Tuesday, May 27, 2008
A Visit to Paumanok (North Fork, L.I.)
It's raining in Paris now, but it wasn't much in New York these past ten days. It's good to get back to the smog and traffic and the smell of fresh bread.
That said, I drank some excellent wines while on the other side of the sea, and sneaked in a visit to a vineyard, to boot. With a schedule as hectic as one might imagine after over a year remaining "on the Continent" without a return home, I couldn't go all-out among the North Fork vines; I chose carefully...
So, the sunny gods of springtime were out frolicking amid the SUVs and fruit stands of the North Fork of Long Island last Friday as Arnaud and I wended our way to Paumanok Vineyards. We drove in, parked, and were greeted in the tasting room by Charles Massoud and Kareem Massoud.
What would follow would be an exciting afternoon (and I do mean all afternoon: we closed the place) of barrel tastings, followed by a cheese and wine (and even bitter cherry alcohol) smorgasbord, not to mention the surprise appearance of a certain Brad Coelho, fellow blogger and participant on the Mark Squires board.
Charles and Kareem are not only two of the most generous people around, they are also the most affable and are sharp as a tack. And they make some pretty damn fine wines.
We started with a tasting from two 2007 Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay cuvees which had just been put in their tanks and were still cloudy. Up wafted a pure Puligny nose from the second; the first was more opulent - the two will be blended together. I have to say that between the 2007 and the 2006, 2005 and 2000 Barrel-Fermented Chardonnays, they do excellent things with Chardonnay at Paumanok (I say this as a Burgundy nut). But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Next we tasted from barrel the 2007 Merlot, which was ripe yet balanced with good acidity and a nice tannic cut at the end. This is Long Island-style Merlot, with good heft to it. Next to it, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon was not a success; it seemed thin, with a little bit of green pepper, along with white pepper, as Kareem noted, or even cabbage, Charles felt.
As an inveterate Chinon fan, I was curious to taste the Cabernet Franc. Long Island does this well. I was not disappointed. Still in two separate barrels, one of the 2007 Cabernet Francs was pure Chinon. Extremely delineated, a beautiful violet color and bursting with violets and tiny berries. I wanted to swallow this. I think Arnaud did...
The second 2007 Cabernet Franc was Saint-Emilion, much earthier, and though from younger vines, more full-bodied. I liked both. They will be blended, but I wish the two snapshots of Cabernet Franc could remain independent; they were among my favorite wines of the day.
After, we tasted different barrels (new oak, older oak) of 2007 Merlot, which made for an good comparison between what the oak imparts or doesn't. Interestingly, the old oak left the wine itself more tannic, with the tannins in the new oak paradoxically acting to soften the impression of the wine's own tannins.
Last, before leaving the cellar, we tasted the 2007 Petit Verdot. I wish this were already bottled, because I would have bought a stash. I love it. It's weird, inky purple dark and unexpected on the nose, with blueberries and sumac and clove. At first I thought it was like a cross between grenache and syrah, but it's much more sweet spicy. Great stuff. I hope they still have some the next time I'm back.
After this, we were invited over to the house for some cheese and some bottled versions of their wines. This is where the quality of the Massouds' wines became very clear. We started with a 2007 Chenin Blanc, which was a very tropical-fruit, new world rendition of that grape. As someone used to Vouvray and Savennieres, it was a sharp contrast and a floral, pretty wine. The 2007 Sauvignon Blanc also gave me a head-snapping, "We're not in Sancerre anymore..." feeling. Passion-fruit, some sweetness and just a wild fantail of floral and fruit notes. 2007 Riesling and 2007 Riesling Demi-Sec were also exuberant, flamboyant wines.
A trio of Barrel-Fermented Chardonnays - the 2006, 2005 and 2000 Barrel-Fermented Chardonnays - brought us back to the Old World. Though the 2005 was a little fatty, with gobs of butter, the 2006 was very Meursault-like and I found Puligny minerality in the 2000. I was surprised at how the 2000 had aged: it was young and fresh and had years to spare. These were excellent.
Next we moved on to the reds. By common assent, we were just blown away by the 2000 Merlot Grand Vintage. How did this Right Bank Bordeaux get made on Long Island? This was serious wine, seriously beautiful and without a false note. I started to think about Charles's penchant for classicism (Kareem may go off in a weird new direction, we'll have to see... ), and how compelling that can be. The 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Vintage was young-seeming, and interestingly had more heft than other Long Island cabs.
Following this, we tasted a pair of 2005's and that showed how young they were. The 2005 Petit Verdot was somewhat more stately than the wild 2007. I'm glad they're doing this bottling; it's really interesting.
Then to finish up (or so we thought), we moved on to the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc Late-Harvest. Well-made sticky, similar to a Sauternes.
Brad was finishing up catching up - he had come in when we were already on the 2005 reds - and Charles went and got us a little find from Germany, a bitter cherry alcohol he served in tiny green-stemmed Alsace-shaped glasses. The bitterness of the cherries differentiated this from kirsch, and was piquant both on the nose and on the palate.
We had filled up on cheese and conversation. Kareem, who has been making the wines since 2001, is a great proponent of the use of screwcaps, and has tested his theories from New York to New Zealand and back, by way of South Africa. The 2007 whites are closed this way. He pooh-poohs the notion of problematic reduction and looks forward to bottling the age-worthy reds under screwcap. His knowledge and passion for what he's doing are exciting to engage with.
Charles sees things with a much more classic eye, and I got the sense he was the driving force behind the classicism of many of the vineyard's red bottlings - though he does admit to a current penchant for the more exuberant whites (the ones I found so "new world").
Long Island wines' fascination for me includes their very maritime Frenchness. Afterward, we walked out into the setting sun. I felt positively transported.