Dictionary.com defines "boutique" as an adjective meaning "of, designating, or characteristic of a small, exclusive producer or business." Of course, even in the wine world, this definition means little without proper context. There are some California wineries that consider themselves boutique that dwarf even Long Island's biggest producers.
While exclusivity is a crux of the official definition, it doesn't really mean much either. If a winery only makes 100 cases of a misguided, imbalanced wine, does that really make it a boutique winery or one that we care about?
Quality, or at least implied quality, is what wine marketers are pushing most of the time when they invoke the phrase boutique winery. They want you to think that their wines are hand-crafted, made by people who are hands-on and truly passionate about what they are doing. I'd include artisanal my modified definition of boutiuqe, but that too is a term way overused.
By the formal definition, Long Island is overrun by boutique wineries -- small producers making small lots of a few different wines. But many of these wineries come up short on the quality part of the equation. Many make seviceable-to-good wine, but few really hit the mark of what is intended by the boutique moniker.
One North Fork producer in particular does meet the criteria -- Roanoke Vineyards.
Since its debut a few years ago, Roanoke Vineyards has firmly entrenched itself as one of the North Fork's true and top boutique wineries. Owners Richie and Soraya Pisacano, along with director of operations Chris Watkins, have created a must-stop destination for any lover of fine wines. Are they small? Yes, they make fewer than 2000 cases of wine a year. Are they exclusive? Yes, you can only buy the wine at the winery and their wine club is closed to new members.
And with a portfolio that started with a single merlot bottling but expanded to include two blended reds, a cabernet sauvignon, a chardonnay and a rose -- each delicious -- the quality standard is met and exceeded here. Each wine displays Mr. Pisacano's experience and acumen in the vineyard as well as winemaker Roman Roth's excellence in the winery. Roanoke's currently released reds, in particular, stand out.
Roanoke Vineyards 2004 Blend One ($30), named as such simply because it was the first blend, is made with 43% cabernet franc, 33% merlot and 24% cabernet sauvignon. It is showing an expressive, complex nose with blackberry and blueberry as the primary fruit aromas with apparent earthiness, subtle smoked and cured meat and caramel. Slightly rustic it is medium bodied with slightly grippy tannins that will continue to incorporate in coming years. Blackberries, blueberries and black pepper greet the palate, joined by more of that salted meat character. The finish lingers nicely. It's a wine that evolves over the course of the evening, so take your time with this one. 319 cases were made. Rating: (3 out of 5 | Recommended)
Made from 71% cabernet franc, 17% merlot and 12% cabernet sauvignon, Roanoke Vineyards' 2004 Blend Two ($38) is yet another young wine with great days ahead that is tasting terrific now as well. More elegant and refined than its sibling blend, the nose is effusive, offering cherry and other red fruit aromas layered with brown spices, salt-cured black olive and faintly floral notes.
The medium-bodied palate opens with clean, pure red cherry flavors, but soon reveals cinnamon, anise and nutmeg spice, a little vanilla and earthy flavors that remind me of dried fall leaves. It deftly balances power and elegance with rich flavors and smooth, integrated tannins. This might have been my favorite wine of 2007. Only 90 cases were produced. Rating: (4 out of 5 | Delicious, Distinctive )
Roanoke Vineyards 2004 Merlot ($45), their first varietal merlot release since the stunning 2000, isn't nearly as evolved as the two blends, but with time it well may surpass them. Right now, the nose is a bit underwhelming right out of the bottle. Vigorous swirling releases plum, sweet cherry, cinnamon and faint cocoa powder aromas. Medium bodied with youthful cherry and spice flavors, the tannins are apparent here -- ripe but not completely integrated yet -- and the finish is lengthy with an earthy-chocolate tinge. 121 cases were produced. (3 out of 5 | Recommended)
Ask Richie what red variety excites him most, and he'll say cabernet sauvignon. He considers it the king of reds and his Roanoke Vineyards 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) is certainly a standout in a region where cabernet is rarely successful. This wine is richly, deeply scented with black cherry, vanilla, sweet plum and slightly smoky aromas. The flavors are dark, with blackberries, black cherries and black pepper accented by smoky-sweet cedar, fresh herbs -- particularly thyme -- and faint licorice nuances. Medium-to-full bodied, this is a somewhat hefty wine, but still one of refinement because of the well-integrated tannins. 148 cases were made. Rating: (3.5 out of 5 | Very good-to-Delicious).
(This is the un-edited an un-censored version of my column this week in Dan's Papers)