For our first winery of the new year, we headed to Macari, which we had last visited when it boasted the award of “Best Winery of 2014.” We would have been back sooner, but cancelled our visits when the attractive tasting room proved too crowded and noisy for us. This time, in the doldrums of January, there were still plenty of people, including a large group in the room off to one side, but we found a place at the bar and a smart and attentive server.
Plenty of space for large groups in the side room.
The menu offers three options—Estate, of four of their lower priced wines for $10; Cuvee, of five for $15; and Vintage, of five of their best wines for $20. Since none of the lists overlapped, we decided to share two tastings, one of the Cuvee and one of the Vintage. Because both menus included whites and reds of varying types, we wanted to alternate so as not to try to follow a riesling with a sauvignon blanc. Why? As we’ve learned, if you try to taste a light dry wine like a steel-fermented sauvignon blanc after a sweeter, more substantial wine like a riesling, you won’t be as able to appreciate the lighter wine.
Our server first wanted to pour our two tastings simultaneously, but after we explained the philosophy behind our preference she quickly caught on, and made sure to pour the wines in an order that made sense. We were particularly impressed with her ability to keep track of what we were doing since she also was serving other customers and running off to the side room as well. She also was enthusiastic about the wines, sharing her preferences and knowledge about the wine, only once having to resort to a “cheat sheet” to give us information we requested.
As we sipped, we admired the nicely done holiday decorations and the attractive labels on the wines, and afterwards we browsed the small but good collection of wine-related gifts. Note they don’t allow outside foods, and sell a variety of snack and cheese items. I’m listing the wines in the order in which we had them, marking the Vintage wines with an *.
- Sauvignon Blanc ’14 $24
This is a steel –fermented sauvignon blanc, with an aroma that reminds me of the water in a vase after the flowers have begun to decay—which doesn’t sound all that appealing, but is fine when combined with citrus. Good, we decide, nicely crisp, but delicate, with a touch of sweetness—perhaps more Meyer lemon than lemon. Of course it would pair well with local oysters or clams, but if you had it with shrimp I would leave out the cocktail sauce, which would overwhelm this wine.
- Sauvignon Blanc ’14 (concrete egg) $27
Ooh, this is just the sort of exercise I love: Trying two wines side by side, made from the same grapes, but treated differently. In this case, “concrete egg” refers to the egg-shaped concrete cask they use to ferment the wine, our server explains, and adds that since concrete is more porous than steel but less porous than wood, and without the flavor added by a wood cask, the results are quite different and, she thinks, better. We agree. The aroma is complex, with perhaps a hint of nutmeg or other spices and a taste that is a touch sweeter without being too sweet, with some acidity and a taste of greengage plums. No finish. Mysteriously, the label bears the word “Lifeforce.”
- *Dos Aguas ’13 $27
“Dos Aguas” refers to the two waters between which the vineyards are located: Peconic Bay and Long Island Sound. Many people feel that these “two waters” contribute to the North Fork’s excellence as a grape-growing region, since they have the effect of moderating the climate. This is a blend of chardonnay, viognier, riesling, and sauvignon blanc, and is another good wine. The aroma makes me think of sticky fruits and the taste includes minerality, figs, and tangerines. Though the riesling does contribute some sweetness, it is well balanced with some acidity. It would go well with one of my favorite dishes, pasta tossed with a variety of seafood.
- *Riesling ’13 $23
Ah yes, we are definitely glad that we tasted this one last of the whites, as its sweetness would have interfered with appreciating the others. This is the only wine, our server informs us, that uses grapes not grown on the estate, since the riesling grapes in this come from the Finger Lakes region (not unusual for Long Island wineries, as upstate is known for its good riesling). The aroma is honey, the taste like a green apple on the sweeter side, like a Mutsu, not a Granny Smith. “Toot suite,” jokes my husband, as he complains that this wine is sweeter than he likes. It is sweeter than a dry riesling, but I don’t find it unpleasantly so. With spicy food you’d welcome that flavor.
- Merlot Estate $15
Burnt sugar? Cinnamon toast? We discuss the smell, which in any event is not typical for a Long Island merlot. Our server lets us in on the secret that although this wine is more than 80% merlot it also has some syrah, cabernet franc, and cabernet sauvignon, which may help explain the aroma. It may also explain the taste, which is quite good for an inexpensive merlot, and makes this a good choice for a table wine. It is fairly soft, with no tannins and some acid, and would go well with veal or pork, rather than steak.
Full disclosure: We already knew we like Sette.
- Sette NV $19
We are quite familiar with Sette, since we often order it in local restaurants. In fact, we just shared a bottle of it at Michelangelo’s last week, when it went well with eggplant parmesan and pasta with sausage and broccoli rabe. This is a blend of 50/50 merlot and cabernet franc (not of seven wines, as you might assume from the name, which instead refers to the town Settefratti, which was the home town of the Macari family). The smell is warm, with some spice and wood, the taste cherry with again some acid but not much tannin.
Cute drawing on the Dos Aguas.
- *Dos Aguas Red Blend ’10 $30
Blend? Yes, of cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot. We smell wet hay and wood, taste pleasant dark fruits. This is a soft, easy to drink red, and would be good, I opine, to sip while cooking—and ruining the food? theorizes my husband. Ha.
- *Merlot Reserve ’10 $36
After aging 26 months in French oak, this wine has more tannins than the previous reds, with a typical merlot aroma of cherry plus oak. Not powerful, but pleasant, this is a good wine if you want to introduce someone to Long Island merlots.
Apparently the Bergen Road is also available in a huge bottle.
- *Bergen Road ’10 $46
Since I ask, our server looks up the proportions of this red blend: 56% merlot, 26% cabernet sauvignon, 13% cabernet franc, 3% malbec, and 2% petit verdot. A Right Bank Bordeaux. The color is quite dark, and so is the taste, with plenty of tannin and acid and delicious dark fruits. Yum.
Block “E” looks and tastes very like a sherry.
- Block “E” ’12 $32 (for a small bottle)
Ice wine is supposed to be made with grapes picked after the first frost, but since that frost tends to come pretty late on the North Fork (as in it just happened), instead the grapes are picked fairly late, when they have developed quite a bit of sugar, and then frozen before being made into a dessert wine. In both color and taste this reminds us of a semi-sweet sherry, with a bit of a honey aroma. When I ask, we are informed it is made from merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and malbec grapes. Good dessert wine, it would be nice with some almonds.
Reasons to visit: good all-around winery, with plenty of tasty options and a big room with tables for groups; nice selection of gifts; reasonable prices (if we didn’t have all the wine we need at the moment we would have bought several of the wines); the “concrete egg” Sauvignon Blanc, the Dos Aguas white and red, the Merlot Estate, the Sette, the Bergen Road.