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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Posted: Aug 12, 2008 1:03am ET

I blew my top a bit about an hour ago. I had saved two half-bottles of wine that some friends brought to dinner on Friday that I wanted to blog about. But apparently my cleaning lady either threw them out or drank them!

Anyway, Mike Figgis, the British film director, and his girlfriend, pianist Rosey Chan, came for dinner on Friday night, and Rosey brought a couple of half-bottles to serve me blind. “I want to see what you think about these wines, James,” she said with a wicked smile.

She pulled two half-bottles from her handbag. I rolled my eyes in the back of my head. “Here we go again,” I thought to myself. But she’s a wonderful person and a great pianist. So what the hell?

She poured the wines in different glasses as we were talking at my kitchen table in Tuscany. The reds were a little warm. The first wine I said was probably a Bordeaux, mostly Merlot, and it was very good quality. I would probably rate it in the high 80s. The second wine was better, with a beautiful violet and currant aroma with hints of freshly cut wood and vanilla bean. It was full-bodied and very balanced with ultrafine tannins. I thought it was outstanding. And I thought it was a super Tuscan made mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon.

She had a beautiful smile on her face. She knew she had me. “These are wines from Long Island,” she said. “They are from the Wölffer Estate where I was playing a concert a few weeks ago.”

I was impressed, especially with the Cabernet Sauvignon, which I believe was the Wölffer Estate Vineyard Cassango 2005. The first wine was the pure Merlot from the Grapes of Roth, which comes from the winemaker at Wölffer, Roman Roth. I think it was 2003, but honestly, I can’t remember. And as I said, the half-bottles are long gone!

Regardless, I must say that I was impressed with the wines. They were very European in style with fine tannin structure, ripe fruit but fresh acidity. It seems that Long Island is really coming of age. I would love to know your thoughts about the region.

John Osgood
New York, NY —  August 12, 2008 10:57am ET
I've tasted a bunch of wines from the region and most have been below average. I went there tasting for a day and I couldn't find a single bottle that I would buy.
Jeffrey Ghi
New York —  August 12, 2008 10:57am ET
Indeed the quality has been going up the past few years, but I find it disheartening that they charge 20$ for a taste and 60$ for a decent bottle (ie the grapes of roth). At those prices, they're not up and coming =).

Where as long island wineries used to be a great picnic scene, the trend feels like it's moving towards being hip outdoor summer bars. 8$ for a glass of wine, avg of 30-40$+ for a bottle of wine, and bus loads of cologne and perfume drenched tours, it's starting to lose alot of the charm.

Btw a few of Macari's chards are very good drinkers.
Thomas Matthews
August 12, 2008 11:49am ET
Roman Roth is a skilled winemaker whose wines have shown well in my blind tastings (the debut Grapes of Roth 2001 scored 89 points). Having tracked Long Island wines for nearly 20 years now, I think they still have a ways to go before they can consistently achieve the quality levels of top Bordeaux or Super Tuscans. But give them credit for hard work and steady progress.
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento,CA —  August 12, 2008 12:42pm ET
I've had a mixed experience. I tasted thru LI about 4 years ago --over priced, over oaked with a very few diamonds in the rough. Since then, I've bought a number of rieslings, geverts and Cab Francs from the Finger Lakes (once they "freed the grapes" in New York). The whites especially have been consistently outstanding-- I drank a 2006 Standing Stone Reisling last night as a matter of fact. Finally, a few weeks ago I was in Montauk surfing and hanging out with my family and we stopped by Wolffer -- I bought 6 bottles of the 2007 Pinot Gris (a crisp 12% ETOH, lots of mineral and apples--very nice) to serve with our lobster feast and 6 bottles of the 2005 Merlot and 2004 Cab Franc for the steak -- I especially enjoyed the Cab Franc -- medium body with pretty floral and tobacco notes. While they were not a bargain, they represented a refreshing change from the typical West Coast wines I usually drink. I brought home 1 bottle of the Cab -- we'll see how it ages.
David A Zajac
August 12, 2008 2:02pm ET
I spent a long weekend in the Finger Lakes two weeks ago and I too find their wines improving dramatically, their reislings and gewurts were pretty much outstanding and even some of the reds were excellent, particularly cab franc, although more hit or miss than the whites. Flavor profile wise, an interesting mix between German and Alsatian. Unfortunately a weekend isn't enough as the wine scene has exploded there. Although I must admit, I am disappointed in that the entire area seems to close down at 6:00.
Steven Balavender
Tampa, Fl —  August 12, 2008 2:46pm ET
"I would love to know your thoughts about the region"

Traffic nightmare!
Joe Giordano
East Northport Ny —  August 12, 2008 2:58pm ET
I taste about every three months on Long Island. I find the quality of the wines to vary greatly from winery to winery. There are some excellent wines to be found even though they might be slightly overpriced. I have found that Roanoke Vineyards delivers a very good wine most of the time. I also feel that the Cab Francs have been getting a lot better every year.
Neil Koffler
New York, NY —  August 12, 2008 5:01pm ET


I'm a big fan of Roman and his Grapes of Roth. You likely had the 2002, btw. I don't believe the 2003 has been releasedyet. Unfortunately, Roman and Wolffer are the best examples of the region and not necessarily indicative of Long Island coming to age.

In general, I find the wines to be priced far beyond their quality.

John Osgood
New York, NY —  August 12, 2008 5:35pm ET
I found some of the wines pretty good (high 80s point range but nothing 90 and above) but couldn't justify paying $30 - $50 when I can find much better quality in the same price range from California, France and Italy.
Brad Coelho
New York City —  August 12, 2008 8:26pm ET
Over the past few years I have visited the area regularly and have certainly noted a upsurge in quality- particularly w/ top producers like Paumanok, Lenz, Pellegrini, Macari, Bedell and Wolffer (glad you enjoyed them James). Roman Roth, Eric Fry (who consults for dozens of east coast wineries & makes wine for Lenz) and Charlie & Kareem Massoud of Paumanok have really stepped up to the Long Island plate to become the stars of the region. Most of the consistent success seems to be w/ Cabernet Franc and Merlot, but there appears to be potential for sparkling wine, the esoteric Chenin Blanc (Paumanok), and just about any Italian varietal under the sun (Channing Daughters) if enough attention to detail is paid. The Finger Lakes has a lot more potential for growth from a land standpoint, but time will tell if they continue to progress w/ Riesling, Gewurztraminer and other cool climate varietals.I wrote a little blog piece on this a few months back:http://unidentifiedappellation.blogspot.com/2008_05_18_archive.htmlI was also married in Macari last year so I've obviously been a bit touched by the region. High prices may keep experimentation down, but more progress (particularly w/ the '07s that look to be outstanding) and exuberant press may make even the most skeptical tasters intrigued.James,Again, glad to see that you brought this piece up in your blog- hope you are doing well.
Eric P Guido
New York, NY —  August 12, 2008 10:48pm ET
Unfortunately I had some very bad experience with reds in Long Island as well. There were some good ones but nothing that impressed me enough to buy any. The whites on the other hand were quite remarkable for a few vineyards. Paumanok had was one that really stood out.
Belgium/Brussels —  August 13, 2008 11:02am ET
Hi James,Going off topic with a question probably asked 1000 times before. I am leaving for Tuscany on saturday, I need a good enoteca in the neighbourhood of Sienna. Got a tip?Thx,Rob
James Suckling
 —  August 13, 2008 11:08am ET
The only ones I go to are Charleston in Arezzo or Osticcio in Montalcino. I know there are a couple of good wine shops in Siena but I haven't been to them.
Steven Balavender
Tampa, Fl —  August 13, 2008 1:55pm ET
Maes...try Enoteca Italiana in Siena...it's located right at the main entrance into Siena

Mike Hansen
San Diego, CA —  August 13, 2008 4:41pm ET
Question, my wife and I were in Montalcino tasting wines at a shop at the top of the city. We brought back several 2001 Brunello's which were great but one blew us away it was a 2001 Cupano. We shared with friends at a tasting and all thought it was the best. I have asked about but no one knows where to get any of the later vintages. Any ideas?Mike
Christina Shoemaker
Madison, WI —  August 13, 2008 9:33pm ET
Dear Mr. Suckling,I read your review on Tuscan wines. A concern: the 2006 Castello di Bossi CC.First, a very good winery, no doubt. But, 2006 and "10,000 cases imported?" Being in the trade I see what their importer has in stock right now, and it's ONLY 2004 Chianti Classico. Who is imported the 10,000 cases into the US right now?Michael P.
Steven Anderson
San Diego, CA —  August 14, 2008 2:09am ET
Maes,If you get to Pienza, I would highly recommend Enoteca Ghino. http://www.enotecadighino.it/eng/indexeng.htmGreat selection, including old and rare, and Ghino was extremely helpful and happy to answer questions. He talked me out of the Fontodi VdS I had in my hand (which I can buy at home), and steered me toward the small production 2003 Mustiola Poggio Ai Chiari (Sangiovese), which is gathering good press in Italy, but not yet available to me in the US. Wish I could have spent more time there.
Jo Cooke
Tuscany —  August 14, 2008 11:53am ET

James asked me to answer your query about the Castello di Bosso 2006.

I contacted the importer on your behalf, who told me that they were still working with the 2004 vintage and that the 2006 vintage would be available either in the Spring or Fall next year.

The figure of 10,000 cases is the figure provided by the winery, in collaboration with the importer, based on previous vintages.

I guess you will have to be patient for the 2006 to arrive. It was one of around 20 outstanding 2006 CCs that James tasted this summer. They are worth the wait.

Jo Cooke

Tasting Coordinator

Wine Spectator - European Bureau

Ian Marshall
Chelmsford/Essex/UK —  August 14, 2008 1:18pm ET
This article struck a chord with me, as my local restaurant in Chelmsford, Essex, UK, (bizarrely), stocks a couple of Wolffer wines. We have been impressed by both their Cabernet Franc, (a hugely underated grape)and their Chardonnay. Both wines are well balanced and restrained in their use of oak and have the freshness and acidity that hints at European origin. They also make particularly attractive food companions.I have also tasted and enjoyed some finger Lake Rieslings at a wine merchants in SOHO, NYC. I am encouraged enough to feel a trip to the region for a more 'thorough investigation' is justified
James Suckling
 —  August 14, 2008 1:43pm ET
Just to set the record straight, I received a sms from Mike Figgis and he said that his girlfriend Rosey took the bottles in the morning to remember what we drank! Sorry I didn't exactly remember. My housekeeper is off the hook!!
James Peterson
San Antonio, Texas —  August 14, 2008 7:07pm ET
Between this incident and your friend raiding your cellar, I'm beginning to think you might need some anger management classes...
Belgium/Brussels —  August 15, 2008 9:31am ET
Thx everyone.Rob

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