Raphael Winery: High Ambitions February 19, 2018

http://www.raphaelwine.com/

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Even the sign shows the winery’s Italian roots.

As you drive into the parking lot for Raphael, the Italian roots of the owner are immediately apparent.  The red-tile-roofed building with the fountain in front would not look out of place in Tuscany.  In case you had any doubts, notice the Italian flag flying next to the American flag.  However, the wines are very much Long Island wines.

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That partly open door leads to a large party room.

 

The tasting room is quite large, with an equally large party room off to one side, so it is no surprise that we often notice that Raphael is closed for private events. They have a fairly large selection of wine-related gifts.  We walked up to the circular bar in the center and, after ordering our first tasting and a snack, were directed to a nearby table where we could quietly enjoy our tasting.  Raphael does not permit outside foods, but they have a menu of snacks.  We ordered the Grandma Flatbread with house-made mozzarella ($8.95), which was basically pizza, with a red sauce and too much oregano, but functioned to take the edge off our late-afternoon hunger.

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The menu offers three tasting options each for whites and reds, all of which offer four tastes.  There is a mixed tasting, an estate white or estate red, and a sweet white, all for $16, or a premium tasting, of whites or reds, for $20.  In general, their wines are pricy for the North Fork, with their least expensive white at $27 and their premium reds costing $72.  However, the menu does point out that quite a few of their premium wines, and a couple of others, have scores of 90 or better from Wine Advocate or Wine Enthusiast, if you are interested in that sort of thing.

We decided to do as we often do, and share two tastings, first of the premium whites and then of the premium reds.  Our server carefully placed our glasses over their listings on the menu, so we could see which was which.  She was quite knowledgeable about the wines, and informed us that when they do wine club events, she is the one who runs them—sets up the tastes and discusses each wine.  She was curious as to our reactions to the wines, having noted my notebook, and we found we agreed on some and disagreed on others.  Interestingly, this was one of the few wineries where my husband and I had fundamental disagreements on a couple of the wines.  As the French say, “Chacun à son goût.”

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  1. 2016 First Label Sauvignon Blanc            $39

Interesting aroma.  We agree on pine and citrus peel.  The wine itself is dry and very light, pleasant, but with not much to it.  I taste lime, and my husband insists on pear.  It would be fine with oysters or simply sautéed scallops.

  1. 2014 First Label Riesling (Virgin Berry) $39

When I ask why “virgin berry,” our server says “because it sounds nice.”  If I had a dump bucket, I would dump this one, as it both smells and tastes like gasoline, or “petrol,” as our server says.  I think they went overboard on making this riesling dry and lemony.  On the other hand, my husband likes it!  We agree we would not, blindfolded, identify this as a riesling, but he thinks it would be good with a dish like shrimp scampi.  “Chacun à son goût.”

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  1. 2014 First Label Chardonnay $39

This is their oaked chardonnay, half of it aged in new French oak, so I’m not expecting to like it.  However, I do!  It’s not very oaky, though I do smell butterscotch and vanilla. It has lots of fruit flavor and a pleasant finish, though not much depth.  I don’t think it is worth what they’re charging, however.

  1. 2015 White Primo Reserve $45

A blend of 31% sauvignon blanc, 20% semillon, and 49% riesling, aged in both steel and oak, this is my favorite of the four.  It has a lovely floral aroma of orange blossoms.  Again, this is a dry white with some minerality.  Though it is almost half riesling, it does not have the gasoline aroma of the last taste.  All their whites have a similarity of style, which I would characterize as lean, not big.  By the way, our server says the previous year’s riesling was quite different, and she liked it better.  We agree that you have to try wines every year, and can’t rely on what you liked from a previous vintage.

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  1. 2013 Petit Verdot Reserve $72

Now my husband thinks he smells petrol.  Nope, I say, macerated berries.  “Chacun à son goût.”  Well, we both like it.  It has tannins which make us think it could still age more, and lots of tastes of really ripe blackberries.  It is 90% petit verdot and 10% merlot, but I don’t get any cherry taste.  Nice long finish.  This would be good with a nice juicy steak.

  1. 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon $72

“I’d be happy to drink this if someone else was paying,” says my husband, and I agree.  The aroma has a touch of forest floor funkiness as well as fruit, and it has lots of dark fruit tastes, though it’s not as big as the petit verdot.  Barbequed butterflied leg of lamb is what I would make if you were bringing me a bottle of this.

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The server put these cute labels on the glasses so we could carry them back to our table.

  1. 2013 Cabernet Franc Reserve $72

This is another nice but not incredible red, with some good fruit tastes.  It could have more depth, and the finish is rather soft.  Perhaps it needs to age some more.

  1. 2013 Primo Reserve $72

Finally, we try their not-Bordeaux blend, a mixture of 54% merlot, 27% malbec, 16% petit verdot, 2% cabernet sauvignon, and 1% cabernet franc.  I’m not happy with the aroma, which reminds me of rotten eggs.  My husband agrees that the smell is funky, but not that it’s rotten eggs.  It tastes fine, though it is not complex.  It has some tannins, so it would be good with lamb.

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Reasons to visit:  beautiful tasting room; nice menu of snacks; the First Label Chardonnay, the White Primo Reserve, the Petit Verdot Reserve; big selection of wine-related gifts.

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Jamesport Vineyards: No Pizza Today February 3, 2018

wehttp://www.jamesportwines.com/

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Don’t let the sunshine fool you–It was COLD!

In the summer, Jamesport has a wood-fired oven on the back patio, where they make thin-crust pizzas.  They also often serve local oysters, and we have enjoyed sitting outside there with a glass of white wine and a plate of oysters in the summer sun, listening to music.  However, this was the day after Groundhog Day, the icy parking lot made it clear there would be no sitting outside today, and when a couple came in seeking pizza they were referred to the restaurant Grana, just down the street.  They were offered a cheese and charcuterie plate ($42), which a couple of large parties were having at their tables. (Jamesport does not allow pets or outside food, and allows children only outside in the back yard, not in the bar area.)

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In the summer it is lovely to sit out here and enjoy music, oysters, and pizza from the wood-fired oven.

While some people might have been disappointed at the lack of pizza, they would not be disappointed in the wines.  We tried ten (well, actually eleven) and liked most of them.  The tasting menu offers any five wines for $20 from a list that includes six whites, six reds, three petillant naturels (sparkling wines), and a verjus.  We decided to share two tastings, starting with the whites and then doing reds.

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The nice-sized barn-like tasting room was surprisingly full for a mid-week winter day, but the lone server bustled about and was able to attend to everyone’s needs, including chatting with us about the wines and customizing our tasting.  I am often so impressed with the people who serve in the wineries, with their ability to keep everyone’s tastings straight, recommend wines for varying tastes, and stay cheerful throughout.

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  1. 2015 East End Chardonnay        $18.95

Through a window in the wall of the tasting room you can see the steel vats in which this chardonnay is fermented.  We sniff and identify citrus, orange, flowers, and another smell and taste we can’t quite identify until our server suggests almonds.  Yes, bitter almond it is.  We like this chardonnay, with its full taste and long finish, not too sweet, with a bit of minerality.  We discuss what to pair it with, and settle on tuna, like the lovely tuna steaks we bought at the Riverhead Farmers Market last week.

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What’s the difference between East End and Estate? At Jamesport, the former is their less expensive line. Legally, I’ve been told, “estate” doesn’t mean anything, so wineries can define it as they like.

  1. 2015 Estate Chardonnay $22.95

Oaked chards are not my favorite, but this one is not too oaky, with some lime and pear tastes, and almonds again.  Both chards have a long finish.  The tasting notes say “honey,” which I identify as the mouth feel of the wine.  I could see having this with a spicy Italian seafood dish, like a fra diavolo.

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  1. 2014 Sauvage Reserve $30.95

Our server is able to tell us that this wine uses sauvignon blanc clones, but not whether or not the word “sauvage” refers to wild yeast.  In any event, this is another nice wine, a bit on the light side even though it is aged in oak, with a taste that reminds me of a fruit salad seasoned with a bit of liqueur.  If I were here in the summer and having oysters, I’d get a glass of this, though we are told that a new vintage of this will be coming out soon, so I’d try a taste before I committed to a glass.

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See my notes before you decide which riesling to try.

  1. 2013 Estate Riesling $22.95

There are two rieslings on the menu, and we choose this one because the other is called Demi-Sec, and is described as slightly sweet.  Interestingly, this one is actually sweeter, as we discover when we tell our server it is too sweet for us.  Here, he says, try a little taste of the 2013 Demi-Sec Riesling ($22.95).  We like it better.  It is less cloying and lighter, with an aroma that reminds us of cider.  The menu describes the Estate Riesling as “crisp.”  Nope.

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By this time, we were friends with the server, so when he noted the bottle was almost empty he gave us the rest in our taste.

  1. 2015 East End CINQ Blanc $18.95

No surprise, this is a blend of five whites: chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, riesling, albariño, and pinot blanc.  We describe this as a good, everyday table wine, and our friend the server agrees.  It has a touch of sweetness, but not too much, with tastes of kiwi and peach and some minerality.  You could have it with an omelet in the morning, he suggests, which leads to various humorous comments about a day that starts like that.  How about with a quiche, I offer.  If I needed some whites at home, I might have bought this one.

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  1. 2014 East End CINQ Red $19.95

New glass as we switch to our red tasting, starting with another blend of five, this time of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, syrah, and pinot noir.  I decide it smells like a Bordeaux, and if I had to guess I would bet that it has more cabernet sauvignon than merlot.  It smells like dark fruits and berries and tastes like that, too.  It is a somewhat light red, with no depth and some tannins, and would make a perfect picnic wine.

  1. 2013 Merlot Estate $27.95

This is another easy to drink wine, with the expected cherry aroma and taste, plus some hints of dark chocolate.  It would go well with lamb or pork, but is not big enough to have with steak.

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The sign tells you how many bottles of wine you can get per acre of grapes. An acre can yield about 300 bottles!

  1. 2015 Estate Syrah $24.95

I tend to like syrahs, and I like this one, too.  I smell and taste dark fruits, especially purple plum, plus some spice, perhaps pepper.  Really dry, this has strong tannins that make me think it could age.  This wine would be fine with steak.

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  1. 2014 Estate Cabernet Franc $32.95

And aging is what I think this cab needs.  It doesn’t have much aroma.  Lots of tannins, and it is dry, but the fruit seems underdeveloped to me.  Just okay.

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  1. 2014 Mélange de Trois $34.95

If you know French, you can deduce that this is a blend of three grapes and a play on “ménage à trois”:  cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc.  It is aged for two years in French oak, and then another two years in the bottle.  We get into a discussion of the various grapes in this wine, and our server tells us how cabernet sauvignon does not do well every year.  In fact, last year rather than use their cabernet sauvignon grapes in their own wine, they felt they did not meet Jamesport’s standards and sold the whole crop to Premium Wine Group.  We like this wine, too, though it is more austere than luscious.  Dry, with good tannins, it has blackberry and spice tastes.  I could see having this with leg of lamb or steak frites.

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Seems like a nice selection of cheeses.

Reasons to visit:  in the summer, a big outdoor area with music and wood-oven pizza and oysters; in the winter, a cozy tasting room with cheese trays; the East End Chardonnay, the Sauvage Reserve, the East End CINQ Blanc and Red, the Mélange de Trois.  We didn’t get to try the sparkling wines, but they have three if you were interested to try them.