Okay, it’s official. Martha Clara Vineyards (and its winemaker, Gilles Martin) have climbed up my ranking of Long Island vineyards. I don’t actually have a list from one to thirty-plus, of course, but what was once a winery highlighted by its high-profile events is really starting to win me over with what matters — the juice.
Sure, they still make (and sell) a ton of their white zinfandel-esque rose (isn’t the beagle-adorned label cute?) and the Glacier’s End line of wines, but a look further down on the tasting sheet reveals wines with nice varietal character that are worth elbowing your way up to their always-packed tasting bar for.
The recently released Martha Clara Vineyards 2004 Riesling ($15) and Martha Clara Vineyards 2004 Gewurztraminer ($16) both sport new label designs that feature deer crossing street signs — deer are indigenous and can actually ravage vineyards if allowed to feast on the grapes. Riesling and Gewurztraminer are probably my two favorite white varietals and these are respectable versions.
The riesling is extremely pale yellow in the glass and offers faint, but typical floral aromas with apple and faint white peach notes as well. Feathery light in the mouth with flavors of rose petals, peach and minerals, this wine would really shine with a bit more acidity. Without it, this isn’t quite the great food wine top Rieslings are.
Lack of acidity plagues the gewurztraminer a bit as well. Similar in color, the nose doesn’t have the pronounced lychee aromas often found in Gewurtz. It’s more of a background note behind lemony-citrus, sweet spice and mineral scents. A little residual sugar means that this is an off-dry wine and that sweetness is noticeable because of the slightly underwhelming acidity. This is my least favorite of the new whites.
Local producers are doing some great things with sauvignon blanc these days. Martha Clara Vineyards 2004 Sauvignon Blanc ($16) could use a label design upgrade, but it’s what’s inside the bottle that counts, and in this case it’s not half bad. It takes a little extra swirling to coax the faint grapefruit and lemon aromas out of this wine but fresh acidity and citrus flavors make this easily recognizable as sauvignon blanc, even if it’s a bit neutral in the flavor department.
Far and away my favorite of the whites is the Martha Clara Vineyards 2004 Viognier ($16). Light straw yellow, it offers soft aromas of peach, apricot and ripe pears accented by the faintest hints of nutmeg. The mouthfeel is soft, full bodied and tongue coating, while the flavors range from ripe golden delicious apple to juicy peach. The acidity is subtle and gives way to a fruity, appley finish.
As I often find with Martha Clara wines, no matter how much I enjoy the best whites, it’s the red wines that jump out and demand attention and praise. It’s no different with Martha Clara Vineyards’ 2002 “50” Five-O red table wine ($25). This blend of fifty-percent merlot, twenty five-percent cabernet sauvignon, fifteen-percent cabernet franc and ten-percent syrah is the “son” of Martha Clara’s “6025” Meritage (an Over the Barrel favorite) and it is chewy, juicy and ripe. A deep violet, slightly inky crimson in the glass, its nose suggests ripe raspberries, amaretto and understated vanilla. With good structure, medium body and, lush mouth feel and juicy raspberry jam flavors spiced with oak, the Syrah component, while small, is evident.
Why is it called Five-O? I assumed it was because the blend is 50-percent merlot, but Ben Coutts, marketing manager for Martha Clara, told me “(Martha Clara Vineyard’s owner) Mr. Entenmann has gained the nicknamed Five-O around the vineyard” because (he) believes that anyone over fifty (he’s 78) knows it all.”
No matter the explanation behind Five-0, I respect and appreciate Martha Clara’s dedication to red blends. They do a great job with them. But with the big “50” on the label, it is the ideal wine to serve at any fiftieth celebration.
So why did I call this a “glowing” review? Take a bottle of the riesling, gewurztraminer or Five-O into a dark room and you’ll see. The labels actually glow in the dark. Coutts wouldn’t give away the surprise, but he told me, “Wait until you see what the label on the (upcoming) “50” white blend does.” I can’t wait to find out.
For more information on Martha Clara Vineyards, call 298-0075.
(This story appeared in the 10/14 issue of Dan's Papers)