Kareem Massoud, winemaker of Paumanok Vineyards on Long Island, is one of five family
members working on the 103 acre North Fork estate. Parents Ursula and Charles Massoud
combine German and Lebanese heritages, and all involved keep to standards the family itself
describes as “Old World.” “We deal with what is
essentially a cool climate here,” Kareem explains. “We make up for it through
some careful viticulture, particularly leaf-thinning to allow better sun exposure to the
grapes.” Kareem is an earnest young man who lights up when he talks wine. In
addition to the wine and his excellent play-by-play description, he gave me and my
companion, local wine fancier Pam Hunt, plenty of time on a busy tourist Saturday (which
happened to be the first truly nice day of the 2009 spring).
Paumanok, producing since 1983, concentrates on Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc,
Chenin Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, favoring dense
planting of 1100 vines per acre and looking for yields of about two to two and a half tons per
acre. The winery uses estate-grown fruit only. Paumanok is the original native American
name for Long Island, popularized by poet Walt Whitman.
The 2007 Paumanok Chenin Blanc, $28, is a blend of two separately fermented lots. As to
American Chenin Blanc, the first thing I remark on is its very existence; I find this Loire
varietal ever a treat. The wine has a stimulating nose of pear, grapefruit and white flowers.
The medium-bodied wine is dry with mid-level acidity and palate notes of peach, pear, and
lemon pie; the finish is clean with a touch of fruity tang. I also tasted a not-yet-available
2008 Chenin Blanc, finding it somewhat more closed than the 2007; this wine had a mineral
tinge, firm acidity, with pear and citrus, peach and some tropical pineapple, the finish similar
to that of the 2007.
The 2007 Paumanok Sauvignon Blanc, $28, is the result of a long hot summer, resulting in a
wine that shows more fruit than the herbaceous and grassy notes common in this varietal. As
can be expected as a result of the heat, alcohol is on the high side at 13.9%. The keynote of
this wine on both nose and palate is warm citrus. This wine reflects a ripe style rather than
the in your face sassiness you might expect from this varietal in this climate. The wine
finishes dry with a mineral tinge.
The 2007 Paumanok Dry Riesling, $22, shows good ripeness because of the warm summer.
The grapes were machine harvested, sent directly to the press without initial crushing, then
chill fermented entirely in stainless steel. The result is a delightfully crisp Riesling with lime,
stone fruit, and white flowers on the nose, lime, green apple, pear and a touch of minerality
on the palate. The finish is tangy dry. The not yet available 2008 version brings more mineral
and a greater degree of lime to the nose.
The not yet available 2008 Paumanok Semi-Dry Riesling is an extremely enjoyable wine,
sporting 25 grams of sugar per liter beautifully balanced by a hefty nine grams of acid.
Aromatic notes are similar to those of the dry Rieslings: lime in the background, white
flowers, stone fruit. This one has good body and a fine mouthfeel. The finish is characterized
by that irrepressible acidity.
The 2007 Paumanok Barrel Fermented Chardonnay is $19. Out of the 44 barrels used for the
final blend, two are fermented with ambient naturally occurring yeast. The wine undergoes
full malolactic fermentation and several months of patient lees stirring. The nose is superb:
pastry crust, butter, caramelized apple, with pear, poached pear, melon, toast and sweet oak
on the palate. The clean finish melds good sweet oak with some crisp fruit.
The 2006 Paumanok Cabernet Franc, $22, asks the assistance of 20% Merlot in the blend.
This is a good fruity wine without the vegetal notes one often finds in this varietal. Black
cherry, nutmeg and clove characterize the nose, The dry medium bodied wine shows acidity
and tannins that work to provide a backbone yet, in both cases, are soft in the final analysis.
The palate is ripe red fruit and spice, the finish dry.
Paumanok does not produce its $40 Assemblage every year; the 2005 is 44% Merlot, 34%
Cabernet Sauvignon, and 22% Petit Verdot. The idea is for the Assemblage to be, according
to Kareem, “the best expression of the vintage.” This wine sees 14 months of
oak. The wine is a deep yet clear ruby, with aromatic notes of cassis, black cherry, licorice,
and nutmeg. I give this wine mid-level acidity, medium plus body, with a palate characterized
by a blend of red fruit combined with light spice. Tannins are firm and the finish is
European style wine from New York soil.