BEHIND THE BOTTLE: Sette, NV, Macari Vineyards

A rustic-style red that’s for more than just workaday meals.

Nobody really puts that much thought into table wine. And when you see those two letters—”NV” (non-vintage)—on a bottle (one that’s not sparkling, anyway), you may well pass it over for something with a four-digit date. In European winemaking countries, bottles classified as “table wine”—which, by law in the EU, can’t have a vintage listed on its label—are often a blend of this and last year’s crush. Collectible? Well, no; of course not. Not only would there not really be much of a point, its very name implies that it’s meant to be set down on your place of dining, opened and consumed with a workaday meal, but it’s certainly not a term that immediately implies plonk, either. So what’s wrong with it? Joe and Alexandra Macari say nothing.

The first time I tasted Sette, the Macari’s own NV table wine, was last year. I saw it by the glass on a menu, and it was new to me so I ordered it up without a second thought. It was a really relaxed meal and I was feeling decidedly off the clock—so much so, that I didn’t even notice the lack of a vintage. What I did notice, though, was how much I liked the rustic-style red, and I figured I’d take a mental note of the vintage and pick up a few bottles later. When I asked my server about it, she promptly said, “It’s NV.” And that surprised me. To my mind, there’s a bit of a stigma about such things in the United States. While grapes have been growing here for far longer than when the original settlers landed, we’re still a little new to this everyday wine thing. It just wasn’t part of our culture at the get-go. And while we’ve all heard it declared ad nauseam how it’s part of the regular diet of the French and the Italians and the Spanish, it hasn’t always been ours. Or all of ours. And that’s why many of us don’t generally seek out the NV.

Joe Macari, though—whether by smart instinct or personal craving or a combination of each—added it in 2008 to the bottles his family winery produces; currently, it makes up 625 of their 17,000-case operation.

“I think at the time we wanted to make a lower price point from different vintages, but also we wanted an excellent wine. We already had the Dos Aguas, which is a vintage wine, and the Bergen, which is vintage—we wanted to create another price point that was also a blend but more affordable,” he says. “We drink it at home.”

This past August, they released their second Sette (the grapes of the so-far storied 2010 growing season will be the third). Macari, who manages the family’s 200 acres under vine, says 2009 was a tough year. “It was a little bit of a different vintage. There was a lot of rain. It was hard, but there’s always something. We have a lot to choose from—there are a lot of different scenarios.” The most recent Sette, an even-Stephen blend of cabernet franc and merlot, doesn’t betray any foul weather issues. Under $20, it’s thoroughly lovely with aromas and flavors of black cherries, plums and nutmeg. It is simultaneously soft and easygoing but with a rustic edge that makes you feel perfectly happy to open a bottle with a good pizza (something the Macaris are making on premises themselves now in a newly constructed wood fired oven) or a simple dish of pasta. “It’s a good, all-around solid wine, and no one cares that it’s NV,” Macari says. “In these times, it’s nice to have price point and good quality, and that’s what we’re always trying to do. I know things are a little more expensive out here and you can buy world wines if you want, but we try to make it affordable for everybody. And I think we do a good job.”

Amy Zavatto grew up on Shelter Island and writes about food, wine and spirits from her home on Staten Island.