Paumanok Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Paumanok Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Paumanok Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

In my continuing mission to cover my memorable trip to the north fork of Long Island, tonight I am reviewing another gem from Paumanok Vineyards. I brought home their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon after a tasting flight there in March and saved it for a special occasion. Last weekend, we went to our friends’ barbecue at a rooftop cabana in Brooklyn, New York. Brooklyn rooftop cabana? I know, it was very cool. Stunning vistas of Brooklyn and lower Manhattan as a backdrop, and giant umbrellas and wicker and cloth cabana-style benches completed the picture, along with the company.  It was a great barbecue and I broke out the 2005 Cabernet to share with my friends. They too shared several great wines including an amazing rosé, also from the north fork as it turns out. And my sister-in-law brought a nice Australian Cab-Shiraz which was another excellent barbecue red.

My burger with melted Danish blue cheese was about as perfect a pairing as you could have with this nicely aged Paumanok Cab. As I mentioned earlier in the blog, there were only 351 cases made in this vintage. This one had the cork, perhaps preceding the screw caps so prevalent and close to the hearts of these winemakers today. Or maybe just to appease those who wouldn’t buy a 7 year old cab because it had the screw cap. The color was a deep ruby and on the nose there were distinct black fruit aromas of prunes and blackcurrant, as well as some subtle well-integrated oak.  On the palate the tannins were firm, and blackberry, black cherry, and oak and mild peppery flavors abounded.  It was incredibly supple and smooth, and the finish was long. This was a top wine, and as you would expect, it was practically bliss with that burger. Hopefully I’ll find this one closer to home like the Bedell, and if not I am planning to return not so long from now. I hope to make acquaintance with some new wines as well as pick up some of my new favorites.

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Bedell Cellars First Crush (Red) 2010

Bedell First Crush 2010

Bedell First Crush 2010

I have decided that it’s more productive to cover the North Fork Trip as a general overview of the travel experience, and continue to hone in on specific wines that really made an impression on me in individual reviews. Last week I covered the Paumanok Assemblage, and I have another wine of theirs to review in the coming days. But today I am covering an unexpected little gem, the Bedell Cellars 2010 First Crush. The label says ‘red table wine,’ but it’s really much better than that. It is made from the first harvested grapes of the vintage, and is meant to serve a second purpose of being ‘a preview of the new vintage.’  They make this wine in both red and white, and there’s now a bottle of the white in my collection just waiting to be opened. I had gone through the First Crush red pretty soon after we returned from our trip in March. I was thrilled to find it in the wine shop just down the street from my sister-in-law’s in Park Slope, Brooklyn this past weekend. So I brought another one home, and a First Crush white, as we had not recalled trying that one at the tasting.  This wine was then and is now delicious. It’s reminiscent of a Beaujolais in that it is bursting with very bright fruit. The color was a ruby with a medium intensity. On the nose you are instantly struck with bright wild strawberry, raspberry and cherry. The tannins were noticeably firm and the body, alcohol, and acidity were also making a strong showing. You get the same bright, wild sweet red fruit on the palate as the nose, and a nice finish. Also like a Beaujolais, carbonic maceration is employed to maintain the youth of the wine so I’d expect this to be best young.  This one certainly won’t last the night! It is a blend of 76% Merlot and 24% Cabernet Franc. In fact this is the winery where I first had a Cabernet Franc on its own and it blew me away. Here I was thinking it was just a blend wine.  Here too the Cabernet Franc shines. I tasted through about 7 wines overall, picking one of their many flights, all reds in this case. This was my favorite in the flight.  Everything was wonderful and I brought home about 5 wines from Bedell that day. This one is just as good the second time.

Baugier Montagne Saint Emilion 2009

Baugier St Emilion 2009

Baugier St Emilion 2009

Yesterday, I got back my WSET advanced exam results, and I was very pleased with them so I wanted to celebrate. On the way home we picked up this bottle of Montagne St. Emilion. I know it’s not from St. Emilion AOC proper but still, this was VERY-well priced at about $15. And it’s very very close geographically. Not to mention, 2009 was a fantastic vintage all around in Bordeaux. Just goes to show what a name and a piece of land can do to a price. Of course, the same holds true in many regions in France, the world, and in fact anything from real estate to cheese. I wasn’t expecting top St Emilion Châteaux results so the price was probably appropriate, but still. What’s better is that it was good. So good that I well, finished it. At about 70% Merlot, it poured a medium-plus intensity and the nose was nice and plummy with a bit of the classic Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon fragrant black fruit notes which complete the blend. I picked up very little oak, if any. The tannins were very smooth, and it went incredibly well with my chicken tarragon and wild rice. Just goes to show what you can find in a large discount wine shop. I enjoy scanning the racks there as much as the fancy wine shop with all the expensive stuff I pick up on special occasions. Turns out there’s a new one about the size of the Home Depot open in town, and I have avoided it only because I’m afraid I will walk out of there wine-rich and wallet-poor. That’s ok when I’ve got the means, though.

Paumanok Assemblage 2007

Paumanok Assemblage 2007

Paumanok Assemblage 2007

Today’s review is of one of the many fantastic wines we bought on our trip to the North Fork of Long Island in March. I promise, I plan to write about that whole experience soon. There’s so much to say, and we tried so many great wines from over 8 vineyards in one weekend. So I want to tell it with as much detail,  excitement and enthusiasm as was experienced on that trip, and that my friends will take a good amount of time. I have not had very much of that lately.  Please accept my apology for not writing in a while!

Let’s get on with it then! This wine has been sitting on my wine rack since then, awaiting a special occasion. Today being father’s day, it is just such an occasion. Even though it may not be the first pairing that comes to mind with the homemade spaghetti and meatballs my wife made for me tonight, it was the best bottle I had on hand for the occasion, and it is delicious! Their wines have been featured in some of the country’s top restaurants like the Four Seasons and The Gramercy Tavern, and even at official White House Dinners. It is also a staple in MANY restaurants in the area, and the country, and they have them all listed on their website.  In case you are wondering about the name…

Paumanok is what the local Native Americans called Long Island. And many of the bottles sport the words of a poem of the same name written by another Long Island native, Walt Whitman. Whitman also shared a profound passion for his home and its beauty, and felt perhaps that indeed this was the only word to describe the area:

Sea Beauty (by Walt Whitman)

“Stretch’d and basking!
One side thy inland ocean laving, broad, with copious commerce, steamers, sails.
And one the Atlantic’s wind caressing, fierce or gently – mighty hulls darkgliding in the distance.
Isle of sweet brooks of drinking-water – healthy air and soil!
Isle of the salty shore and breeze and brine!”

This is one of the premiere vineyards on the north fork, and one of the oldest. A quick drive and a short ferry ride across Long Island Sound whisked us to the region in less than 90 minutes. And Paumanok is one of the first you will reach when traveling there. I had the fortune through my work in the industry to get a proprietor’s tour of the vineyard, vinification rooms and machinery, and taste through nine of their best wines.  The tour and the tasting were both done by the Massoud brothers, sons of the founder, raised in the family business and passionately helping run it today.  But more on that later.

This one has a screw cap. They are one of the region’s, and country’s first vineyards to experiment with the screw cap. There are those that believe a fine red wine meant for aging couldn’t possibly retain its flavor and character with a screw cap. Perhaps to deter would-be naysayers, they still have some under cork. But we had a lengthy discussion with winemaker Kareem Massoud on the subject, and he believes strongly in the benefits of a screw cap.  And to his credit, I would have to agree. There was not a single wine that we tried under screw cap that seemed faulted by it. In fact, while some might feel a bit of air making it through the cork helps add character, it can also ruin a wine. So there’s people on either side of the fence, to be sure. They have an article on the subject here.

All their wines are made from premium vinifera varieties, and the region shares similar weather conditions and soil to that of Bordeaux. It is the reason that many of these wines thrive here. They are among the first to make wines of this quality, and style in the area, having started in 1983.  The grapes are only estate grown, and in small quantities. They are densely planted and very concentrated wines as a result. In the case of this vintage of Assemblage, only 575 cases were made. The premium 2005 Cab we bought had only 351 cases made.

To quote the bottle itself makes for a description even they would approve. “2007 is one of our best vintages at Paumanok. This Assemblage is a blend of 69% Merlot, 22% Petite Verdot, and 9% Cabernet Franc.” 

The wine pours a medium-plus intensity in color, with slight rim variation due to age. It is a deep ruby color. On the nose are pungent plum and light oak aromas with some fragrance from the Petite Verdot. This variety is also responsible for adding more of the concentrated color and fruit intensity, and a little more tannin to what would be softer in such a large concentration of Merlot.  On the palate, there are firm but well-integrated tannins, more of that concentrated black fruit, a hint of spicy fragrance, and medium plus body and finish. It is really meant to be a mix of their finest output from the vintage, and that it is. I finished dinner quite a while ago, but I have the feeling I might finish much more of this bottle before the night is through.I would hate to see this one spoil.

For more on Paumanok, visit their website.  But more, try their wines, and maybe pay a visit. You won’t be disappointed! I haven’t had a bad one yet, I swear.

Pretty Tasty Cupcakes

Cupcake Vineyards Pinot Noir

Cupcake Vineyards Pinot Noir

Since my discovery of wine has begun, all the while my wife was enjoying one of her favorite wines, Cupcake Vineyards’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. At this point I was starting to pay attention to wine more, trying to absorb everything I could about who makes them, how, and where. So every bottle, whether a Grand Cru Gevrey-Chambertain (I enjoyed one of those last weekend), or a Gato Negro, was a potential learning experience.

I have tried several of the varietals from Cupcake Vineyards and so far have been impressed with the quality. They started and are based in the Central Coast, California region with Bordeaux varietals and then expanded to several international styles as well as expanding at home. All these wines are made from collaboration with their head winemaker in the classic regions for that varietal. For example, he travels and works directly with winemakers in Marlborough, Mendoza, Barossa, etc. The Sauvignon Blanc was the first I tried, and we’ve had a lot since. I often joke that we are solely keeping them in business. But it’s good quality, at a good price, so why wouldn’t they be popular? It is a typical, but above average refreshingly crisp NZ Sauvignon with all the expected stone fruit and citrus and grassy and ‘cat’s pee’ aromas. On the palate it is refreshing and light and citrusy. A fine example of New Zealand signature Sauvignon Blanc, right down to the screw cap.

On another occasion I had the Malbec, from Mendoza. I enjoyed classic chocolate and leather notes as well as a bit of spice. This time I am trying my favorite, Pinot Noir. Speaking of Central Coast, this one is made right there at home. Cooled by the Pacific and fog, this is a great region for a grape like Pinot Noir. It insures a long hang time to get maximum ripeness.  It is a 2010, which is good – 2011 wasn’t a very good year for California. According to their website the grapes are cold-soaked and then fermented at a cooler temperature to preserve the bright berry fruit. I am definitely getting that fruit and oak, nine months to be precise, and cherry, spice and smoke aromas. The color has a nice medium intensity and it shows concentrated fruit on the palate as well. The finish is just long enough, and overall this is a delicious little Pinot Noir. I look forward to finishing the bottle with some BBQ chicken I am grilling up tonight. Another classic example. I seem to be using the word classic a lot, which tells you that they convincingly make many styles of international wines, at a cost accessible to everyone. I love that they have downloadable tasting notes for each wine. That is a nice touch for the enthusiast, like me.

I see that they now make vodka, so I will give that a try based on my experience to date with their wines. They also continue to make wine at home in California, including two custom blended wines called “Angel Food” and “Red Velvet,” also on the must-try list.

Greece, Wine, and its Delicious History

Low bush-trained vines on Santorini

Low bush-trained vines, volcanic rock on Santorini

In June 2010,  I went to Greece for my honeymoon. Besides being a breathtakingly beautiful place, which I fully intend to visit again when I get the chance, it also happens to be where some of the earliest known wine was made.  My trip took me from Athens in the mainland to the islands of Mykonos, Santorini, and Crete, the latter two of which have significant history of civilizations enjoying wine making and both drinking it for leisure and using it for ritual ceremonies and medical purposes.  It’s too bad I had not had any of my formal wine education yet at that time. It was a wonderful trip and we soaked up the history and the scenery at every opportunity, but I think of the applied knowledge I’d have gained when drinking the Ouzo spirit on Santorini, or the Retsina on Crete.  To quote Thucydides ( a Greek historian) “the peoples of the Mediterranean began to emerge from barbarism when they learned to cultivate the olive.” Indeed. From what I’ve read, the Minoans in Crete learned it from the ancient Egyptians, and shared it with more of mainland Greece.  And of course the Greeks even had their own god of wine, Dionysus (known as Bacchus to the Romans) who brought with him much lore, worship, and dramas. He was also the god of fertility and so some of these stories are perhaps not appropriate for a wine blog!  I saw evidence of this on our visit to the historic island of Delos at the temple of Dionysus.

Fresco, palace at Knossos, Crete

Frescoes, palace at Knossos, Crete

Wine clearly was an integral part of their daily life. They introduced other European countries to wine making and used their wine for trade with them as well.  When we were in Crete, we went to Knossos (one of the Palaces of King Minos and home of the legend of the labyrinth and the Minotaur), and the Heraklion museums, where there are references to and examples of wine making and drinking vessels in the ancient art on display.   We also went to a wine and olive oil cooperative near the palace. This was my first exposure to a grower’s co-op and one that specialized in incredible olive oil and several types of Greek wines. Not having my knowledge of the varieties and types yet, I DO recall the Retsina we were able to try. The pine resin was quite distinct on the nose and the palate, and very unique indeed. This is the only type of wine that I know of, and that I believe exists, that is not made of grapes. We brought home 2 boxes of that olive oil, and would really like to make it an excuse to go back and get more. There were also ancient wine presses and other wine growing tools on display and a short film on the island, co-op, and its history in the trade. This was just an unexpected stop on our trip to Knossos, but a delicious and educational experience not soon forgotten.

Peza Union wine and olive oil cooperative, Crete

Peza Union wine and olive oil cooperative, Crete

Another main hub for winemaking in Greece is Santorini. I remember distinctly walking along the road from our hotel in Oia on the way to the local Taverna, and spotting vines but they were so low to the ground and small. But it wasn’t until just this year that I learned about how they adapted their growing methods to cope with the high winds and hot dry Mediterranean climate, with little moisture. Bush-training the vines in small dugouts slightly below ground level, or basket-training them both protect the vines from being damaged. I only wish I was able to go look at them again right now without too much trouble. I’ve been lucky enough to see many vines since then, and each one has taught me more. Apparently there is a wine museum on the island, which I will visit next time, along with Akrotiri, which was unfortunately closed for improvements.  But hey, I climbed a steaming volcano cone!

The most well renowned Santorini wine is a sweet one named VinSanto. It is made from late-harvest Assyrtiko (at least 51%) grapes in the passito method, which means they are dried in the sun after harvesting for 12-14 days. It is aged for at least 2 years in oak and has 9% abv.  It is golden-to amber and has complex apricot and raisin aromas. Its high acidity makes it a little more versatile in pairing with food beyond just a dessert. Its name comes from ‘vin’ (wine) and ‘santo’ meaning it came from Santorini. As a busy trade port in ancient times, all products coming from Santorini would be labelled ‘Santo’. It is now used for holy wine and dessert wine in Italy, and the Eucharistic wine elsewhere in Europe.  It is legally recognized as coming from Santorini, though the Italians still use the name to indicate the wine making style. Regular ‘Santorini’-labelled wine is also predominently Assyrtiko  (75%, with some Athiri and/or Aidani) and is a bone-dry wine that is acidic, minerally, and full of stone fruit.

Wine List

Greek wines on the menu

Lately, we search out Greek restaurants in the area constantly to relive that trip, and at a local family taverna, I was able to discover a few more of these that I learned about in my WSET class for the first time. It is this constant journey of discovery that I love as much as the first taste or the history behind the wine.

If I am incorrect on any of these facts please feel free to chime in. I did a good amount of fact-checking, but I welcome your conversation and to learn anything right that I got wrong!