Six vintages of Paumanok Vineyards Grand Vintage Merlot

By Lenn Thompson, Editor-in-Chief

Let's say you own a winery. A good winery. One that is often pointed to as one of your region's best, in fact. Wouldn't you dip into your library, enjoying maturing and mature bottles of your own wine regularly, just because you can?

Apparently not, at least not if you're the Massouds from Paumanok Vineyards.

Between tasting wines that are still being made — from tank and barrel — tasting upcoming releases to determine when they are ready for the public,  selling current releases, selling those wines and promoting their winery and the entire region, there just isn't much time for tasting from the cellar.

That's one of the reasons Charles and Urusula Massoud, who founded the 103-acre estate in 1983, conceptualized the "Grand Vintage Dinners" that they've been hosting at the winery. The dinners feature food cooked on-site (on a 6-burner stove no less) by local celebrity chefs Tom Schaudel and Michael Ross, and serve as the perfect opportunity for local wine lovers — and the family behind
them — to taste some of the best wines the winery has ever put out.

One can think of "Grand Vintage" at Paumanok as a more meaningful version of "reserve" labeling. A wine is only deemed Grand Vintage when it's warranted — after a double blind tasting of individual lots. In even more exceptional years, a wine will be labeled with a vineyard designation, which has only happened a handful of times in the winery's history.

The Grand
Vintage dinner I attended last weekend — the second in a series of four — focused on six different vintages of Grand Vintage
Merlot. I'm a sucker for vertical tasting and going from 2000 up through and including 2007 made for a tremendous tasting experience.

The food, especially when you take into account that it was cooked for more than 50 on that small portable range, was delicious as well.

We started the evening with a piece of seared salmon served with a Provence-style sauce of tomatoes, olives,
capers and garlic, paired with Paumanok
Vineyards 2001 Grand Vintage Merlot
, a  beautiful wine showing mature
secondary and tertiary flavors of earth, dried herbs and spice layered with
dried and fresh cherry fruit. A graphite note on the finish worked extremely well with the
briny olives and capers. Kareem Massoud, who has taken over the winemaking duties from his father, said it was tasting “better than I ever
remember it tasting.” It's probably not possible to say for sure that it's peaking right now, but it's really in a great spot in its development.

Next up was
grilled quail with mushroom risotto, blueberries and chantrelle mushrooms alongside Paumanok Vineyards 2002 Grand Vintage
. Poured from magnums it was much more youthful and fruit-forward
(wines age more slowly in larger bottles), with bright red cherry flavors
leading the way with earthy tobacco, spice and savory spice notes. In the
larger bottles at least, this wine has plenty of life ahead of it. This may
have been my favorite pairing of the evening. Near perfect.

For the
third course, we enjoyed (greatly) Jurgielewicz Farm’s duck breast with sweet potato-roasted banana
puree, haricot verts and a raspberry glaze. This course was accompanied by two widely different
wines — the 2004 and 2005 Grand Vintage

From a cooler and perhaps more
regionally typical year, the 2004 was almost Burgundian in its mushroomy
earthiness, elegant fruit and subtle floral notes. The 2005 on the other hand was intense with dark, ripe fruit,
black licorice and ripe, grippy tannins. If you get your hands on some, don't open it for at least another couple of years.

diving into dessert, we were presented with a wedge of truffled pecorino cheese
with roasted tomato, extra virgin olive oil, rosemary and fennel pollen. The
wine, Paumanok’s 2000 Grand Vintage Merlot, showed nice weight and mature
earthy flavors and a distinct minty-eucalyptus note that played off the
rosemary well.

Red wine
with chocolate is a discussion for another time (I’m not a believer though, so maybe I won't bother) but poured alongside a bittersweet chocolate terrine with hazelnuts and raspberry puree, we enjoyed another big, powerfully young wine, the just-released (the day of the dinner) Paumanok Vineyards 2007  Tuthills Lane Vineyard Merlot, the winery's first vineyard designated merlot.

Bold, ripe blueberry flavors burst from the glass with black licorice, spice, dark chocolate and French roast coffee. This wine is the complete package already — ripe, concentrated and extracted, with great structure. If the 2005 is young, this one is an infant. Buy some and lay it down for another 10 years. Or buy more and check in on it every year or so. I can't remember who said it, but the words "Might be the best wine we've ever made" escaped from someone's lips during this course. Time will tell on that point.

Paumanok will be hosting two more Grand Vintage dinners this spring — a Magnum dinner on April 24 and a 2001 Grand Vintage dinner on May 22. Visit their events page for details.

I can only hope that he Massouds enjoy their library wines more often and that they invite me over to share in them.