Friday, December 31, 2010

New Effing Website

In a few days, y'all be able to follow my ramblings at:

www.whineontherocks.com

Happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On Luggage Weight Limits, Job Dissatisfaction and Footballer Fantasies

Christmas always comes early chez nous. Yet, by Christmas, I do not mean the turkey, the wine, the family and the joie de vivre that surrounds the holiday; Christmas for modern consumption-driven households like ours is defined by the time-honored tradition of exchanging gifts. You see, we have never spent a Christmas on the island, opting instead to meet up with my parents, Mr. Flog and Mrs. Broken Record, wherever the hell they may happen to be that given time of the year: the US, Mexico, Ecuador, Venezuela, England, Brazil, etc. So instead of lugging around encyclopedic books or bread-making contraptions or expensive handbags that are treated like a first-born on a round-trip journey just to unwrap them on Christmas' Eve, we push the event up a week or so. This also frees up luggage space for the kilos upon kilos of coffee (Hi, we are Mateo and The Wife, Ph.D., and we admit we are addicts...) required to jump-start our lives once we realize that we have returned to The Rock.

A few nights ago, we exchanged gifts and opened a bottle of 2008 Aes Ambelis Cabernet Sauvignon to celebrate our consumerism. Let me just say that The Wife, Ph.D., cheated me out of a Christmas this year. First, she bought me a work-related gift. A copy of Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson's The Concise World Atlas of Wine. A good rule of thumb is to never give people something that will remind them of their job. Specially when their job is oh-so-despised. Second, she really went out of her way to get me Cesc Fabregas' number 4 Arsenal F.C. home jersey, my footballing role model along with Barca's Xavi. However, as I have mentioned previously, The Wife, Ph.D., is madly in-love with the Spaniard footballer. So now I expect her to force me to don the jersey around the house just so that she can fantasize a bit about being with another man. Talk about emasculation.

2008 Aes Ambelis Cabernet Sauvignon - At first, relatively tight bouquet. Eventually it opened up and we picked up notes of red berries, some spice (cinnamon and pepper), dark chocolate and vanilla. Full-bodied wine with noticeable tannins yet quite balanced. Fruit-driven (cherries) to the palate with a nice vegetable (green peppers), chocolaty finish. A unanimous 88/100.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wino Ref Nicosia: Battle 2007 Cyprus Shiraz

[In James Earl Jones' bass voice]

Cyprus is the birthplace of Aphrodite, ancient Greek goddess of love, beauty and sexuality. Will today's valiant contestants be impotent to the demanding palates of our venerable panel of refs or will they bring plenty of heat to Dyonisus' Bedroom?

[Cue theme song: Merle Haggard's The Bottle Let Me Down]

Welcome to Wino Ref Nicosia, The Rock's spunkiest wine tasting show, where egos are set aside, tender love is made to Riedel crystal glasses, and boxed wine is used as bath water. Allow me now to introduce our illustrious referees! From left to right, the French Connoisseur, Our Divorce Lawyer, the Boy Who Married the Enemy, The Wife, Ph.D., the Disney-Obsessed Man-Child, Minnie Mouse, and the Fat Ecuadorian Immigrant. I am your host, the Man Who Lost His Sense Of Taste, and, boy, do we have a quasi-orgasmic show in store for you today.

So, without further ado, today's secret ingredient is...

[Crimson velvety curtains part, revealing three scantily-clad sirens merrily jumping inside an old wooden wine vat while pelting each other with red grapes]...

2007 CYPRUS SHIRAAAAAZ!

Syrah, or Shiraz as it's known in the New World, sprung to life in the Northern Rhone region of France not long after the Dureza (Daddy) and Mondeuse Blanche (Mommy) grapes defrocked in a remote field and did the nasty. Today, this prized varietal makes powerful, full-bodied wines with aromas of dark berries, pepper, chocolate and coffee, and is revered the world over.

Our sommeliers have selected five 2007 Shiraz produced by some of The Rock's top wineries (Hadjiantonas, Vlassides, Aes Ambelis, Makkas and Kyperounda.) Each bottle will be judged blindly by our pantheon of referees and assigned a score out of 25 points, 5 points each for appearance, aroma, body, taste and finish. So put on your blindfolds, unbuckle your belts and slip a Viagra; it's about to get de-bau-che-rous in here!

Wine 1 Tasting Notes: Plums, forest berries and some animal notes on the nose. Full-bodied, low on tannins, a bit oxidized according to the French Connoisseur. Short to medium length with a peppery finish. The Disney-Obsessed Man-Child found the wine completely uninteresting; "like Paris Hilton," he adjudicated. 

Wine 2 Tasting Notes: Very subtle bouquet, some floral, coffee and pomegranate notes. Very smooth wine with low tannins and a touch of sweetness. Finishes off with a hint of vanilla and cinnamon. Again, the Disney-Obsessed Man-Child was unimpressed: "...it's like covering your wife's nude body in chocolate, eventually you forget about the chocolate..."

Wine 3 Tasting Notes: Nose is similar to Wine 2, a bit more floral. Rich, full-bodied, very smooth with a longer peppery finish. Approved by most, particularly the Disney-Obsessed Man-Child who compared the wine to a Playboy Bunny.

Wine 4 Tasting Notes: Aroma of red fruit with some leather and gaminess. Full-bodied, no tannins, balanced wine with a short finish. Spicier than Wine 3 and a bit marked by The Rock's heat according to the French Connoisseur.

Wine 5 Tasting Notes: Bouquet dominated by red fruit with hints of earth and game. Very jammy wine, full bodied ("like Mateo or Beyonce," quipped the Disney-Obsessed Man-Child) and round. Short finish and little tannins. Second best of the lot, ranked first by Minnie Mouse, The Wife, Ph.D., and the Fat Ecuadorian Immigrant.

Final Results (Out of a Max Score of 175 Points)

5th Place: Wine #1 - 2007 Kyperounda Shiraz (95/175)
4th Place: Wine #4 - 2007 Domaine Vlassides Shiraz (99/175)
3rd Place: Wine #2 - 2007 Makkas Shiraz (108/175)
2nd Place: Wine #5 - 2007 Aes Ambelis Shiraz (125/175)

And the winner, in a squeaker, is Wine #3 - 2007 Domaine Hadjiantonas Shiraz! (126/175)

Even though The Boy Who Married The Enemy disliked our selection and claimed he "wouldn't buy any of them," us here at Wino Ref Nicosia stand one-hundred percent behind The Rock's product. Granted, while some wines failed to tickle our priva...I mean palates, a few certainly made Dionysus blush with pride. Until the next time.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bringing The Funk

Many nights I find Nicosia bereft of funk. Usually, when our busy lives as Ph.D. Do-All and slacker permit, The Wife, Ph.D., and I pay a visit to the same handful of bars, restaurants and coffee shops that at least add a small degree of funkiness to the capital. Whenever we want something new and different and toss ideas around, more often than not, we end up at home watching Love Actually or several Sex in the City episodes for the two thousandth time, The Wife, Ph.D., gladly welcoming shuteye within the first thirty minutes, me desperately hunting down my manhood in a bottle of red wine. One does find decadent Greek and Cypriot taverns in town but beyond that there are very few options for those in search of novelty.

So a few weekends ago, on one of those rare times of productive brainstorming, The Wife, Ph.D, Mike Demo, The Godmother and I headed to Academy 32, a newish wine bar-cum-art gallery just above the Venetian walls that encircle the old city. An inconspicuous sign marks its entrance and a long descent of stairs takes you into an indoor patio crowded with white candlelit tables and wooden chairs designated for smokers. Two small rooms, both sparsely decorated, seat a few more customers, while a third, detached from the rest of the space by a glass door and tall window that opens into the patio, resembles a grandmother's sitting room with its antique sofas and armchairs, browning sheet music as centerpiece to a varnished table, and large porcelain vase brimful of flowers. The jazz booming from the establishment's speakers ranges from lively to soulful to avant-garde, and the walls throughout exhibit local artists' works, in this particular occasion black and white travel photography by Petros Charalambous. The exhibit's highlight was a large piece, stylistically reminiscent of Robert Doisneau's iconic Le baiser de l'hotel de ville, of a couple kissing outside a metro station in either (?) Rome or Barcelona. Overall, Academy 32 reminds you of the offspring of a 19th century Latin American hacienda and a serene tavern on a remote Greek island. And, yes, that's a very good thing.

What drew my attention to Academy 32  in the first place was their Cyprus-only wine list. In a city where Spanish, Greek, Italian, French and Californian are preferred by any wine bar's would-be clientele, such a move takes cojones and, in my humble opinion, deserves to be lauded: it's a fantastic way of promoting The Rock's wines, introducing wine lovers to new wineries and grape varieties, and serving up something unique and cool in Nicosia. The wine list itself includes a selection (red, white, rose and sweet) from the best and most important wineries on the island (Zambartas, Vlassides, Tsiakkas, Argyrides, Kyperounda, etc.) One oversight, however, is the omission of Vlassides' Shiraz, a wine of important stature among local connoisseurs. Our waiter did inform us that their sommelier was reworking the list so I hope to see some changes or improvements on my next visit.

We ordered a cheese and cold-cut platter (only edible option on the menu) and a couple bottles of the 2008 Makkas Shiraz, a very well made full-bodied wine with a lively bouquet of peppers, red fruit and honeydew that pleasantly lingers in your palate. Albeit, my one caveat with the place was the food. The Wife, Ph.D., and I went on an empty stomach and we were hoping to get a well-stocked platter with cheeses, charcuterie, fruit, and bread, enough to tie us down for the evening. Instead, we got a tray in which fruit (pineapples, apples, pear and melon) and cheese predominated. There were maybe four pieces of local prosciutto, two tiny rolls of bread spread with caviar, some carob syrup to accompany the cheese and a small banana charlotte, plenty as dessert but not quite right for a meal. Maybe living on The Rock for so long has shifted my attention away from quality and towards quantity but, alas, shit (and grilled cheese sandwiches at one thirty a.m. chez nous to stave off the hunger) happens. In any case, I see ourselves revisiting Academy 32 to share a bottle of The Rock's finest, tap our feet to the cry of a trumpet or bang of a cymbal and stumble back home, gleeful that night for having given Carrie Bradshaw the middle finger.

Whine On The Rocks Rating: 4 out of 5 Sparkling Spatulas

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

All That Glitters Is Rock

The Wife, Ph.D., and I spent nearly ten years in the United States of Their America. During our time across the pond, The Wife, Ph.D., slowly but surely fell victim to capitalism, consumerism, marketing, advertising and all of their treacherous relatives: Crate & Barrel, DSW, Starbucks, the GAP, Arden B., Bebe, Whole Foods, BCBG, Godiva Chocolatier, Hallmark, Target, Marshalls, Macy's, Barnes & Noble, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, World Market, Victoria's Secret, Nordstrom, the Container Store, People Magazine, US Weekly, The Today Show, yadda, yadda, and (damn) yadda. She didn't care much for Banana Republic but that's only because she ended up sharing a bed with one of its fine citizens and realized there's not much there to prey upon. In any case, she took to shopping like a newborn sucks on a tit. Little by little, from all the credit card swiping and fondling of greenbacks, a fondness passion for the All-American holidays sprouted.

So now we are on The Rock and every last weekend in November we throw a belated Thanksgiving dinner soiree. I spend hours upon hours in the kitchen roasting an apricot-glazed ham and a citrus turkey, mashing potatoes, boiling rice for a Middle Eastern-inspired stuffing and steaming Brussels sprouts or broccoli or asparagus or green beans. The Wife, Ph.D., prepares cheddar biscuits and fresh cranberry sauce. My Zolpidem Supplier and Ms. Wella The Greek (who we fly in each year from Athens) repeatedly fail in their attempt to make a decent pumpkin or pecan pie. We say grace in Greek and listen to a Pottery Barn's Christmas CD and drink Moscato d'Asti (at 4.5% alcohol a Godsend) and smoke Cuban Montecristo cigarrillos and put up a fake plastic tree with run-of-the-mill ornaments and a scraggly stream of unevenly blinking lights. Yes, "transculturalism" is a bitch.

This year, lost in thought somewhere between my fifth glass of Moscato' d'Asti, my fourth glass of Maratheftiko and a glass of Cazadores tequila neat, I decided to give thanks to The Rock. For what, you ask? Well, so it goes.

...halloumi and wine-soaked sausages, flaounes and savouries, seafood, Xynisteri, Maratheftiko and Commandaria wines, reckless and inconsiderate drivers who keep your instincts sharp, construction workers belting songs of melancholy while plastering walls, blue skies and waters and the heat that follows them around, the painted churches of Troodos, loud yet supportive family, fancy friends, the inability to go on a diet, immigrants enlivening the capital's homogeneous streets, winding mountain roads and picturesque villages, Limassol's nightlife and restaurants, deliciously wasteful taverns, football and tennis galore, an exciting proximity to the Middle East, leftist and conservative political parties duking it out in soccer stadiums like immature children, the "border" as an anthropologist's dream, a peasant dialect of Greek, zeibekiko, Plato's Bar, a different kind of coffee culture, my students, the fact that the Cypriot thinks he or she is always right, The Rock as the center of the universe, religious syncretism, not taking water for granted, posh girls wearing make-up to the beach, Cat Stevens and Marcos Baghdatis, Easter Sunday, feral cats of all shades and sizes, the moufflon, low levels of crime, the Protaras beach house, reading on my balcony beer in hand, not really fitting in, the pool of money that exchanges hands every weekend via multitudinous weddings and baptisms, long bike rides led by amateur triathletes, neighborhood gossip, the paparazzi chasing around people who (when push comes to shove) aren't really famous,...and The Wife, Ph.D.

2008 Aes Ambelis "Omiros" Maratheftiko - Deep crimson/purple color exactly like one coat of Tbisili Is My Capital's nail polish or Ms. Wella The Greek's hair. Very promising bouquet of dark forest fruits, blackberries, dried figs, vanilla, dark chocolate and a touch of oak. Flabby as it first hits your mouth with a plummy and peppery mid-palate and a quite sour (like unripened fruit) and off-putting finish. Double Trouble, a consummate red wine drinker, took a sip, made a face and switched back to the Moscato d'Asti. The wine did soften up as it sat in the decanter and was consumed with the feast. 85/100.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

La Migra! La Migra!

It's been a while. But I have a valid excuse for my absence: La Migra came a-knockin'. Actually, they rang me up. Nevertheless, the trauma was the same as if they had busted down my door and dragged me from my collar into a police car, sirens a-blazin'.

A few weeks ago, an unidentified two-two number popped up on my cell phone. It was La Migra and they wanted to verify whether I had in fact married The Wife, Ph.D., out of love and not as a one-way ticket bound for a life of economic "bliss" on The Rock. You see, there's a serious issue with sham marriages on the island. Many men from the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia in search of better opportunities marry Eastern European women for a hefty one-time fee. At the same time, they agree to support their pseudo-wives through their hard work as construction workers, busboys, food deliverers, and any other sort of position rejected by the middle and upper echelons of society. The men are desperate for legality in The ShamRock, the lazy women vie for an easy way out of having to ply a trade. As an Ecuadorian nomad temporarily settled here, I will always fight for the fellow immigrant. But in this case I thought it'd be wise to obey La Migra and set aside my poorly-masked revolutionary tendencies. What La Migra wants, La Migra gets, specially when love, (inherited) land and liberty are at stake.

When my fancy friends heard about our rendezvous with La Migra, they couldn't help but mock us. The Man Who Lost His Sense of Taste wanted to picket outside the interview's location and yell out slightly racist slogans such as "Back On The Boat!" or "Deportation For The Ecuadorian!" The Enemy, also an immigrant, said she would set up shop on the opposite end and defend me to the death, vowing to pelt the xenophobes with rotten eggs, Cyprus potatoes and chunks of burnt lamb if they got too rowdy. The French Connoisseur reassured me that us immigrants are of vital importance to the improvement of The Rock's genetic makeup, while his wife, Our Divorce Lawyer, asked that we call her if La Migra forced us to do anything "sketchy" to prove our undying love for one another. The Disney-Obsessed Man-Child, who (to the chagrin of Minnie Mouse) has a somewhat erotic and illicit relationship with his digital camera, offered to document the event for posterity.

We agreed to meet La Migra early on a Sunday, the socially-anointed day off for immigrants on The Rock. Ironically enough, the interview took place in an undistinguished office building immediately across the posh five-star hotel where The Wife, Ph.D, and I ate, drank and danced the night away following our Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony almost four years ago. The waiting room was an unlit narrow corridor with several mismatched, raggedy chairs leaning up against one of its dirty white walls. A sign pointed to the door for asylum seekers yet there was no sign directing those immigrants who married out of love. We waited for thirty minutes before La Migra finally asked us in.

The Wife, Ph.D., and I were prepared for the worst. Separate windowless rooms occupied by a metallic table and a couple chairs. Lit bulbs swaying from the ceiling. Bulky shadows traipsing among a cloud of cigarette smoke. Scratched and bloodied floors. Ridiculous questions: "What's your wife's stance on pleated pants?" "Does your husband find Lady Gaga sexy? Would he [pause] get it on with her for a thousand Euros? How about a Booker Prize?" "Fast...What's your wife's favorite brand of organic cereal? Australian biodynamic wine? Nail polish remover? Panty liners? Bathroom reading?" "Even faster... what's your husband's preferred Trappist beer? Diet regimen? Shaving cream? Publishing house? Alt-country single released the same year you first reached second base?" And so on for hours without even a whiff of a grilled halloumi sandwich or a glass of water...

Lo and behold, the interview paled in comparison to what we had anticipated. I think the fact that I bore an olive branch to the meeting by speaking to La Migra in my rudimentary Greek helped. I answered several straightforward questions about my job, my family and our living arrangement. The highlight certainly was when La Migra asked me about my brothers. I told her that the youngest is a US citizen ("Through marriage to an American?" La Migra wondered; "No," I curtly replied) and the middle one is a Scot living in Australia with his Aussie girlfriend and son. A puzzled La Migra stared at me and probably thought, "Latinazo definitely got married for the goddamn papers. One brother is gringo, the other European. No way he'd opt to be the black sheep of the family." In the end, though, he let us saunter out unharmed and suggested that we submit the paperwork for me to become a Cypriot citizen. God help me.

So that evening, in honor of La Migra's validation of our marriage, The Wife, Ph.D., and I cracked open a bottle of The Rock's finest to accompany our "transcultural" tsipoura a la veracruzana.

2008 Kyperounda Cabernet Sauvignon - Enjoyable bouquet of red berries, dark chocolate, vanilla, coffee and a bit of pepper. Starts off with red berries and sour cherries in the palate and finishes off with a hint of vanilla and dark chocolate. Medium length and body with balanced tannins. The Grandparents gifted us this bottle so we saw fit to imbibe it as a celebration of our escape from La Migra. 89/100.

Friday, October 29, 2010

On Your Marks & Spencer, Go!

Food in ridiculously plentiful quantities is undoubtedly the most important thing to The Rock. Take many of its inhabitants to a three-star Michelin-rated restaurant in New York, and I guarantee that (irrespective of the deliciousness and creativity of their meal) most of them will complain about the itsy bitsy, teenie weenie servings. The problem is Cypriots are spoiled; for twenty Euros a person, they walk into a tavern, gorge themselves with enough meat to feed a destitute village of fifty in the Andes, and two hours later need a gurney (rental not included) to carry their bulging bellies back home. Tavern meals, locally known as meze, include anywhere from twenty to forty dishes ranging from yummy dips and salads to a boiled lamb's head and grilled gonads. So in honor of the island's sinful relationship with all things edible, I present my Top Five Culinary Moments (in no particular order) since the day I set my previously tight booty on The Rock.

1. The discovery of grilled halloumi. Gotta eat it to believe it. As I tell everyone, The Rock's greatest contribution to humanity after The Wife, Ph.D., and (maybe) Cat Stevens.

2. The day I found babaco (I bought three) and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (I bought two cases for, gulp, nearly $100). I am keeping my fingers crossed that one day not too far from today these items will be as abundant and cheap as the feral cats that hump into the night and overpopulate our city's streets.

3. My first tavern experience. I had just landed. I was a novice. No one warned me that eating on The Rock is not unlike a marathon, a steady, slowish pace is preferable to an uncontrolled dash for the finish line. I ate lamb testicles and chicken livers. I needed a few bottles of Perrier to digest it all. Bloody memorable.

4. Plantains are fundamental to my existence. I first tracked them down in a small African shop where the owner, a plump African woman who seemingly focused most of her business on hair braiding, kept boxes of them hidden behind the counter for select customers. Funnily enough, she said most of her plantain-purchasing clients were Latinos.

5. I am obsessed with Mexico and its food. So when I came across jars upon jars of salsa verde at Marks & Spencer, I felt relieved I wouldn't have to give up my career (whatever that is), return to school to get a degree in agronomy and find the best possible way of growing tomatillos on The Rock.

Of course, I usually opt to wash all of this food down with a good bottle of island wine.

Marks & Spencer Nerello Mascalese (Sicily) 2008 - Nice bouquet with hints of licorice, chocolate, sour cherries and mint. Medium length, starts off with the fruity flavor of sour cherries but leaves you with a strong alcohol aftertaste. A tad too acidic. The first time I drank this wine I served it chilled and I could feel an explosion of cherries inside my mouth. This bottle (served at room temperature and consumed with The Wife, Ph.D., and My Zolpidem Supplier) was not as memorable as the first. 84/100.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Wedding Wines Among Enemies

A few weeks ago, The Boy Who's Marrying The Enemy and his future wife, The Enemy, invited us over to their place to sample the red and white wines they intend on serving at their upcoming wedding dinner. Obviously, since I am their main "whino" friend, I offered to buy two of the three bottles we would taste, a 2009 Kolios Persefoni (Xynisteri) and Tsangarides Agios Efrem (Mataro, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz blend). The Boy Who's Marrying The Enemy provided a bottle of 2006 Shoufas Red Dry Wine (Maratheftiko, Oftalmo, Mavro and Cabernet Sauvignon blend), a wine of legendary proportions among our group of fancy friends. You see, not too long ago, I received a bottle of Shoufas as a Christmas gift and, well aware of its mediocrity, opted to re-gift it and give it to The French Connoisseur as a token of my gratitude for his connoisseurship. Of course, he caught up with the joke, re-wrapped the bottle himself and gave it to the Disney-obsessed man-child one night we all went over to his and Minnie Mouse's apartment to partake in a drunken dart tournament. A few days later, the man-child, probably worried about Nemo's fate or pretending to be Ratatouille with a set of skewers and a lit grill, dropped the bottle on the kitchen floor. That night we all said a silent prayer for our fallen Shoufas comrade, who if still with us would have been bravely changing domicile every few weeks.

City weddings on The Rock are of epic proportions. Almost like an autograph signing by your [enter favorite celebrity crush] and (occasionally) followed by an invitation to a V.I.P. dinner party. Thousands of people (yes, you read correctly) are invited to a cocktail in which the married couple (many times bored to death) stands on a short stage for two-to-three hours shaking their guests' hands and receiving small envelopes jam-packed with $$$ as gifts. Sometimes the wedding is open to the public; an invitation is placed as an ad in the local newspaper just to make sure one does not bruise people's feelings by somehow forgetting to personally invite them. Finger food is served, average champagne is drank, the line to greet the merry marriage stretches for a couple hundred meters. Invitees hang around for a bit and then head on out forty-to-sixty Euros poorer to the next cocktail. Given the size of such events, it is quite common for a family to be invited to three or four of these on the same day. To be honest with you, if "wedding hopping" and "wedding crashing" were an Olympic sport, The Rock would have a boatload of gold medals by now and Marcos Baghdatis would feel less guilty about downing his fair share of souvla and halloumopittes.

Those of us close enough to the couple are then invited to a "private" dinner that can reach up to six hundred guests. The decor is classy and people are dressed appropriately. The buffet is generous and scrumptious; salads, cold cuts, pastas, rices, roasted meats, vegetables, stews and a large assortment of desserts crowd several long tables. The whiskey-fueled dancing can be entertaining and even include that of the table variety (no, not of the Spearmint Rhino kind, you perverts). But the wine, oh, the wine. Generally local, generally average, generally not served at the right temperatures. Many people do not care about the wine but I do, so it is quite depressing to pair a plate stacked to the brink with tasty foods with a mediocre wine. Olympus (Etko) Salera, you've been warned. I am just kidding...kind of.

The Boy Who's Marrying The Enemy had six wine choices (three red and three white) provided to him by the hotel in Agia Napa that will host the party. Considering my pseudo-expertise in The Rock's wines, I told him to pick either Aes Ambelis (Xynisteri-Semillon blend) or Persefoni as his white and Tsangarides Agios Efrem as his red. Since he had previously drank the Aes Ambelis White, he chose to go with something new just like his marital status. As for the reds, he found a bottle of the oh-so-ever-elusive Shoufas and included it in the tasting. The Enemy contributed to the evening by preparing a luscious zucchini soup and red lentil kisir, a Turkish dish based on bulgur wheat and tomato paste.

2009 Kolios Persefoni (Xynisteri) - Bouquet of fresh-cut apples, lemons, roses and grass. Soft, very pale yellow color, almost like hay. Medium-bodied wine, quite short and simple, but thoroughly enjoyable. According to The Boy Who's Marrying The Enemy, "not too innocent." 85/100.

2006 Shoufas Red Dry Wine (Maratheftiko, Oftalmo, Mavro and Cabernet Sauvignon blend) - The Boy Who's Marrying The Enemy said this is a "classic Cyprus wine." Not classic in a positive sense but in the "this-is-your-typical-Cyprus-table-wine" sense. Bouquet of coffee beans, red berries, plums, some smokiness. Very short, light-bodied, basic wine. Nothing outstanding about it but neither undrinkable. 80/100.

Tsangarides Agios Efrem (Mataro, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz blend) - Much more complex and with a fuller body than the Shoufas. This should have been expected given the varietals involved. Pleasant nose of berries, coffee and lots of pepper. 84/100.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Vaynerchuk Takes On Tsangarides

Just came across this oldish video. Gary sometimes sounds like a constipated hen but he does a great job of analyzing (with very mixed results) three Tsangarides wines. Nevertheless, The Rock gladly accepts the publicity.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Of Grapes, Open Doors and Dwarf Ponies

I will always have a soft spot for Aes Ambelis Winery in Agios Ioannis; The Wife, Ph.D., and I served its lovely white Xynisteri-Semillion blend at our wedding three years ago. To be honest with you, it seems like centuries have passed since that fateful afternoon I foraged down the aisle decked in an Hugo Boss suit that no longer fits my frame. I guess all of the "excitement" provided by The Rock makes time supersonic. In any case, when the Brother-in-Law (who works at an establishment where (purportedly) employees look like blond versions of France's First Lady) mentioned that he knew the winery's head honcho, Giorgos Tripatsas, I jumped at the opportunity of meeting him and learning a bit more about Cyprus wine.

I arrived at the winery around ten-thirty a sunny (when is it ever gloomy on The Rock?) Wednesday morning. Giorgos met me in his tasting room, a modern and tastefully-decorated space flanked on the left by a long bar with stools and on the right by a passageway into the room storing the winery's stainless steel fermentation tanks. The tasting area includes several shelves exhibiting the winery's multiple awards in local and international wine competitions and literature on oenology, and a few white chairs and tables where customers can relax and sample the wines. The highlight, however, is the view of the Pitsilia mountains from the tasting room's glassed entrance. Once you go past the winery's beautiful, meticulously kept gardens, all you see are rolling hills, sparsely covered by trees and plantations, conglomerations of houses like pops of brightness here and there. I could very easily see myself composing this post while sitting on one of those tables, sipping on a glass of white, finding inspiration among all the shapes and shades of color clustered before me.

Giorgos was busy when I first walked in. A local grape farmer who supplies Shiraz to the winery had stopped by for a visit. The men chatted about the skewed wine pricing policy on the island, a practice by which many restaurants quadruple instead of double or triple the wholesale price of basic Cypriot wines to the detriment of the local wine industry. Later, Giorgos told me that the man is also a maitre d' at an important Nicosia hotel and that he greatly admires him for both understanding and enjoying wines and carefully tending for his grapes. "Many times," Giorgos said, "one comes across grape growers who do not care about the wine or, worse yet, winemakers who do not care about the grapes."

Giorgos got into wine while studying in the United States. Through a friend who was studying agronomy, he became interested in the subject, partaking in a wine tasting course and attending other wine-related events. At the same time, thanks to many summers spent working in his father's olive, lemon and orange orchards, he grew an affinity for the land, the plants and harvest season. After returning from America, he began working in investment banking but never forgot about his passion for wine. At the time, Cyprus wine was produced in mass quantities, predominantly for export to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and its quality left a lot to be desired. So along with a buddy and as a pricey hobby, he started a roughshod wine operation that initially produced a basic red blend a la Chateauneuf-du-Pape and a white. As they pumped more money into their enterprise and the bank loans started to pile up, Giorgos realized it was time to turn a profit and gave up his daytime job to dedicate it all to the winery.

Today, Aes Ambelis produces a basic white and red, a Shiraz, a Chardonnay, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Rose and Omiros, a single varietal Maratheftiko. It is pretty clear to Giorgos that most future work has to be dedicated to the local varieties, Xynisteri and Maratheftiko. While he is already very pleased with the initial results of Omiros, he sees plenty of room for improvement. He does admit though that Maratheftiko has its problems. The grape, one of the world's only non-hermaphroditic varieties, has to be planted in mixed vineyards for it to pollinate and grow, which leads to bud loss and very thinly clustered bunches. According to Giorgos, Maratheftiko is a stubborn grape with a long harvest season and which requires special picking. By comparison, Shiraz, the grape I believe The Rock has been most successful with thanks to the work done by Sophocles Vlassides, is straight forward and easy to tend to.

During my visit, I also met with his main winemaker, a Moldovan man who moved to The Rock nine years ago as a result of limited work opportunities in his country's wine sector. Unfortunately, I do not recall his name; you see, all I share with an elephant is its size. He gave me a quick tour of the facilities and then handed me a glass of the 2010 Rose (a Maratheftiko/Lefkada blend) poured straight out of the stainless steel barrel. You must understand that this sort of shit does not happen to me when I go visit wineries. I know little about the subject, my nose might be big but it ain't refined or trained to pick up subtle hints of grilled eggplants with undertones of dirty laundry, and my palate is better suited for heavy, rich foods like tiramisu or Neapolitan pizza. In any case, I was thrilled to give it a try; the wine has a lovely fruity bouquet and bursts in your mouth with all sorts of citrus flavors, good acidity and a sensational crisp, tangy finish. When compared to the 2009, the new vintage is much livelier and complete.

Besides making exceptional wines across-the-board, Giorgos believes the only way to survive as a winemaker in Cyprus is to open one's doors to visitors and tourists and actively promote the winery within society. He was very keen on me stopping by whenever I wanted, either to take pictures, hang out, ask naive questions only an Ecuadorian rookie could possibly ask, or taste his wine. If all local winemakers displayed just a fraction of this agreeable and welcoming attitude, the wine industry on The Rock would be booming like Rio de Janeiro on New Years.

As part of this vision, on October 10th Giorgos held his annual wine party, chock full of wine, charcuterie (wine-soaked sausages, smoked ham and Cypriot prosciutto), local sweets made of grapes and nuts, basket-weaving artisans, and entertainment for the children. After gobbling up half a lamb for lunch, The Wife, Ph.D., and I, along with the Parents-in-Law, the Brother-in-Law and Double Trouble (soon to be Sister-in-Law), decided to stop by for a drink and dessert. The winery was crowded with people of all ages meandering around the gardens, tasting all of the delicacies and wines on display. There were also bottles for sale at discounted prices (including Magnums of Omiros) and an organized tour of the property on the hour. We had a brief chat with Giorgos, who took the time to welcome his guests and mingle, and then we stood by an old oak barrel that sat on its side and served as a makeshift high table. I tasted the 2007 Shiraz, 2008 Omiros and the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and bought a few bottles to study more carefully chez moi.

Then the dwarf ponies made an appearance, both of them lugging ecstatic boys, and Double Trouble, also ecstatic at the sight of her childhood's dream pet, asked her future husband for one. Keep in mind that they live in a two-bedroom apartment and the Parents-in-Law, who own a house and have enough space to build a small stable, are reluctant to look after a dog or cat, mind you an undersized horse. Obviously, the Brother-in-Law shook his head and barked out that these are times of economic crisis, not times for spendthrifts to engage in unrestrained shopping therapy.

Yet, in my opinion, the solution is quite simple. Instead of purchasing the animal, why not just leave church after the upcoming wedding ceremony on a couple of dwarf ponies rather than in a (...quadruple yawn...) luxury sedan? Sounds to me like a good (and relatively inexpensive) way of feeding the dream...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Something Different #1

The first time he awoke at dawn to the muezzin's call to prayer he thought the country was again at war. The bedroom's windows were wide open and the siren-like drone swallowed the purring of the gang of hungry cats scavenging through the garbage dumps outside. He was too tired to wake her up and ask for an explanation. She had bundled her warm body up against his torso and she breathed heavily, solemnly even. He flipped over his pillow, the cold surface hit the side of his face like fleeting snow, and he managed to fall back asleep.

Yesterday, after many years of uninterrupted sleep, he heard it again. The windows were closed but the autumn winds blew in the direction of his apartment and carried the call into his empty bed. Only God was with him that morning. He missed the waft of freshly brewed coffee, the clapping of size six sandals on the hardwood floor, the sleepy sight of a perfect body wrapped in a terry cloth towel, the disorganized sound of rummaging through a jewelery box, the gentle press of her lips on his cheek and the "Have a lovely day" or the "See you for lunch" or the "What are we doing tonight?" He opened his night table's top drawer and picked up the scented piece of pink stationary, unfolding it and pressing it against his chest. "I cannot do this anymore, I am sorry. Goodbye."

It was almost six a.m. and like every other day he resigned himself to the bottle.

2009 Domaine Sigalas EAN Rose (Agiorgitiko, Mandilaria and Mavrotragano) - Lovely rose wine made by Assyrtiko master Paris Sigalas. Poured into the glass it resembles a Pinot Noir, maybe even a tad darker and deeper. Its nose bursts with aromas of plums and strawberries with undertones of vanilla and caramel. Very long, begins with a fruity flavor reminiscent of pomegranate, plums and red berries, and has a wonderful mineral-ly, tart finish. Good acidity and pretty well balanced. 90/100.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Napa Snobbery

Wine tastings on The Rock are jovial beasts. Those that I have attended have ended in a stuffed belly, a solid buzz and the careless acquisition of bottles upon bottles of relatively pricey wine that may or may not be necessary to my survival. Obviously, any time I hear about one of The Rock's many wine shops opening its doors and uncorking its noteworthy supplies for its patrons, I jump into my station wagon (What? You guys really thought I drove a Porsche?) and speed in the opposite direction of sobriety. The Wife, Ph.D., is (more often than not) with me as the designated driver. She also reassures random customers that I am a decent guy despite my (sometimes) loud/foul mouth and (always) sloppy sense of style.

So two days ago, I landed at a local wine shop for a tasting of Beringer (California), Wolf Blass (Australia), Penfolds (Australia) and Matua Valley (New Zealand) wines. The Wife, Ph.D., was busy with a baby shower (no, not ours) so, instead of braving the event with my usual companion, I met up with Cousin #2, Tbilisi Is My Capital and [drum roll] The Wine Snob. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, one of my many fancy friends is a veritable wine snob: she adamantly refuses to drink The Rock's wines. When she found out that Tbilisi Is My Capital and I wanted to stage and invite her to a blind tasting of Shiraz including some of Cyprus's best, she reacted as if we had just used her last bottle of 1976 Penfolds Grange to make bolognese sauce. The woman likes her wines and she lets it be known.

Going into the event, I had decided to focus all of my tasting efforts on the 2008 Matua Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and the 2008 Matua Valley Marlborough Pinot Noir, the only two island wines on display. The plan was to get to know these two inside and out so that when time came for me to sit in front of this scary glaring screen and write a new post I wouldn't need to digress and rely on visits to the bakery or Scandinavian misadventures or fantasies involving Eva Mendes and The Wife, Ph.D., to fill up the bloody page. By the way, if my wife'd ever cheat on me with a girl, it'd only be with Eva. How hot is that?

But then The Wine Snob threw a giant wrench in my well-oiled tasting machinery and gave me a sip of a lovely 2004 Beringer Private Reserve, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, a pricey bottle that was hidden behind the counter for VIP customers who spend thousands of Euros on wine and deserve (once in a while) a small token of appreciation for their business from the store's owner. From thereon out, The Wine Snob hooked me up with tastings of behind-the-counter wines (it all sounds so illicit!) including a 2005 Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2004 Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon. And then she treated us to a bottle of 2004 Marques de Murrieta Dalmau Reserva (Spain), the second best wine of the evening only beaten by the sumptuous yet fleeting sip of the Beringer Private Reserve that vanquished my original plan. In our drunken stupor, The Wine Snob began to refer to me as the tick or the lice or the mooch or the gnat or the leech or the flea (take your pick) and, to be honest with you, she's absolutely right. Addicts will do anything for a fix.

By the end of the night, we were in a dark tavern somewhere in the city, eating kebab, smoking, drinking a Ripassa Valpolicella, talking absurdities and improprieties. My belly was full, the buzz was doing the funky chicken north of my neck, and my sorry excuse for a wine cellar was three bottles richer. Two Sauvignon Blanc, one Pinot Noir. Both from New Zealand. My plan might have been temporarily derailed but like Iakovos Bauer I will not be contained.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Our Resident Guru Takes On Crete

They say that behind every great man there is a great woman. That's certainly true for if I say no to that, The Wife, Ph.D., will unleash her wrath upon my poor soul and have the local authorities cuff me, blindfold me, stuff me in a Cyprus potato sack and put me on the first flight back to Quito. For the purposes of this blog, however, there's also a man who has patiently showed me the ropes to the world of wine. I am referring to the French Connoisseur, owner of a veritable stock of French wines, Le Nez du Vin Wine Aroma Kit and a whole lotta everything else French-and-wine-related running through his veins. Along with the Man Who Lost His Sense of Taste, he runs Oenothiki, a wholesale distributor of quality French wines on The Rock. I believe the only thing the French Connoisseur loves more than wine (excluding his family, of course) is to suffer through marathons, triathlons, impossibly long bike rides and any other endurance tests that make his friends look like lazy and unfit slackers who only care about eating, drinking and scratching their, uhm, corks on the couch. Maybe I should just go ahead and change his moniker to Bernard Vin-ault.

Since the French Connoisseur is Whine On The Rocks' resident guru, I decided to put him to the test and have him rate an island wine. A few weekends ago, while together with the wives in Athens enjoying dinner, he handpicked a Cretan white, Xerolithia 2009 made from the local Vilana grape. According to greekwinemakers.com, this varietal
...is the chief white cultivar in Iraklio Prefecture in Crete and the only variety permitted under the Peza OPAP appellation for white wines. Vilana produces fresh, low alcohol wines perfectly suited to quaffing in their region of origin. Despite the appellation, however, Vilana wines can display a wide range of quality. They are prone to oxidize and quality is greatly affected by vineyard elevation, orientation and yields. At its best, Vilana produces Granny Smith fruit on the nose and mouth. Less conscientious treatments can be pleasant and light, but a bit mushy and nondescript as well.
I took notes while the guru spoke.
Additionally, Decanter's World Wine Awards 2010 (Greece's region chaired by Nico Manessis) advises wine lovers to keep an eye on the "2009 Vilana, varietal or blended, from Crete. This spicy white took a big step-up this year, showing the differences possible in these wines."

So now I will just shut up and let the man speak his truth.

2009 Xerolithia, Peza, Crete (Vilana) - Green apples, citrus, vanilla bouquet vaguely reminiscent of an Assyrtiko. Taste is mostly citrus with medium length. Highly acidic, lacks body and dynamism, a tad fizzy. Its nose is much better than its taste. 70/100 (according to the French Connoisseur) but, since these are times of economic crises and I tend to grade on a steep curve, I am taking the liberty of boosting the wine's grade up to an 82/100. Yes, I did taste it too and it was just okay.

Monday, September 13, 2010

No Souvla, No Gold

Last night, The Wife, Ph.D., and I partook in a traditional Sunday evening activity among The Rock's population: a visit to the bakery and the periptero, a souped-up, usually family-owned 7-Eleven-type convenience store where (depending on its size) one can find anything from condoms to disposable grills. At the bakery, we bumped into the Disney-obsessed man-child and Minnie Mouse (The Rock is small, people) and engaged in some light banter involving how I exceeded my weekly beer quota by roughly six bottles. Yes, I am on another one of those Sisyphean diets that goes from strict to semi-strict to casual to who-gives-a-damn-what-I-eat-or-drink-I-would-rather-die-happy-and-in-peace. The bright side is that my dietitians/trainers/psychologists (the Disney-obsessed man-child and The Wife, Ph.D.) have not put any limitations on the amount of wine I am allowed to consume. So at least I have that going for me.

In any case, we said our goodbyes and The Wife, Ph.D., and I walked into a nearby periptero where I picked up Decanter's World Wine Awards 2010 issue. Surprisingly enough, the two top-rated red wines in the Southeast Mediterranean region belonged to our beloved rock. The Zambartas Maratheftiko 2008 and the Zambartas Shiraz Lefkada 2008 took home two of the three Silver medals awarded to a region that included entries from Turkey, Malta and Morocco. According to Regional Chair, Angela Muir, Cyprus is "beginning to make some very elegant reds, which combine punch, finesse and length with enviable fruit concentration," adding that the two Silver medal winners "only missed out on Gold because they are still a little young and needed the souvla that they were born to accompany." So typical of Cyprus to strike out on gold as a result of a lack of meat. But, hey, at least we spanked them Turks.

Interestingly enough, the chairwoman suggests that we keep an eye on the dry roses, three of which came from Cyprus and were commended by the jury. Muir believes "the young ones are increasingly showing superb fruit flavours of real pizzazz" and "are often better than the whites." When it comes to The Rock, this sentiment is shared by Cypriot wine journalist Yiannos Constantinou; in his The Cyprus Wine Guide (ed. 2009), he highly rates many of the island's roses and posits that this variety, along with Xynisteri and Commandaria, is its most interesting. Two of these wines were reviewed here by my fancy friends and me.

Decanter's Tasting Notes for the Two Silver Medal Winners

Zambartas, Maratheftiko, Troodos South 2008 (13.5%) - Spicy aromas of restrained red and blue cherries with a balanced black fruit character on the palate.

Zambartas, Shiraz Lefkada, Troodos South (14%) - Attractive aromas of blue and black cherries with spicy notes. The palate has ripe red fruit and balanced tannins.

Bronze medals were awarded to Sodap's Island Vines (White), Troodos South 2009 and Stroumpeli Lefkada (Red), Troodos South 2007, and the following Cypriot wines were commended by the committee:

White

Ezousa, Xynisteri Dry, Troodos East 2009 (12%
Sodap, Kamantarena Xynisiteri Dry, Troodos South 2009 (12%)
Sodap, Mountain Vines Semillon, Troodos South 2009 (13.5%)
Zambartas, Xynisteri, Troodos South 2009 (12%)
Zambartas, Semillon, Troodos South 2009 (12.5%)

Rose

Ezousa, Eros Rose, Troodos East 2009 (13.5%)
Sodap, Island Vines Rose, Troodos South 2009 (12%)
Zambartas, Lefkada Cabernet Franc, Troodos South 2009 (13%)

White (Fortified)

Sodap, Commandaria Saint Barnabas, Commandaria 2005 (15%)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Airport Madness

Last year, The Rock inaugurated a state-of-the-art airport in Larnaca. The old airport--an antiquated, plain structure that forced passengers to board shuttle buses to transport them to the main terminal and had a rather limited selection of shops and restaurants--had been hastily built in 1974 following the Turkish invasion of the island, a tragic event that besides bringing grief and anger to an entire nation rendered the Nicosia International Airport useless. The new airport is fully equipped with sixteen jetways, a veritable cornucopia of high-end products and brands for sale, efficient baggage conveyor belts and immigration officials, dozens of check-in counters, and food and beverage galore for both kids and adults. Imagine that during a recent trip, The Wife, Ph.D., was quite close to having a micro-orgasm when she stumbled upon The Rock's first Kiehl's store firmly entrenched in the airport's cosmetics section.

I must admit that part of me longs for that tired walk down the passenger boarding stairs in Larnaca. Feel my face strike that thick wall of humidity and salty air and the sun hit my pores as soon as I turn the corner past the smiling flight attendants and then see all the shades of blues and greens spread out in opposite directions before me. That short traipse, wherever it may be, always takes me back to my childhood, days when Quito's airport was just as rudimentary and I would arrive on holidays to be met by a massive volcano and graying parted clouds above, decrepit homes perched on the hillsides and the distinct scent of rain on the ground, and I would set my foot on the tarmac, sometimes wishing I could just kneel down and kiss its ruggedness in a show of gratitude, and walk maybe one hundred meters into the main terminal to officially mark my return home. But I digress.

If there is one area in which the new airport is just as retrograde as the old is in its wine selection. Besides the usual duty-free offerings, the new airport has a shop called Kypriaka, a tourist's one-stop shop for all-things Cypriot. Here one can purchase halloumi (undoubtedly The Rock's greatest contribution to mankind apart from The Wife, Ph.D.), smoked hams and sausages, caramelized nuts, traditional sweets, olive products, liqueurs, textiles, t-shirts, pottery and other Cyprus-themed knickknacks. However, one does not come across what are considered to be The Rock's best wines; on my last trip out of this hellhole, I studied the shop's shelves only to find on display the mostly average wines produced by three major companies (Olympus or ETKO, SODAP and KEO) and Fikardos, a largish, rather unfocused winery located in Pafos. Don't get me wrong, though, a select few of the wines concocted by these four wineries are rather tasty and popular among tourists and locals alike. But why would a shop that (in a narrow sense) is the world's window into Cyprus not sell or at least introduce its customers to The Rock's best wines? Why not also stock the shelves with samples by Domaine Vlassides, Zambartas, Kyperounda, Domaine Argyrides, Tsiakkas and Domaine Hadjiantonas (although the latter's wine pricing policy is slightly off the mark)? Or lay a few bottles of Ayia Mavri's award-winning Mosxatos alongside all the Commandaria?

The Wife, Ph.D., theorizes that,  in addition to being relatively inexpensive, these wines (Othello, Alkion, Arsinoe, Ktima Keo, Thisbe, etc.) are on offer because they are the ones most tourists order and enjoy at taverns and restaurants. At the same time, I doubt many of The Rock's "boutique" wineries can reliably supply their wines to a shop with a fairly steady clientele (i.e. bored/nervous passengers with extra Euros to spare and/or last-minute shoppers) and what I assume is a rather high turnover rate for its products. Kypriaka does however sell Yiannos Constantinou's indispensable The Cyprus Wine Guide so there's always the hope that curious visitors will at least skim through a copy while waiting for their flight to board and realize that there's a whole world of Cypriot wines left to explore...

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fjording Around

Just a few days ago, The Wife, Ph.D., and I returned from a ten-day tour of Norway, fourth (temporary) headquarters of the Jarrin family and home to my youngest brother, Shawarma Leg Lover. My parents, Mr. Flog and Mrs. Broken Record, were there too, primarily to provide some financial backing in what surely is one of the most outrageously expensive countries in the world. I must admit Norway is a wonderful place where high art, Mother Nature, first-class Viking genes and market socialism meet up to create an organized, carefree, educated, well-off and physically attractive society. Or better yet some sort of Nirvana for men like Mr. Flog who have a soft spot for long-legged, pseudo-tanned, relatively promiscuous blond bombshells.

I am fully aware that Norway is a tad too nippy for the production of quality wines and that geographically speaking it cannot be considered a "rock." At the same time, Mrs. Broken Record, who recently released an EP including the hit singles "Chapter 11," "Stop Chewing Your Nails," and "My Oldest Son is Fat," was a bit concerned with our expenses. You see, this is the first time in more than three decades that Mr. Flog is unemployed, happy and devouring books like a gifted child on Red Bull. And as a family we simply love to eat and drink well, and that never fails to make a dent in our pockets. Nevertheless, thanks to Mr. Flog's love of fine wine and overall jubilation, The Wife, Ph.D., and I had the opportunity to taste several exquisite ones. "Under one condition, of course," dictated my father, "that you write about it in your flog." Well, as promised, here are the highlights:

2005 Bisceglia Aglianico de Vulture Gudarra (Basilicata, Italy)

2007 Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir (Marlborough, New Zealand)

2008 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand)

2006 Felsina Fontalloro (Tuscany, Italy)

I brought back a bottle of the Aglianico de Vulture and I already own a bottle of the 2008 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. And I will try to get my hands on a bottle of the Pinot. I will add tasting notes once they receive my undivided attention. Between Mrs. Broken Record's nonstop nagging and Shawarma Leg Lover's ramblings about the Brazilian woman's derriere, they were too hard to accurately assess.

As for the Fontalloro, let's just say it's probably the best bottle of wine I have ever had. That does not say much but...baby steps.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Summer Celebration of Everything Cypriot: The Pilot

It's a hot summer day and most Nicosians drive away from the sun-scorched desert towards The Rock's southeastern coast and its crystalline beaches. On route, temperamental drivers flash their lights at those slowing down the flow of traffic, while youngsters on motorbikes slalom their way through the automobiles at death-defying speeds. Passengers sway their heads to the Greek pop or laugh at the political talk shows that blare from within the air-conditioned cabins. Others engage in banal banter. Twenty-five minutes into the journey, the Mediterranean sea and its shades of blue emerges as backdrop to a few church steeples and Larnaca's harbor. Exit left. Thirty minutes later, the crowds disembark in Agia Napa and Protaras, the capital's weekend playground.

Once this multifaceted conglomeration of drivers reaches the beach, it splits into three groups. First are those who show up for the show, the allure, the flash. Second are those who embrace their working-class traditions and all that is practical. Then there's a third group, which includes The Wife, Ph.D., et al, that falls somewhere between show and tradition but in reality couldn't care less about either. Albeit, it's a boring hybrid of the first two so I will spare you a detailed description of its modus operandi.

Those for show only go to the "popular" beaches to see and be seen. Girls in small bikinis don makeup, their hair is up in fancy buns generally reserved for the catwalk or a wedding, their eyes are covered in sunglasses emblazoned with D&G, Gucci, Armani or Versace on their hinges or temples, and their arms carry handbags that if sold on the black-market could feed a Bolivian village for a week or two. They are suntanned and sinfully skinny and gossip endlessly about other women just like them, many times studying them from head to toe just to spot more flaws to add to the already scathing review of their persona. And when they go for a swim their heads bob above the surface like buoys because (God forbid!) the salty water smudges their mascara or renders their coiffure useless or ruins their expensive beach gear. The boys, who hang around waiting to impress the gals with their semi-sculpted bodies and luxury cars and Villebrequin bathing suits, sip on overpriced Corona or Smirnoff Ice or Bacardi Breezer or iced coffee and talk about football or investment banking or cars and play on their iPhones and flirt only with those girls who approve of their status, bank accounts and handsomeness.

The second group arrives prepared for the end of the world or (at least) a long-lasting war. From the back of their pick-up truck or SUV, they pull out folding chairs and tables, water coolers stuffed with sandwiches, watered-down beer, soft drinks, fruit, cookies and potato chips, promotional towels and umbrellas, rackets and balls, floating devices, shovels, rakes and pails to build sand castles, water guns, head wear, a deck of cards and a backgammon board, magazines and newspapers, a radio, and an extra change of clothes. The bolder ones also unload a grill, some raw meat and a sack of charcoal to cook up some lunch. They set up their camp with great agility (in essence moving their living room, dining room and kitchen to the coast for a day or two) and then sit their asses down to soak in the rays, splash around the water like carefree dolphins, and mind their own business, totally unconcerned about what others might think of their weekend beach bunker.

So last Sunday, to the chagrin of Minnie Mouse and The Wife, Ph.D., the Disney-obsessed man child and I decided to stage the 1st Annual Traditional Cypriot Sunday (ATCS), a celebration in honor of this second group of beach revelers. Decked in over-sized wife beaters, we strolled down to a relatively uncrowded beach carrying two folding chairs, a Rothman's cigarettes promotional umbrella, Nivea and Omonoia (the leftist football squad on The Rock) towels, two coolers stuffed with refreshments, a battery-operated frappe (iced coffee) maker, cake and cookies, plastic cups, comic books, beach rackets and ball, a giant floating device for two, a quarter of a watermelon (which if we had brought whole we would have put in the water to keep chilled) and a liter box of KEO white wine. Of course, the wives were totally embarrassed and asked us to sit as far away as possible. Of course, we refused and promised them we wouldn't forget to bring along the pick-up truck, grill, meats and fancy friends the following year.

Boxed KEO White Wine - A slight hint of fresh cut apples. Absolutely no caudalie. Not much else. We drank it on the rocks and in plastic cups as per the rules of the event. For the 2nd ATCS, we might do a horizontal tasting of boxed wines. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sweet Mother of Jesus

Sweet mother of Jesus, Carles Puyol's head is made of steel. That was my first reaction after the shaggy central defender belted a header past the high-flying German goalkeeper and into the net.

Instead, The Wife, Ph.D., and My Zolpidem Supplier celebrated as if Cesc Fabregas had just laid eyes on them and offered to teach them how to juggle a football (in bed). Like teenage girls, they laughed and shrieked in unison. They took big bites into a cookie or a slice of banana bread and grinned wide. Dozens of crumbs fell onto the parquet floor to the bewilderment of the local ant population, which must have confused the ladies' clumsy happiness with a showering of gifts from their insect Gods. And then, in some sort of cleansing ritual, they both washed it all down with a long swig of sweet wine.

Keep in mind that The Wife, Ph.D., is obsessed with Spain's Number 10 and wouldn't think twice before leaving me for his coiffured look, youthful physique, flawless technique and seven or eight-digit bank account. If this ever happened, though, every Fourth of May she would be reminded of her betrayal. You see, Fabregas and I share the same birthday and that would be enough to get me through all those lonely, cold nights stuck on The Rock. Unless, of course, Eva Mendes showed up for an overnight session of scantily clad Twister. I wouldn't say no to that.

2006 Ayia Mavri Mosxatos (Muscat) - This is probably The Rock's best wine, having won a Gold Medal at the 2009 Muscats du Monde competition. Beautiful deep amber color. Powerful bouquet reminiscent of dried apricots and figs, quince, orange peel, honeysuckle and brown sugar. Full bodied, long and luscious, very thick to the mouth. Sublime if you enjoy dessert wines. 93/100.

Overall Football-Watching Experience: 1.5 out of 5 only because sweet wines and football mesh as well as Lindsey Lohan and sobriety.

Final Tally: 1) Rose; 2) White; 3) Red, and; 4) Sweet. Or we simply had more fun watching Ghana's National Team instead of 2010 World Cup Champions Spain.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Palms of God Are Pink

On Friday I decided to chuck the playbook out the window and improvise. Two wines instead of only one. A small yet festive group of co-tasters including the Disney-obsessed man child, his wife Minnie Mouse, and The Wife, Ph.D's best friend, My Zolpidem Supplier. A thirty-seven Euro can of French foie gras. There were also other foods (dates wrapped in bacon, brie, prosciutto, chorizo, salami, smoked ham, gorgonzola, tabbouleh, baguettes, black olives, chocolate mousse, etc.) but who really gives a damn when the centerpiece involves the pricey livers of force-fed ducks. Cypriot men only wish they were so lucky to be stuffed with kebab by some cute French farm girl.

To keep things even more interesting, we placed a few bets prior to kickoff. Gambling is legal and sickeningly pervasive on The Rock. Brave its streets for a few days and on every corner you will see a betting shop or casino, their schizophrenic signs an eyesore to some, an open invitation to waste away to others. The Wife, Ph.D., gambled in favor of the South Americans while I put my five euros on at least one homesick Uruguayan fan confusing a vuvuzela with a bombilla and sucking instead of blowing. Not that there is much of a difference when it comes to other endeavors but, in this case, it is one thing to contribute to noise pollution and another to feel the steamy, sweet, herbal nectar of the Pampas sliding down your throat.

In the end, improvisation (like the foie gras) was the night's brilliant centerpiece. Just ask all those future generations of Ghanaian children who will be tormented in their sleep by a rabbit-toothed, sleepy-eyed white man dressed in sky blue slapping their footballs away with the bright pink palms of his hands. Luis Suarez is a God in Uruguay but in Ghana he is the closest thing to the bogeyman.

2009 Zambartas Rose Cabernet Franc/Lefkada - This wine was commended by Decanter, the UK's premier wine magazine. A beautiful cranberry yet slightly cloudy color. A lovely bouquet of fresh-cut roses, strawberries and pomegranate. Somewhere between tart and crisp to the mouth, very flavorful and refreshing. Slightly acidic. 90/100.

2009 Ezousa Rose Maratheftiko -Unique aromas pop out of this very interesting wine made of Maratheftiko, The Rock's most promising indigenous red grape. Imagine a freshly-baked banana, peach and caramel cake. Medium-to-dry, very smooth and flavorful. 87/100.

Overall Football-Watching Experience: 4.5 out of 5 as a result of the match's dramatic finish, the foie gras, and the Disney-obsessed man child ending the soiree by calling the blog's author "fat and funny."

Final Tasting: July 7, Germany vs. Spain
Wine: 2006 Ayia Mavri Mosxatos (Muscat)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Red Fury

I expected this tasting to be glorious. Cyprus's purported best wine, Spain's tiki-taka, Cristiano Ronaldo's cocky petulance and The Wife, Ph.D., all together in one giant gift basket waiting to be unwrapped. To be honest with you, an hour before the match my pores were oozing with excitement. I could not wait.

Boy was I wrong. Saturday's tasting was lesbian pornography starring the Eva Triumvirate (Mendes, Green and Herzigova with Longoria-Parker coming off the bench) compared to what went down on Tuesday night.

First, The Wife, Ph.D., was craving pasta. What her highness wants, her highness gets. Even if it disrupts my pseudo-diet. Conchiglie with prosciutto, ricotta and peas. Boom goes the dynamite.

Second, once the meal was served and I called out her name (not in a good way), she showed up at the table with globs of anti-acne cream all over her nose, left cheek and chin. The Little Miss Giggles pijamas she wore were short and sexy but that was not enough to distract my attention away from the match-the-dots game that had taken over her usually lovely face. Nice.

Third, she took a sip of the Shiraz and said it matched football quite nicely. Then she spent all of the first half and a significant portion of the second on her cellphone blabbing away. She hardly acknowledged the match, let alone comment on Fernando Torres' firm buttocks, Xabi Alonso's thick thighs or Carles Puyol's haircut. During this time, I drank most of the bottle, checked my Facebook page ten times and finished reading George M. Taber's Judgement of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting that Revolutionized Wine, while watching what ended up being an unexciting performance by both teams. Not even the rumor that CR7 had taken out his frustrations on a poor journalist by hocking a loogie at his camera lens saved the night.

2008 Domaine Vlassides Shiraz - Deep, dark burgundy appearance. Spicy bouquet with hints of freshly ground black pepper, nutmeg, cloves, coffee and blackberries. Full body, good balance between the fruit and tannins. A tad too much alcohol (14 percent) though. 90/100.

By the way, Sophocles Vlassides is the man when it comes to wine here on The Rock. He was recently profiled in The Boston Globe. Check it out.

Overall Football-Watching Experience: 2 out of 5 and only because the wine's high alcohol content made me slightly gleeful by the end of the match.

Third Tasting: July2, Uruguay vs. Ghana
Wine: 2009 Zambartas Rose Lefkada/Cabernet Franc

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

White Noise

First tasting, first slip. God knows why we cannot follow instructions. If we had been assembling an IKEA bookshelf, we would have ended up with a hen pen instead. Yes, we had a jolly old time Saturday night but the "experiment" itself was tainted as soon as we ignored three of our five cardinal rules.

Mistake #1: The tasting involved eight of us instead of just The Wife, Ph.D., and me. The Brother-in-Law, his girlfriend Double Trouble, Cousin #1, the Graphic Designer and wife, and My Life Coach decided to crash the event. Of course, they were welcomed with open arms and buckets of wine. What's life without friends who drink anyway?

Mistake #2: We had a proper dinner prior to the tasting. Chicken, pork and vegetable fajitas with all the fixings. Yes, ladies, I blog, drink and cook. But little else beyond that so don't get your hopes up.

Since we were eight now, I sent the Brother-in-Law and Cousin #1 to track down a few more bottles of Xynisteri. Obviously, it was nowhere to be found and we had to settle for Kyperounda's Chardonnay. Then I made the horrific mistake of saving the Xynisteri for its proper tasting during the match and served the Chardonnay with dinner. Let's just say that my taste buds were overcooked rigatoni by the time the referee gave start to the second-half and the Xynisteri tasted like watered-down Carlsberg.

Mistake #3: Five bottles were consumed. Two 2008 Kyperounda Chardonnay, two 2009 Kyperounda Petritis Xynisteri and one (nodding my head in shame) "My Portuguese Namesake" rose. That last bottle alone is an insult to Dionysus.

Some comments on the wines (except for "My Portuguese Namesake" rose which was chugged by Double Trouble once Asamoah Gyan pushed Bocanegra out of the way to score the decider for Ghana):

2008 Kyperounda Chardonnay - Light bouquet. Too much oak and a buttery finish. High acidity. Not to my liking. 82/100.

2009 Kyperounda Petritis Xynisteri - Pleasant floral bouquet with notes of jasmine and honey. Crisp with decent balance. 88/100.

Overall Football-Watching Experience: 4 out of 5 thanks to the large quantities of alcohol consumed, the fantastic company, and a 2-1 defeat for the Evil Empire.

Second Tasting: June 29, Spain vs. Portugal
Wine: 2008 Domaine Vlassides Shiraz (red)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Game On: The Rules

It sucks living with a scientist. Many Cypriot wives nag about the lack of help they receive at home or the fact that they do not own a classic Louis Vuitton handbag or a BMW X5. The Wife, Ph.D., however, has been complaining non-stop about my wine-and-football experiment's methodological flaws. "What are your dependent and independent variables? What about the control group? Do you have a hypothesis?" Blah, blah, blah and so on.

The only true reason I designed these football-themed tastings (and the blog, to be honest with you) is to provide me with a valid excuse to uncork a bottle on a school night or too early in the afternoon. Yeah, go ahead and call me an alcoholic. In any case, to please the woman's scientific obsessive compulsiveness and rest my ears, here are some ground-rules:

z. One bottle per match. We wouldn't want to end up drunk and REALLY enjoying ourselves.

y. Only The Wife Ph. D., and myself will be involved in each tasting. My fancy friends are not reliable enough at this stage of the gig.

x. The white and rose will be consumed at our beach house (that's how us pimps roll) while the red and sweet at home. Light snacks will be served.

w. Each tasting will be graded on a 1-to-5 scale, 5 being the equivalent of Maradona's slalom-like goal against England in 1986 and 1 a romantic dinner date at Taco Bell with Bulgaria's Trifon Ivanov.

v. We have no control whatsoever over the quality of the matches. We simply hope the knock-out stages will provide us with some much needed drama. And we do understand this will influence our judgment but, hey, we just want to guzzle fermented grape juice.

First Tasting: June 26, US of their A vs. Ghana
Wine: 2009 Kyperounda Petritis Xynisteri (white)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Wine And Football

On Sunday night, I was at the French Connoisseur's home watching Germany's demolition of the Australian team of geriatrics when his wife criticized his choice of beverage (a 2005 Listrac-Medoc) and suggested that football must be experienced with a chilled beer in hand. If I am not mistaken, her exact words were, "How can you watch football with wine?" Of course, her sentiment was shared by the Disney-obsessed man child who merrily dug into a bowl of barbecue-flavored chips and poured a KEO (his Mickey Mouse of beers) into a tall glass.

Like myself, the French Connoisseur was seduced by a Cypriot woman and tricked into joining her on The Rock. Love was then followed by a big fat Greek wedding and a marital contract that forbids us from leaving the island without written, notarized and stamped authorization. Okay, I exaggerate but you get the point. In any case, to pass time and boredom, the French Connoisseur began importing French wine, bottles upon bottles that must go through a grueling and rigorous quality control process involving his friends, hard cheeses and roast meats. So it goes without saying that when I am chez lui, drinking beer is the equivalent of going vegan (and asexual) in Buenos Aires.

Since this blog is about island wine projects, Sunday night's exchange got me thinking: Which Cypriot wine best goes with football? Red? White? Rose? Sweet? In fact, do any of them go with football?

So for the next four weeks, I will drink four different bottles of wine, each while viewing a different World Cup match, preferably from the Round of 16 or Quarterfinals. I have discarded the first round matches because, truth be told, the level of play has been sad (quasi-Rock level!) and one misses out on the sense of urgency teams have to deal with during single-elimination games. The only good that can come from drinking wine while watching a first round match is the drunker you get, the more magical it all seems. Like "beer goggles" sans the happy ending.

I have picked four bottles, all of them considered top of their class by local experts:

z. 2008 Domaine Vlassides Shiraz
y. 2009 Kyperounda Petritis  Xynisteri
x. 2009 Zambartas Rose Lefkada/Cabernet Franc
w. 2006 Agia Mavri Mosxatos Muscat

Also, I have excluded Commandaria because it reminds my co-conspirators (The Wife, Ph.D., et al) of communion and there's no need to mix football and religion. FIFA has already disallowed it so it only makes sense for me to do the same.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Introducing My Sancho Panza

I knew this blog would get me into trouble. I just never expected it to happen this soon. So, without further ado, I introduce to you:

[darkness] [drumroll] [explosion of lights immediately followed by Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance"]

The Wife, Ph.D.

As my Sancho, she will perform the following duties:

z. Attend all wine-related events on The Rock whether she likes it or not. With her by my side, I gain loads of credibility and respect among the locals. My fancy friends help but the wife is The Wife, Ph.D.

y. Buy me expensive bottles of wine for my birthday, nameday, anniversary (we are twice married so booyah!), Valentine's, Ecuador's Independence Day, Cinco de Mayo, Oxi Day, Saint Patrick's, ad infinitum.

x. Build me a cava. Nuff said.

w. Never be embarrassed by my writing. It would help if she said it is vaguely reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's circa 1965.

v. Remind me ad nauseum that my penchant for alcohol is a genetic condition. As well as the main reason I am burly.

Monday, June 7, 2010

First Sips

Not too long ago, I started reading Lettie Teague's columns on wine for "Food & Wine" magazine. I love her playful style and the amusing wine-related games (i.e. tastings) she organizes for the sake of research.  In October 2008, for instance, she tricked her group of wealthy wine connoisseur friends into drinking a 1995 Washington State Cabernet/Merlot blend thinking all along it was a lauded ’82 Ch√Ęteau Mouton Rothschild. The fact that she always incorporates her fancy friends into her writing is also entertaining. Characters like The Collector, the CFO and others who do not hide behind humorous nicknames add a colorful dimension to her adventures throughout the wonderful world of wine.

The more I read, the more it made sense to me to do something similar here in Cyprus, a.k.a. The Rock. I have a wealth of friends (a French connoisseur, a guy who lost his sense of taste, a man-child obsessed with Disney) who would make for vibrant characters in my weekly ramblings as I work my way through The Rock's vineyards, wine specialty shops, bars, restaurants & hotels, and creative tastings. I can even foresee (wifeless) voyages together to Santorini, Sicily and/or New Zealand to taste unique island wines, eat buttery foods and meet the local, uh, female population.

With that said, welcome to Whine On The Rocks. Obviously, I do not have Teague's expertise, refined palate and writing skills but I will do my best to be honest and (occasionally) funny. And I apologize well in advance for any typos, sexual innuendo and politically incorrect remarks. Bear in mind this blog involves writing under the influence and drinking never fails to bring out the nasty in me.