Friday, February 25, 2011

A Case Of Questions With Jean-Philippe Cros, Oenothiki "La Caudalie"

Most of you know Jean-Philippe Cros as The French Connoisseur, or Whine On The Rocks Resident Guru, Yogi, Sensei and Viticultural Expert. He is also the proud owner of Oenothiki La Caudalie, "an international wine trader which specializes in the purchase, wholesale and retail of fine French wines in Cyprus." As part of his vinous mission, Jean-Philippe travels once or twice a year to his motherland in search of unique wines produced by smallish estates, always to return stockpiled with wonderful gems previously unavailable to The Rock. Albeit limited, his current wine selection is of excellent quality thanks to a tasking and meticulous screening process, and Oenothiki La Caudalie aims to considerably expand its offerings and better cater to a growing Cypriot demand for fine wines.

Jean-Philippe took some time off from his arduous triathlon training regime to sit down and answer "A Case of Questions" for Whine On The Rocks. In the meantime, the Disney-Obsessed Man-Child and I train for our own "athletic" competition involving perfectly grilled lamb chops, beer steins topped to the rim with Weissbier and a Lord of The Rings/Harry Potter movie marathon.

Why wine?

JPC: Firstly, because I was born in an area where wine cannot possibly be ignored even if you try hard. Secondly, the wine cellar at home has always been an inspiration. And finally, for the conviviality a bottle of wine conveys.

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

JPC: I can very well remember my first few glasses of Chateau Haut-Marbuzet. This is the day I definitely fell in the wine barrel. I am not sure about the vintage (early 80s); I drank it more than twenty years ago with close family and friends over a nice homemade dinner. 

All-time favorite bottle of wine?

JPC: There are a few candidates, all of them famous estates of the Bordeaux area. I cannot really choose between them: Chateau Latour 1985 drank four years ago, Chateau Palmer 1982 drank two years ago, [and] Chateau Cheval Blanc 1985 drank five years ago. Pretty much anyone who would have tasted any of these wines would have counted them as part of their all-time favorites. I was just lucky to drink them. I should also add that, in a less fortunate way, I was also more than once disappointed by wines this old or older from prestigious estates and vintages. 

Favorite wine-producing region? Why?

JPC: I very much like the vast Languedoc-Roussillon area. It is so diverse that a lifetime would not suffice to properly describe it. It is a fascinating experience to simply pick a direction and drive around to meet up with the winemakers who have completely turned around this area within less than thirty years.

Favorite wine-and-food pairing?

JPC: For top of the top wines, I am of the opinion of this famous French chef when he was asked what dish he should pair up with a Lafite Rothschild 1982. His answer was: nothing, the wine should be enjoyed on its own. I however agree that wine and food can also be perfect partners. I personally like to match white wines with cheeses.

What is Cyprus missing when it comes to wine?

JPC: In my opinion, Cyprus does not lack anything to make simple yet very enjoyable reds. Beyond this level, I am not sure there is a terroir. My main concern is the extremely high temperatures and long drought over the summer months; it seems to me that it will always be an immense challenge to find the variety and the location that would [offer a] chance to produce anything [other] than a varietal wine or a stereotype of what many so-called "New World Wines" do already offer--a possibly pleasant wine [but] certainly without personality. But Cyprus counts [with] several talented winemakers who may--hopefully--prove me wrong. Who knows: a Maratheftiko from the highest villages in the Troodos region may one day bluff everyone.

What do you foresee for Cyprus's wine industry?

JPC: I believe it will always be tough to compete for those who continue to produce purely varietal wines at a price three times above, for example, a Chilean wine or even a basic Bordeaux. However, with demand increasing worldwide, there is definitely a place [in] the market for many. If I was directly involved, I would however focus on what could be unique to Cyprus such as a properly made Commandaria [or] a red from the endemic variety Maratheftiko and then fight for recognition.

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

JPC: Scouting for wines especially those little estates [that] keep themselves well away from guides and wine critics. Then, of course, opening a bottle from one of these estates and sharing it with friends.

What is your "Five Year Plan" for your business?

JPC: Continuing to support our food and beverage industry clients; consolidating our wine list, [and]; bringing newly discovered wines to our private clients.

Who is your favorite wine personality? Why?

JPC: The owner of the next small estate I will discover and then pay a visit to: I am sure my plan will be to stay there [for] not more than forty-five minutes but that, as [it] often [happens], I will not leave until dark, probably needing yet again a taxi...but full of unbelievable stories to tell.

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

JPC: I cannot think of anything here. Editor's note: That's awfully lame.

Of course, your all-time favorite island wine?

JPC: I would still vote Vlassides Shiraz as top although I have recently been disappointed in the context of a Cyprus Shiraz blind tasting... it may have been a bad bottle... or maybe it was my host trying to poison me...

For more information on Oenothiki La Caudalie, please visit their website at

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Running Wild!

6:40 am: Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep beep beep beep beep. Bang. Ugh. Fuck me.

6:50 am: After drinking a glass of fresh orange juice, I am tempted to stuff my face with a slice or two of leftover cold pizza. Energy, I think. I desist once I picture myself writhing in pain as I approach the two-kilometer marker and dropping on the median like a lumbering uncoordinated adolescent trying to run the 3000-meter steeplechase. Or pole vault for that matter. The sexy paramedic of my daydream--her name is Morphine--does however spoon-feed me chocolate-chip pancakes and crispy bacon before I pass out on the gurney.

6:55 am: I read four pages of Gary Shteyngart's Absurdistan. Figures I would be reading a novel about an overweight Americanized college graduate trying to find his calling in life prior to my first official race. Satire inspires more satire.

7:00 am: The French Connoisseur picks me up for the drive to Limassol to participate in the Atlantica 10km organized by the Limassol Marathon. He is as fresh as a celery stalk.

7:07 am: We pick up the Disney-Obsessed Man-Child. I thought he would wear Mickey ears, a Goofy t-shirt and a Pluto snout for the race but instead he just looks drunk.

8:00 am: We are enveloped by dark clouds, strong winds and inconsiderate rain showers as we park the car near the start/finish line. We fear for our lungs lives. I do point out that if it continues to pour, the race might metamorphose into a rather fascinating Spring Break wet t-shirt contest. Here's hoping there are tons of women jogging in white. Shit, did I just say that out loud?

8:55 am: The menacing weather is gone. The sun we are so used to as The Rock's proud inhabitants has returned to stake claim over his land. Rain is always welcome on this island burdened by water shortages. But I think we are all glad the reservoirs will not be further replenished today.

9:06 am: I cross myself and invoke the spirit of Jefferson Perez, Ecuador's all-time greatest athlete. Ironically enough, he is not even a runner; he is a race walker. Still, he "walks" twenty kilometers in under an hour and twenty minutes so I assume he will be of assistance. The race commences. I bid farewell to the Disney-Obsessed Man-Child, wishing him a pleasant race. He pumps his fists like a mad man and runs off while blasting Bon Jovi's Greatest Hits on his iPod. You go girl.

9:15 am: Music-less and in dire need of motivation, I decide to focus my attention on the gluteus maximus of an attractive Eastern European woman clad in a fluorescent lime green top and tight Lycra leggings. Her firm glutes move up and down like engine pistons, and I get into a nice rhythm immediately behind her. That is until she picks up her pace and leaves her ogler in the dust.

9:25 am: Roadkill is not uncommon in Cyprus, particularly that of the feline variety. You see, The Rock is overrun by undomesticated cats. Legend says that Saint Helena, worried by the surge in snakes on the island following a drought, asked her son, Emperor Constantine I, to populate the land with cats that would feed on the vermin. So it was only slightly disturbing to catch a glimpse of a trampled and bloodied cat by the side of the road as I buzzed over it at the mind-warping speed of nine-point-five kilometers per hour.

9:45 am: I wonder who cleans the roads and sidewalks of the hundreds of half-empty water bottles and moist, dirtied sponges handed by eager volunteers to the runners. Cheers to them. I also hope the leftover water is poured into a nearby dam for future consumption and the plastic bottles recycled. [This message has been brought to you by The Wife, Ph.D's Cyprus Recycling Adoption Program or CRA...]

10:05 am: A Pole, both in build and nationality, darts past me and claims first place in the half-marathon. A few seconds later, a Russki half-marathoner does the same and finishes second. God I need a brewski. This is pathetic. All that is left now is for The French Connoisseur, also a half-marathoner, to slap me on the ass, briefly turn around and make those silly faces that entertain newborns as he rockets by me.

10:10 am: I turn left into the Limassol boardwalk. Electronic music blares from the speakers ahead of me. Fans line up against the right-hand railing that marks the final two hundred meters of the race; they clap in unison, they cheer, they encourage us to give it one last push. Amateur photographers, one knee touching the asphalt or standing on the short wall that meets the crashing waves to the left, snap away. I pick up the pace and I am now supersonic. The clock ticks forth. As I close in on the finish line, the alley narrows. I feel closer to everyone: the crowd, the runners, the journalists, the volunteers, the casual spectators, even the Gods in Olympus who are mocking my dearth of athleticism. I can touch them, I can hear them, I can smell their effort, their envy, their praise, their passion, their pride. It is all a blur as I cross the finish line in 1:03:49 and a volunteer places a medal around my neck. I never understood the joy of running just for the sake of running. Now I do and I might have caught the bug.

11:30 am: Talking about bugs. The Wife, Ph.D., and Minnie Mouse refuse to join us for a celebratory lunch up in the mountains unless we shower. So the Disney-Obsessed Man-Child borrows a friend's apartment in Limassol for about an hour. While lathering up, Gregor Samsa's long-lost third cousin pays me a visit. At first, I believe the ticklish sensation is cold water streaming down my tired right calf. But then I look down to see the horny roach running its own race up my leg. Where are the damn cats when you need them?

2:00 pm: A well-deserved lunch at Orea Ellas, a wonderful Greek tavern in Vouni, Troodos Mountains. We polish off two bottles of the 2007 Tsiakkas Bambakada (Maratheftiko) along with the grilled cheese, Greek salad, parsley dip, tyrokafteri, garlicky tzatziki, zucchini croquettes, feta pies, grilled florina peppers, biftekia (pork burgers), wine-soaked sausages, baked potatoes, perfectly roasted chicken and pork, village pasta, stuffed rice and luscious desserts set before us. All of this while making plans to partake in a Sprint Triathlon in September and a half-marathon in 2012. The Wife, Ph.D., you've been warned: book the masseuse or pick me a cheap coffin.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

All By Our Lonesome

Every so often, The Wife, Ph.D., and I forget about ignore our friends and hit up the town all by our lonesome. A few nights ago, in dire need of a break from our uber demanding social obligations life, we went for a casual meal to To Pantopoleio "Kali Orexi," a contemporary Greek tavern lauded by many as one of the better eateries in town. This was our second visit to the restaurant, the first having been a great meal almost a year ago for my thirty-second birthday in company of The Brother-in-Law, Double Trouble, The Ball And Chain, Ph.D., and My Zolpidem Supplier. Just like in May, the food, service and ambiance was top-notch for Nicosia's standards.

I keep telling The Wife, Ph.D., that at some point (maybe tomorrow, maybe thirty years from now, maybe in a nightmare involving possessed Brussels sprouts with razor-sharp teeth) I am going to open a restaurant. Either gourmet hamburgers or traditional Mexican or Latin Fusion tapas matched with a carefully selected range of islands wines and fancy Belgian and American beers. As a wannabe restaurateur, To Pantopoleio combines everything I would want in a restaurant: a manageable size (seating for fifty to sixty patrons), a limited yet well-thought and balanced menu, a playful modern decor with chalkboards for walls, a large exposed spice rack and white furniture, and an efficient, non-overbearing service. Likewise, unlike in most Cypriot taverns, customers order a la carte thereby controlling the amount of food set on the table, a definite plus when one reaches those latter stages in life when obesity, high cholesterol and shaky knees become a matter of grave concern.

We started off with a bottle of the 2008 Ktima Argyros Assyrtiko from Santorini -- a Regional Trophy winner in the 2009 Decanter World Wine Awards -- a wonderful wine with a jasmine, citrus and apricot nose, loads of acidity, honeysuckle on the front, dried herbs and wet stones in the mid-palate, and a seductively tangy grapefruit finish. Then came a village salad with huge chunks of feta cheese, spicy tirokafteri (The Wife, Ph.D.'s "crystal meth" of choice), perfectly fried vegetable croquettes and a thick garlicky fava bean dip that would (rightfully) kill off Edward, Bella and the rest of the Twilight franchise. We followed our appetizers with a pork tenderloin in a light creamy herbal reduction and a pork burger in a fresh tomato sauce, both respectively accompanied by baked and fried potatoes. Despite their simplicity, both meats were awfully succulent. To top it all off after having gorged ourselves, a double espresso and a complimentary shot of mastic liqueur and Greek vin santo.

By the end of the evening, with our judgment blurred by the sweet liqueur and our bellies satiated by the excellent food, the thought of bidding good riddance to our fancy friends crossed our minds. Yes, clearing out our schedules of all future commitments would be nice. But then we pondered, "Who would receive the brunt of this blog's mockery?" There is only so much The Wife, Ph.D., can handle before curtailing my nonsense or calling up Our Divorce Lawyer and sending me back west with my literary fiction, striped socks and hundreds of CDs stuffed in a rucksack. So for now, you, dearest of friends, will have to deal with our company, love and damn idiosyncrasies...

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

Friday, February 11, 2011

I Fought The Law And The Law Won

I should have done this back in May when this blog still required diaper changes, mushy pea compotes, countless hours of interrupted zzzzzzzz's and the occasional breastfeeding from The Wife, Ph.D. I never defined Whine On The Rock's parameters, which, granted, up until now has been a positive thing since it has allowed me to go off on tangential rants and taste mainland wines. But for the sake of professionalism and the establishment of some vague resemblance of a niche for my blog, I am forcing myself to do so now. Ironically enough, while I sit here trying to straighten my life's work, The Clash is blasting revolutionary rhetoric through my headphones.

"What is an island?" The question first popped up when The Wife, Ph.D., and I were discussing whether or not to include Australia in our list of approved islands. Since my middle brother, Koala B, his partner Kangaroo Jo, and their the-GAP-baby-model son Sebas call Melbourne home, it only made sense to label Australia an island. Albeit, after having done some research, I have recently reached the unanimous conclusion that Australia, given its massive continental size and the wise words of several Internet geography experts, cannot be deemed "a tract of land completely surrounded by water, and not large enough to be called a continent." Of course, my decision does not preclude this blog from covering Tasmania with its up-and-coming Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Rieslings or Kangaroo Island off the coast of Adelaide and its Bordeaux-style blends. So let's just say that thanks to this investigative exercise I have significantly shrunk the scope of my hobby work and saved The Wife, Ph.D., thousands of Euros for that elusive case of Penfolds Grange.

Without further ado, the first (and probably final) draft of the Whine On The Rocks Approved Wine Island List:

1. Cyprus (a.k.a. The Rock, Alcatraz, Home, Center of the Universe)
2. The United Kingdom (primarily England and Wales and their fizz)
3. Corsica, France
4. Ile de Porquerolles, Cotes de Provence, France
5. Sardinia, Italy
6. Sicily, Italy
7. Isola d'Elba, Italy
8. Mallorca, Spain
9. Islas Canarias, Spain
10. Madeira, Portugal
11. Santorini, Greece (which will receive tons of attention thanks to their gorgeous Assyrtiko)
12. Crete, Greece (a shout-out to Double Trouble!)
13. Rhodes, Greece
14. Paros, Greece
15. Samos, Greece
16. Kefallonia, Greece
17. Zakinthos, Greece
18. Limnos, Greece
19. Corfu (Kerkira), Greece
20. Euboea (Evia), Greece
21. Lesbos, Greece
22. The remaining 215+ inhabited Greek rocks
23. Tasmania, Australia
24. Kangaroo Island, Australia
25. New Zealand (this blog's final mission)
26. Japan (anyone for sake bombs with Koshu wine instead of beer?)
27. Cape Verde (wine tasting with Cesaria Evora crooning in the background)
28. Bali, Indonesia (Wine and world-class surf? I'm there!)
29. Switzerland (as an island of neutrality within the EU and home to my friends, the Lion Pool family)
30. Malta

Obviously, this is a work-in-progress so if you have any edits or suggestions, holler. But, for the most part, I see myself sacrificing ninety-five percent of my liver, sanity and paunch to Cyprus, Santorini, Sicily, the Australian islands and New Zealand.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Gesundheit Gewurz!

Thanks to this blog, many of my fancy friends have reached the rather erroneous conclusion that I am some sort of wine savant. Since temporarily returning from the US, My Life Coach, the wunderkind among us, has taken to wine with almost the same passion she has for organizational behavior, jewelry making and her long-distance relationship with the G-Man. She has joined The Wife, Ph.D., and me for wine tastings, helped us rate mediocre vintages and patiently sat through my ethyl-sparked rants on why I prefer Pinot Noir to just about everything besides my cuddly ball and chain. I must have somewhat impressed her because a few weeks ago she suggested we organize a proper tasting to introduce her to different varietals and their main characteristics.

If I knew anything about wine, I would have started her vinous education with a Chardonnay and a Sauvignon Blanc, probably the two most classic white varietals. But since she likes her wines on the sweet side (she goes gaga for Riesling), I told her to bring a bottle of New Zealand Gewurztraminer to get us going. Gewurz shares the same aroma compounds with lychees so I bought five (yes, I am a cheapskate) for comparison purposes. We opened a can of Norwegian sardines and arranged a few platters with smoked salmon, cold cuts and cheeses. The Wife, Ph.D., made some fresh herbal bread with Matilda, our bread-making contraption, and The Godmother and My Zolpidem Supplier joined us armed with chocolates and ice cream for dessert.

Before actually eating, we carefully cracked the lychees, smelled them, bit into their slippery meat, sucked on the hard pit and spat it out, sniffed the wine ("What do you pick up? What do you think?" I asked), swirled it in our mouths, made funny faces and strange noises, and finally let the liquid cascade down our throats. Obviously, the ladies sensed the lychees since they had been forewarned about the similarities. But then My Life Coach spoke up and mentioned "rose water," and, like a proud instructor, I beamed knowing that she was going to be alright.

2009 Villa Maria Gewurztraminer (East Coast, New Zealand) - Grapefruit zest, lychees, quince, rose petals and some petrol on the nose. Smooth, medium-bodied wine marked by flavors of honeycomb, citrus fruits, apricots and pine tree. Not quite off-dry - rather tart - with a spike in the alcohol towards the tail-end. Bob Campbell MW suggests in the 2011 Decanter Guide for New Zealand (a supplement to the March 2011 issue) that the island makes the second best Gewurztraminer after, of course, Alsace in France. 87/100.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Chains On, Chains Off

It might be hard to find a better place for a wine tasting in Nicosia than Cava Inon Pnevmata. What makes this cava stand out from the competition is its tastefully decorated, pristine yet inviting first-floor sitting rooms, one room set up with comfortable couches, ornate arm chairs and coffee tables, the other occupied by a long wooden dinning table that can easily sit fourteen people. On each table, one will find obscenely large and delectable cheese and cold cut platters, all stacked with top-shelf products one can exclusively purchase at the shop downstairs. The tastings generally run from noon to nine p.m. on Saturdays, but the place only starts to boom come six or seven p.m. as people walk in for a pre-dinner drink and snack. My guess is some visitors really make themselves at home and stay for an aperitif, appetizer, main course, wine, dessert, digestif, and more wine, the whole lot served of course with a side of drunken conversation. And I really don't think Inon Pnevmata's owners, Stavros and Christina, would want it any other way since this is simply a great way of building customer loyalty and introducing their wines, liqueurs, chocolates, cigars and delicatessen products to as many Nicosians as possible.

A few years ago, The Wife, Ph.D., accompanied by Cousin #2, took her one-and-only wine appreciation course there (believe it or not, her wine education is WAY more advanced than mine.) So given our familiarity with the place and its close proximity to the Whine On The Rocks HQ, we have anointed it our neighborhood wine supplier. Once in a while on Saturdays, whenever The Wife, Ph.D., is free and in a drinking mood, we pay them a visit as a happily married couple. Other times, whenever The Wife, Ph.D., is grounded for disrespecting my rights as an immigrant on The Rock, I chain her to the kitchen sink or toilet or outdoor balcony railing and call up some of our fancy friends to babysit me as I soak away my sorrows in Shiraz. Not really but close. So this past Saturday, with The Wife, Ph.D., in a rather temperamental state of mind and too busy grading biology exams, I sneaked out of the house and rendezvoused with My Zolpidem Supplier, her cousin, and My Life Coach at the cava for a tasting of The Rock's finest.

Stavros, as welcoming, informative and gregarious as usual, started us off with the 2010 Domaine Argyrides Chardonnay, a wine marked by pineapple, grapefruit and kiwi notes, very refreshing and superior to the 2009 I had tried a few months ago. Then, privy to its existence, Stavros offered me a taste of the yet unreleased Domaine Vlassides Merlot (vintage?), a promising wine that emanated aromas of plums, pepper and tomatoes. I followed that with the 2009 Domaine Argyrides Maratheftiko, 2007 Tsiakkas Bambakada (seemed a bit tired and lacking depth to me), the 2007 Domaine Argyrides Mourverdre (thumbs up!) and the 2009 Domaine Vlassides Shiraz (smoother and rounder than the 2008 vintage). Also on offer were the 2007 Domaine Vlassides Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2010 Tsiakkas Rose, both of which I skipped in an effort (usually pointless) of remaining on two feet and not salivating like a Saint Bernard by the end of the escapade.

On our way out, My Zolpidem Supplier, My Life Coach and I bought a few bottles as a token of our appreciation for yet another successful event. Even though I believe other shops have a stronger wine selection than Inon Pnevmata's, Stavros' passion for his products and his emphasis on customer service in an island where this is mostly a lost art makes us keep coming back for more. We said our goodbyes and then I stumbled home to uncuff The Wife, Ph.D., (she begged for forgiveness; I caved in) and drive south where her family was waiting for us with cheap Agiorgitiko, homegrown roasted chickens and lots of lamb.

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