Though the precise rules vary from region to region, “Reserva” in the Portuguese or Spanish wine industries means the wine was aged for at least three years in the cask and bottle, at least one of which must have been in the cask. It’s a hint to the consumer about what they are getting, though it’s not always a mark of quality.
It’s a term without an official meaning here in America. “Reserve” can be used by anyone on any wine. Some wineries only have a “Reserve” line — which means it’s more about marketing than anything else. Though they’d never admit it, some even put “Reserve” on a bottle just so they can charge more for it.
Most of the time though, at least locally, “Reserve” has meant bigger, riper and oakier. Sometimes wineries seemingly brag about how long a “Reserve” wine is aged in oak barrels — as if that’s a sign of quality or deliciousness.
But as Long Island wine and winemaking continues to evolve, the “Reserve” designation is telling us less and less about the style of the wine inside the bottle. On one hand, that’s not such a great thing. It’d be nice if we could always tell from the front label what style a wine is made in. On the other hand, wines like our wine of the week, Macari Vineyards 2013 Reserve Cabernet Franc ($40), mark a shift away from 24- to 36-month oak aging for a winery’s “best” wines — even though “reserve” doesn’t mean “best” either.
Instead, winemakers like Macari’s Kelly Urbanik Koch are letting the best fruit from the vineyard speak more for itself without layers of vanilla and chocolate and cedar.
The wine did spend time in oak barrels. Twenty months, to be precise — but these aren’t new, flavor-giving barrels. Instead, Koch used older, neutral barrels. A small portion of the final blend was made from fruit that was fermented as whole clusters, rather than just berries. Leaving the stems in the fermentation can bring complexity and impact the mouthfeel.
I’ve found that it can also add a floral perfume to the finished wine, which is apparent in this cabernet franc.
It has those floral notes up front along with a sprinkle of Chinese five-spice over top of ripe, but not too ripe, red cherries and raspberries. 2013 was a ripe vintage, but this wine isn’t jammy or over-the-top. Bright acidity and tannins that are at once silky and a little gritty frame the medium bodied and elegant palate beautifully.
There is a great balance and complexity between juicy red fruit and cabernet franc’s sometimes-rusticity. If you’re looking for that overt green or herbal edge, you won’t really find it here. Instead, the varietal character comes through more as licorice and fennel notes — and a savory, earthy edge that really is balanced beautifully by its sweet fruit qualities.
“2013 was such a beautiful vintage for us. As the wines aged and I started working on the blends, it became clear that we had the components to make all of our reserve-level wines. We only make them if we feel the quality is high enough, otherwise we skip the vintage,” Koch told me when I asked her about this wine, adding: “Cabernet franc has a soft spot in my heart so it always gets a little extra love in the winery.”
That much is obvious. This wine is available for $40 at Macari’s Mattituck tasting room.