Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Red Hook Winery Rolls Out Entire Line for Tasting

The Red Hook Winery—which for the past couple years has been carting in grapes from Long Island to vinify in its snug headquarters in the Brooklyn neighborhood of its name—showed off all its wares this past weekend, holding a tasting of every single wine it has bottled since opening for business. That amounted to 25 different offerings—not bad for such a young outfit.

All the wines at Red Hook are made by either Abe Schoener or Bob Foley, two California-based winemakers of very different character. I've tasted a number of these wines before, but this sampling confirmed that both vintners are doing good work with the Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling they are bringing in from various East End vineyards. (There is a single Finger Lakes wine, a Riesling.) But each man has his strengths. Broadly speaking, Schoener is making Red Hook Winery's best whites, while Foley is turning out its best reds.

Schoener's wines are the obvious attention-getters here. He employs many of the unusual aging and vinifying techniques he's used with the wines he makes out west, and the results are remarkable. His 2009 whole-cluster Cabernet Franc Rose is as pale as a rose can be, the juice exposed to the skins of the grapes only briefly. The unusual result is chewy and juicy, with notes of lychee nuts. The whites he called "The Electric," made from Chardonnay and a tiny percentage of botrytized Riesling, are full, rich and unusual, the Riesling's contribution significantly altering any easy identification of the wine as a Chardonnay. The best of the two is the "Electric" Reserve, which was aged an additional year, and is more complex in flavor.

One of Schoener's earliest wines with Red Hook, the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, may be his best effort so far at this winery. It was aged one year in barrel, one year in bottle, and is better now than it was when it was first bottled. Schoener fans will recognize his usual talent with this grape. The expected beguiling, oxidized character is here, but the extra aging time has tipped the juice in the direction of nectar. Some of the same grapes used for that wine were set aside for a 2008 Reserve. It's heavily honeyed nose contrasts theatrically with the tart, tangy taste.

The showmanship of Schoener's white notwithstanding, the Foley reds, however, should not be ignored. Of the 2008s, there's barely a bad bottle in the bunch (save, perhaps, the Petite Verdot Reserve, which I found hard and green). The Split Rock Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is full of current and cherry and is very well-balanced. The Jamesport Vineyard Cab Sauv is just as good, if slightly richer and denser. The "Black & Blue," a 50-50 split of Merlot and Cabernet France was full, rich and powerful, the characters of both grapes coming out equally. The Jamesport Vineyard Merlot was as juicy and fruity as one might expect. And the Split Rock Vineyard Cabernet Franc was rangy and interesting, standing out for its barnyardy nose and vegetal, sour-cherry flavor. All of these hover just above the 13% alcohol mark, so they are not bruisers. Foley is creating with Long Island red grapes winees as good as anything achieved by the East End vintners.

The price point of these wines—many begin in the $40 range—remains a stumbling block toward more wine drinkers experiencing them. But owner Mark Snyder says he hopes eventually to have a catalog of wines with a wide price range. Meanwhile, a few of them are on tap at Manhattan's Burger & Barrel if you want to drive them around the block before buying.

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