Monday, June 6, 2011

Perks, Picard and Chateneauf-du-Pape Vs. The Rock

This blog has been good to me. I've been able to buy plenty of wine and expense it to my boss, The Wife, Ph.D. People invite me over to their homes with the sole purpose of emptying their wine fridges and having me ridicule them in one of my posts. I get to openly whine about island life without being taken too seriously. Most important, thanks to what I've written, I have been somewhat hired as a contributor and restaurant critic for The Financial Mirror's Cyprus Gourmet page and magazine. My qualifications, you ask? This blog, my impartiality as a non-Cypriot, and my weight which renders tribute to my love for food.

As with most jobs, this one has its perks. About two weeks ago, The Wife, Ph.D., and I were invited to the "Cyprus Gourmet" 2011 Wine Awards and Dinner, an annual event held at Londa Hotel in Limassol that celebrates the top 50 wines in Cyprus as nominated by consumers and judged by a panel of local sommeliers. The evening started off with a cocktail in which guests could sample many of the best Cypriot wines and snack on an array of high-end cheese and crackers. Let's just say that The Wife, Ph.D., was a bit concerned; my eyes lit up like a starstruck six-year old walking into Disney World and being immediately high-fived by Pluto. Of course, I opted for those wines I had never tasted: the 2010 Tsalapatis Melapsopodi Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand-like on the nose), the Fikardos Maratheftiko, and the 2007 Ezousa Metharme Maratheftiko, considered by most as the best Maratheftiko on The Rock. With another hour or so left before dinner, I kept going and tasted the 2010 Aes Ambelis Xynisteri (not quite as good as in the past) and then compared the 2010 Ezousa Rose (good) and 2010 Zambartas Rose (better). My usual care for progression suffered but that's exactly what happens when one's goes cross-eyed from severe sensory overload. I ended "Phase One" with the 2007 Agia Mavri Mosxatos, which, for all intent and purposes, is chocolate-covered sex in a glass. The Wife, Ph.D., and I agreed we needed a case or two.

At some point, the awards were handed out by Patrick Skinner, Cyprus Gourmet's editor, with the assistance of Michel Picard, guest-of-honor and renowned Burgundy wine producer, George Kassianos, wine adviser and columnist for Cyprus Gourmet, and Masis der Parthogh, The Financial Mirror's business director. Some shockers included the gold medal awarded to KEO's Thisbe, a €4 tourist favorite that is usually on sale as a basic tavern wine. For the sake of space, only the seventeen gold medals are mentioned below:


2010 Ezousa Ayios Chrysostomos Xynisteri
2009 Kyperounda Chardonnay
2010 Constantinou Ayioklima Xynisteri
KEO "Thisbe" Sultana

2010 Ezousa Eros Rose
2010 Zambartas Rose
2010 Constantinou Levanda Rose
2010 Ktima KEO Rose

2007 Ezousa Metharme Maratheftiko
2008 Domaine Argyrides Maratheftiko
2005 Ktima Kolios Shiraz
2008 Domaine Vlassides Cabernet Sauvignon
2008 Kyperounda Shiraz
2009 Vassilikon Ayios Onoufrios

2006 Ayia Mavri Moschato
1991 ETKO Centurion Commandaria
1984 KEO Saint John Commandaria

"Phase Two" began with a three-course dinner prepared by Londa Hotel's sous-chef and fully inspired in Cypriot products. The first dish was a salad with red mullet, watercress, radishes, spring onions and cherry tomatoes with oven-dried hiromeri (The Rock's answer to prosciutto) and fried halloumi puffs. It was accompanied by a glass of Silver Medal winner 2010 Zambartas Xynisteri. The second course, which was matched with the 2007 Ezousa Metharme Maratheftiko, consisted of whole roasted pork filet with lemon Jerusalem artichokes, sauteed local sorrel and a Commandaria reduction. Finally, for dessert, fresh anari cheese in fyllo nest with walnuts, cinnamon and honey with citron in sugar and carob syrup and a short glass of the 2006 Ayia Mavris Moschato. It's quite challenging to find a truly gourmet meal on The Rock and this one exceeded all of our expectations.

During dessert, for the guests' amusement, Patrick Skinner interviewed Mr. Picard about his relationship to Cyprus. In a choppy English, Mr. Picard mentioned that he first heard about "Chypre" from a telex he received from someone interested in importing his wines to the island. Intrigued, he sent his wife on an exploratory tour of the country and that was that. He referred to Cypriots as "sympathique" but mentioned that they "eat a lot." So much, in fact, that each time he's here he goes cycling to keep his weight in check. Furthermore, considering the island's soil and climate, Mr. Picard saw interesting potential in Cypriot wines during his first visits. Now he also believes Cyprus has the oenologists required to make good-to-great wine. For instance, he ended the interview by saying that the 2007 Ezousa Metharme Maratheftiko served with the second course reminded him of a good Chateneauf-du-Pape, an AOC in southeastern France that primarily works with Grenache, Mourverdre and Syrah. Of course, everyone erupted in applause, I, for one, not sure whether he actually believed his words or whether he was simply playing to the gallery. In any case, this comparison will make for a fascinating post: Cousin #5, the greatest Chateneauf-du-Pape fan I know, has a shipment of nearly 120 bottles arriving soon and I hope he'll have me over to make a dent in his supply and put Picard's words to the test.

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