(This column appeared in the 4/22/05 issue of Dan's Papers)
When I think of Martha Clara Vineyards, named after Martha Clara Entenmann (of Entenmann bakery fame), three things always come to mind: their jam-packed events calendar, their large and inviting tasting room, and Bernie, the Jack Russell terrier that adorns their Rose wine label.
I’ve always wanted a bit more from their wines, which while potable haven’t always been distinctive. But I’ve long been a fan of their Ciel dessert wine, made with Viognier and Chardonnay. It’s one of my favorite Long Island after-dinner drinks. And, while the Bernie-bottle Rose isn’t to my liking, the Rose of Cabernet Franc is excellent. Beyond that, I’ve not always been impressed.
Now that I’ve tasted some of their recent and upcoming releases, I’ve learned that they are making some nice, and occasionally great, wines at Martha Clara. Unfortunately, their best wines are rarely on the free tasting menu at their tasting room, and the average visitor probably doesn’t want to spend up to $10 for a full glass of one of the reserve wines when that same $10 gets them five tastes of five reserve wines down the road at another winery.
Of the winery’s new whites, which include a unique 2003 Semillon ($15) and a decent, but not great 2003 Chardonnay ($13), the Martha Clara Vineyards 2003 Estate Selection Gewurztraminer ($21) was the best. More fruity and slightly less refined than some other Long Island Gewurztraminers, it still shows nice acidity and citrus and spice flavors along with the typical floral and lychee nut aromas. While refreshing ice cold, I liked how its flavors evolved as it warmed. Gewurz is always a good choice for spicy Asian cuisine and this one is no exception.
The famed 2001 growing year (one of Long Island’s best ever) resulted in some of the best Martha Clara reds I’ve ever wrapped my tongue around. The Martha Clara 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) is a soft, berry-filled red with toasty, soft tannins. This is a very nice every-day style Cabernet that would be great if priced closer to $15.
If you’re like me and like a bit more heft in your Cabernet, the rich Martha Clara 2001 Estate Selection Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) fits the bill. Expertly balanced, this wine brings together toasty oak, full blackberry and blueberry fruit, well-integrated tannins and a wonderfully lingering finish. The winery expects to release this wine to the public in June.
Syrah/Shiraz is very popular nowadays, but I find the few Long Island versions I’ve tried innocuous and uninteresting. The Martha Clara 2001 Estate Selection Syrah ($26 and also slated for a June release) is an exception. Ripe and distinctive, it is fruit-forward like many Aussie versions, but its blueberry and blackberry flavors are framed by soft tannins and accented by sweet spice, vanilla and smoky hints.
Martha Clara’s 2001 6025 Meritage ($40) blends 33.5 percent Merlot, 25 percent Syrah, 16.6 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 16.6 percent Petit Verdot, 8.3 percent Cabernet Franc and builds on the delicious success of the 2000 6025. The inclusion of Petit Verdot in this year’s vintage gives it a beautifully deep, dark color and additional tannin. The wine is medium-to-full bodied and opulent with jammy berry and toasted marshmallow. It’s my favorite of the new wines.
Let it breathe and you’ll be rewarded with increased complexity and aromas. This wine has good aging potential as well, so pick up a few bottles to drink and a few to lay a couple down for a couple of years.
The final wine in my tasting was the 2003 Himmel ($31), a succulent, fresh dessert wine that is sixty-six percent Riesling and thirty-four percent Gewurztraminer. Sweet but not cloying, it’s filled with stone fruit flavors and is well balanced with crisp acidity. I think I might like this post-dinner sipper even better than the Ciel.
For more information on Martha Clara Vineyards or to order wines, visit www.marthaclaravineyards.com or call 298-0075.
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Don’t forget, Windows On Long Island is Monday, April 25 at Capitale in Manhattan. Attend and you’ll have the opportunity to taste wines from more than 30 Long Island wineries paired with food from some of Manhattan’s best chefs.
Tickets are $125 or $250 for a VIP pass that includes a 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. preview with reserve wines. Proceeds will benefit Earth Pledge, a nonprofit environmental organization. For tickets, call (212) 725-6611 or visit www.earthpledge.org/windows.