It was a coming out party of sorts at The Modern on Monday night. Food and wine writers, restaurateurs and sommeliers, and wine dealers from Amagansett, New York, to Manhattan all gathered to see and taste the ambitious blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot that has been in the making—with great secrecy and drama—for the last three years at Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue on Long Island’s North Fork.
Emblazoned with a Chuck Close daguerreotype of a cluster of grapes, Musée aspires to hold rank with grand crus from Europe, South America, and other internationally recognized wine regions&mdas;and not just because of its superstar label, a recurring symbiosis for Michael Lynne, Bedell’s owner, a modern art collector, and a film producer credited with such titles as The Lord of the Rings, whose aesthetic ranges from Freddy Kreuger to Barbara Kruger, and who has seamlessly melded art and wine. Musée hopes to inspire, particularly the laggards of the wine world who haven’t seriously considered Long Island yet. Beaming like a proud parent while swirling a glass of the silky and slightly spicy drink evoking black plum and currant and pomegranate, Lynne declared, “Musée is only the beginning. This is the message.”
Some said it tasted of California. Howard Goldberg of the New York Times found it "fairly light and lithe," suggesting left bank of Bordeaux, rather than the typical fatter, weightier St.-Emilions of the other bank. Others felt that the wine was “wound-tight” and needed a bit of time to air, a bit of time to relax among all the exposure. The 2005 vintage was an incredibly ripe one on Long Island, with a hot, dry growing season largely absent of rain, except for a harvest time monsoon that some vineyards, including Bedell, managed to survive. But by the turnover of hors d’oeuvres trays, everyone seemed to agree that Musée felt equally comfortable with arugula quiche, skewered duck with watercress dip, and cucumber-wrapped tuna.
"I’m speaking of Bedell, not Mouton," toasted Pascal Marty, a viticultural consultant from Santiago, Chile, who was partly behind Musée, and who also helped create big, best-selling wines like Opus One and Viña Almaviva. "It has balance, elegance, agility. It has a signature. It is a wine you can identify when you taste it once. That’s what makes great wines both different and similar."
Since Musée’s release just three months ago, the winery has sold 300 of 800 magnums packaged in individual wood crates. The wine is a keeper, not just because of its collector’s edition label. “It could age for 20 years,” said Bedell’s head of operations, Trent Preszler. The more observant attendees noted the wise selection of a bottle with a particularly deep punt to facilitate decanting. Such bottles are becoming more and more rare, and now shine as pieces of art, just like the wine and label. (The 400-case production is also selling as single bottles for $65 or in hand-crafted wooden boxes of six for $390.)
"I believe Long Island wine has already found greatness and still has great potential," said Alex von Bidder, managing partner at The Four Seasons. "The challenge is still selling it.” He took a deeper sip. "This is eminently drinkable. It speaks for itself. I would love to have it with my dinner tonight.”
Bonnie Munshin, general manager of Nick & Toni’s in East Hampton, called it "yummy" several times and then clarified: "It’s full-bodied but not overwhelming."
Which, in some ways, is becoming indicative of Long Island’s cool, maritime terroir: moderate alcohol levels which do not overpower the fruit flavor, and fruit flavor nuanced enough that it doesn’t overpower the wine. "It’s fruity, but it’s like a good fruit," said Marty. "It’s not like when fruit is too ripe and it becomes bad. It’s like a perfect peach or apricot."
As for the artist’s contribution to the wine, Close explained that he was momentarily stumped when he received the refrigerated container from Bedell with a cluster of just-harvested grapes. “I didn’t know what to do with it.” He ultimately configured the fruit and errant leaves into a timeless pose reminiscent of Greek nudes. Close, who is old friends with Lynne from their mutual days as fathers escorting children to the New York City bar mitzvah circuit, has already been invited to do labels for a major European wine maker. "I can’t do grapes again," he sighed to an assistant. "I have to come up with something different."
About the author: Brian Halweil is the editor of Edible East End, the magazine that celebrates the harvest of the Hamptons and the North Fork. He is also publisher of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. He writes about the things we eat from the old whaling village of Sag Harbor, New York, where he and his wife tend a home garden and orchard and go clamming when the tides allow.