When we think about sauvignon blanc—from our local vineyards or beyond—most often we think about bright, citrusy flavors with a hint of fresh-cut grass and maybe a little melon or salt air or even bell pepper depending on where it’s from and how it’s made. We think of fresh, high-acidity wines that are very refreshing this time of year and pair beautifully with the bounty of our local waters and summer vegetables.
We don’t often think about the age-worthiness of sauvignon blanc. But maybe we should.
During a recent visit to Macari Vineyards in Mattituck, I was able to taste—for the first time in a few years—winemaker Kelly Koch’s Macari Vineyards 2013 “No. 1” Sauvignon Blanc. On release, this was a special wine for the region. Sixty-percent of the fruit that went into this wine was de-stemmed, crushed and the juice was left on the skins for nine days before being pressed into a large egg-shaped concrete tank. The other 40% was whole cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel.
Read more about winemaker Kelly Koch here.
Fermentation in concrete egg brings two important elements to Koch’s winemaking. First, concrete allows for slow air transfer, similar to oak barrels—but without imparting oak flavors or tannins. And, because of its shape, a concrete egg basically allows a wine to stir its own lees as it ferments. Both things have a serious impact on a wine’s texture and mouthfeel.
When I first tasted this wine, my notes said: “The aromas and flavors here are what you’d expect from sauvignon blanc—grapefruit, apple and sweet honeydew melon with subtle notes of lemon-y herb, flowers and salt air. It’s the texture that is the star here. It is at once rich and mouth-filling while remaining focused and lively.”
With five-plus years of bottle age, the wine is now quite different, still delicious and maybe even more compelling. It got me wondering, what sort of aging potential might local sauvignon blanc have?
Koch makes two by the way, the concrete egg-dominant No. 1 which has since been renamed “Lifeforce” and Katherine’s Field Sauvignon Blanc, which was fermented entirely in stainless steel and is more in line with what most folks expect from the grape. It’s also one of Long Island’s best examples.
“In general, all of our sauvignon blancs are very approachable and enjoyable at release but all of them benefit from some bottle age and the chance to develop some complexity in the months—or even a year-plus—after release,” said Koch. “The acidity of our sauvignon blancs definitely help them to age, but I think the versions made in concrete have additional potential to age due to the skin contact with the juice prior to fermentation. The extra phenolics give it more of a backbone for aging.”
Read more from Lenn Thompson in our archives here.
When I told her that I was pleasantly shocked at how well the wine had developed in bottle over the years, Koch admitted that she was too–to a point. “I knew that wine was a beauty from the get-go,” she said, “but it has definitely surpassed my expectations for what it would be after this much time.”
I tend to lean away from potential hyperbole but calling this wine “a beauty” might be an understatement. It was delicious then and it’s delicious now, just in different ways. I didn’t take extensive notes when I tasted it recently, but I scribbled things like “succulent” and “peachy and tropical” and “expert balance.”
I asked Koch how she thought the wine had evolved over time as well.
“The aromatics have changed so much and opened up to reveal beautiful tropical notes that really make this a fun wine. The mouthfeel is still very broad and luscious and the tannins have mellowed, leaving great texture that is balanced by the acidity which is still holding up.”
I won’t pretend to know how much longer this wine will continue to develop before it starts to fade like all wines eventually do, but it was a revelation about a month ago.
There isn’t much of this wine left. Koch says there are another four cases or so in the winery’s library. Ask about it the next time you’re in. Maybe you can taste it or take a bottle home.
Koch continues to make sauvignon blanc (along with a Lifeforce Cabernet Franc) in concrete eggs but it is that first 2013 version that stands out for her today.
“[The 2013] has been my favorite version of this wine so far—though the 2018 is up there as well. It was just a great year for us in the vineyard and this wine is definitely a reflection of that. Ripe, clean fruit that we were able to let shine. The 2013 Sauvignon Blancs were so aromatic I remember feeling like I wanted to jump into the tanks and just be surrounded by the smell. Sounds crazy I know.”