Macari Vineyards Long Island North Fork
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Macari Vineyards Long Island North Fork

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Alexandra Macari of Macari vineyards in Long Island's North Fork. With my friend Pam Hunt, who is a native of the region, we sampled a number of Macari wines (alas, picking a very busy Saturday to do so). Founder Joe Macari, Alex's father-in-law, started planting grapes on the property in 1995, though the Macari family has owned the 500 acre estate for more than 50 years. As in much of the area these were once potato fields; now 180 acres are dedicated to the vine. The ebullient Alex found a corner of the tasting bar for us and proceeded to offer us ten wines, all very clean and profoundly honest.

Macari produces Sauvignon Blanc wines in two contrasting styles. The 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, $22, is stainless steel fermented, with a straightforward yet sassy nose of citrus and some fresh grassiness, a good touch of lime on both nose and palate with a further contribution of mango and pineapple on the palate. The wine finishes with tangy fruit. The 2007 Macari Sauvignon Blanc #1, $27, is the winery's first stab at an oak-aged Sauvignon Blanc, in this case seeing three months of new oak. The fruit on the nose is warm ripe apple with orange blossom. Though it brings substantial acidity, the wine is also medium plus bodied. Palate notes: apple, poached pear, some vanilla with very ripe pineapple in the background. Unctuous and soft on the finish.

The Macari 2008 Early Wine is 100% Chardonnay, bottled early, released early and designed to be enjoyed without undue delay. This wine is nearly water white, with a crisp nose giving superb grapefruit, concentrated grapefruit zest, green apple and a hint of mango. In the mouth twin peaks of acidity and balancing sweetness take turns stimulating. On the palate the early wine has an ocean breeze freshness with some stony minerality and citrus, in this case leaning more toward lime. The finish comes in a bit sweet.

As with the Sauvignon Blanc, Macari presents a “with-or-without” choice in its Chardonnays. The 2007 Estate Chardonnay, $19, is stainless steel fermented with no malolactic fermentation. The nose is apple, peach, and white floral, the palate very friendly with some peach, pear, mango and pineapple. Mouthfeel is soft and yet unquestionably the mouth enveloping sort typical of good Chardonnay. The finish is quite well balanced with firm fruit to the end. The 2007 Reserve Chardonnay, $23, is barrel fermented before being aged a year in French oak. The twin courses of oak bring a toasty buttery warmth to the nose. This is medium to full bodied wine with palate notes of roasted walnut, vanilla, a touch of clove, and a veritable cornucopia of fruit, all very ripe, apple, banana, kiwi. Acidity is workaday and well integrated. The finish is long and brings some of those stimulating kernel and pastry notes as a coda.

Macari produces a non-vintage wine they call Sette, $17, a blend of 50% Merlot and 50% Cabernet Franc (or is it the other way around?), aged 18 months in neutral and medium oak . I am a fan of this right bank Bordeaux inspired combination (although I think Cab Franc improves nearly everything it touches). The result is a deep ruby in color with a nose of cherry, red plum, a fresh uncut tomato right out of the field, freshly pressed olive oil (of the slightly spicy variety), baking spice, and pepper. Palate notes are similar, integrated well with moderate acidity and tannins that are capable of some work. Touch of mocha on the finish.

Macari's 2004 Reserve Merlot, $36, is a bigger statement entirely, a mainstream Merlot with good red plum, cherry, cedar and vanilla on the nose, darker fruit with baking spice and vanilla on the palate, very well rounded tannins and some firm acidity to move all that fruit along to a rather drawn out finish. Ripeness and well-used wood are the keywords with this wine.

The Macari 2004 Cabernet Franc is $27, and may I repeat the fact that I adore Cab Franc? You get vegetal notes of the finest sort in this wine: olive, celery, that tomato plant again (or rather the greens from the tomato plant), with baking spice. The fruit is red, or maybe it is black, tough to tell in this well integrated melange. Tannins are fine grained and yet energetic. The bottom line on this Cab Franc is mainstream delicious, with a satisfying earthiness I last tasted on my Loire tour.

Macari's 2004 Bergen Road, $43, is a Bordeaux style blend: 42% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Malbec and 5% Petite Verdot (I'm so glad that adds up to a hundred). Good red fruit in this one, all the baking spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, clove), and a bit of bramble on the palate (as one gets with wild berries) characterize this wine, which also has layers of dark chocolate, vanilla, and cedar. Round tannins chaperone these flavors and make sure they persist into a lip smacking finish.

We tasted for a finale the Block E 2005 dessert wine, $40, an ice-wine produced of Chardonnay, a grape not usually associated with sweet wines. I can only say it works. The nose is rich with melon, pineapple, honeysuckle, yet only as a prelude to a rich palate of apple, apricot, almond, honey and date. The wine has plenty of acidity to balance the sweet, leading to a finish that was drier than I would have thought. Sweet wines in general need more attention these days, and this wine does its part.

Verdict: Great wine so close to home

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Long Island's North Fork is weaving its way into our wine consciousness year after year.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award

Macari Vineyards in Long Island's North Fork.

Macari Vineyards in Long Island's North Fork.

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