Tom_logoThis morning's TasteCamp interview is with one of my favorite new bloggers and someone who brings something unique to the blogosphere.

Tom Mansell's blog Ithacork is one that I visit every morning and is one of the blogs that I learn the most from.

You see, Tom is a PhD candidate in chemical engineering at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.  Last spring he took a course in wine chemistry and since then has been borderline obsessed with the science of wine and winemaking. His blog focuses on Finger Lakes wines and always includes a "Science!" section, which is where I always learn something new.

Was this your first time to Long Island wine country?
Yes. My only previous visit to Long Island was to attend a Hofstra lacrosse game with my college pep band.

Had you ever had any Long Island wines before? And if so, what was your impression of them?

Only a couple. You don't see too much Long Island wine up here in the Finger Lakes.

I had had a few of the Channing Daughters wines (loved the Meditazione) before when Larry Perrine gave a presentation to a wine class I was TAing. At the NY Wine Industry Workshop in April I tasted Raphael, Paumanok, and Channing Daughters sauvignons blancs and was very impressed.

After tasting a larger sampling of the wines being produced on Long Island, what is your impression now?
Like any wine region there are wines that are good and wines that don't really do so well. 

While I had quite a few that were good, I also had a few that I really wasn't impressed with. Nothing really made me go absolutely bonkers, but nothing was vile rotgut either. Lots of winemakers are expanding their grape repertoire, which I like, especially since it is such a young region. One thing that impressed me (thanks to the amount of verticals we had) was the ability of the region to make wines that age well. The Pellegrini 1993 was still holding its color and structure very well. 

I think with a little bit of time (and with some energetic and enthusiastic winemakers, some of which we definitely met) Long Island is going to figure out how to make some awesome wine.

What grape or variety, in general, impressed you the most?

The sauvignon blanc at Paumanok was really nice (nice enough for me to cough up the $28 on a grad student stipend) and was in good company with some of the other sauvignon blancs I had. 

I was also impressed with the petit verdot that some folks were producing. When blended in the right proportions, it can add a lot of dimension to the wines. Coming from the Finger Lakes, I already knew the potential of cool-climate cabernet franc, so I wasn't surprised to have had some good ones.

What grape or variety, in general, underwhelmed you the most?
Obviously the flagship grape of the region is merlot, so I was keen to try some. And we did. A lot. 

And we had some good ones and bad ones. What the winemakers seem to be going for is consistent, red and blue fruit with a gripping astringency and a hint of vegetal/pepper character, which to me is not a mortal sin. Several times in my notes I wrote "another LI merlot…".  Some were exceptional (the top-shelf stuff at Wölffer was the best merlot of the trip), but many were average. 

The big disappointment for me, though, was the chardonnay. Oak city, USA, with little acid to back it up. And it seems like every producer makes one. The few aromatic whites (riesling and Gewurztraminer) that I had left me craving acid as well. I guess I am spoiled by FL riesling 🙂 .

Was there a winery or tour stop that stands out in your mind as the "best"?
I would have to say it's a tie between Paumanok and Channing Daughters.  Kareem Massoud and Chris Tracy may have differing philosophies about some technologies, but they are both innovators, trying new viticultural and enological methods in order to produce the best wine that they can. I went in to the trip liking these two producers and my mind has not been changed.

If you had to pick one, what would your wine of the weekend be?

I was blown away by the 2004 Premier Cru Merlot from Wölffer. It could have been the regal tasting room setting with Riedel glasses, or perhaps the presence of an obviously talented winemaker, but I really, really enjoyed it. 

I just wish I could afford to buy some!