Red wines from the 2003 vintage — even those made with the region’s
signature variety, merlot — have proved inconsistent in my tastings.

Some wines, from
some vineyards are delicious — elegant and classic Long Island. Others tend to
be light on flavor and even a little ‘green’ in their under-ripeness.
Some wineries didn’t even bother making first label or reserve wines in 2003, declassifying the vintage.

So what caused this inconsistent vintage? Poorly timed rain and October frosts — two of
them actually. Rain, obviously, can dilute flavors and frost kills the
canopy. Without the engine to drive the sugar-making machine, those
beautiful little bunches just aren’t going to ripen any further.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that the frosts didn’t wipe everything out. Some vineyards or at least sections of some vineyards survived and thrived, so the vintage is not one to be avoided across the board.

The other good news is that wineries that didn’t make reserve
wines put grapes from their best, oldest lots into the de-classified

Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue has long been
known for its merlot. In fact, founding winemaker Kip Bedell is known
in these parts as Mr. Merlot, and this 2003 bottling is reminiscent of
his style.

This wine is 94% merlot with 4% cabernet sauvignon and 2%
cabernet franc and it was aged for 14 months in French-coopered
American oak barrels. The nose featured red cherry, vanilla and smoky
aromas. The palate is medium bodied with cherry, vanilla and cola with
a subtle earthiness and medium tannins. The finish isn’t particularly
lengthy or nuanced, but this is a good wine from a less-than-good year.

Price: $18 (though I picked it up for $8 on sale)
Grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc
AVA: North Fork of Long Island