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Good and Bad in the Booming Wine Country

October 30, 2015 3 comments

Fall in the VineyardIt was definitively bright and sunny. And somewhat windy. And not warm at all. But it didn’t stop us from adhering to a delightful tradition couple of weeks ago – day trip with friends to the Long Island wine country. We’ve done it for the past 7 years if not longer, with very little interruptions (had to miss last year, unfortunately) – visit a few wineries, taste wines, spend few hours in leisurely lunch in a great company.

It was very interesting to observe how the things were changing over those years – some for better, some for worse. As the love of wine is on the upswing in the US over the same 7, may be 10 years, this clearly was visible in sheer number of people you would see at Long Island wineries – more people every year. Of course it is a good thing – outside of the fact that you have to stand longer in line to the tasting counter. I don’t count this as good or bad – this is just a fact. What definitely improving for the better is a quality of the wine. Every year, the number of “wow” wines in seemingly the same tasting lineup was increasing. And not only the “wow” wines, but also “very solid wines”. So this is definitely good and I love the trend.

Ahhh  Long Island Wine CountryWhat is not good? Well, let me start from the most questionable gripe around the wine – prices. Yes, I understand that winery is a business, and they charge what they can, and have a cost justification. But $48 for a bottle of Long Island Riesling? It is a good Riesling, but it is not the wine which worth $48. Or $110 for a Long Island Merlot? I understand that the grapes were harvested by hand, and that it is only made in the special years, but again, strictly judging from the taste, this is not a wine which worth $110, for sure if you don’t have an expense account.

I also have to mention the usual sad state of knowledge of their own wines by the people minding the tasting room. One month ago I was told that new and very talented winemaker started at the Jamesport Vineyards. When I asked gentleman at the tasting counter at Jamesport about their new winemaker and if he made any of the wines we are currently tasting, I got back a shy smile and an answer “of course, he made all of them” – that would include even wines from 2007… Oh well…

Fall Vines

Long Island Vineyards

True, pricing and affordability are extremely subjective – I’m sure there are plenty of people in this world who will gladly pay the $110 for that bottle of wine and also get a case – I’m just not one of them (but this is nobody else’ problem but mine). What I have much bigger issue with is food. As I told you, one of our most favorite activities during the wine country visit is 2 (or longer) hours lunch. For years, our preferred lunch destination was Paumanok winery – they have very nice patio with lots of tables outside, beautiful views and very good wines. We would bring our food – everything you need to make tasty sandwiches, as well as cheese, nuts, fruits – anything you would use to support a slow conversation over a glass(es) of wine. We would find the table, buy a few bottles of wine right at the winery and enjoy ourselves. About 4 years back situation changed, and we had to pay to reserve the table and to use the glasses, but I think we were getting back some of the money towards tasting fees and/or wines. No problems, still works for me. This year, the rules are new again – no outside food allowed. Okay, so it is probably replaced by some sort of deli counter or may be a food truck outside, you would think? Nope. You get the whole menu, but mostly with the items such as pâté or some cheeses, and a little bit of cold cuts. The cold cuts tray for $20 has 6 slices of salami, 6–8 tiny pieces of cheese and about the same quantity of olives and cornichons. All the pâté look like they came directly from Trader Joe’s, and they were served right in the plastic wrap with the short baguette on a side. This is simply wrong, in my opinion. If you are not allowing people to bring their own food anymore, then you should provide an appropriate alternative – or don’t do it at all. Don’t get me wrong – we still had a great time, but the food, unfortunately, was detrimental part of the experience.

Long Island Vineyards 1

Fall in the Vineyard 1

Done with the “bad” – now let’s go back to the good (best) part – the wines themselves. We started our tasting at Jamesport Vineyards winery, which always was one of my favorite wineries on Long Island.

About Jamesport winery

Here are the favorite wines of the tasting:

2014 Jamesport Vineyards East End CINQ Blanc ($16.95, blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc) – playful, open nose with white fruit, simple, clean, delicious overall

2013 Jamesport Vineyards Riesling ($25.95) – perfect, classic nose with a touch of Petrol and restrained fruit, nice and clean on the palate – excellent overall.

2013 Jamesport Vineyards East End CINQ Red ($16.95, blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah) – outstanding. Warm profile, nicely perfumed, good fresh red fruit, delicious

2013 Jamesport Vineyards East End Cabernet Franc ($17.95) – Classic, touch of green notes on the nose, crisp palate, touch of salinity, excellent

2010 Jamesport Vineyards MTK Merlot ($34.95) – Tobacco and field flowers on the nose, great palate, clean, concentrated, delicious

2010 Jamesport Vineyards Mélange de Trois ($34.95, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot) – Great power, concentrated, excellent

2007 Jamesport Vineyards Jubilant Reserve ($34.95, predominantly Cabernet Franc, with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and tiny amounts of Syrah and Petite Verdot) – Nice concentration, good depth

2010 Jamesport Vineyards MTK Syrah ($24.95) – nice peppery notes, classic, open, clean – an excellent cold climate Syrah overall.

Then, of course, Paumanok. Quite honestly, I don’t even remember such a variety of wines offered at Paumanok – Reserve, Single vineyards, wow – lots of excellent wines. I have to admit that at the time of the tasting at Paumanok I was hungry and lazy at the same time, so I simply tasted the wine without taking any notes – here is the limited set of impressions from the Paumanok wines I tried.

Believe it or not, but my favorite wine from Paumanok tasting was 2010 Paumanok Blanc de Blancs ($45) – yep, classic sparkling wine, with perfect nose of yeast and freshly toasted bread, and apple and fresh bread on the palate. Delicious! 2014 Paumanok Chenin Blanc ($28) was fresh and vibrant, and 2013 Paumanok Cabernet Franc ($30) was clean and varietally correct. From the Grand Vintage collection, 2014 Grand Vintage Chardonnay ($45) was excellent, dry and crisp, 2013 Assemblage ($50) and 2013 Grand Vintage Cabernet Franc ($35) were excellent as well, but my favorite was 2013 Grand Vintage Merlot ($40), with deliciously powerful and balanced palate. Lastly, from the Single Vineyard collection, I really liked both 2010 Merlot Tuthills Lane Vineyard ($75) and 2010 Petite Verdot Apollo Drive Vineyard ($75) – they were different, but equally outstanding.

Lastly, for the first time over all these years I made it to the South Fork of Long Island (Hamptons), where we visited Duck Walk and Wölffer Estate wineries. There was nothing at Duck Walk to write home about. At Wölffer Estate, we didn’t do a real tasting as we visited place called The Wine Stand, where you can buy wine by the glass or bottle – main winery was closed for the wedding. Here is what we tried:

2014 Wölffer Estate Summer in a Bottle ($24, 41% Chardonnay, 29% Gewürztraminer, 20% Riesling, 10% Pinot Gris) was fresh and very nicely balanced, which is always appreciated in the white blends. 2012 Wölffer Estate Christian’s Cuvee Merlot ($110, 96.5% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, 0.5% Petit Verdot) was the wine I mentioned before. It was simply not ready – tight, with limited fruit expression. May be 5+ years in the cellar would do wonders…

There you have it – a trip to Long Island wine country with all the good and bad. Unquestionably, we had a great time with friends, and this is what matters. Yes, it would be even better without the gripes, but we can’t have it all, can we? Well, I wish that all your problems would be only small annoyances in this life. And yes, head over to the Long Island wine country, as the wines are delicious. And may be try to sneak in a sandwich? Cheers!

My First Harvest – At Paumanok Winery

December 23, 2012 12 comments

This post was supposed to be written at least 2 months ago – but it is only coming out now. Well, the experience was great, so want to share it. And I will also skip a traditional Wine Quiz for the next two weekends, and will start it anew next year.

DSC_0061Ahh, all those “firsts” – aren’t they the best, most memorable experiences of your life? First step (well, nobody remembers those, I guess), first kiss (hope now I’m talking about something more memorable), first… well, whatever makes you tick, insert it here. I have somewhat of the extensive experience around wines, but I still have my “firsts”, and plenty of it.

At the beginning of October, while in Austin, I tasted my first “just blended” Viognier (here is the link if you want to read about it). This time, I managed to come across my first harvest. No, I didn’t actually cut, sorted or stomped the grapes. But our visit to Paumanok winery on Long Island in New York coincided with an actual harvest of Merlot which was taking place on exact same day.

For a number of years by now, it is pretty much a tradition – at the beginning of October, we visit Long Island wineries with the group of friends. The weather is usually beautiful – it is so called “Indian summer” in New England, so it is typically warm and sunny, but not hot by all means. We drive all the way down the North Fork of Long Island, stop at a few wineries on the way, taste bunch of wines and then select a few bottles for lunch.

So far we didn’t find a better location for lunch than the outside deck at Paumanok winery – you get to eat outside and enjoy a view of the beautiful sun-filled vineyards:

DSC_0012 At Paumanok winery

This time our experience had an interesting twist – we managed to hit the harvest day. I called the winery a few days before and talked to winemaker, Kareem, to see if he will be able to spend some time with us – he said “may be, but unlikely. as we probably will be harvesting Merlot”. That is exactly how it was – the harvest was in a full swing by the time we arrived. Before we will talk about our “harvest experience” (mostly in pictures), let’s talk about the wines, as we started from the tasting upon our arrival.

We tasted pretty much through the full line of wines offered at Paumanok. Started with 2011 Paumanok Festival Chardonnay – unoaked and simple, showing clean white fruit and good acidity.

DSC_0939While it was group’s favorite, I generally need more life in my Chardonnay – oak, vanilla, butter – all balanced, of course, but I need more prominent power, so this was not my favorite wine.

2011 Paumanok Dry Rose was a bit too austere to my taste – I liked 2010 more, but we still took a bottle for lunch.

DSC_0945

2011 Paumanok Sauvignon Blanc was very good, a New Zealand style wine, with bright fruit, grapefruit notes, fresh grass and perfect acidity.

DSC_0942 Paumanok Sauvignon Blanc

Continuing the line of whites was 2011 Paumanok Dry Riesling – perfectly done in classic style – good white fruit, touch of honey and perfect acidity (also was one of our lunch wine choices). Finishing up the whites we had 2011 Paumanok Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, which I liked a lot more that the unoaked version.

DSC_0947 Paumanok Barrel Fermented ChardonnayThis wine spent 6 months in barrel. Notes of vanilla on the nose, more vanilla, hint of butter and some apples on the palate, very good balance.

And now, to the reds! We started with 2011 Paumanok Cabernet Franc – nose of fresh berries, somewhat similar to the nose of Beaujolais Nouveau, only with more intensity, medium body, cherry notes on the palate, together with earthy notes and gentle tannins – very good wine. Next wine was 2011 Paumanok Cabernet Sauvignon. It was not bad, but too perfumy for my taste. I honestly think that Long Island makes much better wines with Merlot than with Cabernet Sauvignon. Last wine in this flight was 2008 Paumanok Merlot, which was perfect – medium to full body, good amount of fruit, good acidity and tannins – very balanced.

DSC_0953 Paumanok Merlot

We finished tasting with Grand Vintage Flight. 2010 Paumanok Cabernet Franc Grand Vintage was produced for the first time since 2004 in the quantity of 156 cases. This wine was perfect – full body, ripe cherries, sweet oak,  soft tannins – I put “full package” as a summary of my tasting notes.

DSC_0952 Paumanok Caberget Franc Grand Vintage

Next wine in the flight was 2010 Paumanok Assemblage – a blend of 35% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Petit Verdot and 11% Cabernet Franc. Even bigger than the previous wine, this wine showed some additional dark chocolate notes and great overall balance (as you know, balance in wine is one thing which can push my buttons).

DSC_0956 Paumanok Assemblage

We finished our tasting with 2007 Paumanok Merlot Tuthills Lane Vineyard – which was a great wine – dark fruit, dark chocolate, hint of tobacco, supple tannins and fresh acidity – very tasty.

DSC_0957 Paumanok Merlot Tuthills Lane

As we were finishing the tasting we met Ursula, who happened to be the winery owner. She works at the winery together with her three sons, who are in charge of all operations – wine growing, wine making, harvesting and everything else which goes into production of Paumanok wines. Seeing our keen interest in wines, Ursula happened to be the  most gracious and welcoming host, and we got really an inside tour of winery and what was happening on that day – which was a Merlot harvest.

Ursula showed us fermentation tanks and barrels, as well as state of the art bottling line:

DSC_0982 Paumanok Bottling Line

But most importantly, she gave us a taste of just fermented Chenin Blanc, which was incredible! Freshly fermented juice was something I never tasted before, so it was my first encounter with inside magic of winemaking – and it was delicious.

DSC_0974 Ursula Massoud with glass of freshly ferment Chenin Blanc

To add up to that experience, she also took us to the backyard, so to speak, where the fresh grapes were arriving.

Merlot grapes at Paumanok are harvested using the machine. Salim, another one of the three brothers was operating the machine and he gave us all the explanations. This machine can’t be used for all the grapes – only for those where whole cluster doesn’t have to be harvested – for instance, it is not used for Chardonnay, as whole clusters are fermented as part of Chardonnay production.

DSC_0002 Braud grape harvesting machine

The machine is positioned such a way that the row of the vines happens to be right in a middle of it. As the machine moves forward with the vines all being inside, all the branches are getting a gentle shake from the side rods:

DSC_0003 braud machine

As the result, grapes are falling down into the receptors, which are all moving as a conveyor belt, bringing the grapes up into collection bin.

DSC_0007Once arriving at the sorting facility (back at the winery in our case), the grapes are transferred into one big container:

DSC_0994 grapes offloaded

So the result looks like this:

DSC_0962 Merlot Grapes

And then the grapes get to the sorting table, where minimal processing is done to remove big branches and spoiled grapes:

DSC_0010 Sorting of Merlot grapes

From the sorting table the grapes are transferred directly into the fermentation tank. By the way, do you see that juice coming off the sorting belt? We had a chance to taste that too – it was absolutely delicious – not that I hold any grudge against Welches, but this juice is something I would gladly drink any time (Welches – sorry, can’t do).

We always have a great time at Paumanok (as I mentioned before, this is our “annual outing”) – but never before we were lucky to have such a special experience and see how the magic starts.

After lunch we decided to visit two more wineries – Bedell and Macari. And I have to mention that unfortunately, outside of the cool labels, we didn’t find a single wine from Bedell tasting which we liked – all the reds tasted very green, with lots of branches to chew on.

DSC_0048 Bedell

Oh well, at least Paumanok had being very consistent through many years, so we are definitely looking forward continuing our tasty tradition.

I hope I didn’t inundate you with pictures too much, but there you have it – my first harvest experience, and I hope not the last (and if you are into wines, you should seek that experience as well!). Until the next time – cheers!

Long Island Wineries Trip – Great Weather, Great Wines

October 11, 2010 4 comments

Talk about being lucky. Last year in October we had a great trip to Long Island wine country, enjoying great weather, 2 hours long lunch with good food, wine, and company. We started planning second annual Long Island Wine Country getaway about 3 months ago – we set the weekend, but who can know about the weather? This is why I’m talking about being lucky. Beautiful weather – just look at the picture of the grapes (accidental leftover after the harvest), against the beautiful blue sky… Immaculate.

And there we went. The plan was simple – visit 3 wineries, taste the wines and have lunch with the wines we like. We started with the Lenz Winery, as it was far-most in our plan. Two things were interesting about Lenz Winery – they are well known for their Sparkling wines, and Lenz Merlot was compared with Petrus, one of the best regarded and equally expensive wines in the world (here is the link if you want to read more about Chateau Petrus, Bordeaux wine from Pomerol). The 2004 Sparkling Cuvee, made from 100% Pinot Noir, was nice, yeasty and balanced. Does it worth $30/bottle? Comparing to actual Champagne – may be, comparing with good California Sparkling wines like Chandon or Mumm, or Gruet from New Mexico – probably not. As for 2002 Old Vines Merlot, the one which should be compared with Petrus – I never had Petrus, so I’m not qualified to make any comparisons. I can only state that I didn’t like that Merlot at all.

The next stop was Jamesport winery. One of the driving forces behind our choice of wineries was a post in Wall Street Journal wine blog by Jay McInerney, where he was talking about tasting great Petit Verdot and other good wines at Jamesport and Paumanok wineries. Since we were planning to have lunch at Paumanok anyway, and Jamesport was around the corner, it was easy to decide that we want to taste the same wines.

I’m glad we stopped at the Jamesport. I chose Estate Series tasting flight out of many others available, and I can tell you that it was one of the very few experiences where I liked each and every wine in the flight. Reserve Chardonnay 2007, Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Riesling 2009, Pinot Noir “Sarah’s Hill” 2007, Estate Merlot Block “E” 2005, Syrah MTK 2007 and Melange de Trois 2005 – all were very good wines. One minor disappointment was the fact that Sauvignon Blanc 2009, highly regarded in James McInerney’s article,  was sold out. As we were explained, 2009 was a difficult vintage, and only 350 cases of 2009 Jamesport Sauvignon Blanc were produced, so it is not surprising that it was sold out. But then I have to mention an absolute highlight of the trip. We decided to try Petit Verdot Reserve 2007 – at $100/bottle, the tasting of this wine costs $10 for 3 oz pour, but still, looking for the experience we decided to go ahead and try it. This was one of the best $10 spent on the wine ever – luscious, multi-layered fruit, amazing balance of tannins and acidity and great mid-palate density! Considering my rating system, this was definitely a 9 – and I wish I would have a budget to put a few bottles in my cellar – this wine will evolve amazingly over the next 10-15 years.

The next stop was Paumanok winery, where we finally had our lunch.

We didn’t do tasting flight there, as everybody was already quite hungry, instead, we got a bottle of Rose, and a bottle of Riesling, and LI_Wineries_PaumanokCabFrancPaumanok Cabernet Franc 2007. Unfortunately, we couldn’t escape our dose of disappointment here as well, as Paumanok Petit Verdot 2007 ($60), lauded the most in Jay McInerney’s article, was sold out! At least the Cabernet Franc 2007, also highly mentioned in the article, was available ( good value at $24.50). The Cab Franc was very nice, with a refreshing tartness, layers of restrained fruits and medium body – it was simple and pleasant to drink.

The grapes are already harvested on Long Island so the new vintage will be on the way.

 

The weather is still warm so you can enjoy yourself in the Long Island Wine Country. This year, or the next year, and many years after – the wines are only getting better. Get your friends together and go out and play…

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