A couple months ago, I wrote about the "chardonnay shift" towards steel-raised wines — which I tend to prefer as opposed to the heavy, sometimes-flabby barrel fermented wines.

I tasted three different chardonnays from Paumanok Vineyards yesterday for a story I was working on. One was 100% steel fermented — fresh, crisp and refereshing. It was what I expected. The other two were barrel fermented, and while both had nice acidity and avoided overuse of oak, one wine truly stood out.

Fermented in new French oak barrels, Paumanok 2004 Grand Vintage Chardonnay ($30) actually has me questioning my own chardonnay preferences. In fact, it may be the best chardonnay I’ve tasted from the North Fork in years. There are winemakers in Burgundy who wish they could make a wine like this.

Winemaker Charles Massoud only makes Grand Vintage bottlings in the best years from the best fruit, and this is only the third GV chardonnay in Paumanok’s history (1995 and 2000 were the others). The nose is rich and ripe with pineapple and mandarin orange aromas accented by toasted coconut. Expertly balanced with medium body and a creamy-yet-fresh mouthfeel, the intense flavors closely match the nose with a elongated, elegant finish. Outstanding, and as a 2004 still pretty young. I expect this one to develop and improve over the next few years.

It’s important to remember…we shouldn’t blame the tools (oak barrels), but the artisans (winemakers). When used judiciously, oak influence leads to wines like this one.