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Long Island Vines

Paumanok at Play, With Whites

Published: January 22, 2006

PAUMANOK, founded in 1983, is by now a fully seasoned producer. One result is that subtlety, an elusive characteristic in wine, can be routinely expected - indeed, found - in new and older releases.

Having mastered the essentials of winemaking, Charles Massoud, an owner, has moved into the realm of little surprises, sidelights and mysteries in aromas and flavors.

This development is perhaps predictable, because Mr. Massoud is well-known as an opinionated man. (Perhaps that is why he is treated as a de facto spokesman for East End wines.) Personal spin in wine - carefully calculated style - is, after all, an expression of culinary opinion in liquid form.

Mr. Massoud's technical skills show up in Paumanok's 2004 sauvignon blanc ($19.99), 2005 semidry riesling ($19.99), 2003 barrel-fermented chardonnay ($17.99) and 2004 Grand Vintage chardonnay ($30). This is a tempting array of whites, from Aquebogue, on the North Fork.

The dry sauvignon, Paumanok's first, was born of necessity. A 2003 hailstorm reduced the 2004 crop. "We did not have enough chenin blanc or chardonnay that year and hardly any riesling," Mr. Massoud said in an e-mail message. "We needed more dry white wine."

Light, lean, citric, appetite-awakening and exceptionally long on the palate, this zesty wine, as Mr. Massoud observes, more nearly resembles a Sancerre than a New Zealand sauvignon. Stay with it, and you detect a scrim of tropical fruit in the background.

One reason riesling is a house specialty is that Mr. Massoud's wife, Ursula Massoud, comes from a winegrowing family in the Pfalz, a German region. Her husband's palate-teasing 2005 semidry version, a baby, is awash in pretty peach-and-apricot aromas and flavors. A charmer that is playful on the palate, this white tilts toward sweetness. Mr. Massoud pours it to accompany (or promote) good conversation and, more substantively, a loin of pork. One thousand cases were made; I bet they will all be sold.

Delicately mellowed by wood, the 2003 barrel-fermented chardonnay is a light, almost breezy sipping wine with a virtually crackling acidity that makes it a multipurpose lunch and dinner white. I did not detect wood until the label drew my attention to it. You'll find pleasant pear and apple aromas and flavors.

Mr. Massoud said that his 2004 Grand Vintage chardonnay, to be released soon, was only Paumanok's third designated Grand Vintage of this wine (1995 and 2000 were the others). It comes from the winery's best barrels and best clones, including a clone that imparts a muscat nuance. Only 240 cases were produced.

The Grand Vintage, Burgundian in style, has a remote oakiness that is not easy to spot. Its bouquet and body are noteworthily light, and the texture is piquant. At this stage, this chardonnay is mostly inhibited, its grace notes barely apparent, but it is nonetheless satisfying.


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