Merlot Focus

In April, Donnell Brown, executive director of the Long Island Merlot Alliance, took a chance: She lined up 14 bottles of merlot-based wines, wrapped them in white paper and let chefs, writers, wine buyers and winemakers taste and rate them on a 100 point scale.

Behind the paper were seven bottles by members of the alliance—her bosses—and seven bottles of merlot from producers on the West Coast of the U.S. and France; all were from the 2007 vintage and all were, more or less, in the same price range.

Around 40 people showed up for the event at City Winery in Manhattan, and Brown’s risk paid off. The highest scoring wine—at 86.86—was the Christian’s Cuvée merlot from Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack, which goes for $100, the priciest wine on the table.

Admittedly the scoring was tight. The Swanson merlot from Napa, which is on the shelf for $29, was .40 points behind the Wölffer. The next Long Island merlot, McCall Wines’ “Ben’s Blend” came in sixth, with a score of 85.43.

In all, Brown (at left) was pleased with the turnout and the way the wines performed. The Merlot Alliance has been working since 2005 to raise awareness of what, they believe, is Long Island’s “signature” grape. Currently seven wineries belong to the consortium, which has sponsored research and organized events, including HARVEST, a wine auction and fund-raiser planned for this September 16 and 17.

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