With their beautiful building, modeled after an Italian monastery, and spacious tasting room, Raphael is often in use as a venue for private events. This time of year the room sparkles with Christmas lights, so it is no surprise to note that it will be closed New Year’s Eve for such an event. In fact, if you plan to go for a tasting make sure to check their web page first to make sure they are open. You may also choose to go or not depending on whether they have musical entertainment planned. The performers we heard were all quite talented and we liked their music, but not the sound level, which made conversation difficult. The other difficulty we encountered was that the servers were clearly understaffed, having to cater to a crowd around the circular bar plus many people sitting at the tables, drinking glasses of wine and listening to the music.
The menu lists 18 choices, all priced by the taste, glass, or bottle. We happened to have a coupon for two free tastings, which entitled us to three tastes each, which would have cost us $17 for the six tastes. Since we knew we already liked the Portico—which proved to be a popular after-Thanksgiving-dinner drink—we decided to focus on the standard whites and reds, skipping the reserves, the rosés, and the dessert wines. The menu mentions ratings by both Wine Enthusiast and Wine Advocate in the high 80s and low 90s for a number of the wines.
- 2014 Sauvignon Blanc $22
We decided to start by trying their two sauvignon blancs side by side, and our request for information about the wines was referred by our server to another one who was more knowledgeable. This is the less expensive of the two, steel fermented for a shorter time, and not the preference of our server. We agree, though it is a fine example of Long Island sauvignon blanc, with lots of minerality and soft lemon taste at the end, and a refreshing acidity. It would go well in the summer, or well-iced with oysters.
- 2014 First Label Sauvignon Blanc $28
The tasting menu informs us that this one is “made from our oldest sauvignon blanc vines,” and it is fascinating to see that it is quite different from the previous wine, with more interesting aromas and flavors. We smell a touch of funk in the aroma, plus various fruits. The taste is complex, with a touch of sweetness at the end but plenty of mouth-watering acidity. It would complement pasta with cream sauce, we decide.
- 2014 Chardeaux $22
A mixture of 80% chardonnay and 20% sauvignon blanc, this wine is more interesting than a straight chardonnay, with lots of citrus and minerality, and some tastes of unripe peach. It’s a good chard for people who think they don’t like chard, and would go well with chicken kabobs.
- 2013 First Label Riesling $26
There are two rieslings on the menu, and since one is described as “semi-sweet” we order the other one, not being a fan of sweet wines (except when we’re talking dessert wines). As we take our first sniffs and tastes we note a chemical aroma and that it is quite sweet for a supposedly dry riesling. We get the attention of the more knowledgeable server and discover that, indeed, we have accidentally been served the sweet riesling. We put that glass aside and happily enjoy the correct pour. Really good, with kumquat orange tastes and some leather notes in the aroma. My husband—whose identification of the first pour as the wrong wine has deeply impressed our server—notes that he would not buy this for our usual use for a riesling (to go with spicy food), but that though he likes it he would prefer a riesling with more interest.
- 2012 La Fontana $28
Now we switch to reds, and by the way we get a new glass with each taste, a practice I appreciate. La Fontana is their Bordeaux blend—merlot, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, petit verdot, and cabernet franc—but no one has information on the proportions, including the web page. A glance at the Raphael label will give you a cue as to the source of this wine’s name—a drawing of the fountain which graces the middle of the parking lot in front of the entrance. We like this one, too. The smell reminds me of cassis—the menu says blackberry and eucalyptus –and I taste some nice fruit, with oak at the end and some layers of flavor. However, compared with a French Bordeaux this is a bit on the thin side.
- 2010 First Label Merlot $40
Like the Fontana, this is aged 18 months in French oak, and you can smell the oak when you sniff, as well as cherries. As it sits in the glass we start to like it better. It is fairly dry and tannic but with nice fruit. By the way, I would have liked a cracker to cleanse my palate between the whites and reds but, although there are bowls of them around the bar, there are none anywhere near us and no one offers us any. As I said, they’re busy.
Reasons to visit: you like to admire a beautiful room; the well-stocked gift shop; the First Label Sauvignon Blanc, the Chardeaux, the First Label Merlot, the Portico.