By Lenn Thompson, Executive Editor


Now that Rich Olsen-Harbich has joined Bedell Cellars as head winemaker, this the kind of wine that I'm going to miss from Raphael, where he made wines for 14 years.

That's nothing against the next winemaker at Raphael, whoever that may be. The wines will be different. They have to be.

Raphael 2007 Natural Red ($26) is the first — and perhaps last — release of Naturale Red and I know that it is a wine Rich is extremely proud of. 

After one of the warmest growing seasons ever recorded on Long Island, the 100% merlot grapes were handpicked, sorted, de-stemmed and crushed by foot. The must was allowed to ferment using wild, indigenous yeasts, Rich's preferred method the last few years.

Throughout the winemaking process he eschewed refrigeration, fining and filtration, didn't add any sugar, enzymes or acids, and added only minimal sulfur at bottling. Prior to bottling, it spent 15 months in 30% new and 70% old American oak.

The result is a wine that shows both intensity and elegance — in a unique Long Island way.

The Old World nose is earthy — pick up a fistful of topsoil and smell it  earthy — with black cherry, thyme, espresso, chocolate, mint and smoky oak.

Full bodied with ripe-but-chewy tannins, there is an intense core of black cherry and blackberry here with dried fall leaves, spice, coffee and smoky oak that sticks out a bit, not fully incorporated.

The finish is long and earthy-spicy.

If you have a bottle of this at home, do yourself a favor and hide it. It needs more time in the bottle to really come together, but I think your patience will be rewarded. And at $26, it's one of the better values in age-worthy local reds.

Producer: Raphael
ABV: 13.5%

Tons/acre: 2.0

Brix at harvest: 25.5

TA: 4.0 g/l
Case Production: 150
Rating: 89

(Ratings Guide)