The only real encounter I had with Greek wine before a couple years ago was in a dark little cafe in New York called Snack Taverna in 2003 – inexpensive pitchers of classic, cheap Retsina were the only thing we knew to order with our octopus salad and olives with salted almonds. The Retsina was fine, pleasantly pine-scented, and completely forgettable.
Then, about two years ago we started carrying a white called Moschofilero at my old shop in New York. I didn’t think twice about it. And then one day it was open. I pulled up a glass. The mineral, fruity freshness with a saline silver lining made me laugh out loud. Dang! I poured a little more, and swallowed. My curiosity popped.
All I knew of Greek wine before this synesthetic epiphany was the aforementioned Retsina, which had become the national beverage of Greece in the 1960′s. This gave Greek wine a reputation as frivolous, insipid, unserious. Luckily, Greek wine has been around for 6,500 years: clearly it can weather a storm. Appellation laws were established in the early 1970′s and now, armed with indigenous varietals, an ideal climate, interesting terroirs, forward-thinking winemakers, modern technology, moving-and-shaking exporters, and a hip little PR engine New Wines of Greece, Greece is back on the wine scene and poised to make Aegean-sized waves.
All the elements for success are in place, the most important of which are the wines themselves. Pink-skinned Moschofilero from Mantinia unleashes an awesome freshness on one’s senses, while steely Assyrtiko is full of salty minerals and bracing acidity (especially in volcanic Santorini) and begs for hot temps, sunny days, and light Mezes (Mediterranean tapas). Red Agiorgitiko from the Peloponnese is dark ruby red in color, complex of aroma and definitively ageworthy, while Naoussa Xinomavro will satisfy the Nebbiolo lover with its bright color, high acidity, and rich, strong tannins. This is the wine for your roasted lamb or meatballs.
Like I said, Greek wine barely passed my ‘who cares?’ test for the larger part of the last decade, but they’re onto something, and their siren song is certainly worth a listen if you’re into mixing it up a bit. Here are some of my current faves for contemplation:
2010 Zafirakis Malagousia – this wine is sprightly but mineral with good herbaceousness on the nose and an oily palate that’s balanced out with firm acidity.
2010 Tetramythos Roditis Patras – Bright and guzzlable, this inexpensive white is pretty, with lots of apple and bergamot.
2008 Kir-Yianni Xinomavro Ramnista – this rich, ageworthy red is finely built with good tannin and fresh acidity. Sun dried tomato and black olive on the palate make it super food-friendly.
We’ll be tasting all these and more with Greek Wine expert Markus Stolz of Elloinos, Friday January 27th from 5–7 PM if you’re interested in Greeking out with us here at WHWC in Los Angeles. Opa!
The First International Qvevri Wine Symposium held this September in Tbilisi, Georgia to promote modern Caucasus winemaking with ancient techniques (primarily the use of amphora clay pots for aging) got me thinking once again about Orange Wine. Readily attended by a couple friends (globe-trotting wine aficionados willing to travel all the way to Eurasia from Los Angeles and New York for the weekend), this three day conference invited a select sixty foreign guests to travel through the wine regions of Georgia. There they learned about the antediluvian vessels used for fermenting and aging wine in the traditional Qvevri style.
The conference was established as a multi-million dollar initiative by the US government to attract potential tourist attention to Georgia. But the tweets and pictures coming through repiqued my curiosity in the Orange Wine movement as a whole. The result of white grapes left to ferment on the skins for more than four days, Orange wine is reestablishing momentum in Northern and Central Italy. Skins contain tannins, phenols, and pigments considered undesirable in traditional white winemaking approaches. But extra skin maceration culminates in a white with more color, flavor, and texture.
Granted Orange Wine is not for everyone. It resides solidly within the category of ‘geek wine.’ But these geeky specimens are precisely what drives wine professionals: the yearning for a taste of every version of every country and culture. So on a recent weekend in New York, I set out to Inoteca Liquori with two friends, a somm from Resto and a somm from Lupa, to delve into a few bottles of Orange. Here is what we liked:
2006 Tenute Dettori Bianco: 100% Vermentino from Sardinia ferments uncrushed on the skins for four days in cement vats (which are growing in popularity especially for biodynamic winemakers) No sulfites are added. The wine is cloudy and golden with a nose of exotic flowers. Its apple-cidery component paired surprisingly well with eggplant parmesan.
2006 La Stoppa Ageno: Malvasia, Trebbiano, and the rare, indiginous-to-Emilia Ortrugo ferment for 30 days on the skins using all natural yeasts. It ages for 12 months and undergoes no filtration of any kind. Saffron and Marigold on the nose lead to brown sugar, honeysuckle, and coffee on the palate. Amber in color and only slightly cloudy, Ageno will benefit from a good decanting. The acidity is pure and refreshing.
Back in Los Angeles, an importer friend came to visit toting a bottle of 2002 Gravner Anfora Ribolla Gialla: Grapes for this Friulian showstopper come from vineyards straddling the Slovenian border. The juice ferments on the skins in large open-topped amphorae without added yeast, temperature control, or sulfites. Natural winemaking in its apogee. This Gravner is honeyed, savory, and mineral all at once. Spiced and complex, it breaks with contemporary wine convention entirely.
So if you’re a trade geek like me or simply an interested consumer, check out the new face of age-old Orange Wine. And keep an open mind. Even if it’s not your cup of tea, it’s pretty fascinating in its own right.
Last night, I had a delicious terroir-driven wine from Hungary. Hungary is mostly known for their dessert wine Tokaji Aszu, but they produce some excellent dry and off-dry wines and they are really ramping up the quality. There is a lot of buzz around the 2009 vintage in France, but 2009 will be a stellar vintage for Hungarian whites as well.
These wines are mostly made from a grape called Furmint. Furmint features flavors of honey, baking spice, nectarine, and lime. I took home the 2006 Demi-Sec from Királyudvar, which wasn’t as sweet as I thought it would be. It was perfect with the Mexican-style plate I had, full of meat, beans and rice. The texture was real silky. My first inclination was to think the body was thin, but that wasn’t true, it was just so, well, silky.
So much of the food we eat here in California is spicy. When my family barbecues steak, they add Montreal steak seasoning, which has red pepper in the blend. We also eat a lot of Mexican and Chinese. White wines with a bit of sweetness pair magically with these foods, maybe with exception of the steak, but hey, to each his own. Many people are completely against wine with any sweetness to it. I’m not sure where that comes from, but it is definitely a social thing to some degree. Some people may think they’ll be looked down upon for drinking a German Riesling, most sommeliers love the sweeter style.
I am absolutely in love with Hungarian wine as well as German Riesling. I implore our readers to try pairing one of these wines with spicy food. After all, do we drink our iced tea with no sugar? Our lemonade with no sugar? Our coca-cola with no sugar? Feel free to pop by and gab with me about these wonderful styles. I can also be emailed about my favorites at Brently@whwc.com.