Saturday, 22 March 2014

Greece's time will surely come (2)






In the first part of "Greece's time will surely come" we didn't actually mention any of the wines tasted so here we would like to make up for that.

We were bowled over by the general standard. Obviously some wines were better than others but all were on a remarkably high level given the diversity and variety of styles, grape varieties, terroirs and producers. We kept mainly to the more interesting (obscure to us) Greek grapes such as Athiri, Aidani, Dafne, Kontouro (more commonly known as Mandilaria), Mavrotragano, Plyto, Thrapsathiri, Vidiano, Vlahiko,  with a few interesting foreign varieties thrown in such as Refosco, Touriga Nacional and Tannat.


Our first stop however was at the only independent wine producer of any size on Lesvos: Methymnaeos.


We had just been reading about this very winery in Lazerakis so it was a very great pleasure to find the printed word made flesh in the form of Mr. Yannis Lambrou himself, Producer in Chidira, Lesvos. Mr. Lambrou is unique, one can safely say. For starters he has revived an almost extinct red variety local to Chidira, Chidiriotiko. Mr. Lambrou believes this is the grape which made one of the most famous and expensive wines in ancient Greece and now has 60 ha of it in the volcanic soils of the area.

As if that wasn't enough in terms of uniqueness, Methymnaeos make a white also from Chidiriotiko (i.e. a blanc de noire) and moreover, a Orange wine from the same grape. The Red was our favourite among these, the white being rather austere and perhaps even intentionally a touch oxidised - maybe a food wine? The Orange came in two vintages; 2010 which was also rather Rancio and 2013 which Mr. Lambrou promised would go the same way with a bit of bottle age. We actually preferred the younger less oxydised Orange wine but perhaps our palates are not evolved enough to appreciate the purpose of these wines. Their fascination could not be denied however.


Mr. Lambrou describes the red as the Burgundy of Greece and indeed it showed lightness of colour and taste despite a surprisingly high alcohol content. It was indeed Burgundian but in no way a slavish copy.

'Wine Grapes' would have liked to test Chidiriotiko to make sure it isn't something else or even a blend but no samples have been made available. Our gut feeling is that this is like nothing else we have encountered, but what do we know?

The Whites

On this showing, Greek whites shone particularly brightly. Way back in these pages we made the discovery of Vilana from Crete. How wonderful to find that this was just the tip of the iceberg. We can now add the following to Vilana as major discoveries eligible for inclusion to the Slotovino Hall of fame



This Aidani was gorgeous. It's a pity about its uncharacteristic 14% abv. Half a bottle of this on a hot Greek summer's afternoon would probably do for us for the rest of the day.



The Samaris Kontoura is actually Mandilaria so not quite as obscure as it might have seemed. Lovely wine at 12%.


We just loved this ueber-obscure beauty made from a grape called Plyto (Pluto?). A way less alcoholic than the Aidani at 12.5%. Much more typical of Greek whites in fact.


Lararakis is the maker of this and the equally obscure Dafni. Nice but we liked Plyto even more.


Idaia Winery's Thrapsathiri (Crete) is rarer than their Thrapsathiri/Chardonnay blend. We haven't tasted the latter but can't imagine the former could be improved.




This Vidiano is also a tad higher in alcohol than is the norm but is quite marvellous even so. The Oenologist was on hand to explain all about his products. That is typical of the seriousness of these producers.


We had admired two whires from Mediterra already at the Decanter tasting of Greek, Italian and Bulgarian wines in January 2014 so it was good to see them at Oenorama too. They plan to be at Prowein, Dusseldorf too. A very hard-working organisation who have alreadt made inroads into the British and other markets with their delicious Xerolithia and outstanding Mirambelo available from Oddbins and other wines from Morrisons etc.

 If you ever find any of these in shops or restaurants just go for them! We believe you won't be disappointed.

For the reds

Vlahiko, Kontouro/Mandilaria, Mavrotragano, Kotsifali were just a few of many on offer.



Vlahiko has the reputation of being peppery. This one at 12.5% certainly tickled the tastebuds.




Of these, the Mavrotragano was outstanding. We had found the Hatzidakis version already in Theatre of Wine in Tufnell Park, London - a shop which gets better and better. From Lazarakis we understood that already in 2005, Mavrotragano was making waves but it was a surprise to find other producers making their own versions. The one from Argyros was just as good as that of Hatzidakis. The whole Mavrotragano phenomenon reminds us of what happened with Centesimino on Italy. Suddenly it's everywhere. In both cases, the formerly obscure grape deserves its new-found popularity.

The other reds from native varieties were, again most attractive. When Greek wine explodes across our collective consciousness, all these varieties can safely be taken up.

True to form, when Greek producers import foreign varieties they cast their nets well beyond the Cabernets, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Syrah etc. Which other country brings in Nebbiolo,


Refosco


Tannat (with Syrah)




Touriga Nacional





and others including quite a lot of Tempranillo apparently? Those tasted were also very fine expressions of these grapes. We would like to mention here especially the Refosco of Adam. Adam is the name of the village near which the grape is grown. It lies outside Thessaloniki which is interesting in that the south is more of a happy hunting ground for interesting varieties than the north which tends to specialise in Xinomavro, Agiorgitiko and the international varieties.


The charming owner of this vineyard is Nikos Asteriadis, a Chemical Engineer married to a poetess. Educated in the US, he speaks perfect English and is a worldly negotiator. In many ways he was typical of producers represented at Oenorama and his wines can stand up against competition on any winelist or in any merchant's shelves.

There were plenty of sweet wines on show. After all, an entire island is devoted to them; Samos and Santorini produces the famous Vinsanto (as opposed to the Vin Santo of Toscana). Greeks also like their bubbly and that was well represented. Lots of Olive Oil was also there. The Italians used to buy up Greek Olive Oil and leave their labels imprecise as to the origin. Typically you might read "Product of EU and non-Eu countries"! The Greeks have got wise to this and now produce their own. We have known about the etherial Avlaki and Agathiri oils from Lesvos made by Deborah MacMillan and Nathalie Wheen, ex-pat luminaries of the London culutral scene turned Olive Oil producers.

There is one last wine which was just irresistible although at the same time a slightly guilty pleasure;


It is described as an "Orange Semi-sparkling Wine" but could be mistaken for a vivace Rose. It is so more-ish as to be a contender to knock pink Prosecco off its perch. If someone took this beauty in hand, we might not hear the last of it.


It comes from Domaine Glinavos and is made in the Ioannina area from Debina (white) and Vlahiko (red) grapes. It is called Paliokairisio (Old Times). The fact sheet states that "Bottling is done without adding other substances" so this might be something of a natural wine without sulfates. The blurb goes on to say "Tea and Cognac colour. Its aromas are those of apple and of butter in mild oxidation. The small amount of natural carbonate brings out the richness of tastes and aromas with a sweetness that blends harmoniously with all the other elements... To be served at Cool."  You never knew you would yearn for a wine with aromas of  apple and butter in mild oxidation but you will!

Sadly it was not given to us to have studied Greek and we expect we are not the only ones unable to read so many of the labels, front and back which are in Greek alone. Even if the producers don't need to export their wines, it would be nice if those of us who come across them in Greece could understand better what we are drinking. Just a thought. Otherwise one should have a Greek speaker on hand.



We were lucky enough to have as our companion and interpreter a former CEO of Olympic Airlines, now on the board of Easyjet, Rigas Doganis who immediately recognized the venue of Oenorama as the hangar for Olympic's Jumbos at the time. It had also served as the Olympic Fencing venue incidentally. Rigas knows his Greek wine but on this occasion even he was extremely impressed by the quality on show.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Greece's time will surely come




This Blog is 'A plea for Diversity'. We don't love complexity for its own sake but as Stockhausen would say, "Alles, was vielfach ist, ist schoen" - everything diverse is beautiful. So we love Italy where every region and every province has its own speciality. There are other countries where this is so. Portugal for instance. Even Switzerland. France to a lesser extent but still strong. Spain has it but it needs to be teased out because like Germany with Riesling the Spanish can't ever seem ever to have enough of Tempranillo. Things go a bit downhill from there. Hungary puts on a gallant show - then maybe Croatia too. but the New World? As we have pointed out, the Loire has more diversity than the whole of South America.

Among the most diverse of all are Georgia and Greece. Not surprising as they have had plenty of time to become so; perhaps 6,000 years' or more continuous winemaking. Both these countries are difficult for us in the West to get a handle on but we knew we would make the attempt one day and the opportunity to attend a Greek Wine Fair, Oenorama in Athens coincided with a trip to Budapest we needed to make. Well, Hungary is halfway there from the UK and there are some handy no-frills airlines offering cheap flights to Athens from Budapest which made it irresistible to prolong our trip by another couple of days.

In preparation we read the now outdated Mitchell Beasley The Wines of Greece by Konstantinos Lazarakis (2005). It is a fine book but considering the incredible speed at which the world wine scene is developing - and nowhere faster than in Greece we would suggest - 9 years is a long time, even without Greece's economic disaster so soon after publication which must have changed the scene a great deal.



Our visit to Oenorama was enormously instructive. A few things became immediately apparent. Wine production is obviously a bright spot in Greece's industrial activity. Apart from the successful international brands such as Boutari, Naoussa and Tsantali, there is a plethora of medium sized and smaller companies and co-operatives already making an impact internationally such as Gaia, Nemea Group, Semeli, Hatzimichali, Samos Coop, Cavino, Nico Lazaridi, Biblia Chora, Gerovassiliou and so forth.

But the obvious strength of Greek Wine is in the number and excellence of the small producers. These people are not peasants or country folk but typically those who have had or still have a profession with no connection to wine. They may be successful business people who have decided to return to the area where their family came from and buy some land or use land which may have come down to them through their family. Most are highly cultivated and speak English and no doubt other languages. They typically have only a few hectares and may buy in grapes from nearby growers on a similar acreage. Quite a few have studied Oenology themselves or have a family member who have done so. Quite a lot of these outfits are family affairs. When they don't have the expertise themselves they engage those who do. We got the impression they are highly indivdualistic and independent - thank goodness.


Oenorama had a large area given over to shiny equipment of all kinds,





corks, capsules,





barrels and even some dubious oak 'solutions.'.



One suspects winery standards are super-modern. Certainly none of the wines we tasted exhibited faults which might be associated with old fashioned practises or an unhygienic environment. One producer proudly went into detail about the quality of the corks he uses - the first time we have had a Cork seminar!

Practically none of these wonderful small producers had international distribution or sales. Some may have had an agency here or there but the fact that their production is small and then the sad fact that the time has not yet come for Greek wine leaves these treasures to the local market and to the tourists.

That local market is not large. Only 8 million Greeks in Greece and according to our sources, there are few independent wine merchants. People buy their wine in supermarkets.

We are infrequent travellers to Greece to say the least. We hadn't been there since well before the economic collapse. Driving along it is quite clear which businesses have survived and which haven't. On the coast road there was an entire Armada of sailing and motor boats for sale, having been marooned in yards for what looked like a very long time. Empty storefronts abounded. Goodness knows what they had offered. The remaining concerns consisted mainly of  food shops, ironmongery and petshops.

We discussed in a general way why the world was not yet ready to embrace Greek wine the way it embraces say Spanish wine. From the wines we tasted at Oenorama, we believe Greek wine is as good as Spanish wine and quite a bit more interesting for our taste. Supply is obviously going to be a problem with so very many small and diverse producers and then there is the image of the economic collapse which leads people to think there might be something wrong with the wine or perhaps it should be cheap.

The opposite seemed to be the case. Greek wine on this showing is what thy call a Premium Product. It is going to be a struggle to persuade people used to cheap Greek or Cypriot wine in Greek restaurants that they should spend the same as they would for any other kind of wine but hopefully shear quality will out and we will acquire a taste for Xerolithia, Mirambelo, Mavrotragano and Avgoustiatis.

An acquaintance or ours was the first to bring Australian wine to the British market in the early 70s. It didn't work out then and he had to turn to other things. In only a very short time, Australian wine arrived big time and it hasn't looked back. We are sure the same will happen to Greek wine. There have already been some false starts and rumblings. Oddbins were very enthusiastic not so long ago. They have reined in their range but are still active we're glad to say. Santorini seems to have broken through to peoples' consciousness in quite good measure. Now for the rest. What will it take? Certainly some major lobbying by the wine press and more of the kind of initiative Marks and Spencer have been taking recently by stocking some lovely Greek whites. One bright spark had a solution: "You give us the Elgin Marbles and we will send you wine!" Sounds fair.

Here is a list of Greek varieties taken from Lazarakis's book. almost 100 of them. Some (quite a few) are unknown to "Wine Grapes" at least to their first edition. To be fair, "Wine Grapes" has a number of varieties unmentioned by Lazarakis. No doubt there are many others unknown full stop. In fact the Greeks have a word for some of them: "Asproudes" (generic "whitish" grapes - any unidentified white variety)

Agianiotiko
Agiorgitiko
Agrioglikadi (aka Glickerithra)
Aidani
Amoriano (aka Mandilaria)
Ampelaitis (aka Valaitis)
Ampelakioritiko
Ampelakioritiko Mavro
Araklinos
Arahovas (aka Mavroudi)
Arahovitikos (aka Fokida)
Areti
Asproudi (see above. Some do have names however: Asprouda Mykinon, Asprouda Patron, Asprouda Ariloghi, Asproda Halkidos, Santorini, Zakyntho etc.)
Assyritiko
Athiri
Athiri Mavro
Avgoustiatis

Batiki
Begleri (aka Thrapsathiri)

Dafnato
Dafni
Damiatis
Derbina
Dermatas
Diminitis (aka Diminitiko)

Fileri (aka Moscofilero)
Flaska
Flaskatsyritiko/Flaskassyritiko
Fraoula Kokkini (aka Mavrodafni)
Fokiano
Fthiodita

Gaidouria
Galano
Glikedi
Glikerithia (aka Agrioglikadi)
Gustolidi (Robola, Thiako)

Hopsathiri

Kakotridis (also Kokkino Kakotrygis)
Karampramis
Kalambaki (aka Limnio)
Kaloniatiko (aka Chidiriotiko)
Karditsa (aka Rosaki)
Karnahalades
Katsano
Katsakoulias
Kidonitsa
Kipreiko
Koklyonovostitsa
Kondokladi (also Kontokladi)
Koriostafilou
Korinthiaki
Koumari (also Koumaria, Koumantari aka Xynisteri)
Koundouro (aka Kontouro = Mandilaria)
Kritiko
Kritiko Mavro
Kseromaherouda

Laconia
Ladikino
Lagorthi (the Verdeca of Puglia!)
Latino
Lesviako Krasostafilo
Liatiko
Limnio
Limniona

Malagoussia
Mandilaria (aka. Kontouro/Koundouro)
Mavraki
Mavroudi
Mavrathiro
Mavro Messenikola (aka Karditsa)
Mavrotragono
Migdali
Monemvasia
Moscomavro
Moscofilero
Mothonios

Opsimo (Opsimo Edessis)

Pamidi
Pavlos
Petrokorinto
PetroulianosPlatani
Plyto
Potamissi (aka Potainisi)
Potainissi Mavro

Ritino
Robola Rouge (colour mutation of Robola)
Roditis
Romeiko
Rosaki (aka Karditsa)

Santameriana
Savatiano
Sideritis
Skiadopoulo (aka Foriano)
Skilopniatis
Skiotis
Smirneiko
Stavrohiotiko
Stavroto
Sultanina

Thiako (aka Theiako Mavro)
Thrapsa
Thrapathiri (aka Begleri)
Tsaoussi
Tourkopoula
Tsardana (aka Romeiko)

Vafta (also Vaftra)
Valaitis (aka Ampelaitis)
Vertsami (also Vertzami)
Violento
Vlatiko (Vlachiko)
Voidomatis (also Voudomato)
Voinoumatos
Volitsa Mavri
Vradiano

Xiroliotiko

Zoumiatiko (Dimyat in Bulgaria)












Saturday, 25 January 2014

The Pedebernade vineyard at Sarragachies, France

PĂ©debernade vines planted in Gers 200 years ago declared French historic monument

We stumbled across something of immense interest when interrogating the internet the other day. There is a vineyard in the St. Mont appellation not far from Lourdes with 190 year old vines still producing grapes in the care of the same family. As well as known varieties there are 7 unknown ones all planted next to eachother in squares so that ox ploughs could cultivate the soil.

The 6 ha. vineyard has become a Unesco World Heritage site: the first to be created from living vegetable matter as opposed to mineral (stone).

The unknown varieties and the remarkable layout are survivors from the pre-Phylloxera era - the only living examples to be recognised although more may come to light one day. Chance and luck have played a major part in the survival of this vineyard. The soil is sandy enough to have prevented Phylloxera from having taken a hold and the fact that there has been unbroken ownership for so many generations meant that when the French government offered a deal to grub up such local vines (Arrachage), M. Pedebernard preferred to keep the old vines rather than take the money. The 87 year old had been born in the house outside whose door the vines are situated and his grandmother had told him that her grandmother had told her the vines were "very old".




The vines in this plot are so diverse as to include no less than seven previously unknown varieties. The familiar ones include Tannat and fer Servadou. The unknown varieties have been christened Pedebernade 1 - 7. The respected local Co-operative, le Cooperative de Plaiemeont may even make an experimental cuvee of these one day.


Thursday, 9 January 2014

A tale of two Frappati



We have welcomed a lighter style of Frappato in the past, particularly that of Santa Tresa which we encountered first at Wine Fairs in London and at Vinitaly. The difference between Santa Tresa and other Frappati of our acquaintance is that it is 12% as opposed to 13% or more. As with Grignolino, this small percentage difference makes all the difference. There are other grapes which we think would benefit from being reduced a point or two on the Richter scale; Pinot Noir being one.

So all hail to the lovely Beccaria Frappato above, available from more than one good stockist in London and Lo! Marks and Spencer have the Santa Tresa itself in their own bottling. We warmly recommend these wines!

Thursday, 2 January 2014

And a Happy blooming Christmas to you too!



As anyone reading this blog will have realised (presuming anyone reads this blog), it doesn't take much of a pretext for us to buy a bottle of wine (or twelve). So although we can't stand Christmas, it does give us the excuse to acquire even more than usual. With hints of the impending festive season being dropped around late July, thought processes start along the lines 'what would go well with the Turkey.'

Experience has taught us that people drink less than we imagine but we still overdo it. This is not a terrible thing as there are inevitably further occasions over the period when we are called to bring out more wine impromptu and presents to be conjured out of thin air unexpectedly.

From September (or so it seems) wine writers start to make their recommendations. These get increasingly strident and bizarre as Thanksgiving (just a rehearsal for the main event) gets closer. We can't get too exercised about this. The poor wine trade barely ticks over 11 months in the year and so relies heavily on Xmas sales to make anything at all.

We always get something wrong in our buying and planning. This time we found ourselves in Tesco on New Year's Eve having realised we had only semi-sweet bubbly and the two hugely expensive bottles of red we had so carefully chosen to go with Christmas dinner fell as flat as a fart as they say.



Let's start with them. On our trip to Australia in November/December we fondled a bottle of Wendouree Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec on more than one visit to the Australian Wine Centre in Sydney. There was a choice between that and at A$10 less, Wendouree's straight Malbec. Getting into the 'Why pay less' spirit, we went for the more expensive alternative. Now we are Wendouree fans and have just loved the wines on the extremely rare occasions we have tasted them. This time, our bottle seemed to have gone into a deep sulk and no one around the table would have given it another thought. Subsequently we read James Halliday's injunction to "wait 20 years before drinking." Oops!





Nil desperandum, we had another beauty up our sleeve; a 1992 Colares from Bottle Apostle in London; the Hackney branch to be precise. With the closure of 259 Hackney Road, we just had to call on Bottle Apostle to restore our faith in the London wine scene and life in general.





We were glad we did. Having heard about Bottle Apostle it was a glaring lacuna in our wine travels not to have paid them a visit: and the one of the only shops outside Portugal to stock Colares.

Again, after much to-ing and fro-ing, we took the plunge, so it was with excruciating pain that we discovered that this bottle too had decided not to show itself as it could and should have done. What was going on? Had we not let either of these wines breath enough? Should we have decanted them? Again, the bottle could have come from the bottom shelf in a supermarket for all the pleasure it gave.

This wasn't Bottle Apostle's fault. We applaud them for selling Colares. Our experience has been that Colares is  not as age-worthy as it's supposed to be and one is playing Russian Roulette with older bottles. This was also a producer we hadn't tried before and it is dawning on us that our taste in Colares is perhaps rather particular.



In San Francisco earlier in the year we had laid out a similar amount of cash for a highly recommended Colares from a new venture, Monte Cascas. That bottle was disappointing indeed but we have seen a positive review of this wine from Julia Harding MW no less so we seem to have been unlucky with this particular example.




There were compensations. A surprise hit was the Bianco d'Alessano so kindly provided by our new friend from Melbourne, Darby Higgs proving that lightening can strike twice in exactly the same place. By this we mean that it was as sensationally good as its fellow Puglian white we discovered in a tasting 'South' - the Minutolo from Polvanera.





This was joined by the first Australian Natural Wine we had ever encountered, a very un-sulphured Patrick Sullivan Britannia Creek co-fermented Semillon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc field blend from the Yarra Valley, Victoria. As good as anything Europe has to offer of that kind. Classed as an Orange Wine, it was indeed an excellent food wine.






This wasn't the only Orange wine; Forlorn Hope's Kirschenmann Pinot Gris was a surprise as the remarkable deep gold colour couldn't be seen in the brown glass bottle. We enjoyed this immensely once we had adjusted out taste buds to suit.



As an aperitif we had planned also went off half-cock; a Joseph sparkling red from Joseph Grillo's Primo Estate, South Austraila. This was another bottle we had brought back from Australia. A handsome tall bottle with a stylish label and interesting back story. The wine is made in a kind of Solera in which there is Shiraz fom many vintages going back many years together with a hogshead of Joseph 'Moda Amarone' Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, some Australian Fortified wines and even wines bought at auction The label continues "Don't ask any questions, the answer is in the bottle. This we loved but again, public recognition was minimal.

Sparkling wine fared better over the days of indulgence. The secret is to avoid Champagne and Prosecco we reckon.



Our surrogates were a sparkling Famoso, 'Divo' from La Sabbiona, Ravenna. As we have seen in this blog. An obscur-issimo variety despite its hopeful name. Fortunately it is so wonderfully perfumed and delicious that it might well live up to its aspirations. We also enjoyed the non-sparkling Famoso (entitled VIP) from La Sabbiona.



To this we added Tesco's Finest Pignoletto. Whoever had the inspiration and courage to put this out deserves an honorary MW, if they don't have an actual one already. We have admired a natural Pignoletto before and even bought a case of it but that was perhaps too much of a good thing. This is not a natural wine and so is less cider-y. Perhaps a good thing as it allows the grape to express itself more naturally as it were.