It’s a question that German-born winemaker Roman Roth has been asked endless times in his 15 years making wine on Long Island. In some ways, it’s an obvious inquiry—some of the best Riesling in the world is made in the country where Roth started his winemaking career at the age of 16.
But, since 1992 Roman has been focusing on varieties like merlot, chardonnay and cabernet franc at Wolffer Estate, where he serves as winemaker, and other wineries like Scarola Vineyards and Roanoke Vineyards, where he also makes the wines. His wines are some of the region’s most celebrated and sought after. They just weren’t Riesling.
Then, in late 2007, Roman found the inspiration—and fruit—he needed to make his first Long Island Riesling, bottling it under his negociant label The Grapes of Roth.
“(The fruit) is from a beautiful vineyard in Greenport called Split Rock Vineyard, just east of the Shady Lady Restaurant. The grapes looked great when I first saw them with a low yield of two tons per acre,” he said. Split Rock, owned by Michael Kontokosta and managed by Long Island Veteran Charles Flat, is situated on the far eastern end of the North Fork where cooling breezes help preserve natural grape acidity levels while allowing the grapes to ripen fully.
Once he found it, it didn’t take Roman long to decide to turn this “amazing-looking fruit” into the first Grapes of Roth 2007 Riesling ($24). “I jumped at the opportunity,” he told me in an email.
Tasted last weekend, this Riesling pours a brilliant pale yellow with a few tiny bubbles clinging to the inside of my glass. The nose is intensely floral at first with orange blossoms and honeysuckle aromas. Behind the fresh flowers, there are scents of fresh peaches, apricots and lime. Extremely faint hints of petrol emerge as the wine warms a bit.
Light bodied and vivacious, Roth’s riesling delivers a vibrant initial burst of peach, lemon-lime and Bartlett pear fruitness. There is some residual sugar (14 g/l) here, so it’s a little sweet, but there is plenty of balancing, mouth-watering acidity, which keeps it from feeling heavy or cloying. As it crosses over your palate, that fruity fruity burst mellows a bit, becoming more citrusy than peachy, with minerally and wet stone flavors. The finish, which is lengthy, ends on a citrus zest note that invites sip after sip.
Roth has dedicated this wine, which was made at Wolffer Estate, to his mother, Rosa Roth, who is pictured on the label. Her motto is “Life is too short to drink bad wine.” Truer words have never been uttered.
Grape(s): 100% Riesling
Producer: The Grapes of Roth
AVA: Long Island
Rating: (3.5 out of 5 | Very good-to-Delicious)