(This column will appear in an upcoming issue of Dan’s Papers)

Over the Barrel…With Lenn Thompson
Comtesse Therese Upcoming Releases

With wines and a winery that are winning awards left and right –including “Best New Winery” in Dan’s Papers’ annual “Best of the Best” contest – you’d think that Theresa Dilworth of Comtesse Therese could take a little time to relax and enjoy her early success.

In the wine world, it just doesn’t work that way.

As a boutique winery that focuses on quality over quantity, award-winning wines means one thing for Dilworth – they sell out quickly.

Her wines, available exclusively at The Tasting Room locations in Peconic and Jamesport, have been flying off the shelves for months. All of the reds are gone already, including the Hungarian Oak Merlot, which was named the Best Merlot in New York State this past summer.

With demand for Comtesse Therese wines at an all-time high, it was probably tempting to release the new vintages before they were ready, but an unwavering focus on making great wine has prevailed. 

I was lucky enough recently to taste five new and upcoming releases with Dilworth, her consultant winemaker Bernard Cannac, and her assistant winemaker Lisa Julian Cannac. The new wines are coming and there’s ample reason to be excited.

First we tasted the 2002 Comtesse Therese Rosé ($12), a bright, lively rosé without the cloying sweetness of many you’ll find in the U.S. If you don’t think you like pink wine, give this fruity one a try. It’s simply delicious with fresh goat cheese or on its own as an aperitif.

The 2003 Comtesse Therese Russian Oak Chardonnay ($18), builds on the tasty success of 2002 vintage. Just bottled a couple months ago, this barrel fermented and aged charmer is full and luscious without being heavy or over-oaked. With toasty vanilla and beautiful underlying fruitiness, it’s much more Burgundy than California. Try it out of the fridge, but then savor it as it warms a little.

Though still young, the 2002 Comtesse Therese Traditional Merlot ($18) displayed a complex combination of rich fruitiness and smoky oak with hints of dark chocolate. Aged in both American and French barrels, with 5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon thrown in, it’s an elegant pour that grew and developed with each sip.

The next bottle, the 2002 Comtesse Therese Cabernet Sauvignon ($25), is the first Cabernet release for the winery. Full and extremely smooth, it’s filled with classic cherry aromas and a nice amount of earthiness. In the mouth, the cherries remain, joined by soft, but structured tannins. Without a doubt, this is already one of the top Cabernet Sauvignons on the Island, and my favorite of the tasting.

Before the tasting was over, a chilled, unlabelled bottle was uncorked and poured. Pinkish-copper, it looked like a rosé, but quite different from the fist one we had tasted. When I took a sip, I knew immediately that it was unlike any other wine made in Long Island wine country. The 2003 Comtesse Therese Blanc de Noir is what I would call a semi-dessert wine made with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes (instead of the Merlot of the earlier Rosé). Beautifully floral on the nose with hints of honeysuckle, it offers light, bright peach fruitiness on the tongue, is slightly sweet and definitely delicious. It cries out alongside simple angel food cake or fruits.

These new wines will be released over the next couple of months, so keep an eye out for them at The Tasting Room and at www.tasting-room.com.

And, Dilworth recently purchased the old Jamesport Saddlery in Aquebogue with plans to open a French-style bistro that will focus on fresh, local ingredients and, of course, Long Island wines. Renovations are under way and the bistro should open in late 2005 or early 2006.

Lenn Thompson is a contributing wine writer for Dan’s Papers. Email him at lenn@lenndevours.com