March is a time of pure potential at the East End’s wineries. Last year’s triumphs and challenges are in the bottle and there’s no going back. Now the sun is stirring the cold sap in the vines and everyone’s excited about the coming season all over again.
I like to drink Macari Vineyards’ Early Wine ($20) in the spring as it’s the kind of clean, pretty white we naturally tend to start enjoying this time of year. “This is always a very special wine for us,” said Macari’s winemaker Kelly Koch. “It’s a celebration of the growing season and the harvest.” It’s done in the style of an Austrian Jungwein, which literally means “young wine.” Instead of spending time aging in tanks or barrels it’s bottled as soon as it’s made, resulting in a very simple, unaltered, fresh expression of the grape.
The inspiration for the Early Wine comes from Macari’s consulting winemaker and family friend, Helmut Gangl, who has his own winery and vineyard in Burgenland, on the border between Austria and Hungary. Macari will be celebrating the 15th bottling of Early Wine since Helmut produced the first in 2003.
Like all wines, the Early Wine is a little different every year, depending on the weather. It’s made of 100 percent chardonnay in stainless steel, and it’s sometimes more citrusy and lean, other times more tropical and lush. The 2017 has pretty aromas of lime and white flowers, and flavors of fresh peaches and pears. There’s a hint of sweetness from 33 grams per liter of residual sugar, which is the natural glucose and fructose left behind when a wine is not fermented all the way to dryness. As a result, it’s fairly low alcohol at 10.9 percent, thus it’s not “hot,” but light and refreshing. It has a slight weight that lends dimension. And while it’s crisp, it definitely doesn’t have the overly-sharp acidity that can ruin the enjoyment of these kinds of whites.
Grapes respond best to ample sunshine, low humidity and just the right amount of rain. But 2017 was a tricky year. Spring was about two weeks late, it took the vines a while to get going. Then summer brought moderate temperatures and fall harvest time saw damp weather. In a so-so year, it’s always a judgment call to pick when the grapes are as ripe as possible but before any diseases like molds and mildews set in. Whites ripen sooner than reds, but they have thinner skins, making them more fragile. Still, chardonnay is considered a reliable performer on the North Fork because of its relatively thick skin and consistent ripening. In fact, most people’s chardonnay handled the challenges of 2017 just fine.
Early Wine’s grapes were picked on September 12 and the wine was bottled on October 24. That’s no mean feat, considering how busy it is that time of year. “It’s like a snapshot in a bottle of the 2017 vintage,” Koch said. “This year we were able to get the Early Wine from grape to bottle in just six weeks!”
I like to get the Early Wine right from the winery in Mattituck as it’s a nice excuse to visit. The roughly 200-acre vineyard and modern-rustic tasting room and winery are run by the Macari family. An interesting highlight is that biodynamic viticulture methods are used to nourish the vines, involving a complex composting system that includes a herd of longhorn cattle. It’s a really cool place, and the passion and attention to quality shows.