If you compare them to those from Germany, American wine labels are pretty easy to figure out.
The winery’s name is obviously the most prominent feature, and most of our wines are labeled by grape. If the wine is a blend, you’ll usually find the components listed on the back. Alcohol-by-volume is displayed and you’ll usually find some oft-poetic description of the wine, too — although you can mostly ignore those.
On some wines, you’ll also see “Reserve,” a term that doesn’t have an official meaning in the American wine industry. Any winery can slap it on any wine. That’s just marketing, as people are more likely to pay more money for something that seems special.
Other wineries use the term sparingly, reserving it — pun intended — for only those wines they feel are special. Those wineries may not use the term at all from year to year.
“Reserve” may not have an official definition, but it’s not completely meaningless. Here on Long Island, “Reserve” has translated to riper and oakier. Sometimes wineries go so far as to boast on the back label about how long a “Reserve” wine was aged in oak barrels — although that is not always a sign of quality or deliciousness.
At Macari Vineyards, winemaker Kelly Koch takes a pragmatic approach to the term.
“For me, the term ‘reserve’ is about creating the absolute best representation of each vintage wine,” she said.
The winery’s current cabernet franc release, Macari Vineyards 2013 Reserve Cabernet Franc ($35), is just that. Instead of taking the winery’s best cabernet franc and beating it with new oak for 18 to 24 months, Koch lets the wine speak more for itself, without layers of vanilla and chocolate (or two-by-four).
“All of our red blends are made through barrel selection — meaning that I taste each individual barrel in the cellar and construct the blend from these components,” Koch said. “Each year I do put a small percentage of cabernet franc in new barrels, but none of those barrels were selected for the 2013 Reserve Cabernet Franc blend.”
The wines Koch did choose for the blend actually spent time in oak barrels — 20 months, in fact — but they were older, neutral barrels that don’t impart flavor on the wine.
“(Reserve) doesn’t have to translate to an oaky flavor,” she said. “For this reserve blend I thought that the wine was much more balanced and delicious without the interference of new oak, letting the beauty of the vintage shine.”
Koch also used a small percentage of wine, around 5 percent, that was whole-cluster fermented to bring additional nuance.
“I have always liked to mix it up with fermentation style, temperature, et cetera, in order to create different blending components and greater complexity in the final wine,” she said. “The whole-cluster component brought beautiful spice and rose petal aromatics and a delicate, fresh mouthfeel.”
You can definitely get those floral notes on the nose, 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.
Koch is very happy with how this wine has developed since its release and is excited about where it may go over time, too.
“It is developing beautifully and gaining complexity with bottle age. The wine in its youth was showing lots of strawberry and juicy cherry character,” she said. “That is still present, but in addition I am finding a pretty tomato leaf note and just the right amount of spice to complement it. The palate has found more depth and the tannins are softening. It is fascinating to follow Long Island reds as they age — the results can be very rewarding!”