A Great Night with the Macaris

I’m a sucker for family-run wineries – real family-run wineries – where the owners and their offspring are vital to the operation’s success.

Macari Vineyards is one such winery. Owners Joe and Alexandra Macari run the operation, with Joe serving as the driving force behind the winery’s near-biodynamic viticulture. Alexandra – or “Alex” – can often be found in the Mattituck tasting room. Their daughter Gabriella lives in Brooklyn and sells the wines in New York. Joe Jr., having completed his viticulture education and training in the Finger Lakes, has returned home to help his father manage the vineyards.

California-born and trained winemaker Kelly Urbanik (formerly of Bedell Cellars) may not share their surname, but she feels at home with the Macaris. And, after spending an evening with the whole group, it’s clear that they feel a familial affection for her too.

Of course, this sort of family story doesn’t mean nearly as much if the wines aren’t good – but they are.  Very, very good in some cases.

We tasted nearly two dozen during my visit, and it is clear that the MacariUrbanikMother Nature partnership is making some of the winery’s best-ever wines.

The Macari Vineyards 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ($23) shows the coolness of the vintage, with melon, grapefruit, lemon zest and thyme notes –  with fresh, clean acidity and surprising length. A subtle hay note emerges as it warms a bit.

Steelfermented chardonnay can be a bit boring – oak has been used for centuries to bring complexity and aromatics – but a pair of unreleased Macari renditions showcase the type of vintage variation that Long Island vintners deal with every year. Macari Vineyards 2010 Estate Chardonnay (NA), from a hot, dry year is ripe and plump with golden apple, nutty lees – “lees” being the spent yeast in the bottom of the tank – and both a beautiful mid-palate roundness and balanced acidity. The 2011 Estate Chardonnay (NA) is almost completely different, bringing crisp, green apple flavors with intense freshness and acidity, and a bit less complexity.

Some observers lament Long Island’s lack of “value wines.” Typically, they mean wines in the under-$15 price range, where values can be hard to come by locally. Macari Vineyards NV Collina 48 Merlot ($13) is exhibit A for value at that price point. Made mostly from 2008 grapes, with some 2007 and 2006 blended in, it has a beautiful nose of plums, black cherry, wintergreen and aloe, with a savory palate. And did I mention that it’s $13?

The Macaris believe strongly in releasing their top red wines when they feel they are truly ready to drink, even if their accountants would prefer they move the wines more quickly. This attitude is all too rare on the North Fork, and it results in the opportunity to taste and buy wines when they’ve matured a bit. Macari Vineyards 2005 Reserve Merlot ($36) is the current release and it was the wine of the night for me. The nose is savory, combining dried red fruits — cranberry and cherry — with some fresh red cherries, black pepper and baking spice. Mixed fresh and dried fruit qualities are even more forward on the palate with a bit more brown spice and black pepper. Medium-intensity tannins are well-incorporated and subtle acidity keeps it fresh. Medium-long finish shows a little oak and leather. At $36, I consider this an incredible value.

When we were done tasting bottled wines, I joined Joe, Gabriella and Kelly in the cellar to taste some barrel samples – mostly 2010 reds. That’s right – while some wineries have already released 2010 reds, they are still in barrel at Macari, maturing and slowly evolving. There was intensity and quality across the board, but Joe is most excited about one barrel of Malbec. And all are excited about a single barrel of pinot noir that Kelly made.

See macariwines.com to learn more about Macari Vineyards, or visit their Mattituck and Cutchogue tasting rooms.

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