Roman Roth, the German-born winemaker at Wolffer Estate and Roanoke Vineyards, released the first wine under his own The Grapes of Roth label in the summer of 2006. That 2001 merlot, was a beautiful wine from one of Long Island's best vintages. It also received a 91-point score from Wine Advocate. His 2002, which garnered a 92-point score, will probably prove to be the longer lived of the two.
Last weekend, I tasted the newly released The Grapes of Roth 2003 Merlot ($50) for the first time. While not without its own merits, it just doesn't stand up to the previous vintages.
The grapes that went into this wine come from Sam McCullough's vineyard on the North Fork. McCullough is the vineyard manager at Lenz Winery and is one of the region's best growers, which is no doubt why Roman sources his merlot for GoR from Sam's vineyard.
But, 2003 wasn’t a great vintage for Long Island wines — especially reds. It's not that it was a cold growing season. Or even a rainy one for most of the season. The spring and summer months were fairly typical (in a good way). But, rain and then two October frosts caused problems for many growers.
Once the frost kills the vines’ canopy, photosynthesis stops and the grapes won't ripen further. You can talk about “hang time” (on the vine) all you want, but without the sugar factory, the grapes won’t develop any further.
Deeply colored a rich garnet-purple, this wine's nose is intense and shows great nuance and depth. The fruit aromas move from dark cherry to black raspberry to blueberry and back. There is also a distinct dried cherry note and toasty oak character here.
The toasty edge of the nose is very different on the palate, taking center stage. The 21 months this wine spent in barrel is much more apparent, almost overwhelming at this stage in the wine's development. Dried cherry, fig and dusty cocoa flavors emerge when the wine is allowed to breath over night and the tannins are
well integrated, but overall, I'm left wanting a bit more fruit and perhaps a bit less oak.