On Monday, April 3, the Long Island Merlot Alliance hosted a press and trade preview tasting at Craft restaurant in Manhattan of its first co-produced wine – 2004 Merliance.
Formed last fall by Raphael, Pellegrini Vineyards, Sherwood House Vineyards, Shinn Estate Vineyards and Wolffer Estate Vineyards, the LIMA believes that merlot is Long Island’s signature varietal, and as such has dedicated itself to its advancement and continued quality in our region. In addition to the collaborative production of Merliance every year, the group plans to hold educational programs and sponsor research into exactly why Long Island is so well suited to growing merlot and growing it well year in and year out.
To make 2004 Merliance, which is 100% merlot, each member winery selected the two barrels from their own cellars that they felt best represented their own individual style as well as Long Island’s unique terroir. With ten barrels of merlot, five wineries and five winemakers with differing styles, the LIMA knew that creating a smooth, well-integrated wine would be a challenge, but their hard work shows in the wine itself.
Tasted as a barrel sample — the wine won’t be bottled for another two to four weeks and is scheduled for release in early August — one would be right expect the wine to be awkward, uneven or even severely muted, but that is not the case with 2004 Merliance. Medium ruby in the glass, its impressively aromatic nose offers rich, but not jammy berry aromas accented by sweet oak and gentle earthy-tobacco qualities. Given the diverse array of wines that went into the blend, its balance and integration are quite impressive with a fruit-dominated palate that is accented by ripe, soft tannins, light sweet oak, and hints of wet gravel and earth. Words like refinement and elegance come to mind when sipping this wine.
It will be hard for any wine lover to taste this wine and not identify it as a Long Island merlot. It shows off Long Island’s terroir nicely even though, as Pellegrini’s Russell Hearn said, “2004 was a slightly cooler, but elegant year. We didn’t want to overdo the oak on this wine.” Roman Roth of Wolffer Estate concurred, adding “It is a benchmark wine not for its power but for its elegance.”
Members expect the wine’s fruit flavors to develop even more before release.
Merliance 2004 will sell for $35 primarily at the tasting rooms of the member wineries. But, according to Shinn Estate’s Barbara Shinn “A few selected restaurants and shops will (also) carry the wine.” 60 percent of the $35 price tag will go back into the local wine industry in the form of local research and development, as well as education. According to Shinn “With a large percentage of the profits going towards research this wine is a bargain. It is a unique wine. Only 250 cases were produced and it’s an extraordinary accomplishment by our members.”
Looking ahead to 2005, Roth expects great things from Merliance and Long Island merlot in general going so far as to say “What 1982 was for Bordeaux and 1976 was for Germany 2005 is for Long Island.” A bold statement but one that Roth no doubt feels will be reinforced by wines from the 2005 vintage.
In Merliance, the five-member Long Island Merlot Alliance has captured the essence of Long Island merlot. If you love Long Island merlot, you’ll love this wine.
(This story appeared in the 4/28 issue of Dan's Papers)