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“My goal for this wine is more savory and tannin driven, but still light on its feet. The influence is from my love of Italian wines, in this case particularly Barolo.”

That’s how Raphael winemaker, Anthony Nappa, describes his approach to Raphael 2013 La Fontana, a blend of estate-grown merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot that was aged in French oak barrels for 18 months. You won’t hear many local winemakers talk about Italy as their inspiration, but Nappa often does. It’s refreshing in a region still dominated with Bordeaux references and descriptions of why the wines aren’t like those in California.

Of all Raphael’s reserve-level red wines, Nappa makes more of this one than the others.

“Red blends are important as they give us some flexibility and consistency in the marketplace from vintage to vintage, as relates to quality and flavor profile,” he said.

As you can read elsewhere in this issue, Raphael’s top wines are some of the region’s most age-worthy. This blend is as well, but according to Nappa, it’s “a bit more approachable and diverse than the single varietal reserve reds.”

The 2013 growing season, meaning spring and summer, was relatively cool which helped grapes across the region retain their natural acidity as they ripened. It was a long, warm stretch.

“That allowed these grapes to develop concentrated, ripe fruit flavors and tannins,” Nappa said. “Those warm fall days were also exceptionally dry — 50 straight days without precipitation. These conditions gave us perfect natural balance in the grapes and allowed us to pick at optimal ripeness.”

Long Island wines are often mischaracterized as poor values, but when this wine is released early this year, it will retail for $24, a great value for a serious, delicious red wine.

Dried herbs, tobacco and spice — that savory nature Nappa described — combine with a core of ripe black cherry and blueberry on a nose that is surprisingly complex for such a young wine.

Medium-full-bodied and flavorful, the fresh, elegant palate is earthier than the nose, with some loamy, forest-y note joining a core of ripe fruit and layers of dried and fresh herbs and spice. The tannins are ripe and well-integrated, resulting in a velvety, silky mouthfeel before just a bit of gritty grip emerges on the long and savory finish.

“That’s a hard balance to pull off,” Nappa says of this wine’s approachable nature today, but ability to age as well.

What food does Nappa recommend to accompany La Fontana?

“I always say my wife’s [Sarah Nappa] cooking. But this style can go with a broad range. From pasta dishes, to fattier fishes or sauces, to red meat on the grill,” he said. “Because the acidity and the tannin in this wine it can hold up but not over power.”

Look for this wine early this year and see for yourself. And at $24 ($19 for wine club members) maybe grab an extra bottle or two to see how it ages for yourself.

This story was originally published in the winter 2017 edition of the Long Island Wine Press

Lenn Thompson