BEHIND THE BOTTLE: Bedell First Crush 2009


A light and silky red in the North Fork style

One of the first questions that occurs to a red wine connoisseur when confronted with a Bordeaux blend of merlot and cabernet franc is how much time it has spent in wood. With Bedell’s First Crush bottling, the answer’s unexpected: none.

The 2009 is only the third vintage of the First Crush line, which is aged for nine months in stainless steel tanks, and fermented at cooler than-usual temperatures. The result is a young wine free of heaviness, which renders you free of care. Drinking it is all about fruit and freshness—strawberries, raspberries, cherries and red plums, with next to none of the more mind-and-palate-taxing elements brought on by tannin and oak.

If the wine seems to possess a little of the easygoing nature of Beaujolais—even though it’s made up of 77 percent merlot and 23 percent cabernet franc, with not a gamay cluster in sight—there’s a reason. Bedell blends in about 25 percent of wine that’s undergone carbonic maceration. That’s a method, widely used in Beaujolais, in which the clusters ferment whole, as opposed to being crushed first. The fermenting juice’s lack of exposure to the grapes’ skins results in a light and fairly tannin-free wine.

Bedell winemaker Richard Olsen-Harbich says the winery isn’t reinventing the wheel with First Crush. “I have done similar wines for years at other wineries,” he says. “It’s a local style, a North Fork style, if you will. The climate we have lends itself to the restraining of oak. It’s particularly advantageous for cabernet franc, which is an aromatic grape and tends to be lighter in body and more elegant.”

He adds that in recent decades many reds have been handled the same way in the Loire Valley—cabernet franc land. “The philosophy here is we don’t want to mask the flavor of the grape. None of the flavors in that fruit are covered at all by being in oak.”

While First Crush can, like some Beaujolais crus, develop over the course of a couple years, that’s not really the point. “The idea was to eliminate the time needed to put down wines to let them soften,” says Olsen-Harbich.

He calls First Crush—which is poured in Manhattan at SoHo’s Café Mae Mae, the Midtown Brazilian restaurant Plataforma, and the Essex House on Central Park South—”a red wine meant to be enjoyed quickly and near to the vintage.”

I agree. First Crush ought not be waited on. It should be uncorked upon purchase and enjoyed with dinner that very night, which could be, but need not be, a heavy piece of red meat. Taking a tip from a classic Loire Valley pairing, a simple grilled pork chop would probably pair even better. And you should have no trouble polishing it off. Light and silky, it glides on down, glass after glass. Then, like a good guest, it leaves and troubles you no further.

Robert Simonson writes about cocktails, spirits, wine and beer. His most recent book, The Gentleman Press Agent, was published in June by Applause.