Last week I was asked to be a judge at a merlot wine tasting and dinner sponsored by the Long Island Merlot Alliance. As a fan of the efforts of Long Island winemakers and their wines since the late 1970's, I served them when I was the chef at Gracie Mansion in 1979 (specifically those from Hargrave Vineyards and Lenz Winery). Now, at City Winery on Varick Street, I was in the company of a cadre of esteemed wine writers, including Howard Goldberg from the New York Times, Joshua Greene, publisher of Wine & Spirits, Robin Kelley O'Connor from Christie's, and Patricia Savoie from the Wine Media Guild.
While we thought the task at hand was to rate 14 merlots from Long Island, there were seven "decoys" from France and California in the mix. The results showed that few could identify the French and California wines. This amused a handful of us and it showed the promise of Long Island's viticulture, making those seven merlots (and several of the winemakers present) very proud. I particularly enjoyed a merlot from McCall Vineyard from the North Fork known as Ben's Blend ($45) and also a Merlot Reserve from Castello di Borghese, also from the North Fork ($29). The wine that took first place (from both the afternoon and evening tastings) was the Wölffer Estate Vineyard Christian's Cuvee Merlot (The Hamptons) at $100 a bottle. (Who knew?) All the wines were from the 2007 vintage. The spread between the top wine (Wölffer) was 86.86 and the last (Chateau La Croix Saint-Georges from St. Emilion) was 82.96; narrow indeed.
Dinner was lovely, especially the company. I was seated next to the beautiful Ann-Marie Borghese (from Castello di Borghese) who is the last person you'd ever expect to see at New York's farmer's markets four days a week pouring her wines. I can't wait until she comes to the Park Slope market up the street from our house in Grand Army Plaza at the end of May. All in all, it was a great evening for Long Island, for merlot (which I tend not to cozy up to), and for the wonderful tradition of blind tastings, good food and conversation.
Great partners? Merlot and wine-dark short ribs. Here's the recipe from my Recipes 1-2-3 Menu Cookbook. It has a secret ingredient (hoisin!) which makes it really delicious and radically simple to prepare. A votre sante. Wine-Dark Short Ribs Serve with your favorite mashed potatoes or with brown rice studded with sun-dried cherries.
4 pounds short ribs, cut between the bones (cut in half across the bone, if desired) 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce 2 cups merlot
Place the ribs, 1/2 cup hoisin, and 1 cup merlot in a large, nonreactive bowl. Cover and marinate overnight in the refrigerator. Remove ribs from marinade. Transfer the marinade to a heavy pot large enough to hold the ribs in one layer. Add 3 cups water, the ribs, and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Cover and cook slowly over low heat for 2-1/2 hours, turning several times during cooking. Meanwhile, place remaining cup of merlot and 2 tablespoons hoisin in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower heat and reduce until 1/2 cup. Set aside. When tender, remove short ribs with a slotted spoon. Bring liquid to a boil and cook until thick and syrupy. Whisk in enough of the reserved wine reduction until you have a well-balanced sauce. Add salt to taste. Pour sauce over ribs and serve immediately. Serves 4