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A Daytrip to the Hamptons, a visit at Wölffer Estate

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This article is about our last trip to New York in September 2005. I wanted to write about it much earlier but somehow I never managed to do so. So here it is.
We came to New York to visit a friend for the holidays. Since we stayed more than a week in Manhattan, we decided to rent a car and make a daytrip to Long Island.
I read an article in my German Newspaper about wines being made in New York and was instantly interested in it. I thought it would be a good compromise to visit the Hamptons and at the same time to get a taste of its wines. So we drove up to Southampton on a beautiful sunny day, trees were red and yellow and the grass was green….the sand was… well you know what colour sand has I guess. Basically it was what I would call an Indian summer day.
Southampton is a nice little town with big white houses… felt like being in a Tommy Hilfiger or Gant advertisement! After we had lunch there we headed towards Sagaponack, took the Sagg road, and soon admired the impressive edifice which is the winery of Wölffer Estate

The vineyards all around the winery made a very neat impression since they looked all cut exactly at the same height and the space in-between was very generously measured. The winery itself looked like a big Italian countryside-villa with lots of wooden frames in the tasting room and a beautiful terracotta floor. But the most beautiful element is the stone terrace overseeing the vineyards. Simply stunning. The whole site looked very professional and one could see that a big amount of money and work has been invested in this relatively young estate founded in 1987 (in a young wine region).
It was kind of funny to see that this estate was actually founded by a German-born. So we travelled all the way from Frankfurt to Sagaponack to try wine from a German winemaker?


Not too far away from the estate

We weren’t the only visitors; some 5 parties were waiting inside the villa for getting a taste of the estates’ wines. For some bucks one could taste nearly the entire wine portfolio of Wölffer. We were quite curious if the wines would come up to our expectations which have been raised by the top notch appearance of the site.
Finally we got a nice table on the terrace.

At first we tried the 2004 Rosé. It is made of 80% Merlot, 15% Pinot Noir and 5 % Chardonnay; its colour comes from a one day “saignée”. It had a little minerality on the palate but the overall taste was quite sour which didn’t make it very enjoyable.

Next one: the 2003 Ferme Matin Chardonnay had a light apple nose but then again it had a bitterly note on the palate. Nevertheless I should mention a nice crisp acidity, quite uncommon for Chardonnays in my opinion. Maybe it is linked to the malolactic fermentation which has only been completed to 20%?

Then the 2002 Reserve Chardonnay which has matured in barriques. Its taste is similar to the last Chardonnay but with a nice creaminess. Here, obviously, the malolactic fermentation which transforms malic acid into much softer lactic acid has been completed to 100%. Unfortunately this one had a bitterly note too which restrained the drinking pleasure considerably.

The Premium Chardonnay of Wölffer Estate is labelled as selection. The 2001 selection Chardonnay we tried was much more pleasant than all other wines. It had creaminess and a certain honey aroma. But for 29$ a bottle one would expect more complexity. Every Chablis priced at 10$ is a better buy. The pricing is a rip-off in my eyes.

The 2001 Cuvée Sparkling Brut with 77% of Chardonnay and 23% of Pinot Noir was creamy and had a very fine and elegant perlage.

Then came the reds.

At First we tried La Ferme Matin Merlot 2001. It had a nice dark colour. The nose was a bit dusty and very secretive. On the palate one could feel relatively strong tannins. This wine was definitely too young to drink or maybe he would need some hours of decanting.

The 2002 Merlot Reserve had an earthy, smoky nose. On the palate it felt quite stiff although it had softer tannins. One could taste blackberry and a little peppery note. In the end I was irritated, couldn’t decide whether I felt that this wine had a certain lightness or if it was simply boring. Sometimes the 2 can come pretty close.

The 2001 Estate Merlot was much more satisfying. It had a nice colour. It had flavour of prune and rose in the nose and on the palate. It was full-bodied with well incorporated tannins and had a nice length. I guess this was my favourite of the whole tasting. But then again it is priced at 35 bucks…incredibly overpriced.

Finally we got a taste of the Verjus and the late harvest Chardonnay. The Verjus (unripe grape juice basically) was something new for me. It had a nice grape and chilli-pepper/paprika nose and tasted as if it contained some alcohol, but it didn’t. The late harvest Chardonnay was a typical late harvest although the mouth feel was a bit blunt. But it certainly had a great flavour of caramelized apples.

All in all it was a disappointing tasting. One could sense either that a lot of work has still to be done or that the climate is causing problems. What surprised me the most was that all the wines were tremendously overpriced. Is it because the wealthy Southamptonians buy only Southfork wine and create Wölffer wine price inflation? I can’t really imagine that Wölffer makes the best wines in Long Island!?

Unfortunately this was the only estate we were able to get a taste of. On our way home we took the ferry and drove down the North Fork. We realized that there were plenty of wineries who might have deserved to get a chance. Maybe I should have discovered Lenndevours wine blog about NY wines a bit earlier, I guess we would have chosen another itinerary.


Taking the last ferry to North Fork on the way back

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