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, this varietal 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:


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%)


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...