To celebrate April 15 NOT being tax day, we decided to return to The Winemaker Studio, where winemakers who work for some of the big wineries experiment with their own labels. It does fascinate me that people whose job is winemaking feel the need to express more of their ideas about wine with their own experiments—but when the results are as good as this, why not? On this day, the Studio was featuring the wines of Anthony Nappa, who owns the place and is also the winemaker for Raphael, and Russell Hearn, who is the winemaker for Lieb. Hearn actually has two different labels available: Suhru for one line, and T’Jara for wines whose grapes all come from one vineyard.
We stood at the bar and enjoyed chatting with our server, who seemed to know everything about all the wines. On that day, the menus offered any five of Nappa’s ten wines for $15, and all five of Hearn’s wines, also for $15. We decided to do one of each, alternating as we went, with some guidance from our server as to sequence and choices from Nappa’s list. We could also have ordered cheese or other snacks, which come from the little food store attached to the tasting room. Before we started, the server gave us glasses of chilled water, which he regularly replenished.
One other couple entered, and we enjoyed chatting with them about where they had been that day and their love of Key West. Then a large group came in, and though they don’t usually permit groups without a reservation, since it was so quiet the server agreed to take care of them, and seated them in the food store room. We were concerned we’d lose our source of information, but he competently took care of everyone!
- 2016 Suhru Sauvignon Blanc $20
We decided it was best to start with what was likely the lightest of the wines, and we were right. This is a really nice light sauvignon blanc, with some aromas of cat pee and asparagus. It’s a bit fruity for a sauvignon blanc, and also has lots of minerality and some saltiness. Very refreshing. Good summer sipper, or to have with clams or oysters.
- 2016 Nappa White Pinot Noir $19
White pinot noir? Isn’t that the wine that used to be called Anomaly? Well, yes. Apparently there was some sort of allegation of copyright infringement from a winery in Napa Valley, so Anthony Nappa had to rename his wine. The first time we had this we really liked it, then not so much the next time, but this time it was back into the plus file. The aroma combines strawberry—like a rosé, which this basically resembles—with a touch of funkiness that adds some interest. The wine is somewhat dry, with some strawberry taste as well. It would pair well with a stinky cheese, like an aged blue.
- 2014 Suhru Dry Riesling $18
Not sure why, but my tasting buddy insisted the smell reminded him of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. It is a strong aroma, with a touch of mineral or metal. If you like a dry riesling, this is for you. The server noted that it had .7% residual sugar, quite a contrast to the Nappa riesling we were going to taste next. I always enjoy these side by side tastings, where you try the same grapes made in different ways. Like the Suhru sauvignon blanc, this also has a bit of a salty tang, with some gooseberry taste.
- 2016 Nappa New York Riesling $18
So different! Made with grapes from upstate’s Sheldrake vineyard, this riesling has 1.9% residual sugar. Although it is much sweeter, it is well balanced, and would be fine with something really spicy, like Thai food. “Almost candy,” says my husband, but I get tropical fruit and spices like nutmeg, and a complex aroma that is rather alluring.
- 2012 Suhru Shiraz $25
Although the scent promises lots of dark fruit, the wine itself is rather light for a shiraz. I could see this with roast chicken, not steak. Nice tannins, so maybe it will age well.
- 2016 Nappa Bordo Antico $22
If you care about such things, you might like to know that this wine is certified organic. It is made from cabernet franc grapes, steel fermented. It smells like forest floor, with a bit of a mushroomy funk. The taste is good, fruity, direct and simple. I might pair it with duck breasts.
- 2012 T’Jara Cabernet Franc $30
Here we go again—same grape, different preparation—though this is a bit of a blend, 87% cabernet franc with 10% merlot and 3% cabernet sauvignon. This is oak fermented, and has lots of fruit tastes like dark plums, and a long finish. Delicious. It would complement lamb chops.
- 2014 Nappa Nemesis Pinot Noir $35
Why “Nemesis”? We learn that pinot noir is notoriously hard to work with, so the danger is that it could prove to be the winemaker’s nemesis. Not in this case, though it is not our favorite of the day. Made with grapes from Macari and Peconic Bay, this is a light, dry, slightly fruity red.
- 2013 T’Jara Merlot $28
A blend of 92% merlot, 4% cabernet sauvignon, 2% cabernet franc, and 2% malbec, the wine is aged 20 months in Hungarian oak and tastes to us more or less like a typical North Fork merlot, with lots of cherry flavor. Very nice.
- 2013 Nappa Tredici $35
Tredici? As in three grapes: 67% merlot, 15% cabernet franc, and 18% cabernet sauvignon? Nope, as in 2013—named for the year. And why not, since it was a very good year. We smell cherries, and the taste is very much of the merlot, but with more interesting flavors than the Hearn blend. It has lots of tannins, and if we had room in the wine cellar (we really must drink more of our wine!) we might have bought a bottle to age for a few years.
Reasons to visit: a chance to taste wines you won’t find elsewhere; an intimate setting with knowledgeable servers (not just this time, but every time we’ve come); the Nappa White Pinot Noir (formerly Anomaly) and Tredici; the Suhru Sauvignon Blanc and T’Jara 2012 Cabernet Franc; lots of availability of magnums, if you happen to want to buy one!