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Long Island Vines

Dry Whites for Hot Days

Published: May 28, 2006

ON Memorial Day weekend, with summer around the corner, four bone-dry 2005 whites from Paumanok Vineyards almost beg to be mealtime workhorses.

All four new releases a sauvignon blanc, a chenin blanc, a riesling and a chardonnay are pointedly intended for use with the fish-and-shellfish cuisine that is Mother Nature's gift to Long Island, especially on broilingly hot days.

Last year, Mother Nature was especially cooperative in the vineyards, Charles Massoud, a Paumanok owner, said in an e-mail message. The 2005 growing season was the driest Paumanok has experienced. There was ample heat, little threat to the vegetation from humidity and no lost workdays from rain.

The result, Mr. Massoud wrote, was "clean and ripe fruit that makes a winemaker's dream."

With a shift under way at the 23-year-old estate in Aquebogue, Charles and Ursula Massoud's eldest son, Kareem, largely took over the winemaking last year. Their youngest son, Nabeel, was responsible for a lot of the vineyard work.

All four white wines are fresh, zippy and mouthwatering, all because of fairly high levels of acidity and the alcoholic fermentation in steel tanks, which preserves white wines' fruit and snap. (If the wines had been reared in oak barrels, oxygenation would have broadened them.)

None went through a second fermentation, known as malolactic fermentation, in which sharp malic acid is transformed into softer lactic acid and the wine becomes more flavorful and complex.

I tasted all four wines right after they had been bottled and encountered residual carbon dioxide (fizz), which heightened their appeal, as bubbles do in sparkling wine, but which may diminish once customers cool them in refrigerators or on ice.

The sauvignon blanc ($20), my favorite, was so lively it almost crackled. Although this version of sauvignon offers an undercurrent of tropical fruits, perhaps like grapefruit and lime, it tastes idiosyncratic, even provocative. But it is definitely likable. Sometimes I felt I was drinking old-fashioned quinine water; at other moments the wine resembled a bracing gin-and-tonic. It was plainly refreshing.

Having encountered and relished wispy sweetness in Paumanok's chenin blanc ($25), a house specialty and forte for many years, I was jolted by the uncharacteristic steeliness in the 2005 edition. Though this very young wine still shows little charm, its citric raciness makes it a no-brainer mate for mollusks.

I agree with Kareem Massoud's tasting description of his riesling ($20): "Lemon-lime rind zest" and "possibly orange blossom" in the aroma, and "austerity with green apple, white peach and apricot characters" in the flavor. In my own notes, "taut" and "keen-edged" turn up.

Paumanok's Festival chardonnay ($11.99) was taut and inward when sampled. This somewhat apple-like blend of separate lots of wine was thus somewhat difficult to rate during the current phase of its life. Perhaps Kareem Massoud is right in saying that ultimately "it is meant as an easy summertime quaffer."

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