62 degrees on the first day of winter felt quite appropriate as we approached Raphael’s Italian-style tasting room, with its red tile roof and light stucco walls. The welcome inside, through the propped-open door, was as warm as the day. We hadn’t been to Raphael in a long time, partly because every time we went past we saw a sign that they were closed for an event, which is not surprising given the expansive size of the attractive tasting room, with its central bar and dramatic staircase. Indeed, as we were doing a tasting we noted a prospective bride and groom being given a tour of the place, and our server remarked that an additional room can hold up to 200 guests and that from spring through fall they are often closed for weddings.
We also had not been enthusiastic about the wines, but they seem to have improved over the past several years, and we liked some of them quite a bit. In addition, we could easily return and taste a completely different group of wines, as the list includes five whites, two rosés, six reds, and a dessert wine. We limited ourselves to seven tastes, about as many as we can handle, especially because the pour is quite generous. There is no set menu for a tasting. The server hands you a list of wines, and you pay for your choices by the taste, which vary from $2.00 to $4.00 each. Glasses of wine go for $7 to $15, with most around $8. Both servers were very knowledgeable and chatty, and we enjoyed the afternoon with them. Our server was also very accommodating. Since I felt the beginnings of a cold coming on, we didn’t want to share a glass, so he kindly provided a fresh glass for each taste.
After the tasting, we browsed a bit in their larger than usual gift shop, which has many wine-related items, including some that were quite nice.
1) 2012 Chardeaux $24
Yes, that is a made-up word, but Nofowineaux likes it! This blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp and refreshing steel-fermented white, with aromas of citrus and mineral. We also taste lemon and mineral, plus some unripe pear. The server compares it to a Pinot Grigio. Maybe. In any event, it would go very nicely with a plate of local oysters.
2) 2011 First Label Sauvignon Blanc $26
Why “First Label”? Because it is made from fruit from some of their older vines. Though this, like the previous wine, is served too cold, once it warms up a bit we quite like it. We smell some kiwi in the complex bouquet, as well as citrus and herbs. The taste also includes some citrus and herbs, and is pleasantly complex, especially for a steel-fermented wine. “Not a simple sipper,” my husband observes, and adds that it would go well with a veal and peppers dish I sometimes make, or perhaps an array of Italian cheeses.
3) 2012 Riesling $28
I find it fascinating that Rieslings can taste so different from one vineyard to another, even when they are in close geographic proximity. Raphael’s Riesling has a complex aroma of flowers and minerals, and is dry, though with a bit of sweeter citrus at the finish, and one wouldn’t immediately peg it as a Riesling. We must be hungry, because I keep thinking about what foods to have with each wine, and I’m thinking about a simple pork chop dish with this one.
4) 2010 La Tavola $20
Now we move over to the reds, and opt to start with their basic table wine, which is a Bordeaux blend, though it is mostly—70%–Merlot. It also has 6% each of Malbec and Petit Verdot, and 4% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. There’s a bit of smoke in the aroma, but also lots of dark fruit. It smells really good! The taste is pleasant, but rather light for a Bordeaux, and this is, as the server noted, a good pizza and pasta wine. I’m thinking roast chicken on a picnic…told you I was hungry.
5) 2010 La Fontana $30
We decide to try this wine next, as our server points out that it will make an interesting comparison with La Tavola, since it usesmostly the same grapes, though in different proportions: 36% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Petit Verdot, and 10% Cabernet Franc. Very interesting, indeed. This one “could pass as a real Bordeaux,” my husband notes, sipping it appreciatively. When it is my turn to try, I note a lovely aroma with a trace of smoke and forest floor and taste delicious dark fruits. “Nice legs,” we note, and good tannins too, and we decide to buy a couple of bottles to cellar for a few years. (I ask our server if this is named for the elaborate fountain out front, and he nods yes.)
6) 2010 Estate Merlot $22
Long Island Merlots do tend to have a bit of a barnyard smell, and so does this one, but not overly so. We also smell some tobacco and blackberry. The tasting notes say “thyme,” but my husband jokes he can’t smell time. This is fermented in a combination of oak and steel, and I would say it is a typical North Fork Merlot.
7) 2010 First Label Merlot $38
2010 was a great year for North Forth wines, and we can see that in all the 2010 wines we’ve tried, including this one. Aged 18 months in oak, this new release has mineral and dark fruit aromas, with no trace of barnyard, and has lots of fruit tastes. I bet this one would age well, too.
8) 2007 Primo Winemaker’s Edition
Yes, I said we’d do seven tastes, but, seeing our serious devotion to the tasting process, the servers give us a small taste of this special wine, as there is only a small amount left in the bottle anyway. Wow, read my notes, and wow again. This is a wine you can only get if you are a member of the wine club, and we are briefly tempted to join, but no, there are only so many clubs one can join!
Reasons to visit: an attractive and roomy tasting room; a good gift shop; interesting wine choices, especially the Chardeaux and the La Fontana; you’re scouting locations for a large party or wedding; you like having lots of tasting options.