Winemaker Series Tasting at ESC

Empire State Cellar Logo                                                                                           On Saturday, August 2nd, North-Forks attended a fantastic wine tasting at Empire State Cellars (ESC) at Tanger Outlets in Riverhead.

What’s great about tastings at ESC is that they only serve wines produced in NY State, with a strong Long Island bias.  The events are small and personal with the winemakers discussing not just their wines, but the conditions and decisions that went into creating what’s pouring out of the bottles.

For this event, we sampled wines from Macari Vineyards.  What made this tasting unusual was that we got to sample not just their current offerings, but “library wines” (older vintages that may or may not still be available for sale) as well as wines not yet released.

In a typical tasting, we get to sample one, sometimes two versions of each of several varietals that a winemaker produces.  In this event, Kelly Urbanik (Macari’s winemaker) and Gibson Campbell (Macari’s head of sales) presented us with three years each of four different wines (four verticals).

In addition to discussing how long each wine aged and in what (oak, stainless), Kelly and Gibson discussed differences in climate for each vintage year as well as answering questions about how they decide when a wine is ready to bottle (they taste a lot of wine) and the winery meetings where they sample and discuss how each wine is fairing and where they would like it to go.

What makes a vertical tasting so interesting is that we’re basically experiencing the results of the same grape three times, influenced by weather conditions and time (the winemaker and field manager have a huge hand in this, too).  Kelly and Gibson started us off with their Reserve Chardonnay, which in Macari parlance means that they only bottle it during good years (in the US, there is no standard so the Reserve moniker means whatever that wine producer wants it to).  We sampled the 2007, 2010, and the 2012.  The 2012 is for sale now.

We then jumped red to their Cabernet Franc.  “Cab Franc” as it is referred, thrives on the Fork.  We sampled the 2004, 2008, and 2010.  The 2008 is their current release for sale while the 2010 is not yet for sale and still aging.  Macari is an “estate winery”, meaning that they grow, ferment, bottle, and age all on site.  This enables them to store their bottled wines long enough so when they sell the wine is already entering the best years for drinking – basically they cellar their wines so you don’t have to. We’d bet that when Macari releases this vintage, it will be amazing.

Keeping with the reds, Kelly and Gibson next poured their Bergen Road.  If you look at a map of Macari Vineyards, you enter the property by turning left off of Sound Avenue in Mattituck onto Bergin Road.  The fact that it isn’t named after a varietal shows that it’s a blended wine.  What many winemakers attempt to do is to create a particular “signature flavor” and replicate it year after year.  If you liked a Bergen Road seven years ago, you should like it today even though it might likely doesn’t contain all the same varieties of grapes or the same ratios of them.  Much like their Reserve wines, the Bergen Road wines are only made from good vintages.  We tasted the 1997, 2007, and 2010.

Lastly, we switched to dessert wines.  Macari makes an ice wine they call the Block E Dessert Wine.  On the North Fork, we rarely make a traditional ice wine – and be thankful for that – it requires an early winter to freeze ripe grapes on the vine.  Instead, the grapes are stored in a large freezer, in Macari’s case, for several months and then cold pressed in the winter.  Because the grapes are never allowed to thaw, only a little juice – that with the highest sugar content – trickles out.  We tasted the 2005, the 2010 which is their current release, and the 2011 which isn’t being released just yet.

It was very interesting to taste four wines and see how time really changes them.  Macari does nice things with grapes and has a beautiful tasting room.  If you haven’t already been there, I urge you to go.  Empire State Cellars is located in the Riverhead Tanger Outlets in Tanger 1 next to the food court.  They sell and sample New York wines, beers, and liquors.  The team is wonderful and very happy to spend quality time talking about their products and answering questions.  It’s a great place to get a wine education, especially if you’re just getting into wine, or before you hit the wine trail.  If you find yourself at the outlets, nothing makes shopping more fun that tasting a few wines!



  • Gibson says:

    Thanks for the review! We had a great time tasting with you guys!

    • Jason says:

      Gibson, you and Kelly were phenomenal. It was extremely informative and exactly the sort of experience we hope to have at ESC. I hope we can talk more in the future.

      Please share the site!

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