The Grapes of Roth by Wolffer Estate


The Pour, New York Times Wine Blog

The Grapes of Roth

Don't think that I've forgotten how annoying it can be to some people when I rave about a wine that is made in minute quantities and is difficult to find. Someone, somewhere, is sure to remind me. So let me be preemptive, then, and tell you right away that the wine I'm about to talk about will not be easily found. But I think it's important to discuss this wine because of what it says about the potential of the region, especially when a wine is made with the rigorous attention to detail that is often only possible when working on a small scale.

The wine goes by a somewhat ungainly name, the Grapes of Roth which I will explain shortly. It is, and this might surprise you, a merlot. A Long Island merlot, from the 2001 vintage. It is a great merlot, with aromas of black cherry, raspberry, flowers and just a little bit of tar underneath that I find in my favorite Long Island merlots. It's a little peppery, and it's got a small herbal touch just to keep things teetering on a balance, but it holds together beautifully. It has soft tannins and good acidity. And the alcohol level was an eminently sane 13.3 percent. With steak, it was superb.

How will it age? Hard to say. The history of Long Island wines is too short to predict accurately, though good merlots have been awfully enjoyable at the 10-year mark.

Now about that name. The proprietor of the Grapes of Roth is Roman Roth, who is the winemaker for Wölffer Estate, Shinn Estate Vineyards, and Roanoke Vineyards , all on the East End of Long Island. "It was a natural,'' Roth said, adding that it was more than just a bad pun as John Steinbeck, author of "The Grapes of Wrath,'' had a strong Long Island connection, having lived in Sag Harbor for many years.

The grapes for this wine came from the Martha Clara Vineyards in Riverhead, though the grapes for the next few vintages come from a vineyard in Aquebogue owned by Sam McCullough, who is also the vineyard manager for the Lenz Winery .

The 2001, released earlier this year, was the first vintage and unfortunately Roth only made 2,400 bottles, a level that he has stuck with each subsequent year. But maybe that's a good thing because Roth was able to give this wine the sort of personal attention that might not be feasible in a larger-scale operation. The grapes are individually sorted, and the wine undergoes its secondary fermentation in barrels, on the lees , which contributes added complexity.

Roth says he was inspired by the garagistes of St. Émilion, whose meticulous attention to detail in their winemaking triumphed over their supposed lack of terroir. I see what he means, but this wine doesn't have the plush fruit and polished oakiness associated with some of those wines. I think it's pure Long Island. Do try it if you get a chance.

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