Well, The Modern boasts a wine list of over 900 wines, but instead of choosing a wine from France or California as its house red, it stayed much closer to home -- the North Fork of Long Island. Richard Olsen-Harbich, winemaker at Raphael in Peconic, and Stephane Colling, wine director at The Modern, developed “M,” a custom blend of 95% merlot and 5% Malbec from the 2003 vintage.
Colling, a native of the Alsace region of France, is a veteran of two three-star Michelin restaurants (Au Crocodile in Strasbourg and Michel Roux’s The Waterside Inn in Bray, England). When asked why he chose Raphael and Olsen-Harbich to create this wine he said, “I chose Long Island because we are in New York State and I’m not (just) looking for ‘big’ names. I think Long Island has a great potential. I tasted a few wines from Raphael about a year and a half ago before The Modern opened and kind of fell in love with the style of their wines. I saw a great potential in those wines, something different.”
By the glass, “M” sells for $11 and it is $40 per bottle. But, do diners at The Modern turn up their nose at this Long Island wine? “Many are surprised but what is important is what they have in the glass. I sometimes just blind taste them, listen to them and ‘teach’ them a little bit. I don’t like pre-conceived ideas,” he commented. In fact, “M” is now his second most ordered wine by the glass.
In describing the wine to customers, Colling uses “Old World” and told me, “I compare the wine to the right bank of Bordeaux between Pomerol and St Emilion.” High praise indeed, but after tasting the wine myself, not as crazy as it might sound.
The wine is dark crimson with a nice balance between dark berry fruit and toasty-smoky aromas on the nose. The soft, somewhat fruity palate is dominated by merlot, but the 5% malbec is what makes this wine special and reminiscent of Bordeaux. It brings complexity with earthy, tobacco and smoky notes. The tannins are gently gripping on the finish and it’s easy to see this wine along side a wide array of dishes.
There are two important things I look for in any house wine — affordability and versatility — and this wine fits the bill.
Only 300 cases were produced, but Colling hopes to continue The Modern’s relationship with Raphael, even if they “haven’t spoken about it yet.”
(This column appeared in the 3/9 issue of Dan's Papers)