Since I have been doing this I have grown to realize that when it comes to Long Island Merlot, you have to first look at Raphael and their winemaker Richard Olsen-Harbich. I have tasted quite a few Merlot, maybe not as many as most, but I have always found Raphael Merlot to be at the top of my list. This Merlot was one of my favorites.
In 2005 Long Island had one of the driest seasons in almost 60 years. To be exact, according to the notes I received from Rich, “rainfall from May through October 1 totaled approximately 7 inches – the average for the region during the same period is approx. 15-19 inches”. That is very dry. Because of these factors, the fruit on the vines was able to ripen alot faster and the flavors were able to concentrate. It is believed that the 2005 season was the best on Long Island to that point, almost as good as the 2001.
So when I tasted this 2005 First Label Merlot from Raphael with Rich when I visited them at the end of the summer, I found myself at first enjoying the Raphael 2002 First Label alot. But as time went on, and I re-tasted this at home, I was drawn back to this wine. Every time I tasted this wine, there was something else happening. There were new layers being unfolded time and time again.
On the nose, I was getting this awesome black cherry, black berry, currants and juicy plum. There was a wonderful earthy aroma that mixed with the fresh tobacco aroma of when you first open a cigar box.
When I tasted this the dark berries that I enjoyed on my nose were now on my palate. The aroma of a humidor was very much present in the taste of this wine as well. The tannins were very nice and really made this wine strong.
I recall Rich explaining this wine, (hopefully I am correct, remember I did not take notes and if I am wrong, forgive me) it is still young, like a teenager trying to fit into its body, maybe playing basketball for the first time, limbs moving in all directions. But, the more you let this get adjusted, the better it is. By the 3rd day this wine was really showing well. The aromatics were strong and the taste was incredible.
Now for the sad news, this is not available in the tasting room. It did retail for about$18.00 and let me tell you, it drank like it was $40. A very solid wine and a great bang for your buck. If you ever do come across this wine, please pick it up and grab a bottle for me while you are at it.
(Apparently, my excitement for this wine had me all crossed up. The picture is the 2005 First Label Merlot, WHICH HAS NOT BEEN RELEASED YET. The notes I had received with the tasting were for the 2005 Estate Merlot. This review id for the Merlot Pictured Raphael 2005 First Label Merlot…Sorry for any confusion.)