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Tiny Tasting Room. Titan Taste.

Originally Posted: May 31, 2006

Lenn Thompson

Tucked at the end of a dirt-and-gravel driveway north of Route 48 on Elijah's Lane in Mattituck, Sherwood House Vineyards' tasting room may be tiny, but the wines are far from it.

Owned and operated by Charles and Barbara Smithen, Sherwood House Vineyards is an expression of the Smithen's intense passion for both wine and the East End. A cardiologist and vintage jewelry dealer, respectively, they purchased their 1860 farmhouse in 1996 and planted their vines soon after. In 1999, after selling off their grapes to local wineries for a few years, the Smithens decided to make their own wine, a charmingly Burgundian chardonnay. Since then, they've focused mostly on Merlot and Chardonnay (with a newly released Cabernet Franc as well), and have developed a cult following among those who have sought them out and tasted them.

The gravel rumbles under your tires as you slowly drive down the long driveway leading up to the maybe 100 square foot tasting room. You're surrounded by vines and most days can watch as vineyard workers tend the vines. The Smithen's dogs, Rufus and Raven, serve as unofficial greeters when they meet you out front with wags of their little tails. Sitting down at one of the tables surrounding the tiny tasting room, it's easy to forget that you're on Long Island. The low-key, rustic feel is certainly in stark contrast to the palatial tasting rooms at Raphael on the North Fork or Wolffer Estate in the Hamptons.

But this isn't just a story about a charming little tasting room. This is about wine.

Sherwood House's wines are crafted by French-born winemaker Gilles Martin, who is the winemaker at Martha Clara Vineyards. His French background is apparent in each of the Sherwood House bottlings which are much more Old World than New.

Sherwood House Vineyards 2001 Chardonnay ($20) is a light, shimmering gold in the glass, and offers a refined and light nose with pear, vanilla and hints of toasty oak. Full-bodied but far from heavy, this well-balanced chardonnay displays lithe pear flavors with hints of tropical fruit as well as butter, toast and minerals.

Slightly fruitier, the Sherwood House 2002 Chardonnay ($20) is a striking light gold in the glass. The nose seems less intense than the 2001 but features similar aromas pear, sweet toasty oak and citrus hints. Medium-full bodied, the texture is somewhat creamy with nicely balanced flavors of pear, toasty marshmallows and oak nuance. A bit more acidity would be nice, but this is an extremely stylish Chardonnay that certainly carries on Sherwood House's white Burgundy tradition.

Sherwood House Vineyards 2001 Merlot ($24) is a well-extracted and rich example of Long Island's showcase varietal. The nose offers ripe raspberry aromas with a mineral background and light oakiness. On the palate, the raspberries are joined by vanilla cream and more minerals. This medium-bodied wine is highlighted by sultry tannins, a soft-but-rich mouthfeel and an indulgent, lingering finish.

Sherwood House Vineyards 2002 Merlot ($24) isn't as intensely flavored as the 2001, but delivers a nice blend of raspberry, cherry and wet stone on the nose with nearly identical flavors carrying over in the mouth. This wine is medium bodied, features fine, ripe tannins that that give way to a vanilla accented finish. Winemaker Martin didn't overdo the oak an excellent choice. His restraint is the key to this wine's length and overall quality.

Stylistically, Long Island Cabernet Franc is all over the map, with seemingly every winery having its own interpretation or style. Sherwood House Vineyards 2003 ($24), their first Cabernet Franc release, is decidedly less fruity than most local renditions. While a little less aromatic than some Cabernet Franc, its nose presents plums and smoke with a touch of fresh herbs in the mix. Medium-to-light bodied, plum flavors are accented by smoky oak influence and black pepper notes. Though perhaps a little pricey for your next barbeque, this red is a nice pairing to grilled meats.

Sherwood House Vineyards is easily one of our area's most underrated producers. Their wines are classy, nuanced and delicious. Seek them out, be it at their tasting room or at your favorite local restaurant or wine shop.

Sherwood House Vineyards is also a founding member of the Long Island Merlot Alliance (LIMA), an organization that believes merlot to be Long Island's signature varietal, and as such has dedicated itself to its advancement and continued quality on the East End. You can learn more at www.longislandmerlot.com.

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