By Lenn Thompson, Executive Editor
At Paumanok Vineyards, there are two primary "labels," the standard line, known at the winery as the "white label" (which you can see here) and the Grand Vintage line of wines, only used during better years.
Charles Massoud, who founded the winery in 1982 with his wife Ursula, compares the grand vintage designation with "declaring a vintage" but I prefer to think of it as a meaningful version of "reserve" — they only do it when it's warranted. It means something at Paumanok.
On extremely rare occasions a stellar growing season will combine with the right grapes planted in the right place to result in a wine special enough to be bottled as a single-vineyard wine.
This has happened precisely five wines in Paumanok's history and only once before 2005 — 1995 Tuthills Lane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
Ten years later in 2005, the cabernet from that same vineyard was again deemed worthy, as was a some petit verdot from Paumanok's Apollo Drive Vineyard.
The Apollo Vineyard petit verdot was made again in 2007.
So was this wine, Paumanok Vineyards 2007 Tuthills Lane Vineyard Merlot ($60), the winery's first-ever single-vineyard merlot.
The NYCR team has written before about single-vineyard wine programs and how important it is that they reveal and identify unique place-grape combinations that display consistently. (Read a great piece by my colleague Evan Dawson). As far as I'm concerned, the Massouds have done that with their extremely judicious and thoughtful use of vineyard labeling.
There is a misconception in some circles that there is little variation on Long Island from vineyard site to vineyard site. I'm working on a larger, multi-post series about Long Island terroir that will address this topic in depth, but I asked Kareem Massoud, who has taken over the winemaking duties from his father, what makes the Tuthills Lane Vineyard site in particular special.
"The Tuthills Lane Vineyard site has proven over the years to be very favorable and reliable for ripening the Bordeaux red varities that we have planted there: merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. These red varieties thrive in this site due to incredible drainage owing to the sandy sub-soils and the relatively heavier sandy-loam, with thin layers of clay in the top soils. These thin layers of clay provide good water-holding capacity in dry conditions," he said adding that the "Aquebogue-Jamesport mesoclimate provides sufficient heat accumulation to achieve full physiological ripeness in these varieties."
Briefly and incredibly simplified, the prevailing winds in this vineyard blow over land — rather than Great Peconic Bay — so they are warmer during the spring and summer months than those further out on the North Fork. This aids heat accumulation and ripening, but does result in less moderation of cold temperatures in the winter.
Merlot grapes, grown in the Tuthills Lane Vineyard, using Paumanok's time-consuming vineyard practices — especially leaf remove and 'green harvesting' to reduce yields — resulted in a special wine in 2007. Massoud puts it simply "It is all about the vintage."
And this wine is a standout even amongst most 2007 reds. It stood out for me when I first tasted it at an event almost a year ago. It stood out again when I tasted it at home to review and rate it. And it stood out yet again during our Wines of the Year tasting last month.
It didn't get the votes required to be named New York Red Wine of the Year, but it was close. I voted for it, in fact.
Intense aromas of blueberry, black cherry and black plum fruit are accented by vanilla bean, sassafrass spice, violets and speck.
Bold, but well balanced on the palate, there are gobs of dark fruit here — blueberry, plum, cherry and even a little fig — with layers of cola and spice and vanilla and violets and cured/smoked meat. The spiciness leans toward the exotic, with sassafras coriander seed and sumac.
The real star here is this wine's structure. The tannins are substantial, but also incredibly ripe, providing some serious grip without being hard or harsh.
The finish is long and marked by a certain freshness as well as spicy-floral flavors.
Available sealed with natural cork as well as screwcap, this is a wine that will not only survive for many years in your cellar, but is likely to improve for 5-10 years and beyond.
Producer: Paumanok Vineyards
AVA: North Fork of Long Island
Case Production: 250