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Long Island Vines

Subtle Shades of Red

Published: January 29, 2006

WITH January soon to expire, an excursion into Paumanok's reds seemed imperative. They tend to be fleshy and warming traits that wine aficionados welcome after tiring commutes home on chill, gray afternoons.

Last Sunday's column dealt with Paumanok's whites, and the scope of this East End winery's production has necessitated consecutive critiques.

Five reds were sampled in ways intended to bring them sharply into focus: directly into a glass with a large bowl; straight into a decanter and then into a glass; and back and forth between glass and decanter. One object of this aeration was to hasten the unfolding of the wines.

A theme pervaded the reds. They all were inviting, easily drinkable, soft, smooth and nuanced in varying degrees. And all were essentially understated, with nary a so-called fruit bomb in the carload.

As expected, their aromatic and flavor virtues opened up gradually, like a peacock's tail, during the three hours they were examined.

Not surprisingly, the ambitious 2002 Assemblage ($36), a svelte blend of 53 percent merlot and 47 percent cabernet sauvignon, was my favorite. Showing layers of berry and other fruit flavors, it had obvious balance. Tasted blind, this wine may come across as a Bordeaux.

The 2001 Grand Vintage merlot ($36), made from choice barrels, is a complete, round wine that begins with a voluptuous bouquet and delivers some heft that carries into the flavor. Chocolate and cocoa notes, suggestions of herbs and clearly delineated graphite were detectable in the aroma and taste.

Charles Massoud, a Paumanok owner and its winemaker, finds this 2001 "very much a red-meat wine," and he predicts a long life for it.

I agree with him that his simpler 2002 merlot ($17.99) is "approachable early" and is destined to accompany veal, chicken, turkey and duck. More basically, he said in an e-mail message, "I will drink it to wash down my favorite pizza with anchovies and fresh (lots of) garlic."

A soft, settled wine not much more maturation seems likely the 2002 is the sort of easygoing merlot that propels customers back to the store for another bottle.

The 2003 cabernet franc ($19.99), Mr. Massoud said, may be young but he released it because his 2002 had run out. One surprise, he found, is "a hint of cassis that you pick up as the wine clears the throat something I have not previously seen this way" in cabernet franc.

I liked the silky feel and suggestions of tobacco flavor and cassis in Paumanok's 2002 cabernet sauvignon ($17.99), a workmanlike effort. Cabernet sauvignon, a late-ripening grape, is not always successful on the North Fork, but Paumanok's location, in warmish Aquebogue, provides extra maturation time.

"This is partly the reward of not having enough money to buy property in Cutchogue but moving west for affordability," Mr. Massoud joked.

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