Sunday, August 11, 2019

A Case of Question with Georgios Hadjistylianou, Head Sommelier, Amara Hotel

Fat Fish has always been one of my favorite taverns in Limassol, particularly because of its meticulously sourced and thought-out wine list.

This shouldn't come as a surprise considering the grizzled gentleman behind the restaurant's undying success.

Georgios Hadjistylianou, whose twenty-five year career as wine guru has stretched from New York City to Limassol with stops in Crete and Morgon in France, has been at the helm of Fat Fish since 2008. In 2017, he also opened Vinothiki, a small cava that purveys terroir-driven wines from some of his favorite producers and regions. Today, in addition to these aforementioned pursuits and often rocking his signature flat caps, he stars as the head sommelier for Amara, yet another five-star luxury hotel that opened in Limassol to regale the Russians.

We sat down with Georgios to get some insight into his life in wine and give him a shot at name-dropping more than an up-and-coming hip-hop artist looking for sponsorship opportunities and some spare change. Ka-ching!

Why wine? 

Other than humans and animals, it's the only other "living thing." And not to mention, the best and most civilized conversations I've ever had was with wine.

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

When in Birmingham at 20 years old, we had a wine tasting class at Birmingham College and it was myself with a friend who were responsible for cleaning up, but instead we went to a bar for a beer. Well, we never made it back on time. When we entered the classroom the next morning, the room smelled scrumptious; it's still to date one of the best smells I've ever experienced.

All-time favorite bottle of wine? 

Sorry, it can't be one as there are a few,  around 10 to 20-plus. Like in 1999, the Bordeaux tasting of 1982s, 1983s and 1985s at the Windows on the World. Also, my last day in New York City, the 1962 sweet Riesling at Harry's Restaurant. And back in 1997, the first time I tasted Austrian wines. And so on...

Favorite wine-producing region? Why? 

That's not possible. Barolo, Barbaresco, Tuscany, Loire Valley whites & reds, Rias Baixas, Chablis, Beaujolais, Burgundy (though way too expensive these days) and, of course, Naoussa and Santorini.

Your favorite food-and-wine pairing? 

The one that's a slam dunk. [Editor's note: A 360 windmill à la Dominique, we hope.]

What is Cyprus missing when it comes to wine? 

Sparkling wine and less manipulation on its wines.

Georgios & His Beloved Morgon

What do you foresee for Cyprus’s wine industry? 

Getting more exciting with indigenous varieties.

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

Exploring wines, as well as offering people interesting and exciting wines.

What is your “Five Year Plan” for your career in the wine industry? 

Since December 2016, after my time in France, I've decided not to work more than 8 or max 9 hours a day. I don't have a five-year plan. In early June 2019, I started working as the head sommelier at the newly opened Amara hotel in Limassol with plenty of great opportunities. Plans are good; however, I prefer taking things a day at a time!

Who is your favorite wine personality? Why? 

It is not possible to pick one. I'll start from the Barolo rebels—the late Bartolo Mascarello, the late Giuseppe Citro Rinaldi, and the late Theobalto Cappelano. Then there's the late Serge Hochar in Lebanon, the late Haridimos Hatzidakis, the magician of Santorini, the Tatsis brothers in Goumenissa, Evriviades Sclavos in Cephalonia, Yianis Economou in Sitia, Crete, Josko Gravner & Stanko Radikon from Friuli, Laureano Serres & Juan Ramon Escoda & Carmen Sanhuja, Elena Panteleoni, Elisabetta Foradori. I feel like I'm forgetting some—Egon Muller, Donhhoff, Dr. Loosen, Joh. Jos. Prüm, Josef Leitz in Germany, Johanes Hirsch, Schloss Gobelsburg, Nikolaihof, Emerich Knoll. It can never be just one.

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

Nothing really major.

Of course, your all-time favorite island wine? 

As with the personalities, same here. I just cannot select one. 1959 Musar white, 1976 Egon Muller Scharzhofberger Riesling Spatlese, 2001 Gravner Ribolla Gialla Anfora, 1992 Gravner Ribolla, 2000 Stanco Radikon Ribolla Gialla Collio Radikon, Salvo Foti, Roumier, Rouget. How can I select one wine? Sorry but that's not possible!

You can reach Georgios on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Vinothiki's website.

Monday, July 22, 2019

On Making A Grand Entrance

Talk about making a grand entrance. Perched immediately above Omodos, The Rock's (unofficial?) wine capital, Oenou Yi - Ktima Vassiliades stands out like a bottle of La Tâche in a lineup of village blends.

Inaugurated in 2018, Oenou Yi, the brainchild of Limassol's Christodoulos G. Vassiliades, is undoubtedly the blockbuster of wineries in Cyprus. It's luxurious and shiny and hardly shy about using expensive marble, tall windows and mirrors to coat walls and cellar floors and everything else in between. From my description, you'd imagine a gaudy, over-the-top winery styled by a bejeweled Latin American nouveau riche like myself, but it's not. I think the place exudes class and sophistication without overstepping that boundary into tackiness.

The winery, which I believe has been designed as an events and recreation space, includes conference rooms, a small swimming pool, a forthcoming spa, a high-end restaurant (more on this later), a posh tasting room and nautical miles of cellar space. During our short tour, I was mesmerized by the amount of space reserved for oak barrels. Fikardos Fikardou of Fikardos Winery has joked with me in the past about building a squash court in his winery. However, in Oenou Yi's two cellar rooms—one for Commandaria, the other for dry wines—you could build two indoor tennis courts where Baghdatis fans could play Around the World, ideally downing shots of zivania at each crossover, and still have enough room to actually age liters upon liters of wine. Oenou Yi is also planning on building bedrooms or offering space for people to stay in Omodos. I must admit that it's not my preferred style of winery but there's plenty of room for this type of all-inclusive, wine-themed experience in the current Cypriot market.

And the wines they are currently producing show plenty of potential. Aikaterini-Evangelia Mylona, who trained in Spain, France, Argentina and New Zealand and is one of three females winemakers on the island, has worked on a pretty large portfolio of wines ranging from light whites made of Xynisteri to oaked Maratheftiko and Commandaria and everything else in between.

During the tasting, which takes places in their impeccably classy tasting room, Mikhail Vakhromov, who trained in hospitality management and leads the drinking component of the tour, garrulously guided me through my lineup of wines (and will definitely try to sell you a copy of Madeline Puckette's Wine Folly). Mikhail, who doesn't have a background in wine, has been learning on the job and does plenty to engage the customer and keep them interested in what is being tasted. Case in point, if you're visiting, make sure to ask Mikhail to show you how to properly taste zivania—you'll either fully understand the traditional Cypriot drink and all of its nuances or choke on the spirit as the vapors rush up your nostrils and stumble off your stool. Yes, I almost fell.

Personally speaking, my preferred tipples were the 2018 Playia White blend of Xynisteri, Malaga and Assyrtiko, which was a bit fuller and more complex (tropical!) than the 100% Xynisteri, and the 2017 Playia Cuvée Spéciale, which works well with The Rock's favorite charcoal-fueled hobby. A special mention is becoming of the 2016 Geroklima Maratheftiko, a heavy-hitting red that's been aged in new oak for two years. Yes, it's big and bold and woody but there's plenty of jammy fruit, well integrated tannins, and a rounded smoothness that would work wonders with a Stegosaurus-sized, marbled steak. It's definitely not my style of wine but I  enjoyed it enough that I purchased a bottle and will let it sit for three to four years before revisiting.

Now the winery's restaurant, which is called Playia (slope in Greek), was a revelation. With a menu created by Andreas Andreou, the talented chef who put Skinny Fox on The Big Fig's (Nicosia for those of you late to the game) culinary map, the food is the best one can currently find in any winery on The Rock and probably the most gourmet meal anywhere up in the Cypriot mountains.

The menu has been carefully constructed, leaning towards Cypriot-inspired dishes using local ingredients and modern techniques. We kicked off the meal with a salad of baby leaves, crispy halloumi cheese, dried figs, grapes, roasted walnuts, raisins, sesame seeds, and a basil and grape syrup vinaigrette, which was bountiful, fresh and well-balanced, deftly walking the line between sweet and sour. This was followed by a pork loin braised with red wine and aromatic herbs, parsnip purée, coriander seeds, roasted mushrooms, and parsnip roots with a red wine sauce, and tagliatelle with prawns, tomato, basil, parsley, lemon zest, Parmesan cheese, cream and lobster bisque sauce. Both dishes were perfectly executed, packed with flavor and refined in presentation. Plus, I really appreciated the pricing policy on the wines consumed onsite; a glass of wine runs for about three to four Euros and bottles are sold without the typical restaurant markup.

So the next time you're up in Omodos, swing by and pay them a visit. Have a taste of their wines, revel in Playia's well-designed and executed menu, take a dip in their pool. Make a day out of it and live the life of a Latino nouveau riche who's stumbled upon a wealth of wealth here on The Rock. You'll only be doing it with a hell of a lot more class.

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.