Despite what much of my writing may indicate to the contrary, I don’t hate oak barrels. They are vitally important not only in the production of many red wines, but I think they are an integral part of many of Long Island’s best chardonnays. Read my piece in the current issue of the Long Island Wine Press for more on that.
I don’t hate oak. What I hate is an over-bearing, distracting oak footprint, be it in the form of flavor or tannins. I want the wine to taste of the grapes and the place they were grown, not of wood. Too often, “reserve” red wines let me down in this regard. They aren’t necessarily over-oaked, mind you. Some of them are just under-wined. The wines just don’t stand up to the oak type/age/length/application.
Like with so much in the wine world, it’s about balance. And it’s not easy to do, even for experienced winemakers. Especially in regions where the growing seasons are so variable — meaning the grapes that come in are quite different every fall.
Anthony Nappa, who serves as winemaker at Raphael in Peconic, shows a deft hand in the cellar across Raphael and his eponymous private label portfolios. But he strikes a tremendous balance between fruit and oak with Anthony Nappa Wines 2013 Reserve Merlot ($40).
Made with fruit grown by Sam McCullough — who also serves as vineyard manager at Lenz Winery in Peconic — at his Cutchogue vineyard, this smooth wine was made from hand-picked, hand-sorted grapes and fermented using ambient yeasts without any additives.
It spent 18 months in French oak barrels, but only 50 percent were new, meaning that only half of them imparted their flavor. As with most of his reds, Nappa bottled the merlot formerly known as “Blackbird” (the name no longer appears on the label) unfiltered and unfined. Only 76 cases were made.
2013 was a long, warm growing season and that ripeness comes through here — mainly as blackberry and black cherry, but also in soft plummy notes. It shows nice concentration and is mouth-filling without turning jammy or heavy on the palate. Subtle background aromas and flavors of baking spice, loamy earth and just a little dried herb add character.
The tannins are well-integrated and very approachable today, but provide more than enough structure to suggest a long life ahead in your cellar — if you can wait that long.
This wine is available for $40 at The Winemaker Studio on Peconic Lane in Peconic.