Tuesday, April 16, 2019

A Case of Questions with Annabelle McVine, Wine Scribble

Since releasing her first Cypriot video blog almost a year ago, Annabelle McVine, the cheeky, fun-loving dame behind Wine Scribble, has taken The Rock by storm.

For the past eleven months, Annabelle has been on a tear, interviewing Cypriot oenologists, organizing funky food-and-wine pairings and reporting from the trenches at a myriad of wine-themed events.

With her trademark fiery red bob, matching lipstick and bubbly personality, Annabelle has endeared herself to The Rock's wine world, becoming a timely breath of fresh air to all of our vinous festivities.

As one of Wine Scribble's biggest fans, we thought we'd reach out to have her tell us her story.

Why wine?

I tend to get bored easily, but wine never bores me. Wine always has something to say that is worth listening to. With wine, especially European wine, and the boutique wineries, there is an explosion of permutations and iterations, every country, region, winemaker, blend, label and vintage is different. And just when you think you are getting the hang of it, then the weather changes and the next year tastes different to the year before.

Wine is also an interest that allows me to practice my writing, filming, photography and research skills. All of these activities I greatly enjoy.

First wine that really captured your attention? How old were you?

I was in Plovdiv in Bulgaria on an academic EU project in my early 20s, and I was served an aromatic white that made me sit up and pay attention. I asked the waiter what it was and he told me the variety was called Traminer. Until that point, my position had been always that white wine was not worth bothering with. That bottle awakened me to the fact that white wines can be nuanced, complex and aromatic. To be fair to non-red wines, the only white wine that I had tasted until this point was the usual Cypriot-wedding house-glass of ‘weiß-plonk’.

All-time favorite bottle of wine?

Oh, now you are making this difficult. Do I strike you as the kind of girl who would restrict herself to a single option? Have you seen my shoe collection? [Editor's Note: We love shoes too.]

Annabelle McVine & Unidentified Local Fanboy

Favorite wine-producing region? Why?

If we are talking about my fantasy wine region holiday that I have not yet taken, then it would probably be something Tuscany based. Have you seen the pictures of Tuscany on Instagram? It looks amazing. 

However, my favourite wine producing region that I regularly visit and stick my stilettos into its earth: Krasochoria in Limassol. When you speak to the locals and learn more about the history of the Krasochoria, you soon realise that they don't just love wine, they eat, drink, sleep wine. It is an integral part of their existence, and I have a lot of respect for such unadulterated passion.

Your favorite food-and-wine pairing?

Cypriot Yiannoudi and a medium rare rib-eye steak, with all the trimmings. It is poetry.

What is Cyprus missing when it comes to wine?

Sophisticated online communications, both between the wine industry members and with the wine consumers. To clean this statement up, I mean no disrespect to our wonderful winemakers, and it is not their job to be internet communications experts, but what Cyprus is missing is a clear brand identity as a wine destination. We have wonderful tastes, aromas, growing regions, indigenous grape varieties, so many things that appeal to a modern millennial market in search of a wine adventure - but no one is saying this out loud to the market segment that can travel and discover Cyprus and Cyprus wine.

 What do you foresee for Cyprus’s wine industry?

At this stage, I feel it would be more salient to paraphrase from my recent interview with Sophocles Vlassides, who told me that about ten years ago the winemakers started to cultivate the indigenous local grapes such as Yiannoudi and Morokanella. It takes a long time to convert an experiment in this space to a mass market product that is consistent and enjoyable for everyone. So, what do I see for the Cyprus wine industry in the coming years? It would be more products based upon the local indigenous grapes, more sophisticated cultivation of these grapes, which can be difficult to work with in the vineyard, and more market awareness for the consumer making a choice at the point of sale.

What do you enjoy most about your work in the food & wine world?

Getting to know the Mediterranean wine lovers around me, the viticulturalists, oenologists, wine merchants, chefs, sommeliers, and people like you and I, who have taken to the Internet to talk about our favourite subject.

What is your “Five Year Plan” for your business?

Communication is my passion. That’s why I enjoy writing, photography and making videos.

I want to keep growing as a visual story-teller and a film-maker. I want to spend the next few years focused on growing the WineScribble Instagram account and the WineScribble YouTube channel. There are so many great stories yet to be told about the people involved in Cyprus and Mediterranean wines.

However, I realise that in the process I am learning an incredible amount about communication on the Internet. It would be great to run seminars to disseminate everything I have learned about visual storytelling and engaging a large audience. I think I have worked out a secret formula here. In 9 months my Instagram is approaching 14k followers and my YouTube channel has almost 14k video views. I think this is pretty unusual with such a niche topic and without the help of any professional marketing agency. This is just me, a camera, a good eye for a picture/story and a good understanding of how today’s Internet works. I think there are people who would love to know how to replicate this success to pursue their own dreams, passions and business start-ups, and I would love to help them make these aspirations a reality.

Annabelle McVine & Orestis Tsiakkas Tasting Mavro Mouklos

Who is your favorite wine personality? Why?

I have a lot of respect for the older generation who moved into the wine business without formal education in wine-making, leaving behind regular careers for a dream. Without them, the current generation of oenologists and viticulturalists wouldn’t have had wineries to return to. They are the foundational stones of our wine industry. I haven’t met everyone that I want to yet, but three of these gentlemen have been very welcoming to me and my project so far. I should name and thank Costas Tsiakkas (Tsiakkas Winery), Andreas Kyriakides (Vouni Panayia Winery), and Charis Athinodorou (Ktima Gerolemo) for respecting this project and making themselves available to chat, answer questions and support me.

Any embarrassing episodes involving spilled wine, corkscrews, sommeliers or drunken behavior?

I cannot even start to make a list of all of the things that have gone wrong during filming. It is epic. I am the proud owner of a deeply traumatised goldfish that experienced a profound existential moment when a sparkling wine cork launched itself and landed in the fishbowl. If you look closely during the video called ‘The Sparkling Wine Adventure’ you can see the epic B-Roll segment of me unwrapping the foil, releasing the cage, but never actually removing the cork. It removed itself. At speed.

Also, for the purposes of the video titled ‘Vineyard Terroir’ I scripted myself to fail at making a Merlot Chocolate Cake, but in fact I failed at failing. The cake baked fully before the staged power-cut, and to make it look like a flop I had to behead a perfectly good cake and turn it into brownies. My mother has never let me forget the waste of cake.

I am not known for my dexterity, in fact quite the opposite. I did spend a few months annihilating corks as I tried to master the art of using the Waiter’s Friend corkscrew. It is a running joke in my office that I can talk about the wine, I just can’t open the wine.

Of course, your all-time favorite island wine?

You know what? I am not going to name a producer, that would be quite unfair to everyone else that scores 9.9 on my list instead of 10. I shall let you know that I do love the Maratheftiko and Yiannoudi wines that I am tasting right now. I love what these wines taste like right now, and I love what these wines will grow up to be in the future. Here’s to the local volcanic terroir! Cheers!

You can reach Annabelle on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or her website.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

An (Almost) Case of Questions with Sotiris Neophytides, Sommelier, Parklane Luxury Collection Resort & Spa

Sommeliers on The Rock have started to gain plenty of local and international recognition.

One of these young up-and-comers is Sotiris Neophytides, who currently plies his vinous trade as a Somm at Limassol's swanky Parklane Luxury Resort & Spa.

Sotiris, who has won the Cypriot title for Best Young Sommelier three years running (2017 to 2019), is also the second Cypriot (after Andreas Kyprianou of Vinocultura in Nicosia) to receive the Advanced Sommelier Certificate by the Court of Master Sommeliers following his first crack at the exam.

As usual, we sat down with Sotiris to pick his brain on all-things wine!

Why wine?

As part of our culture and religion, Cyprus has a long history of winemaking with its most famous wine being Commandaria. Moreover, in each glass of wine there is magic, especially when you try it blind and you have to discover all of its aromas and flavors in order to identify its region, something that we call terroir. This is why I fell in love with wine.

First wine that really captured your attention? How old were you?

The first wine that captured my attention was a wine that comes from Greece. It is called Museum and Domaine Gerovasiliou in Epanomi near Thessaloniki makes it. This wine had a powerful structure on the palate with a very long finish that has remained in my memory up until today. I was 24 years old when I tried it.

All-time favorite bottle of wine?

My favorite bottle of wine that I would like to enjoy is La Tâche by Domaine de la Romanée Conti in Burgundy, France. [Editor’s Note: Wouldn’t we all?]

Favorite wine-producing region? Why?

One of my favorite wine regions is Piedmont in northern Italy, especially Barolo. The reason I chose this region is that Barolos have both the character and temperament. They are high in acid and their tannins make the wines powerful but elegant at the same time.

Your favorite food-and-wine pairing?

I would pair a beautiful Wagyu beef with an Australian Shiraz. Shiraz has the structure and tannins to match the richness of the beef and its weight.

With Master Sommeliers Demetri Mensard (L) & Ronan Sayburn (R)

What is Cyprus missing when it comes to wine?

Promotion and positioning in the market at an international level. We do promote Cypriot wine but in very small steps.

What do you foresee for Cyprus’s wine industry?

Cypriot wines and winemaking have developed a lot during the last five-to-ten years. Therefore, I expect more experimentation from local winemakers. Moreover, Cypriot winemakers will look for more elegant styles of wines, and vines will be planted at higher altitudes. Seeing the industry’s huge improvement, new wineries will be built and, therefore, there will be greater competition between the wineries aiming to achieve a higher quality each year.

What do you enjoy most about your work in the food & wine world?

The diversity of the guests’ needs with certain food and wine pairings and of course their satisfaction at the end of the service are my favorite parts of the job. Basically, keeping the guests happy and providing them with a memorable experience through my wine list.

Who is your favorite wine personality? Why?

My favorite wine personality is Arvid Rosengren, who won the award for Best Sommelier in the World in 2016. He shows how genuine and elegant we need to be towards our guests.

Any embarrassing episodes involving spilled wine, corkscrews, sommeliers or drunken behavior?

At the beginning of my career as a sommelier I went to a table to open a bottle of Prosecco. The cork was so tight that I could not open it. At a certain point, as I was holding it, it popped out and I had a wonderful bath of Prosecco.

Of course, your all-time favorite island wine?

This is a beautiful question for which I could write in many of my favorite wines. Each winemaker has a different philosophy and winemaking style. Therefore, some of my favourite producers, I would say, are Tsiakkas, Vlassides, Argyrides, Zambartas, Vassiliades Expressions, Kyperounda, Ezousa and many more.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Fill Up My Cava - Part II

There are few moments in life when you can confidently say that you are in the presence of greatness. Most of mine, of course, have involved a bottle of wine, molecular gastronomy, live music, a piece of art or a novel that render me speechless and teary-eyed, a fat boy before an overflowing chocolate fountain.

I recently had one of these encounters, an impressive wine tasting hosted by Nicosia's Vinocultura at Aelia Wellness Retreat in Tseri that confirmed Nebbiolo as one of the few chosen varieties to fill up my cava.

Kyprianou, Altare, Karakasis & Barolo
Elio Altare, the legendary Barolo winemaker and grizzled veteran of more than fifty vintages, schlepped his way to The Rock where he guided us through a tasting of eleven of his world-class wines. In his broken English, Elio, a grandfatherly figure with a warm voice and boundless dreams, narrated his story with Nebbiolo and wine-making in northern Italy, assisted by Vinocultura's Andreas Kyprianou and Greece's Master of Wine Yiannis Karakasis.

Elio tells us that everything changed during a 1976 visit to Burgundy alongside Angelo Gaja, arguably the one man responsible for putting Piedmont on the wine map. Historically speaking, Barolos were born as sweet, oxidized wines that were difficult to drink and originally stored on the winery's roof. Precarious conditions didn't help either. Cellars were nary clean and tough to sanitize; Elio recalls potable water only arriving at his family winery in 1962. In Burgundy, after sampling wines that were that much more expensive and different to those being produced in his northern Italian home, Elio shifted gears and following Gaja's lead brought modern wine-making techniques into the region.

At first, everyone opposed him. His parents believed he was soiling Barolo's traditions. Elio, however, stood his ground. "If a son does the same job as the father, the economy takes a step back. The son must do better, that's progress," he tells us. "There's no success without mistakes, without experiments. If you're ambitious, you look for competition with the best."

The Big Boys of the Tasting
With Burgundy clearly on his mind, Elio introduced shorter maceration times and the use of rotary fermenters, which in turn churned out wines with more color, greater stability and nobler tannins. Nowadays, he uses no pesticides (out of respect for his clients), does not filter his wines, and adopts indigenous yeast to maintain the identity of the harvest,  winemaker and terroir.

Elio speaks about wine the same way you or I might speak of the love of our lives. It's that type of love where passion, compromise, disagreement, comfort and doubt come together to create something unique and endless. Elio tells us, "I don't drink a label, I don't drink a name. Wine is a great symphony, it is my job to give it harmony and balance. I make wines for me."

Ultimately, there is this comforting humility that shines through with each one of his words and actions. "I have not created anything, I have just added to the experience of vignerons in Burgundy and California," he affirms.

Here are my thoughts on these wines, which clearly depict what I refer to as the decay of wine tasting notes, i.e., the amount of wine consumed is inversely related to the volume and quality of notes taken.

Amount of Wine Consumed 1/Volume & Quality of Tasting Notes

This is a scientifically proven formula so don't @ me.

2017 Elio Altare Dolcetto d'Alba - Vibrant red fruit, cherries, licorice, mint and some meatiness in this fruit-forward wine. Tannins are really present but the red forest fruit shines through. Quite long and with an intact purity of fruit.

Dolcetto d'Alba & Friends
2017 Elio Altare Barbera d'Alba - Dark cherries, floral elements, notes of pepper. Silky, sweet tannins with cherries that sing. Not as bright as the Dolcetto d'Alba but a lot fuller. This is a wine I am convinced both The Wife Ph.D., and I could enjoy without argument considering her unhealthy obsession with full-bodied Shiraz.

2011 Elio Altare Larigi Langhe DOC - This was absolutely lovely. A remarkable nose with notes of chocolate, overripe yet bright fruit, potpourri and herbal components, spice, hints of oak. I found the big and heavy nose on this wine to be rather deceptive. Once tasted, it's sprightly, full of life, marked by the type of lightness that I fall head over heels for with a wonderful spicy finish and great length.

2011 Elio Altare La Villa Langhe DOC - Plenty of sweet spice, meaty, an appealing stink and rawness, some chocolate. Very smooth and clean and approachable after seven years.

2011 Elio Altare Giàrborina Langhe Rosso DOC -  Funky, meaty, caramel and sweet spice. Tannins are very firm, very present. Plenty of structure to age but not quite approachable at the moment in my opinion.

2014 Elio Altare Barolo DOCG - I love these noses! Stinky, raw, peppery and meaty. Plenty of sour cherries and a great structure.

The Barolo Lineup
2012 Elio Altare Barolo DOCG - A lot more fruit, floral almost, tannins have softened and wine is now a lot rounder and chewier.

2013 Elio Altare Barolo Arborina DOCG - Soy sauce, meaty with a beautiful body marked by sweet cherries and firm tannins.

2008 Elio Altare Barolo Arborina DOCG - More tertiary aromas, plenty of leather, a lot cleaner and elegant. An all-around balanced wine.

2012 Elio Altare Barolo Cerretta DOCG - Sweet spice, tobacco, meaty, smoky, loaded with cherries, a raspberry finish. Elegant as fuck (I actually wrote this on my notepad), clean, round, integrated tannins. Best wine of the night. By far.

2007 Elio Altare Barolo Cerretta DOCG - Bright fruit, floral, meaty, leathery with a finish marked by tar. Quite mineral with a great structure and tannins that are still alive and kicking. A lot less concentrated than the 2012.

For Part I, click HERE.

For an old blog post on the third variety (region) in my Triumvirate of Taste, click HERE.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Fill Up My Cava - Part I

Eight months ago we moved into a new home and my only desire (besides a massive kitchen where I could pretend to be an insultingly poor man's version of Virgilio Martínez) was to own a wine cellar. 

After countless discussions with local experts, The Wife Ph.D., and I settled for a series of wine fridges, pseudo-cavas that are better prepared to withstand the hellish heat The Rock bears down on our rotting souls come June (or mid-February if you're a Scandinavian retiree).

Obviously, with a great cellar comes great responsibility—to stack it to the brim with bottles upon bottles upon more bottles of one's favorite wines.

If you've been following my journey through wine, I've settled on three red varieties that will outshine all others in what I expect to be the rather temperamental build-up of my collection.

18-Year Old Grand Reserve Anyone?
Back in 2017, courtesy of Photos Photiades Distributors Ltd and Boutari Winery in Greece, I was invited to a mini-vertical tasting of Xinomavro, Greece's most acclaimed red variety that has drawn comparisons to Italy's Nebbiolo and has become since my landing on The Rock twelve long years ago one of my all-time favorite varieties. [Editor's Note: This article is a year late because the hirsute chubster behind this blog is a world-class slacker.]

Drinkers beware, though. Xinomavro (literally meaning 'Sour Black') can be a hard swill to swallow. When young, it can be super tannic, highly acidic and seemingly rough or rustic. These traits, however, have afforded Xinomavro ample opportunity to age gracefully for decades. In its best variations, it can be beautifully perfumed, reminiscent of a field of flowers and damp earth cohabiting with tomatoes drying on their vines, fresh black olive paste and a sour cherry orchard. It's truly awe-inspiring.

The tasting, which was held at Nicosia's most sophisticated food-and-wine haunt, Pralina Experience, was led by Boutari's oenologist Vasilis Georgiou. He started off by emphasizing that the winery's heart lies in Naoussa, Northern Greece's PDO where Xinomavro is queen, and that this variety is his favorite of all. What draws him to this difficult variety? Its versatility and dynamism as a grape—it can produce sparklers, light and heavy rosés, fresh reds and fuller reds destined for aging.

Aging Gracefully
Furthermore, Vasilis said, Xinomavro in Naoussa are terroir-driven wines. Each sub-region within Naoussa delivers a unique wine. For instance, two separate vineyards with a mere 150 meters difference in altitude result in different wines.

When it comes to the actual wine-making, a good discussion started on old school versus new school methods. Vasilis said that new school methods might be used to open the market to Xinomavro but ultimately what people want is the old school, more traditional and rustic style. Georgios Hadjistylianou, who runs the excellent Fat Fish restaurant in Limassol, opined that Naoussa leans more towards Burgundy in style and Vasilis concurred; Boutari's intention is to mimic an international wine but give it a local touch.

Before boring you further, here are some of the wines we tasted and, yes, dear readers, many of these will one day fill up my cava.

2014 Boutari Sparkling Rosé - An experimental bubbly made with Xinomavro. Plenty of red fruit, raspberry, brioche and yeasty notes on the nose. The palate was rather delicate with raspberries and strawberries up front and a toasted-bread-like middle.

2016 Xinomavro Rosé - Another experimental bottle, this one is meant to be a food-friendly rosé. According to Vasilis, the original plan was to make a fashionable, lighter Provence-style rosé, but instead they made this one, which is much darker and has enough weight to be accompanied by food. Bright red fruit, caramel, some herbal touches, really creamy. As Maria Massoura of The Wander Notes succinctly put: "Strawberry panna cotta."

A Few of the Wines Sampled
2015 Boutari Naoussa - Vasilis says that Boutari's entry-level Naoussa serves as the barometer to the vintage's success. It is the winery's generic Xinomavro with grapes picked from all of its different regions. The 2015 was quite woody—it spends twelve months in oak barrels—and marked by aromas of red cherries and strawberries and a hint of black olives, characteristic of the variety. This wine was just okay; very short, clean and simple with a nose that outperformed its palate.

2003 Boutari Naoussa - This wine clearly showed Xinomavro's amazing aging potential. On the nose, plenty of violets, mushrooms, dried red fruit and leather. Once tasted, there was plenty of red fruit still present, many herbal components and a wonderful wet earth and dustiness to it on the finish with a decent acidity for its teenage years.

2012 Boutari Grand Reserve Naoussa - According to Vasilis, the Grand Reserve Naoussa, a great value-for-money bottling, is a wine meant to be aged and it is not released for bad vintages. Furthermore, it spends two years in oak barrels and two additional years aging in the bottle and it's generally made from grapes coming from three specific vineyards—Marina, Trilofos and Polla Nera. This specific vintage comes from a vineyard called Trilofos and is marked by red forest fruit, floral elements and a lovely minty touch. Tannins are very chewy as this wine is still in its infant stage.

2011 Boutari Grand Reserve Naoussa - If I read my notes correctly, this was one of my favorite wines of the tasting. An explosion of truffles on the nose, leather, sweet spice and dark cherries working as one. Plenty of strawberries and mint with black olive pattée on the finish. It has great acidity, firm tannins, a really solid structure that will allow it to go for decades. If my limited knowledge of Naoussa vintages is not betraying me, 2011 was supposedly one of the great ones. By the way, this wine screams to be matched with food.

Xinomavro Screams for Food
1999 Boutari Grand Reserve Naoussa - Another excellent example of this variety's aging prowess. Secondary and tertiary notes are now jumping with joy. Butterscotch toffee, coffee, smoke, leather, black pepper on the nose. The palate paired dehydrated strawberries with plenty of wet earth along many of these other elements.

2007 Boutari Legacy Single Vineyard - This wine is made from a single vineyard (Trilofos) only on exceptional years. If the grapes are not allotted to the Legacy, they are then used to make the Grand Reserve Naoussa. Tomato leaf, black olives, thyme and a wonderful meatiness to this wine. On the palate, plenty of ripe red fruit and a heavy dose of vanilla, courtesy of 12 months in French oak barrels.

[Editor's Note: If any of you readers feels the need to contribute a wine or two to his cava, please contact us to arrange for delivery. I think all he deserves is a good kick in the ass.]

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Savatiano Risin'

Savatiano Chillin'
It's survey time here at Whine On The Rocks. 

How many of you have heard of Savatiano

How many of you associate this variety with retsina, Greece's piny, Aquafresh-like wine that tastes like diluted toilet bowl cleaner when poorly made? [Editor's Note: The author is not being judgemental.]

No? Yes? Maybe? Boy, I've got news for you.

A few weeks ago, thanks to an event organized by Vassos Eliades Ltd., at Pralina Experience in Nicosia, I sat at the table with the big boys of Cyprus wine for a comprehensive tasting of Papagiannakos Winery's mad-scientist experimentation with all-things Savatiano.

Vassilis Papagiannakos, who now runs the winery, walked us through his story with Savatiano, a once disfavored variety with a four thousand year history that everyone solely associated with retsina. According to Vassilis, once the winery started experimenting with cold fermentation, Savatiano gave out a range of fruity aromas in the vein of Assyrtiko and Roditis, and its potential as a dry, non-resinated wine began to take shape. Furthermore, the terroir, said Vassilis, if treated like Burgundy and other great wine-making areas of the world, could lead to the production of excellent wines that could age for decades.

Vassilis Papagiannakos (right) Talks Savatiano
Case in point, during a 2014 visit by Wine & Spirits journalist Tara Q. Thomas, Vassilis organized a vertical tasting (2007 to 2014) of his Savatiano Old Vines with Thomas boldly asking for even older vintages. After sampling the 1998 and 2000 Savatiano, she deemed these wines world-class. About the 1998, Thomas writes, "The wine is a rich, golden color and smells of petrol, like old assyrtiko. Caramel flavors gild the fresh almond notes, the acidity mild yet still vibrant."

Vassilis Papagiannakos then led us through a tasting of the five Savatiano wines currently in his portfolio, and the variety's diversity, quality and uniqueness was put on display for all. Here are one amateur's tasting notes.

2017 Domaine Papagiannakos Savatiano Old Vines - Light, fresh nose with hints of green apples, herbaceous notes, lightly peppery and almost soy-like. On the palate, nutty, mature citrus fruits, apples and pears with solid acidity. Very tough to beat at the price point, which is about 6 to 7 Euros in The Rock's major supermarkets.

Savatiano Revealed
2016 Domaine Papagiannakos Savatiano Vientzi Single Vineyard - This wine comes from Vassilis Papagiannakos' father's favourite sixty-year-old vineyard called Vientzi. Very nutty and herbal nose marked predominantly by hazelnuts. Once tasted, the hazelnuts persisted and combined with notes of apples, pears and citrus with a lovely loukoumi-like sweetness running through the mid-palate. Really good length.

2016 Domaine Papagiannakos Savatiano Natural - This was the strangest yet most alluring wine of the tasting. I really couldn't place its nose and picked up notes of mushrooms, green beans, nuts and white pepper. Really strange. One of the Cypriot sommeliers in attendance said it reminded him on salt-and-vinegar crisps. On the palate, though, this wine sang: smooth body with clean lines, bursting with touches of apple and pears. My second favorite of the soiree.

Veal Tenderloin with 2017 Savatiano Bareli
2014 Domaine Papagiannakos Savatiano Ktima - Here Savatiano starts showing off its aging potential as secondary aromas  develop. A very nutty, almond-like nose with hints of smoke and even gaminess. Plenty of orange peel, bitter oranges, lemon zest, apple and pears with a lovely nutty finish. Good length and medium-plus acidity.

2017 Domaine Papagiannakos Savatiano Bareli (Barrel Aged) - This was my favorite wine but I can definitely see how it's not for all; its unctuousness might be a bit over the top for some. A beautiful potpourri-like nose, very floral, very fragrant. Once sipped, there's a rush of sweet, overripe pears and baked apples, candied orange peel and loads of sweet spice. Keep in mind this wine is fermented and aged for five months in oak barrels and undergoes no battonage. This wine definitely needs a few years to soften up.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

To New Beginnings

Marcos Zambartas Leading the Way
My first visit to Zambartas Wineries happened maybe eight years ago. We were met by the late Akis Zambartas, who had made the winery's top floor his home. After a quick tour of the winery's small facilities two floors down, Akis, garrulous as ever, sat us in his outdoor dining room and shared a wealth of information and stories over multiple glasses of his red wines. It was a welcoming, cheerful, generous visit, the type you experience when someone happily opens the doors to his home and you stumble out a while later, tipsy and with a big grin stamped across your face. 

Following a summer press trip organized by Vassos Eliades Ltd., Zambartas Wineries' new distributor on The Rock, I can say that this heartfelt hospitality remains as strong as ever. 

The New Tasting Room
Yes, things have changed. The main reason for our visit was to experience Zambartas Wineries' extensive renovation of its top floor, which has now become a classy and modern tasting room with a fully stocked kitchen that can cater to parties and larger groups of visitors. Clean lines, some dark wood, beautiful iron racks for the bottles on sale, and a predominantly black-and-white collage of photos rendering tribute to Akis and the family tradition have transformed the space. Additionally, the mezzanine, which served as the main tasting room, will become the center stage for aging the winery's yet-to-be-released Commandaria.

Part of the trip also included a tour of some of the winery's nearby vineyards. We drove past KEO's Ktima Mallia, Oinou Yi's lavish mountaintop winery in Omodos and Ktima Gerolemo towards Agios Nikolaos and into a higher terroir populated by rows and rows of vineyards. Unfortunately, it rained donkeys and moufflons that day, so we couldn't walk the fields and get a chance to experience wine-making straight from its source.

Fancy Anything?
My favorite part of the visit was Marcos Zambartas telling us about Marcelina, a vineyard that harks back to 1921 and which he proudly purchased on Bazaraki.com (the Cypriot equivalent of eBay). Marcos believes Marcelina will offer not the best but the truest representation of Cypriot wine. Christodoulos, the winery's vigneron, called this plot a living museum of Cypriot wine as it offers a glimpse into the history of Cypriot wine. You can see how vineyards were planted in the past, one atop each other, crowded, nary a row. Different varieties—Mavro, Xynisteri, Maratheftiko and more—stand side by side, some of them unrecognizable to the trained eye. So much so that Marcos had to ship some of Marcelina's grapes for further review.

Of course, we tasted a few wines too as part of the visit. And here's always where I start to blabber like a hyper infant. Besides the usual suspects, we sampled a few surprises.

The 2017 Single Vineyard Xynisteri (now in screw cap!) is a limited production bottle made with small-bunch grapes and 40 percent of it going through wild yeast fermentation. The vineyard is located at 950 meters above sea level in Mandria and is 29 years old. I have no doubt in my mind that Zambartas' Single Vineyard Xynisteri is the benchmark for Cypriot (indigenous) white wines. Quite mineral with notes of citrus, orange peel, stone fruits and white flowers and hints of mountain herbs and sweet vanilla spice. It's smooth, lean, clean and fresh with great length and good acidity. Plus, it will definitely improve after a couple years.

Boom Goes the Dynamite!
The 2016 Single Vineyard Shiraz, a new addition to the wine roster and also in screw cap, has a limited production of about 600 bottles and spends 15 months in oak barrels with about 80 percent of it in new ones. If you enjoy meaty wines, this one's for you. It's lountza-y, spicy, smoky and loaded with notes of black fruit and berries—it screams steak in the same way I scream for a dalliance with a bottle of DRC. [Editor's note: This will happen one day; never stop believing.]

Finally, we tasted the 2011 Zambartas Commandaria, a 65-35 percent Mavro-Xynisteri blend that should be out in the markets in 2021. This was utterly delicious. A clean nose with touches of dried apricots, figs, dates, some butterscotch, brown sugar and just a hint of smoke or meatiness. On the palate, great acidity, weighty tannins and some remarkable notes of white chocolate, raisins and brioche.

Towards the end of the visit, Marleen, the winery's marketing guru and Marcos' wife, tells me one of their hopes is that Akis is proud of how they've transformed the space he once called home. From all of my visits to Zambartas Wineries, there's no other answer but yes.

For a post on my second or third visit to Zambartas Wineries, click HERE.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Case of Questions with Mike Veseth, Wine Economist

Last year, prior to the annual Cyprus Wine Competition (my invitation was probably stolen by a stray cat), the Ministry of Agriculture's Viticultural Section organized a local wine industry conference with Mike Veseth, a professor emeritus of International Political Economy at the University of Puget Sound, as one of its guests of honour. Professor Veseth, who's an authority on the global wine economy and has written several books on vinous matters, spent several days on The Rock where he tasted our best, spoke to the winemakers and delivered plenty of insightful thoughts on the state of Cyprus' wine sector. Goes without saying, the blog reached out and here are his answers to our Case of Questions!

Why wine?

Mike Veseth (MV): My new book, Around the World in Eighty Wines: Exploring Wine One Country at a Time, was released in November 2017 and the central question is “Why wine?” Why has wine fascinated us for all these centuries? Why do winemakers go to such extremes to produce wine? Why has wine and the traditions that surround it endured? I think I have found the answer, but I don’t want to spoil my book’s ending. You’ll have to read Around the World in Eighty Wines to find out! 

How did you get started writing about wine and the wine business?

MV: I wrote about this in my 2011 book, Wine Wars: The Curse of the Blue Nun, the Miracle of Two Buck Chuck, and the Revenge of the Terroirists. We were visiting Napa Valley years ago and talking with a winemaker. When he learned I was an Economics Professor he became quite intense and asked many questions because what happened to the economy affected his ability to make and sell the best wines. He taught me that wine is a business as well as an art and a science and that the insights that economists may offer can be important. My 2005 book, Globaloney: Unraveling the Myths of Globalization, explored a number of case studies of how global markets evolve and adapt. One of the chapters examined the global wine market and there was so much interest that I decided to specialize in wine economics. 

Your blog is called The Wine Economist. What do you write about and who are your readers?

MV: Most professors write academic papers that are read by other professors and no one else. I decided that I wanted to reach a broader audience that includes wine industry and trade readers as well as academics and consumers, too. I started The Wine Economist as a way to work out my thoughts about wine market issues in public where I can get feedback from my global wine readership. It has been very successful both in terms of the ideas it has helped generate and in the public reception. The Wine Economist won the 2015 Gourmand International award for best wine blog. Who knew that so many people would want to read about wine business!

You have written four books on wine. What are they about?

MV: Wine Wars: The Curse of the Blue Nun, the Miracle of Two Buck Chuck, and the Revenge of the Terroirists (2011) examined wine market dynamics as the interaction of three strong forces: globalization, commodification, and “the revenge of the terroirists,” which is the thirst for authenticity in wine and in life more generally. Each of these forces has grown stronger since I wrote Wine Wars so this analysis remains relevant and continues to shape my thinking about wine. ExtremeWine: Searching the World for the Best, the Worst, the Outrageously Cheap, the Insanely Overpriced, and the Undiscovered (2013) tries to understand where wine is going by looking at the extremes of the market where change is most pronounced. Money, Taste, and Wine: It’s Complicated (2015) examined the many ways that money affects wine – what is produced and where, what we buy and even how good (or bad) the wine tastes to us. This book received the 2016 Gourmand International award for best wine writing.

Now, as I said earlier, Around the World in Eighty Wines has been recently released. Taking inspiration from Jules Verne’s famous novel, it circles the globe seeking great wines, great wine stories, and insights into why wine is such an enduring part of life. 

What brought you to Cyprus? 

MV: I was invited by the Cyprus Tourism Organization. Dr. Maria Socratous heard me speak at the First United Nations World Tourism Organization Wine Tourism conference in Tbilisi, Georgia last year and arranged for my wife Sue and I to visit Cyprus to learn about its wine and wine tourism possibilities. While in Paphos, I also spoke at a Cyprus wine industry conference. It was a great experience – I wish I could have visited before I finished Around the World in Eighty Wines because I tasted some wines that I could have included in my book. Next time!

What was your favourite wine-related moment during your visit to Cyprus?

MV: There were many fine moments, but the one I like best was a lunch with journalists, judges from the Cyprus Wine Competition, and members of the Kyriakides family at their fabulous Vouni Panayia Winery. Beautiful view, wonderful food that Mrs. Kyriakides prepared for us, great wine of course, and lively conversation. It was the complete wine experience and a great memory of our short visit to Cyprus.

Anyone up for lunch at Vouni Panayia? Next weekend work?

What do you foresee for Cyprus’s wine industry?

MV: I wrote about this question on The Wine Economist. Cyprus is making the same sort of transition today that New Zealand made in the 1980s and 1990s, when it began to focus intensely on rising quality and broader markets. This is the right strategy for today’s global market, so I am very optimistic about the future of Cypriot wine. 

What is Cyprus missing when it comes to wine?

MV: Cyprus has all the important elements needed to move up to the next level in the world of wine – stunning vineyards, talented winemakers, distinctive indigenous grape varieties.  I would like to see the domestic wine market develop a greater focus on quality Cypriot wines (as opposed to less expensive imports) and a rising international profile. This will take teamwork, which is something I talked about at the Cyprus wine industry conference in Paphos. I think everyone knows that this is an area that can be improved and I was glad to see so many people willing to help build a stronger Team Cyprus Wine to achieve these goals.

Should Cyprus focus on Commandaria or is dry wine a better route moving forward?

MV: Why does it have to be either/or? Commandaria tells the story of Cyprus’s great wine history, which will open doors. But the market for wines of this type is relatively small and highly competitive. The contemporary dry wines, especially Xynisteri, could appeal to a broader audience. They are both part of the story of Cypriot wine today. Why not feature them both and use them to tantalize consumers about the range of possibilities that Cyprus and its wines can offer?

What do you enjoy most about your work in the food & wine world?

MV: Our friends think it must be the great food and fine wine we are served, but the best part is that we get to meet such fascinating people! We met many wonderful people during our short stay in Cyprus.

What is your favorite wine? 

MV: People often ask about my favorite wine. While it is true that I am particularly fond of Pinot Noir and Riesling because of their almost infinite variations, it is more generally true that the wines I like best are the ones that tell a good story, especially if the story involves friends.

Of course, your favorite island (and Cyprus) wine? 

MV: There is a chapter in my 2013 book Extreme Wine called “Desert Island Wines.” What wine would you choose as your only beverage if you were going to be stranded on a desert island for several months? The chapter is inspired by the BBC Radio 4 program Desert Island Discs. We tasted many wonderful wines during our visit to Cyprus (and I was able to write about a few of them on The Wine Economist). All the wines would be welcome on a desert island, but I guess my desert island wine from Cyprus would have to be Commandaria. What a treat! 

You can reach Mike Veseth on his website, Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter. He penned the four blog posts on Cyprus wines listed below:

Friday, December 22, 2017

Off The Rock: Ktima Pirgakis

Upon exiting E65 on our drive north from Kalamata to Agiorgitiko's home in the Peloponnese, the small town of Nemea—its main road like that of any sleepy village seemingly decades removed from a major metropolis—slumbered away. 

There is nothing particularly remarkable about the town that lends its name to one of Greece's major wine regions; a few wineries announced by brown signs sit along the side of the road, old men and women lounge on stoops drinking coffee, a mishmash of architectural designs rise above the sidewalks.

View of Asprokabos from Ktima Pirgakis
Once you leave Nemea, however, and trudge along narrow potholed roads to Asprokabos, an up-and-coming sub-region just south of the Corinth, that ingrained idea one has of what wine country should look like reveals itself with each turn. Grapevines—perfectly lined up in a domino rally waiting for father time to tap over—extend uninterrupted towards the sea with nary a sign of concrete to impede their march.

We arrived at Ktima Pirgakis to find Konstantinos Pirgakis, his charming wife and their two daughters waiting for us. Upon arrival we notice that the winery, which sits at 815 meters above sea level, rewards its visitors with an awe-inspiring view of the vineyard-covered hills of Asprokabos.

For those of you not in the know, Asprokabos, which stands between 650 and 850 meters above the Mediterranean, is a distinct Greek terroir equipped to make phenomenal wines. According to Yiannis Karakasis, one of two Greek Masters of Wine (MW), this specific region of Nemea "is one of the coolest mesoclimates in the country" where "there is [a] big diurnal temperature range of about 15 ºC in the winter and even 20 ºC during summertime, which is crucial for the preservation of acidity and for building tannin structure." Considering its relative coolness, says Karakasis, this remote region, which is at present inhabited by only a handful of wineries, is capable of producing "a more exotic version of Nemea, more Old World in style perhaps."

Konstantinos Pirgakis
Obviously, one of those five is Konstantinos Pirgakis' growing operation, which, at the time of our visit in July, was undergoing a significant expansion, one that should facilitate the winery's hosting of wine tourists like The Wife, Ph.D., Little Miss Despot and myself. Rooms for rent, a kitchen for culinary events, and two separate wings for red and white wines are in the works and should be completed, if my memory serves me well, by 2018. Still, among the bricks, bags of cement, naked rooms and rows of grapevines swaying at a distance, Konstantinos, in a mix of broken English and harmonious Greek, played the role of host to perfection.

Today, he told us, Ktima Pirgakis consists of twelve hectares of land. For years, Konstantinos' father owned and cultivated vineyards in his native village with some plantings now only a decade removed from being a half-century old. Upon starting the winery in 2008 and inheriting his father's vineyards, Konstantinos initially dedicated his efforts at producing and selling Agiorgitiko. He quickly realized, however, that with the market saturated by these jammy, velvety wines, it was a better bet to diversify a bit and introduce grape varieties alien to Nemea. Perfectly in line with his penchant for experimentation, Konstantinos planted the unique—by Greek standards—Tannat and Petit Verdot to grow alongside other international and local varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Malagouzia, Assytriko and the region's ubiquitous Agiorgitiko.

The Big, the Bold, the Beautiful
Konstantinos believes that ninety percent of wine quality comes from the grapes and holds Asprokambos' grape growers in high esteem. He praised the sub-region's growers for being trustworthy, organized and professional, churning out high-quality grapes on a yearly basis in a terroir that requires no irrigation. As proof, Konstantinos compared the vineyards in Asprokabos to those down in central Nemea: as evinced from our drive up the hills, the first are symmetrical and evenly laid out, while the latter take on a more haphazard and disorganized pattern. Obviously, Konstantinos recognizes that the ten percent left to the human hand remains important since a loose screw, wrong turn or weak wrist can turn perfect grapes into high-end vinegar.

In addition to the work done by the local growers and winemakers, Asprokabos' unique microclimate helps the sub-region's grapes preserve their acidity, freshness and overall structure. Thanks to its cooler temperatures, harvest happens in September, often several weeks later than what's normal for the rest of Nemea. This sub-region is so much cooler, Pirgakis mentioned, that temperatures during the winter can drop to as low as -15 ºC.

Where the Magic Happens
Konstantinos' wines are not for the faint of heart; they are big, bold and powerful yet retain plenty of sophistication. His dad thought he was crazy making such massive wines. However, Konstantinos, who's somewhat obsessed with experimentation, meaty bodies and high alcohol content, repeatedly told us he makes what he loves to drink.

Several barrel samples of his latest vintages attest to this preference. For example, his Chardonnay, which sits in barrels for two years but still showcases plenty of delicious tropical fruit, is outright opulent and unctuous, an acquired taste for those who might prefer their Chardonnays more Emily Ratajkowski/Ryan Gosling than Kim Kardashian/Gerard Butler. Likewise, the Pirgakis Petit Verdot—we sampled the 2014 and 2015—had robust tannins, were earthy and meaty, and, above all, felt like dabbing your tongue on a black pepper mound. And that's a wonderful thing for a pseudo wine blogger obsessed with hot sauce.

Here are some of the tasting's other highlights:

The 2014 815 alt. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot blend is Pirgakis' flagship wine. Konstantinos told us that this bottle, which retails at about 18 Euros, is in very high demand in places like Santorini, where restaurants sell it to clients in the know for up to 120 Euros. A pretty nose that touches on bright red fruit like raspberries and red currants, some pepper, coffee, dark chocolate and dustiness, and a nice hint of meatiness to it. It's well rounded, silky and refined with well-integrated tannins, great acidity and plenty of freshness. Started off a bit closed (and spicy) but opened up after an hour sitting in our glasses. Personally, I'd recommend decanting this big boy.

The 2016 Ktima Pirgakis Malagouzia is marked by an intense aroma of stone fruits, canned peaches and cream, Turkish delight, orange peel and lemon blossom. To the palate, it has a nice mineral backbone, a sour, almost peppery finish, some salinity, and a lovely hint of apricot and peaches that runs unencumbered through the mid-palate.

Ktima Pirgakis' Lineup
The 2016 Late Harvest Agiorgitiko is highlighted by plenty of light red fruit on the nose, some raspberries and candied strawberries, brown sugar and a lively acidity that makes it enjoyable as a simple yet somewhat enticing dessert wine. I would even dare drinking it with spicy food.

The 2014 Ktima Pirgakis Assyrtiko, which is aged sur lie, has a compelling, slightly oxidized nose marked by sweet spice, orange peel, and a pleasant nutty component. To the tongue, it has a nice breadiness combined with notes of apricots, quince, baked pears and honeysuckle. An interesting mainland Assyrtiko that might have benefited from greater acidity. Then again, maybe I'm dreaming of Santorini.

The 2014 Spilia Agiorgitiko was a revelation. I'm not a big fan of Agiorgitiko as I sometimes find wines made from this variety to be too jammy or like dipping my face in a vat full of cooked red fruit and cloves. This version, however, drank remarkably well, showing a finesse I rarely see from other Agiorgitiko wines. Dark cherries, blackberries, licorice, chocolate, smoke and plenty of meatiness dominate the nose, while the palate is marked by sour cherries, blackberries, a lovely herbal finish and great acidity that screams for this bottling to be consumed with food.

You can get in touch with Konstantinos Pirgakis via his website, Facebook (personal profile & winery page) and Instagram. His wines are usually available on The Rock at Cava Oinon Pnevmata in Nicosia.