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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.

Comments (9)

Brett wrote:
05.17.06 at 7:57 AM

Great timing! I am intriqued by the potential of that area, and am anxious to taste the samples I am holding from a small Connecticutt (hate spelling that!) winery just two miles from the north shore of the Sound. Sounds like they are doing some good stuff with the Bordeaux's and Chards.

Greg wrote:
05.17.06 at 1:56 PM

It's nice that they have a wine region so close to NYC, but most of the wine isn't really top notch, at least not yet. I just can't help thinking that it is too cold and wet for grapes, but who knows. Some of the wines are OK - not sure if they will ever correlate price w quality however, because of the real estate costs. Anyway, the Finger Lakes region a little bit north in NY State are producing some great rieslings. And the prices are a little better too. I think if NYS is going to be a wine producing region, the rieslings are going to be the place.

JD wrote:
05.17.06 at 4:52 PM

I've done a couple of trips through Long Island wine country in the last 6 years, and Macari and Wolffer were my favorites of the most recent trip. As you say, many are still finding their way, but there's a lot of good wine being made on LI today. However, the cabs often are too green.

Lenn wrote:
05.18.06 at 5:50 PM

Nicely done, Alder. I truly hope to be able to take you around Long Island wine country one of these days. Plan a trip, my friend.

In the mean time, I am planning to jam as many LI wines in my luggage as possible...perhaps we'll enjoy them when we dine together next month.

Macari makes some very nice wines indeed and I'm glad they have you on their press list :) What else did they send you? Block E dessert wine by any chance?

JD...you've just not tasted the right cabs. Focus on the western-most vineyards and you'll find much less green cabs. Personal favorite right now is Roanoke Vineyards.

And Greg...while I agree with you that many of the Nicely done, Alder. I truly hope to be able to take you around Long Island wine country one of these days. Plan a trip, my friend.

In the mean time, I am planning to jam as many LI wines in my luggage as possible...perhaps we'll enjoy them when we dine together next month.

Macari makes some very nice wines indeed and I'm glad they have you on their press list :) What else did they send you? Block E dessert wine by any chance?

JD...you've just not tasted the right cabs. Focus on the western-most vineyards and you'll find much less green cabs. Personal favorite right now is Roanoke Vineyards.

And Greg...while I agree with you that many of the Nicely done, Alder. I truly hope to be able to take you around Long Island wine country one of these days. Plan a trip, my friend.

In the mean time, I am planning to jam as many LI wines in my luggage as possible...perhaps we'll enjoy them when we dine together next month.

Macari makes some very nice wines indeed and I'm glad they have you on their press list :) What else did they send you? Block E dessert wine by any chance?

JD...you've just not tasted the right cabs. Focus on the western-most vineyards and you'll find much less green cabs. Personal favorite right now is Roanoke Vineyards.

And Greg...while I agree with you that many of the Nicely done, Alder. I truly hope to be able to take you around Long Island wine country one of these days. Plan a trip, my friend.

In the mean time, I am planning to jam as many LI wines in my luggage as possible...perhaps we'll enjoy them when we dine together next month.

Macari makes some very nice wines indeed and I'm glad they have you on their press list :) What else did they send you? Block E dessert wine by any chance?

JD...you've just not tasted the right cabs. Focus on the western-most vineyards and you'll find much less green cabs. Personal favorite right now is Roanoke Vineyards.

And Greg...while I agree with you that many of the

Lenn wrote:
05.18.06 at 5:55 PM

BTW...I'm 99% sure that Paola Valverde makes this wine. Helmut focuses on their dessert wine and their nouveau-style chardonnay.

Oh...and they haven't made the bubbly or the viognier in years...

wineglut wrote:
05.19.06 at 2:43 PM

I think the North Fork of Long Island is one of the most intriguing wine regions in the country. With the Sound to the North and the Bay to the south where else can you tend a vineyard all day and then take the boat out for an evening adventure? Where else can you hop on a train in a rural station and arrive in Penn Station 90 minutes later. The flat, well drained and sandy soils and the strong marine influence give it distinctive regional traits.

I stayed at a friend’s summer home in Mattituck the first visit and the local wine culture reminded me of the Napa Valley 30 years ago. Lousy restaurants, lousy produce in the stores despite being surrounded by lush organic gardens that feed the New York restaurant scene. I bought a half dozen wines in the local grocery and every one was fresh, fragrant, true to the variety,tasted of the place and were unadorned by self conscious winemaking. I think it is a shame to compare this region to anything but itself. God protect us lest they begin to let their grapes hang till they are raisins and start using new Taransaud barrels.

I met a nice young fellow, a regular guy, who had quit his job in Manhattan, never farmed before, bought 20 acres, plunked his family down, got a dog and a tractor, planted Merlot and Syrah, and was living a dream...and staked a lot on it coming true. He was going to sell grapes, then maybe make wine.

I walked the Syrah with him and his dog, it was the first Syrah planted that he knew of. A lot of hope riding on it being right for the growing region. The last I saw of him as I drove off he was bent over a Syrah vine his rambunctious young dog had broken at the graft, I was struck by the look of hurt in his eyes. This was personal.

I've been rooting for the region ever since.

Alder wrote:
05.19.06 at 3:13 PM

What are you trying to do, upstage my review !? ;-) (kidding). Great story, and thanks for sharing.

Pam wrote:
06.30.06 at 12:51 PM

There is a nice little spot to have lunch on Love Lane in Mattituck called Patti B's. She serves up panini,wraps and desserts and you just might enjoy sitting on the covered porch. Check it out when you are in town.

Anonymous wrote:
07.17.08 at 1:44 PM

Can i purchase a botle of Macari Chardonnay 2004 on long Island?

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