The science and study of archaeology is one of curiosity: finding out who we were—and, in effect, who we’ve become—by digging deep, sometimes quite literally. It’s an endeavor that dates back millions of years, starting with bits of stone used as crude tools, kind of like the arrow or spearheads you might find on rare occasions when digging in the dirt in eastern Long Island; similar to the Clovis point on the bottle of the eponymous winery’s first release of their ambitious red blend, aptly named Archaeology.
By pricing at $60 a bottle, owner Hal Ginsberg and his partners are putting Archaeology—a blend of 56 percent merlot, 21 percent cabernet sauvignon, 11 percent cabernet franc, and an equal split of the rest between syrah and petit verdot—into a particular category. A collectible one. One that you might expect may even tell you something about where the Long Island wine industry was and where it is. And it does.
“The 2007 is our first vintage of Archaeology, and the idea was try to make the best wine we can in the best years,” says winemaker John Leo, who has crafted Clovis Point’s wines from Premium Wine Group’s facilities since 2004. “It was a terrific vintage because all varietals did well that year—and that doesn’t always happen.” Some years other varietals come in weak, he says. As in the way that merlot is sensitive to fungus and rot; one rainy fall and the merlot falters, but then other varietals may well come in strong. “Years can be off one way or other, but 2007 was a nice summer, really warm and dry; and the big thing was September and October were really nice—very little rainfall, low humidity, like what we’re getting now,” he says on a bright, dry, sunny afternoon in mid-September (a season that seemed to bode well for a 2012 Archaeology, fingers crossed, to join the yet-to-be released 2010). “So we decided to make a statement wine.”
What kind of a statement does it make? Like a hidden piece of treasure popping out of the ground, the 2007 Archaeology grabs you immediately with some pretty spectacular aromatics. There are distinct and concentrated notes of black cherries, cassis and mulberry, and something akin to a little mint and meat. Then right off the bat in your mouth you’ll note the dryness of the prominent tannins, like a little cleated army spreading out across your tongue. It’s a sensation that shows this wine’s youth, but also promises good things in the structure for years to come. Leo agrees: “The tannins tell me it’s got time. At 10 years old, it should be pretty nice wine.”
But the excitement here isn’t merely in the future. Sip it and you get an elegant wash of black cherries and blackberries filling your mouth, all silky and plush, but never pushing the flavors over the top into clumsiness. Then come the notes of spice and cedar on edges, and finally the taste of toast and a little bit of cocoa powder on finish, while the fruit lingers on demurely. It is a lovely, well-structured wine; one that you’d do well to lay down for five years or so and revisit.
This is no happy accident, though. There’s a deft hand at work in the blend here, and that hand is Leo’s. Like the science behind the wine’s name, Leo’s work asks that you dig in and dig deep; this isn’t a wine to gulp and forget about. It’s a pretty special piece of history frozen in time. Not just because it’s the first, and not just because every vintage tells the story, but because this wine also uses in the blend a couple of never-to-be repeated bits: part of a barrel of a particularly lovely 2007 syrah that Leo bought from Bruce Schneider, and some established cabernet sauvignon fruit from a plot that Clovis had leased, but which the owner of the land decided to rip out and replant after the 2007 vintage. Not only is that component of the wine potentially going to be different; it doesn’t even exist anymore. Its prominence on the nose is an echo of the past—one of power and grace and structure. And this, in the amount of 370 cases, is the last of it.
“The big surprise was that the cabernet sauvignon got as ripe as it did. The grape is a late-season ripener, and a lot that was planted on the North Fork initially were clones meant for California’s warmer climate,” says Leo. “I’d say eight months after that wine went into barrel I knew it was strong enough of a contender to go into that blend.”
The syrah was a lucky piece of serendipity, and Leo loved it for its white-pepper quality and nice currant and spice notes. “It really does make the middle palate broader and silkier—I thought it would add to the aromatics, too.” Even in such a small amount, it complements the similar qualities that the merlot affords here, a grape Leo likes very much, but despite its Long Island calling-card sound-bite potential, Leo still strongly believes in the power of the blend, and certainly the power in this blend.
“I’ll agree that it’s still young. Ever since we started pouring it in the tasting room, some days it’s showing really nice when we open it but the next day it’s even better. It needs air to start unraveling,” says Leo. “It’s a young wine and I think it’s pretty impressive, but it will be even more so as it slowly evolves.” When I tasted the wine, I poured and let it sit in my glass on the counter in a cool part of my kitchen for a good half hour or so before I let it tell me its lovely sensory story. And it was such a good one, I plan to pick up another bottle, bury it deep in my cellar and dig it up like a lost artifact down the line. I can only imagine what it will say to me about itself, and about Long Island, somewhere in the future.
Amy Zavatto grew up on Shelter Island and writes about food, wine and spirits from her home on Staten Island.