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  The following is an excerpt from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate issue #165 dated June 30, 2006.

NEW YORK STATE: Baby, You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet
By David Schildknecht


2001 Assemblage - 89
2002 Assemblage - 90
2004 Assemblage - (88-91)
2002 Cabernet Franc - 86
2004 Cabernet Franc - (89-91)
2004 Cabernet Sauvignon - (87-89)
2000 Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Vintage - 90
2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Vintage - 90
2004 Chardonnay Grand Vintage - 86+
2002 Merlot - 88
2004 Merlot - (88-90)
2002 Merlot Grand Vintage - 89
2004 Merlot Grand Vintage - (90-92)
2003 Riesling Late Harvest - 90
2005 Sauvignon Blanc - (85-86)
2003 Sauvignon Blanc Late Harvest - 88

Charles Massoud began working these soils in 1983, and anyone who meets him will quickly recognize that his is still a labor of love, joined in the cellar now by his oldest son, Kareem. His 2005 Sauvignon Blanc, tasted from tank, offers scents of mint, melon, and grapefruit, citric luscious palate presence, and a pungently herb and citrus rind-inflected yet juicy finish. A 2003 Sauvignon Blanc Late Harvest, vinified entirely in new oak which is nevertheless scarely noticeable, smells of yellow plums and gooseberry preserve laced with honey and dusted with brown spices. On the palate, it is imposingly plush and dense, lingering with faintly bittersweet citrus peel, plum skin, honey and lanolin. Suprisingly, there is also a promising dry 2005 Chenin Blanc here, and both a rather tight dry and a quite sugar-laden "semi-dry" 2005 Riesling. But while the aforementioned Rieslings did not convince me, Massoud's 2003 Riesling Late Harvest was another matter. Smoky, charry, botrytis manifestations are allied to pure quince preserve and apple jelly in the nose. The palate impression is positively ethereal, refined, with a clean cut of acidity balancing its richness of fruit and oiliness of texture. The finish of quince and apple jelly dusted with brown spices and drizzled with honey is pure and satisfying, if more relaxed than the initial palate impact leads one to anticipate. I would be remiss if I left the impression that Massoud's impressive quality of botrytis wines from 2003 was typical. Several other vintages I sampled were interesting and attractive, but not on the same order. The 2004 Chardonnay Grand Vintage offers aromas of apricot, apricot kernel, and resin. In the mouth it is tight and relatively inexpressive from recent bottling but with suggestions of incipient creaminess and with a better fit of wood to fruit than a couple of other Paumanok Chardonnays I tasted. The finish is quite concentrated, with peach, apricot kernel, and pepper and herb notes. Massoud convincingly demonstrated the ability of his Grand Vintage Chardonnay to age spectacularly with his first, a 1995, so I am inclined to believe that this 2004 - in addition to experiencing some rapid post-bottling recovery, will also be worth socking away.

The reds - which clearly represent this estate's forte - are divided into their regular series (a.ka. "white label") and (in appropriate vintages) "Grand Vintage." In addition, a wine describing itself simply as "Assemblage" - at the same quality level as "Grand Vintage" - is essayed when possible. The 2002 Cabernet Franc - significantly more expressive than its 2003 counterpart - smells of fresh mulberry, brown spices, and a hint of game, coming onto the palate medium-bodied, with a deep meatiness accented by salt and brown spices and a satisfying persistence. The 2002 Merlot is Burgundian in its potential to deviate from fruits and berries and emphasize the animal and mineral. Mushroom, soy, and humus aromas lead to a plush, creamy palate and a complex melange of salts, fungus, meats, and herbs in the finish. I'd definitely like to follow this fascinating wine for a few years, and heaven knows, the price makes it an excellent value. The 2002 Merlot Grand Vintage follows the savory, earthy, fungal meaty theme of the "white label" version. Indeed, the presence of star anise and exotic spices in the nose only emphasizes this Bordeaux blend's Burgundian kinship. On the palate, this is plush and creamy, with a wealth of fruit but not of such obvious berry and pit fruit character. A long, savory finish preserves a wealth of canal, spice, and fungal flavors. Made up of nearly equal measures of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the 2002 Assemblage illustrates ripeness without excess in a dense, concentrated wine free of superficial sweetness. The aromas and flavors of tobacco, sealing wax, meat, and distilled fruits are clean, lean, and pure, but with a sensually alluring creaminess and polish of texture. There are no rough edges here. But given the showing of a 1993 Assemblage I tasted on this occasion, I would not hesitate to cellar this 2002 for another decade. The 2001 Assemblage - 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and 21% Cabernet Franc - displays roasted aromas and flavors of meat and mushroom along with faintly bitter black fruits accented by pepper and spice. Dense and rich on the palate, this full-bodied wine finishes with ester-like, spicy, stewed fruit and singed meat flavors. There is certainly more sheer stuffing here than in the 2002, but the latter is more nuanced and alluring. The 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Vintage - a wine far more interesting and sensually satisfying than the corresponding "white label" 2002 Cabernet - smells sweetly of cassis, cooked blueberries, sealing wax, talcum, and vanilla. Its full-bodied palate impression displays lots of sheer stuffing, a creamy texture and pliable tannins, and a layered complexity of diverse fruits, minerality, and high-toned spice that other Cabernet Sauvignons from Long Island fail to display. "There's a huge microclimatic difference," between this part of the island and further east, explains Massoud, "because as the island gets wider, the wind warms up coming over the South Fork and for Cabernet, a late season ripener, that makes all the difference. Usually we pick late October or early November, but it's a race between that and the first killing frost." I'd plan to follow this for at least eight or ten years. The 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Vintage smells of singed beef, iodine, tobacco, and rhubarb. Dense, full-bodied, palpably thick and faintly oily on the palate, this clings with an abundance of meat, mineral, and stewed fruit flavors. Again, I would anticipate another decade of interesting evolution.

From barrel, Paumanok's 2004 Cabernet Franc exudes mint and flowers in the nose. Creamy and with remarkably smooth tannins for its youth (Massoud calls them "slippery"), this wine's entire sense of unexaggerated ripeness is similarly smooth and even-tempered. A long finish is saturated with black fruits, herbs, and flowers. Largely coming from one top-performing block or relatively young vines, the "Grand Vintage" version of the 2004 Franc was relatively inscrutable and (perhaps deceptively) less attractive on the day I sampled it from barrel than this impressive "white label" material. The 2004 Merlot smells of fresh black cherry with a hint of truffle, comes onto the palate with big shoulders yet very refined tannins, leaving a long, broad stain. The 2004 Merlot Grand Vintage from barrel introduces exotic floral notes to the cherry and truffle of the "white label" version, is even more strikingly creamy in texture and full of inner-mouth esters, and projects multiple layers of flavor from bright and high-toned to basso profundo. The entire crop of that variety was represented by the barrel sample I tasted of 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, as there will be no "Grand Vintage" due to hail. Bitter black currant and mulberry aromas lead to a firm yet finely tannic palate with suggestions of humus and cedar. The finish is impressively long if as yet somewhat unformed, and no trace of hail-induced hardness seems to be on its evolutionary horizon. With 12% each of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot and 38% each of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, Massoud's 2004 Assemblage seems to incorporate in its aromatic panoply the resin and blueberry typical of Petit Verdot (never before used here) as well as licorice and diverse black fruits. Dense and intense on the palate, this full-bodied wine will, I suspect, need at least another year before it shows its real personality. An impressively long, low-toned finish offers great promise. Speaking of which, the 2005s here are amazingly formidable from cask at this stage. Tel. (631) 722-8800