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Raphael Winery: The Spectator. Donald Trump. MoMa.

Originally Posted: June 06, 2006

Lenn Thompson

Raphael Winery, founded in 1996 in Peconic, features one of the North Fork's grandest tasting rooms. Overflowing with Mediterranean style and offering spectacular views of the vineyard, it's easy to get caught up in the beauty of the room and forget just how good the wines are. But, recent press coverage and activities serve as fun and interesting reminders.

Raphael's focus is on Merlot considered by many to be Long Island's premier grape variety and their flagship 2001 First Label Merlot ($30) captures the true essence of Long Island Merlot. Intense raspberry and blackberry character is accented by tobacco and toasty oak notes. Perhaps most impressive is the wine's rich texture with ripe, well integrated tannins. The Wine Spectator scored this wine an 87, making it the highest rated local Merlot in their May issue.

The highest score captured by a Long Island red wine, an 89, was also awarded to a Raphael wine their 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon ($35). Cabernet Sauvignon can be a challenge to ripen depending on the vintage, but 2001 was a stellar year and this wine reflects that. Concentrated plum and blueberry flavors are seasoned with dark chocolate and minty notes. The tannins are firm, but not harsh like many California renditions. This wine is balanced.

The Wine Spectator isn't the one lauding Raphael these days, however.

In early May, Raphael was on NBC's hit show "The Apprentice" as a reward for that week's winning team. Donald Trump introduced Raphael as "the finest winery anywhere around and definitely the finest on Long Island," before three winning contestants from the "Synergy" team made their own wine with managing director and winemaker Richard Olsen-Harbich.

Sure, Mr. Trump is prone to hyperbole, but being featured on primetime television brings attention not only to Raphael but to Long Island as a premier wine-producing region.

The Modern, the Museum of Modern Art's (MoMA) fine dining restaurant has also started pouring "M" as its house red. Of course, every restaurant has house wines, so what's the big deal?

Well, with a wine list of over 900 wines the Modern could have chosen a house wine from anywhere in the world, but instead it stayed much closer to home the North Fork of Long Island. Olsen-Harbich, and Stephane Colling, wine director at The Modern, developed "M," a custom blend of 95% Merlot and 5% Malbec from the 2003 vintage. The wine is dark crimson with a nice balance between dark berry fruit and toasty-smoky aromas on the nose. The soft, somewhat fruity palate is dominated by Merlot, but the 5% Malbec is what makes this wine special and reminiscent of Bordeaux. It brings complexity with earthy, tobacco and smoky notes.

Just in time for the warm season, Raphael has released two summer sippers perfect for your next picnic, trip to the beach or dinner of local seafood.

Raphael's 2005 Sauvignon Blanc ($22) is a pale straw yellow and reflects a distinctive Long Island style not quite Old Word, but not quite New Zealand either. The nose offers scents of grapefruit, lemons and minerals while the palate brings similar flavors along with more tropical notes of kiwi and melon, with a slatey, mineral finish and even more acidity. I've tasted three or four vintages of this wine, and this is their best to date. 2005 really was a great year, even for whites.

Think you don't like Chardonnay? Think again. If oaky, buttery wines are what turn you off, pick up a bottle of Raphael's 2005 Grand Cru ($15). This wine, with its fresh and clean aromas and flavors of mineral water and crisp Bosc pear, will show you what Chardonnay actually tastes like. Reared 100% in stainless steel tanks, the grape's tongue-tingling acidity is preserved, making this wine versatile and refreshing. This isn't a wine to ponder and analyze just drink it and enjoy.

Raphael also makes several table reds, including an un-oaked Cabernet Franc and a great value Estate Merlot. They are open Thursday through Monday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and by appointment.

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