended and sweetened, to make the bulk of their rosés. But today, as fans clamor for shimmering, refreshing, even phenolic pink wines, more effort can be made in the vineyards and wineries to refine pink wines to a new standard of quality.

Several of Long Island’s winemakers have honed their rosé-making skills to serve the popularity of dry rosé. Even after increasing production, Wölffer Estate’s cold-fermented rosé sells out by autumn. Croteaux makes only “rosé on purpose.” This year, they have 12 pink beauties, including one based on sauvignon blanc, one sparkler and their new Elite Rouge rosés, more similar to claret, the historic Bordeaux wine.

In calling its eight pink wines “rosati,” Channing Daughters signals their Italian style. All are small-batch fermented from varieties ranging from syrah to lagrein. They present a study in pink worthy of any seeking a lesson.

Among other notable Long Island rosés are a plush, juicy afternoon rosé from Corey Creek and Pellegrini’s equally fruit-driven (happily well-priced) East End Select Rosé. Bedell Cellar’s stylishly complex Taste Rosé was made aromatic by a splash of syrah; Mattebella Rosé is delicately tantalizing and Sannino’s Bella Vita Snow Merlot hides its big flavors behind a blushing hue.

Marjorie’s Rosé from McCall is intricate and fragrant; it’s 100 percent pinot noir, as is the Lenz Blanc de Noir, a favorite of mine for its dry, Champagne cuvée quality and refined bottle age. These are joined for pure refreshment by Lieb’s delightfully taut Bridge Lane Rosé.

The joys of sipping summer wines were, alas, far too fleeting for poor Ernest Dawson, the English poet who coined the term “days of wine and roses” in his 1896 poem “Vitae Summa Brevis”:

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

Dawson’s dream ended when the young girl he had pursued for the past seven years (since she was 11 and he 23) married the tailor who lived above her father’s restaurant. Dawson’s consumptive father died of an overdose of chloral hydrate, after which his mother hanged herself. Not surprisingly, Dawson, who also penned the words “gone with the wind,” caroused his way to an early grave.

You may take that as a moral, or keep on smelling those roses.

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.

04/13/12 1:39pm
04/13/2012 1:39 PM

On March 24, I attended a fascinating Winemaker’s Roundtable at Roanoke Vineyards in Baiting Hollow, where my friend (and former employee) Dan Kleck was invited to lead a comparative tasting of wines he’s currently making in Paso Robles, Calif., and Roanoke Vineyards’ own wines. His comments elucidated my own observations on the kinds of wines that result from irrigated desert vineyards like Paso and those I’d recently seen in South America, vis-à-vis those of the ocean-moderated vineyards here on Long Island.

At the roundtable, 20 guests (mostly members of Roanoke’s Wine Club) sat around a long table equipped with bread, antipasti, wine and a view of a video screen on which Mr. Kleck appeared live via Skype from his home in Paso Robles.

Dan Kleck came from Michigan in the early 1980s to make wine on Long Island, and worked at Hargrave, Bidwell and Palmer vineyards. In 1998, Jess Jackson of Kendall Jackson Vineyards in Sonoma interrupted Dan at a family barbecue to offer him a job as winemaker at a new five-million-case winery in Carmel, Calif. Flying west in Jackson’s private plane, with 24 hours to decide, he took the bait and became a California winemaker overnight. After five years at KJ’s huge facility, Dan followed temptation again and moved to Paso Robles as a private consultant, making small batches of wine for inspired investors.

The first wine he showed us was Whalebone Vineyard’s Ballena Blanca, a blend of viognier, grenache blanc and rousanne — all white Rhône varieties from Paso. This lush, aromatic white wine (think of coconut and fruit cocktail) had a distinctively phenolic astringency, prompting Roanoke’s owner Richie Pisacano to ask Dan if it had been fermented with skin contact.

Dan explained that this astringency comes from the rousanne, which, along with a relatively high alcohol, creates an illusion of freshness. “These [Paso wines] are low-acid, soft wines,” he said. “Here, balance depends on alcohol and fruit. It’s a faux acidity. These are not real food wines. They are more afternoon sipping wines. Heat here respires acid. We need white grapes that hold acids or have other qualities.”

In contrast, we tasted Roanoke’s “Wild Yeast” chardonnay. Dan said, “I like how this compares. I get passion fruit character. It’s soft. You get viscous texture, silky feel, a sense of richness without being rich. Aromatic chardonnay like this can’t be used in California because it is too low in acidity.”

While we all tasted the steely, smoky, oak-aged “Sonnet” chardonnay from Roanoke (my favorite), Dan explained further: “We can make more mistakes in California and people don’t notice. The wines there are so bold. On Long Island, if you make a mistake it shows. In California any old winemaker will do.”

As we went on to taste red wines from both Whalebone and Roanoke, he elaborated, “Merlot doesn’t ripen well in California. It’s too hot here. Merlot shrivels easily. You guys [on Long Island] have a perfect climate for merlot. Paso has the perfect climate for syrah, zinfandel and cabernet.”

He added, “You can grow anything you want [in Paso], but you can’t get it right. Paso is too hot for pinot. The tannins aren’t right when the sugars are there. It’s a mess. For us, low alcohol is 14.5 percent.”
After we tasted the Roanoke 2007 merlot, Dan said, “We would die to have a couple of vintages like this. It expresses the fruit: dried cherry. Lovely balance.

“Long Island wines have a translucency: You can see and feel the vineyard through the wine. In California the vineyard source is opaque all because of alcohol. Long Island is exciting because the vineyard shows. You get a European character here,” he said.

As the tasting continued, the tasters got excited and their own opinions increased in volume. Over the roar, I heard Dan explain, “On Long Island, nuances go up and down the palate. In California no one looks for it. They don’t miss it. We try to start with delicacy and work into power.”

Our final tastings — Whalebone’s cabernet sauvignon vs. Roanoke’s cabernet franc-dominated “Gaby’s” wine — bridged the gap for me between delicacy and power. Gorgeously plush and spicy, both wines showed the skill of the winemakers as well as the quality of the vineyards.

To me, that’s the bottom line: No matter what the climate, great wines come from a winemaker who understands the natural benefits — and limitations — of the vineyard in its specific location.

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.

04/08/12 7:00am
04/08/2012 7:00 AM

Chile and Argentina are both defined by their shared border of the Andes Cordillera, that jagged mountain chain that runs down the spine of southern South America and affects the two countries in climate, history, politics and attitude.

On the Chilean side, the mountains are omnipresent. The country is so long and so narrow that the Andes seem to both protect and isolate the Chileans. On my recent jaunt to witness Harvest 2012, South American-style (discussed in part in my last column here), I got the sense that Chile has emerged from the domination of Spain, Peru, military juntas, aristocratic cabals and dictators to become a peaceful, prosperous, democratic nation. A week visiting Santiago and surrounding countryside gave me the snapshot impression of Chile as a laid-back, cheerful, generous place with many stray dogs.

Flying over the Andes from Santiago to Mendoza was worth the whole trip. Though the flight lasts barely half an hour, the view of the cordillera from above brought a lifetime’s worth of vivid images.

From the moment I exited the plane, I felt a different ambience in Argentina. The Andes are just as dominant as they are in Chile, except that between the mountains and the sea, Argentina’s lands are vast. Although her history is in many ways similar to Chile’s (both honor Bernardo O’Higgins, the illegitimate son of the Irishman who represented Spain in Peru, as a hero), Argentina feels far more touched by European influence. Argentines are serious about business.

In Buenos Aires, after their independence from Spain in 1816, the citizens replaced most traces of their Hispanic heritage with grand Parisian-style buildings, Italian parks and English railroads. Still speaking Spanish, they became fully international.

Argentina’s wine industry has also been distinctly influenced by European winemakers, especially in recent years, as some notable French vintners have taken advantage of Argentina’s recent financial crisis. My own interest in Bordeaux wines, and my curiosity about the globalization of wine, prompted my visit to a DiamAn­des and Atamisque, both owned by French producers and about an hour from Mendoza in the Uco Valley, where Argentina’s best vineyards are located.

DiamAndes, owned by the Bonnie family that also owns the Grand Cru Classé Chateau Lamartic-Lagravière and Chateau Gazin Rocquencourt in Bordeaux, is part of a new 2,000-acre vineyard development called Clos de los Siete (enclosure of the seven). World-renowned wine consultant Michel Rolland convinced seven of his Bordeaux clients to invest here, with him, creating separate wineries plus one joint winery that makes a keystone brand, Clos de los Siete.

Each winery is a stunning architectural statement, making the whole Clos an eerie mixture of ultra-modern glass, steel and concrete, set against a backdrop of the soaring Andes. The land is brilliant green wherever irrigation feeds the vines and landscaping, but quasi-desert on the periphery. Every winery in the Clos makes use of the most contemporary innovations, including micro-oxidation, sorting tables, large oak fermenters to augment stainless steel and inert gas presses.

Atamisque is similar, but also has its own nut and fruit trees, plus trout ponds, to make the farm sustainable.
Like the Maipo, Colchagua and Casablanca valleys of Chile, the Uco valley in March is a balmy paradise. Huge birch and eucalyptus trees form allées along dusty roads that pass vast orchards and vineyards, often marked by roses, sunflowers, hibiscus and other brilliant flowers. Although these new wineries are intended as tourist magnets, they are gated and require appointments. Most people come with tour groups, a good idea since (as I found, driving around in a tiny Chevy) road or route signs are scarce. But getting there is half the fun and, once at the wineries, the welcome is extraordinary.

I enjoyed spectacular five-course lunches at DiamAndes, Atamisque and Mendoza’s fine restaurant, Azafran, where I learned that “rare” beef is cooked medium-well in Argentina, and that Argentines are brownie-obsessed.
As for the wines, they were more California than Bordeaux style. Even with the guidance of Michel Rolland, Argentina’s winemakers must adapt French techniques to fruit ripened under a brilliant, blazing sun. Altitude and cool nights preserve acidity here, but some of the nuances of Bordeaux are absent. They succeed well with aromatic Viognier and voluptuous Cabernet, Syrah and Malbec.

French oak dominates their wines, but that may change as new Argentine laws preventing foreign imports (like French barrels) and taxing exports at 35 percent affect how wines are made and marketed. It’s a new worry for Argentine businesses.

Fortunately, they can’t tax the tango.

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.

03/02/12 12:37pm
03/02/2012 12:37 PM

Wine and music are often associated together in metaphor, in marketing and as means for mutual pleasure. With the Long Island wineries’ winter “Jazz on the Vine” series of concerts coming to an end March 18, I asked their owners and winemakers to tell me other ways that music plays a role at their wineries. Their responses showed me how important music is to all, whether it’s whistled by the winemaker, played over a boom box during bottling, used for inspiration during blending or to set a tone in the tasting room.

At Bedell Cellars, Rich Olsen-Harbich (who has been making wine on Long Island since 1981) relates, “During the long days and nights of harvest, music provides comforting entertainment, sets the mood of the crew and keeps everyone moving and focused. We’ll start the day with something quiet — that could mean anything from Jack Johnson, Sarah Vaughn or even some quiet Chopin. Once the day gets started, though, we need a more up-tempo beat, so we’ll listen to anything from the Clash, the Beatles and Rhianna to world music like Bachatas and Bollywood hits.”

Rich likes the metaphoric association of wine and music: “I like to relate to music during the blending process in particular. Great examples of varietal wines are often like a great solo artist, commanding a single instrument and creating soulful sounds. Blended wines, on the other hand, are more like listening to a symphony. So for blending, I like to use music as a backdrop. You can have lots of instruments playing at different levels and pitches and chords — when they are really working well together it’s a joyful moment. The great perfume makers do this all the time when they discuss base notes and treble notes. For wines I look at them the same way, often finding bass notes first (usually dark, deep, powerful red wines) and blending over these with treble notes.”

While the vintage of 2010 was defined for Rich by Lady Gaga, he says, “The music that defines the 2011 vintage for me is Mozart’s Concerto in C for Flute, Harp and Orchestra K. 299: Andandino.”

At Peconic Bay Winery, winemaker Greg Gove doesn’t often play music because, he says, “I usually have more than one thing going on at a time. Hearing a change in the pitch of a pump or the sound of a leaky door gasket as the head pressure builds is pretty important to me. When we’re labeling, however, music soothes the soul and reduces the repetitive motion sickness.”

Eric Fry at The Lenz Winery loves music but, like Greg, he finds, “Music is a distraction in the winery. I want to hear what’s going on. Barrels are bubbling. I want to hear that. If there’s a leak somewhere, I need to run and fix it.”
He adds, “Wine and music are so different. I find no analogy.”

At Paumanok Vineyards, Charles Massoud also likes it quiet. He says, “A good wine is like music to my ears. Adding other music creates a cacophony. So I prefer the wine to show off. And music cannot help a bad wine.”

Many tasting rooms do play music to set a tone. At Sparkling Pointe, it’s Brazilian. At Macari, it always “has a little ‘umph’ to it.” Paula Croteau of Croteaux Vineyards plays only French music (Edith Piaf to Carla Bruni), saying, “We feel the music ‘defines us’ and creates the ‘French escape.’ ”

At McCall Vineyards, Russ McCall remembers hearing “how Aubert de Villaine [of Romanée Conti] had a quiet evening with [cellist] Yo-Yo Ma at his home in Chagny. Well, at McCall tasting room we sip ’07 PN Reserve listening to Cat Stevens’ ‘Morning has Broken’ and ‘Father and Son.’ Cut­chogue wine trade is still like the Wild West compared to the historic French districts. Let’s have fun with it.”

Wölffer Estate winemaker Roman Roth (himself an accomplished singer) doesn’t usually play music in the winery but he said, “There is no good day without a song. So from time to time I do start singing. This is the secret why wines are so harmonious!”

He adds, “There is also a lot of whistling going on. For some reason the theme song of the 2011 harvest was Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller.’ Other times it’s the tune of ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.’ Phy-phy-phy, wah wah wah!”
When asked if music influences the style of wine he makes, Roman replied, “Yes — a happy winemaker makes better wine!”

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.

02/04/12 12:00pm
02/04/2012 12:00 PM

Valentine’s Day is a delicious day to celebrate love. For those who have been blessed with a charming and romantic partner, it’s not difficult to find a way to spend Feb. 14 together. A huge industry is ready to reinforce your every passionate instinct by selling you roses, chocolates, Champagne — even diamonds. I can suggest a roster of appealing wines, too, depending on your pocketbook and proclivity, from insincere Prosecco to hearts a-flutter Côtes de Nuits burgundy to seal-the-deal Roederer Cristal.

But what if Valentine’s Day is difficult for you? If you are on your own, without a honey, this can be the loneliest day of the year. One solution is to get together with friends and drown your sorrows with beer. Another, if you are a true homebody who prefers an evening with your pet to a night out at Applebee’s, is to mellow out chez vous in sweet harmony with your furry, feathered or scaly pet companion. You’ll have a good time; the pet can watch you, and you won’t have to share the bottle because pets don’t drink alcohol.

Here is a guide to what type of wine to choose depending on what sort of pet you have, including specific suggestions from local wineries and/or faraway vineyards.

1. A sweetheart kitty who follows you around trilling: Raphael’s full-flavored but youthful 2010 Sauvignon Blanc; Guy Saget’s Les Perrières (Loire).

2. An irascible, hair-raised, skittish kitty: Peconic Bay 2010 Dry Riesling, with plenty of zesty acidity but enough enticing aroma to calm everyone down; Ravines Finger Lakes 2010 Riesling.

3. An old tomcat who would rather not sit with you but will just this one time: Grapes of Roth 2004 Merlot, dark and tenacious and extremely lovable despite its challenging character; Ridge Vineyards California Zinfandel.

4. A soft and purry cat who will sit on your lap but is somewhat elitist: Bedell Cellars 2007 Musée (Bordeaux blend), if you can find it, or a Chateau Beychevelle 2005, which is as velvety as your cat but far more expensive.

5. A playful kitten who will entertain you no matter what you drink: Channing Daughters 2008 Cuvée Tropical, a blend of chardonnay and muscat that reflects the playful nature of the winemaker, Christopher Tracy, or a light Prosecco, like Valdo Brut from Italy. It’s fizzy, fruity and not too, too sweet.

6. A fat, indolent Persian window-sitter: Pellegrini Vineyards’ Vintner’s Pride Finale, an “ice” wine made of gewürztraminer and sauvignon blanc, with the kind of satisfying sweetness that will help you fall gently to sleep; Vignobles Dauré, Les Clos de Paulilles Banyuls (south of France) which has similarly sybaritic qualities in a dessert wine.

1. A panting, wag-tail retriever: fresh, enthusiastically citrusy Castello di Borghese 2010 Chardonnay or Domaine William Fèvre 2009 Chablis (as energized as the pooch).

2. A protector dog, like a bull mastiff or German shepherd: There aren’t any Long Island wines I know of leathery or tough enough for this, but how about an earthy Napa cab like Chappellet? Or an insurmountable red blend, Orin Swift’s “The Prisoner”?

3. A jubilant, gamboling and uncontrollable Irish setter: frizzante sparkling merlot rosé from Croteaux or an aromatic Crémant d’Alsace sparkler like Lucien Albrecht’s Brut Rosé.

4. A wise, humorous standard poodle: the joyfully effervescent Sparkling Pointe Brut or the sophisticated but also joyful Pol Roger Champagne.

5. A hyper-blissful, peppy Jack Russell terrier: the lean, delicate and searingly fresh, disarmingly honest Macari Vineyards 2010 Early Wine or the Alto Adige Abbazia di Novacella Gruner Vetliner.

6. An old, faithful Labrador: choose the steady, reliable, fully satisfying 2007 Leo Family Red (mostly merlot) or the tummy-warming Château de Beaucastel from Châteauneuf-du-Papes’ sunny slopes.

Birds, Turtles and Fish
1. Tweetie Bird: This bright, cheery oiseau needs an equally happy wine: Lieb Cellars’ Pinot Blanc or Schloss Johannisberg German Riesling.

2. Turtle: The theme here is “slow and steady wins.” I choose Martha Clara “Bernie’s Rose,” a nice sipper even if it does have a dog on the label.

3. Goldfish, swimming mesmerizingly in a circle: Laurel Lake’s spicy 2007 Cabernet Franc will help you meditate with the fish.

4. Assorted tropical fish: If they’re frisky, try Palmer Vineyard’s lively 2009 Gewürztraminer; if languid, drink the blowsy St. Jean de Minervois Muscat.

5. Piranha: Do you have one? Really? Then get a bottle of Channing Daughters’ bizarro fortified “Pazzo.” If you can’t find it, try any big ol’ Australian shiraz.

6. Japanese fighting fish: No wine. Go for the LIV potato vodka. And btw, this is why you don’t have a girlfriend.

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.