You never know until you try. That’s a pretty appropriate statement for growing wine grapes on Long Island, an effort that began 50 years ago. When the Massoud family dug in pretty soon thereafter—they are celebrating their 40th year as vintners on the North Fork—Charles and Ursula Massoud of Paumanok Vineyards discovered a swathe of chenin blanc vines on a neighboring vineyard they purchased in the mid-1980s. It was a head-scratcher, really. Chenin blanc is best known for growing in the Loire Valley as the grape responsible for the sometimes luscious and jewel-like wines, Vouvray and Savenierres. It’s also grown to good effect and decent renown in South Africa. But Long Island? Yeah, we were never really slotted as famed chenin territory. Still aren’t, really.
Except when it comes to Paumanok chenin blanc.
“People should drink chenin because it is one of those wines that is intrinsically delicious! It has broad appeal. People who don’t know wine love it. Wine connoisseurs love it. Really the only people who don’t like it are folks who don’t like high-acid whites,” says Kareem Massoud, now winemaker and second generation of the family to run the winery. Like Riesling, it is a versatile grape that lends itself to a range of wine styles: dry, off-dry, lusciously sweet dessert wines and bubbly.”
Charles had planned to rip out the vines, but some good advice stalled that plan. “Our decision to grow chenin blanc was attributable to serendipity as much as anything else. Chenin blanc was not in their original plan for Paumanok,” says Kareem. “My father decided to keep the chenin vines he had begun ripping out after a German vineyard manager we had at the time pointed out how well the vines were growing. The Chenin has turned out to be one of our most successful wines.”
If a pineapple and a Meyer lemon had a wine baby, this would be the irresistible result. The acidity nearly makes your teeth vibrate like a tuning fork, making all that tropical juiciness just that much more exciting to sip. The citrusy zing lingers in your mouth and has the wonderful lip-smacking effect of making you want just a little more. And it’s glorious with a meal—lobster, monk fish, fluke, crab. Lemon and butter and this very chenin blanc, dining al fresco in the sunshine. It’s kind of what it’s made for.
Kareem agrees. “I like to call ours a “Sour Patch” wine. Its sweet and sour citrus character offers a hint of sweetness on the attack and lots of acid on the finish,” he says. “We also like to call it ‘vinous lemonade.’ Like lemonade, it is thirst-quenching and refreshing, and sensational when chilled. Our favorite pairing with our Chenin is with fresh, local oysters shucked raw on the half shell with a squeeze of lemon, delicious!”
Get yourself a bottle at Amagansett Wines & Spirits, pour a glass and toast to 40 years of both the serendipitous and smart decisions that have made this winery one of the best on Long Island. Cheers, Massoud family!