Members of the Roanoke Vineyards wine club tasting 2008 reds in the Wolffer Estate cellar.

By Lenn Thompson, Editor-in-Chief

Friday night, on a cold, windy East End night, I joined 20 or so members of Roanoke Vineyards' wine club at Wolffer Estate Vineyards (where Roanoke's wines are made) to taste Roanoke Vineyards' 2008 reds from barrel.

It was part wine club event, part futures tasting — the winery's first — and offered an excellent opportunity to taste these wines for the first time. Plus, it's always a pleasure to taste and talk with winemaker Roman Roth and Roanoke Vineyards co-owner, and long-time grape grower, Rich Pisacano.

Richie1After hearing Pisacano (pictured at right) tell the tale of the 2008 growing season at his Riverhead vineyard, I think he would be bored and possibly miserable if he were growing grapes in the Napa Valley or any other hot, dry region.

I'm serious. I think it'd be too easy and stress-free for him.

Think about that for a minute and then I'll point out that his favorite grape is cabernet sauvignon.

2008 was a fairly typical growing season on Long Island. It started a bit slowly, with cool spring temperatures that delayed bud break but higher-than-average temperatures in the summer and fall helped vineyards catch up. Intermittent periods of high humidity and disease pressure meant however that, according to Pisacano, things "didn't come easy."

"2008 was an exciting, fun, memorable year because you didn't win easy," said Pisacano, adding "In this climate, we fight the fight, and we delivered fruit that was mature."

Pisacano added that, particularly in years like 2008, he "manipulates the vineyard so that there's not a need to manipulate the wines in the cellar." That was when Roth, who has worked with Pisacano for many years, added "There is a goal for perfection."

We tasted 7 wines, and even in their youth, each shows potential.

Note that none of these wines are released yet and that the prices and case production are estimated:

Roanoke Vineyards 2008 Cabernet Franc ($34 |175 cases)

High-toned red fruit with black pepper and hints of toasty vanilla and "good" green. Ripe, good length and a bit of green olive salinity.

Roanoke Vineyards 2008 Merlot ($45|150 cases)

A little austere, this flagship wine is just a baby. Pretty red and black cherry with hints of cocoa powder and a floral edge. Grippy, but ripe, tannins. Long, elegant finish.

Roanoke Vineyards 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon ($40 | 150 cases)

Rich color. Spicy with blueberry and darker fruit and a round, warm vanilla edge. Some American oak-coconut peaking through. Oak is a bit forward now, but this is another baby wine. No underripe flavors or astringent tannins.

Roanoke Vineyards 2008 Marco Tulio ($24 | 290 cases)

More new oak than the 2007 (40% this time). Plummy with blackberry and raspberry, baking spice. Rich fruit core with chocolate and coffee on an elegant finish.

Roanoke Vineyards 2008 Blend One ($34 | 175 cases)

Dark fruit — blueberry and fig — with chocolate, licorice, cherry confection and leathery hints. Complex even at this stage. A little lead pencil in the background. Oak understated, mostly coming through as vanilla.

Roanoke Vineyards 2008 Gabby's Cabernet Franc ($38 | 100 cases)

Bright red cherry with big aromas of molasses, milk chocolate, mint and spice. Ripe on the palate with impressive complexity for this stage. Elegant, but full-flavored and well structured.

Grapes of Roth 2008 Merlot (Expected release in 2014)

Special bonus. Extremely taut and closed, but shows some classic Long Island traits. Cherry and focused lead pencil/graphite. A little earthy. Hard to evaluate really.