Marthaclara_releases Okay, it’s official. Martha Clara Vineyards (and its
winemaker, Gilles Martin) have climbed up my ranking of Long Island
vineyards. I don’t actually have a list from one to thirty-plus, of
course, but what was once a winery highlighted by its high-profile
events is really starting to win me over with what matters — the juice.

Sure, they still make (and sell) a ton of their white zinfandel-esque
rose (isn’t the beagle-adorned label cute?) and the Glacier’s End line
of wines, but a look further down on the tasting sheet reveals wines
with nice varietal character that are worth elbowing your way up to
their always-packed tasting bar for.

The recently released Martha Clara Vineyards 2004 Riesling ($15) and
Martha Clara Vineyards 2004 Gewurztraminer ($16) both sport new label
designs that feature deer crossing street signs — deer are indigenous
and can actually ravage vineyards if allowed to feast on the grapes.
Riesling and Gewurztraminer are probably my two favorite white
varietals and these are respectable versions.

The riesling is extremely pale yellow in the glass and offers faint,
but typical floral aromas with apple and faint white peach notes as
well. Feathery light in the mouth with flavors of rose petals, peach
and minerals, this wine would really shine with a bit more acidity.
Without it, this isn’t quite the great food wine top Rieslings are.

Lack of acidity plagues the gewurztraminer a bit as well. Similar in
color, the nose doesn’t have the pronounced lychee aromas often found
in Gewurtz. It’s more of a background note behind lemony-citrus, sweet
spice and mineral scents. A little residual sugar means that this is an
off-dry wine and that sweetness is noticeable because of the slightly
underwhelming acidity. This is my least favorite of the new whites.

Local producers are doing some great things with sauvignon blanc these
days. Martha Clara Vineyards 2004 Sauvignon Blanc ($16) could
use a
label design upgrade, but it’s what’s inside the bottle that counts,
and in this case it’s not half bad. It takes a little extra swirling to
coax the faint grapefruit and lemon aromas out of this wine but fresh
acidity and citrus flavors make this easily recognizable as sauvignon
blanc, even if it’s a bit neutral in the flavor department.

Far and away my favorite of the whites is the Martha Clara Vineyards
2004 Viognier ($16)
. Light straw yellow, it offers soft aromas of
peach, apricot and ripe pears accented by the faintest hints of nutmeg.
The mouthfeel is soft, full bodied and tongue coating, while the
flavors range from ripe golden delicious apple to juicy peach. The
acidity is subtle and gives way to a fruity, appley finish.

As I often find with Martha Clara wines, no matter how much I enjoy the
best whites, it’s the red wines that jump out and demand attention and
praise. It’s no different with Martha Clara Vineyards’ 2002 “50” Five-O
red table wine ($25)
. This blend of fifty-percent merlot, twenty
five-percent cabernet sauvignon, fifteen-percent cabernet franc and
ten-percent syrah is the “son” of Martha Clara’s “6025” Meritage (an
Over the Barrel favorite) and it is chewy, juicy and ripe. A deep
violet, slightly inky crimson in the glass, its nose suggests ripe
raspberries, amaretto and understated vanilla. With good structure,
medium body and, lush mouth feel and juicy raspberry jam flavors spiced
with oak, the Syrah component, while small, is evident.

Why is it called Five-O? I assumed it was because the blend is
50-percent merlot, but Ben Coutts, marketing manager for Martha Clara,
told me “(Martha Clara Vineyard’s owner) Mr. Entenmann has gained the
nicknamed Five-O around the vineyard” because (he) believes that anyone
over fifty (he’s 78) knows it all.”

No matter the explanation behind Five-0, I respect and appreciate
Martha Clara’s dedication to red blends. They do a great job with them.
But with the big “50” on the label, it is the ideal wine to serve at
any fiftieth celebration.

So why did I call this a “glowing” review? Take a
bottle of the riesling, gewurztraminer or Five-O into a dark room and
you’ll see. The
labels actually glow in the dark. Coutts wouldn’t give away the
surprise, but he told me, “Wait until you see what the label on the
(upcoming) “50” white blend does.” I can’t wait to find out.

                  For more information on Martha Clara Vineyards, call 298-0075.

(This story appeared in the 10/14 issue of Dan’s Papers)