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05.16.2006

2001 Macari Reserve Merlot, North Fork of Long Island, NY

macari_01_merlot.jpgI love the experience of gradually getting to know an new wine region. The more wines I have from Long Island, the more intrigued I am. Many of them are not great, which is typical of emerging wine regions, but every once in a while, you get a wine that shows the promise of a place, and the dedication and hard work of the folks who believe in it.

New York has played host to vineyards for about as long as European's have tried to live there. At first, European vine varieties were planted on the island of Manhattan itself, but settlers quickly realized it was not suited to growing wine. As settlers moved inland they met with more success, but viticulture was still minimal through the early 19th century. Around this time, a nurseryman on Long Island named William Robert Prince convinced folks to try cultivating indigenous varieties of grapes, and vineyard plantings exploded, primarily in the Finger Lakes region, which is still the largest area of wine production in the State.

Long Island has probably had vines on it in small quantities since Prince's time, but up until the eighties there were fewer than 500 acres of vines on the island. Long Island is split into two distinct AVAs and growing regions, the North Fork and the Hamptons, each covering one of the small fingers of land that stretch out from the northeastern tip of the island. These fingers of land which are surrounded by the Long Island Sound, the Peconic Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean are relatively temperate due to the ocean influence, avoiding both the heat spikes and the frost of lower long island and the mainland (though not always avoiding the hurricanes, which can kill vineyards with salt water).

The North Fork of the island has particularly austere soils, and as locals like to brag, a similar microclimate to Bordeaux, though without the variability in weather, making it an easy place to ripen red Bordeaux grapes, which dominate the region. While William Prince may have once cultivated many indigenous varieties of grapes, those are now mostly grown elsewhere, as the folks on Long Island have gradually realized what works (and what sells) for their soil.

Macari Vineyards is a relative newcomer to Long Island, starting in the mid 1990's and opening its doors to the public in the Spring of 1998. Founded by Joseph and Katherine Macari, the winery was conceived as a family operation. Joseph Macari, Jr. now runs the daily operations with his wife Alexandra, with guidance and enthusiasm from his parents. The winery is built on around 400 acres of land that has been in the family for more than four decades, but only recently was put to use as vineyard.

Macari produces about 17,000 cases of wine each year, which is spread thinly among a large portfolio of wines including Bergen Road (it's flagship Bordeaux Blend), a Cabernet Franc, a few Chardonnays, a white Table Wine, a Viognier, a Sauvignon Blanc, a bubbly, a dessert wine, and this Merlot.

Unfortunately specific winemaking details for this merlot were unavailable to me. The wines are made by consulting winemakers in conjunction with the Macari family. Last I knew, both Austrian winemaker Helmut Gangl and Chilean winemaker Paola Valverde were assisting. The wine is given a significant amount of bottle age at the winery before release. As I understand it, the 2001 is the current release.

Full disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample.

Tasting Notes:
An opaque, deep garnet color in the glass, this wine has a fantastically earthen nose of wet dirt, leather, sawdust, and just the barest hints of black fruit aromas. In the mouth it is silky and soft with velvet-plush tannins and a nice acid balance which wraps around a core of dark plum fruit. The finish is moderate and incorporates elements of cedar and the earthiness that characterized the nose. Like other NY Merlots, this is done in a Bordeaux, rather than California, style and is all the more successful and compelling for it. A pleasure to drink now and undoubtedly for years to come.

Food Pairing:
The tannic structure of this wine is soft enough that it doesn't demand red meat, but you could hardly go wrong pairing it with this beef brisket with portobello mushrooms and dried cranberries.

Overall Score: 9/9.5

How Much?: $23

This wine is available for purchase on the internet.

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