Raphael, founded in 1996, is known in Long Island wine country for having one of the most magnificent tasting rooms, overflowing with Medditerranean style and offering spectacular views of the vineyard.
Raphael's focus is on Merlot--considered by many to be the varietal Long Island is best suited for (there will be many future posts on this topic). They also make Sauvignon Blanc (which is quite good), Saignee (a Rose) and have a recently released Cabernet Franc...but again, Merlot is their focus.
This week, Raphael's managing director and winemaker, Richard Olsen-Harbich, sent me a couple bottles of their 2000 First Label Merlot, their flagship wine.
It's 97% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, spent a year in French oak and was 100% hand harvested. Brix at harvest was 23.7 (Cali wine afficianados will note that LI's typical brix is lower than theirs).
Nose: I get lots of sweet cedar with notes of plum and blackberry. There's a little floral character as well.
Tongue: Black raspberry is dicernable but buried at first under cedar and toasty oak. Nice earthiness and notes of flint/minerals remind me a bit of a Bordeaux. The tannins are well incorporated and smoothe, only alone at the end of the long finish.
Food: I served grilled steak with blue cheese crowns and sauteed vegetables, but I didn't try the wine until after I was done eating (and drank a little water to cleanse my palate). I wanted to enjoy every nuance.
Overall: I liked this wine, but definitely enjoyed it more the 2nd day. I tend to like fruit-forward Merlots that still have nice structure, some tobacco/leather and well balanced tannins.
I have another bottle and I plan to hold it for a few years to see how it develops. Raphael's consulting enologist, Paul Pontallier from Chateau Margaux, thinks it will keep well for up to ten years.