Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Rock @ DWWA 2011

No, silly, this has nothing to do with Dwayne Johnson returning to Wrestlemania.

Back in May, I made brief mention of the 2011 Decanter World Wine Awards and Cyprus' performance as listed on Decanter's website. As promised on that post, a few weeks back I picked up a copy of the October 2011 issue in which the judges offer detailed commentary on Cyprus and the southeast Mediterranean region. As another quick hitter, here's what Decanter (pp. 302-305) thought of The Rock's entries:
  • Overall, a "strangely disappointing" showing by Cypriot wines, except for the 2007 Sodap Saint Barnabas Commandaria, a "pure Xynisteri-based" dessert wine that received the Regional Trophy for Sweet Fortified Wines Under £10.
  • The judges suggest to "seek out [Cyprus'] rich but dry roses...from the current vintage," which "brim...with fruit [and] pair with the local food and climate perfectly."
  • Unfortunately this time around, Maratheftiko did not perform as well as expected with "the samples sent in...not showing the lovely, gentle, fine-grained and sustained blue-fruit style...they can have."
Decanter's tasting notes for the Regional Trophy and Silver Medal winners:

2007 Sodap Saint Barnabas Commandaria - Sleek and elegant with an aromatic profile of barley sugar, caramel, Muscovado, toffee, spice and praline. Rich, sweet, smooth and long - remarkable value!

2008 Lefteris Mohianakis Anama - Savoury smoke and toffee aromas. Sweet jammy figs with hints of iodine and seaweed on the palate. Great acidity on the finish.

2010 Sodap Kamanterena Dry Rose (Lefkada) - Vibrant bramble fruits with soft raspberry aromas. Herbal notes of thyme and fresh oregano. Pleasant acidity and lengthy finish.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Wines Without Stories #1

Yes, I sometimes get haircuts and use gel but...
2010 Makkas Xynisteri (Cyprus) - Guava, mint and red apples with some musk on the nose. Melon and white flowers to the palate. Could use livelier acidity. 83/100.

2009 Makkas White (Chardonnay/Xynisteri) (Cyprus) - A touch of lemon on what is a tight nose. Grapefruit, peach and sea salt with good length. Superior to the Xynisteri above, which has only a bit of Chardonnay. 86/100.

2009 Makkas Maratheftiko (Cyprus) - Pinot-like in color. Red berries, pepper and chocolate on the nose with a noticeable spike in the alcohol. Bitter tannins, red fruit and a green pepper finish. 84/100.

2006 Erimoudes Constantino Cabernet Sauvignon (Cyprus) - Red berries, licorice, saw dust and vanilla in the background. To the mouth, red fruit, dark cherries and chocolate with a bitter finish. Smooth and short, good tannic structure. 88/100.

I will never shave my trademark.
2008 Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko (Santorini, Greece) - Bouquet dominated by green apples, pears and white flowers. Nutty, honeycomb, minerality and citrus on the mouth. Great acidity. 88/100.

2009 Gentilini Robola (Kephalonia, Greece) - Interesting aroma of bay leaf and peaches. Tangy taste, citrus with an interesting savory component on the mid-palate. Long grapefruit finish. 87/100.

2010 Domaine Vlassides Xynisteri (Cyprus) - Nose of citrus, green apples, pineapple, kiwi, mint and melon. Great wine with flavors of peach, white flowers, citrus, apples and rosemary. 89/100.

2010 Kyperounda Petrites Xynisteri (Cyprus) - Peaches, grass, green apples, white flowers and some oak on the bouquet. Honey, some saltiness on the palate, but rather empty in the middle and end. Better in the past. 85/100.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Off The Rock: Yarra Valley

From Party Pooper to Yarra de Puta...

Despite having tied the knot more than thirty years ago, my parents' marriage is a rather young one. After subtracting sleep and his weekly business trips from the equation, Mr. Flog estimates he has actually spent a total of four or five years with Mrs. Broken Record. If he had had a regular office job that required no travel, he assures us the marriage would have rushed down the gutter faster than confetti in a monsoon. My father proudly attributes his relationship's success to his frequent absences. What's also assured given the matrimony's youth is a vivacious back-and-forth banter, which admittedly sometimes skids across what would be considered a liberal outtake on marital life to land as confidently as a clumsy trapeze artist on the safety net of the dysfunctional. As my little brother likes to regurgitate every time the now eight of us meet: "If the outside world actually heard us, it'd think we're crazy." This makes for fascinating holidays and provides the family's cultural anthropologist with the unique opportunity to study lunacy at its infancy.

Once I managed to detach my parents from their Australian-Ecuadorian grandson, I suggested a day trip to the Yarra Valley, only an hour or so east of Melbourne and home to several excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay producers. The fine chap at King & Godfree, who I had engaged on the virtues of Tasmanian reds, also suggested a good itinerary for a short tour of the valley, chock-full of art perusal (Tarrawarra Estate and the Tarrawarra Museum of Art), wine tasting (Oakridge Winery) and fancy lunching (Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander). We loaded our rented (atrocious) pastel green Mitsubishi Lancer and sped eastbound on the Maroondah Highway towards Healesville, the Yarra Valley's capital of sorts.

My Stairway to Heaven, Oakridge Winery
For the first forty minutes, the drive was not what one would expect of wine country. All we saw were housing developments, strip malls, warehouses, department stores and gas stations. Suburban America at its worst. Only once did I catch a glimpse of a brown panel signalling left for a winery, a road that led into a residential neighborhood safely guarded by traffic lights. However, after a short uphill and downhill turn, the concrete disappeared to be replaced by tracts of rolling green pastures and the trunks of bare grapevines lined up and extending beyond our eyesight. The gloomy scenery was evocative of several regiments marching towards battle under a winter drizzle. A few minutes later, we reached the Yarra Glen-Healesville Y and turned right towards Oakridge Winery, first stop in our magical winery tour.

2010 Oakridge Chard
Oakridge's grounds are stunning. Hills covered in grapevines run throughout, while monumental trees and a small lake interrupt the beautiful monotony of the place. The winery is equipped with a large tasting room and restaurant that overlooks their plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon. I sampled six wines and was amazed at the presence of earth and minerals in all of them, maybe a clear reflection of their respect for terroir. My one caveat was that the servings were tiny—hardly a sip considering The Wife, Ph.D., stubbornly wanted to taste from my own glass—so it was challenging to judge each wine. I must say, though, that I loved the 2010 Oakridge Chardonnay and brought back a bottle for a special occasion involving me, myself and not Irene.

Applejack Vineyard Pinot
We then drove up to Innocent Bystander/Giant Steps for lunch at their highly recommended bistro. Unfortunately, that fickle saboteur known as inclement weather knocked down an old tree onto the power lines and ruined our carefully laid-out plans. No lights, no cooked foods. When Mrs. Broken Record, cradling a French baguette in her arms, asked whether she could at least buy some regional cheese, the woman behind the counter informed her she had strict orders to dispose of it all. Here's hoping a few kangaroos out in the fields got treated to lukewarm gourmet dairy. In any case, I tasted a few wines and this time The Wife, Ph.D., asked for her own glass. It's surprising how past noon, she metamorphoses into a drinkaholic.

Tarrawarra Museum
Given the mishap in Healesville, we headed to Tarrawarra Estate for the artsy-fartsy cultural component of the tour and a well-deserved (replacement) lunch, highlighted by my vegetarian eggplant in chickpea batter with cardamom honey, quinoa and cauliflower salad, and almond skordalia. However, the museum alone is worth a visit. Here we enjoyed Sandra Levesson's Paintings of Poise and Passion, abstract color-packed canvasses that jump out at you and flow like ocean waves, and James Morrison's The Great Tasmanian Wars, fifty-five panels depicting, in my opinion, a surreal and exotic meeting between man and nature.

Of course, all of this brought us to back to the banter. My father—I don't know if it's a sign of aging or a symptom of repeated cabin depressurization syndrome (yes, I made that up) caught from all his takeoffs and landings—is partially deaf in one ear. Compounded to this, prior to our Australian vacation, my mother suffered from an unidentified ear infection that had reduced hearing in one ear by a little more than seventy-five percent. Given such elevated level of auditory impairment, messages during our  journey were often misconstrued. At some point over lunch, my guess is my hungover father refused to have a glass of wine or my health-obsessed mother enjoy the pleasures of fried food, one called the other a "party pooper." Obviously, the injured party heard differently and fumed. It's still a mystery to both The Wife, Ph.D., and me how the exchange went from "party pooper" to "cara de puta." You heard right—bitch-face.

And then, in the Zen-like moment of the trip, Mr. Flog, who employs an outdated version of English (with a healthy tinge of Hispanic heat) that includes "shucks" and "golly" as favorite idioms, lectured us on finance, relationships and health. Concerning my mother's constant threat to leave him, he said: "Before we were married, I could run away with all of my money. After we got married, I could still run away but empty-handed. Soon enough, however, I won't even be able to run." God knows what will happen once Mr. Flog and Mrs. Broken Record hit the dreaded "Seven Year Itch" come 2023. One thing's for sure: I will be running as far away as possible.

0==(yarRA vaLLeY)

2006 Oakridge Shiraz - Dark fruit, leather, brown sugar and cinnamon, black pepper on the nose. Sour cherries on the finish. Tons of finesse in this well-made cool-climate Shiraz. 89/100.

2009 Tarrawarra Estate J-Block Shiraz - Dark forest fruits, black pepper, dark chocolate on the finish. Not impressed. Had it with my vegetarian dish at Tarrawarra Estate. 85/100.

2009 Mule Shiraz Gateway Vineyard - Very spicy, plummy, some coffee on this wine by Innocent Bystander. Not as refined as the Oakridge. 88/100.

2010 Innocent Bystander Cordon Cut Viognier - Peach, quince, banana, dried apricots and white chocolate on the nose. Full bodied, luscious, too heavy and syrupy for my taste. Shared one night with The Wife, Ph.D., and My Zolpidem Supplier upon returning to The Rock. 86/100.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Flowers! Flores! Fleurieu Peninsula!

Let me tell you a story about my mother, Mrs. Broken Record, and flowers. As a toddler, she split her time between Quito, perched nearly three thousand meters above sea level in a narrow valley surrounded by active volcanoes, and Manta, a lazy coastal city known for supplying the world with tuna fish and Panama hats. Back then, every so often, my grandfather commandeered a rickety Jeep through the potholed country roads and, family in tow, zigzagged his way up into the paramo's nippy heavens or headfirst towards the Pacific Ocean's savory humidity. Poor infrastructure made the drive brutally long and potty breaks, specially for the children, were of utmost importance. My mother, already exhibiting signs of her now magnified intolerance of filth and foul smells, refused to go to the bathroom wherever her father or older siblings mandated, be it on a patch of dried grass, against a mossy rock or behind a tree. The girl would only pee on color-laden flowers. So when nature called for Mrs. Broken Record, the family was put on high alert. The Jeep would stop and they'd jump out to comb the land for signs of polychromatic plant life. I am not sure what this says about my mother but, given her penchant for cleanliness, fragrance and luxury, it's not entirely surprising.

Flower #1
So on her birthday, celebrated in Melbourne, we took her to St. Jude's Cellars in Fitzroy where this blog honored her by ordering a couple wines from Southern Australia's Fleurieu Peninsula. Mrs. Broken Record, whose relationship to wine is as close as my own affair with sobriety, dismissed the two with a slight upturn of her chin followed by a healthy sip of her White Rabbit Dark Ale.

2009 Tapanappa Pinot Noir, Foggy Hill Vineyard, Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia - Raspberries, strawberries, top soil, coffee and parsley on the nose. Red fruit dominates on the palate. Light and well balanced but ultimately not very complex. 87/100.

Flower #2
2009 Salomon Estate Syrah Viognier, Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia - Aromas of dark fruit (blackberries, blueberries and dark cherries) with hints of caramel, white pepper, licorice and violets. Very lively. Wine has a delicious factor, supple and jammy with great length. 89/100.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Oh You (Tasmanian) Devil!

Who steals a bottle of Tasmanian Pinot Noir from a hotel room? Take an iPad or a MacBook Air or a Cannon digital SLR or diamond bracelets or an elegant pair of Jimmy Choo's. Hell, if your bed feels empty on weekends and you come across the room of a kinky duo on their honeymoon, snatch their dildo, feathered handcuffs and candy g-strings. You know, really make it worth the risk of possibly getting caught red-handed rummaging through your guests' closet and luggage like a desperate raccoon scavenging through a garbage dump being engorged by flames. The bottle wasn't worth more than €25 so, unless you need a healthy serving of alcohol while on duty or breed Pinot-guzzling Tasmanian devils in your backyard, you were better off leaving with The Wife, Ph.D.'s woven grey Uggs and my parents' cherished organic muesli. Next time, though, at least have the courtesy of properly vacuuming the suite.

And I was so ecstatic walking back from East Brunswick to Fitzroy lugging the bottles of 2010 Sharmans Riesling and 2009 Josef Chromy Pinot Noir recommended to me by the fine chaps at Blackhearts & Sparrows on Lygon Street. One night, I hoped to show my parents, Mrs. Broken Record and Mr. Flog, how my career has unraveled and become a mockery of proper wine journalism. Share a glass or two with my brother, a role model of sorts, and his family. Slobber all over The Wife, Ph.D., as I recite my tasting notes for the last bottle of the night and mistakenly sense a hint of lentil puree, leek-infused olive oil and lip-numbing chorizo in a dessert wine. Wake up the next morning after a difficult night at work with a headache the size of Kim Kardashian's bikini bottom. Alas, I had to make up for the stolen bottle by visiting more wine shops and digging abysmally deep into our savings account just to bankroll this devil of a post.

First stop, King & Godfree on Lygon Street where I asked another fine chap about Tasmanian Pinots. "To be honest with you," he said, "I am not all that impressed by Tasmanian Pinot Noirs. They still have a lot of work to do. If you want a Tasmanian wine, I personally prefer their Rieslings, Pinot Gris and sparkling wines." Given his reticence, I purchased a lauded bottle of Hunter Valley Semillon, which, granted, is irrelevant to Tasmania but who's keeping score, right?

You see the resemblance, don't you?
Next stop, Sydney. What a beautiful city, specially as seen from the roof of the Overseas Passenger Terminal in The Rocks. Pictures don't do it justice. The wondrous beast that is Harbour Bridge, a ridged metallic star rising from the bay on one side, and the Sydney Opera House with its asymmetrical roof like a regal albino iguana's scales before you. After the infinity of bays you stumble upon in Rio de Janeiro, Port Jackson is probably the most magnificent one I have ever laid my eyes on. So with Whine On The Rocks at The Rocks and both The Wife, Ph.D., and yours truly in high spirits, we set off on our mission to end our Tasmanian nightmare. First evening, one of the best pork chops I've ever tasted (Esk River pork cutlet, toulouse sausage, pencil leeks, kipfler potato, tapenade) and a glass of a Tasmanian Botrytis Riesling for dessert at Pony Lounge and Dining. Second evening, 300 grams of the Slow Roast Sher F1 Wagyu Standing Rib at The Cut Bar & Grill with a side of onion rings and brussel sprouts tossed with pancetta and roasted hazelnuts, which that night in bed felt like a Sumo wrestler doing the cannonball off a trampoline straight into my stomach. We poorly matched our meal with the (finally!) Tasmanian Pinot Noir I was encouraged forced to order for the sake of my readership. Yep, guys, feel free to twist my arm but don't you dare steal my vino.


2010 Sharmans Riesling, Glenbothy Vineyard, Relbia, Tasmania, Australia - On the nose, pineapple, peach and citrus with a hint of honey and warm bread. Starts off rather empty but ends with sweet, fruity flavors. Off-dry and could have benefited from greater acidity. 87/100.

2005 Tyrrell's Wines Semillon, Single Vineyard HVD, Hunter Valley, Australia - Wonderful bouquet of honey, cantaloupe, citrus and white flowers. Pears, banana on the mid-palate and an enticing nutty finish. Easily, the best wine of the trip. 90/100.

2010 Stoney Rise Pinot Noir, Tamar Valley, Tasmania, Australia - Dark berries, mulch, coffee and an intriguing spicy beef on the bouquet. Red fruit and a meaty characteristic through the mid-palate with some hints of dark chocolate and mocha. Dies down towards the end. 88/100.

2009 Josef Chromy Botrytis Riesling, Relbia, Tasmania, Australia - Rubber, mango, pears and dried dates with a touch of brown spice. On the mouth, tropical fruits and a wonderful bitter orange finish. Medium body, good acidity, delicious. I could have consumed a bottle alone. 89/100.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Lovely Tonia Buxton On The Rock's Wines

Finally, a year and a few months into this project, I meet my first celebrity. In early August, before darting off to Australia and surviving an aeronautical bomb scare, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tonia Buxton, star of Discovery Travel & Living's My Greek and Cypriot Kitchen, at Archontiko Papadopoulou, a beautiful cultural center in Kornos (just twenty-five minutes outside of Nicosia) focused on the preservation of Cypriot cuisine, wine and pottery. Even though I attended the event under the auspices of Cyprus Gourmet and The Financial Mirror, I managed to squeak in a very general wine-related question for the benefit of the blog.

What do you think about Cypriot wine? Any favorites?

(Paraphrased response since I am technologically inept and have not yet figured out how to use a digital recorder for my interviews. Yes, you can refer to me as obese obsolete.)

Tonia is quite proud of "how far Cypriot wines have come along." Despite not being very well-versed in the art of wine, she believes "they have definitely turned a corner." Lessons have been learned as local oenologists are now studying more, pushing their products onto the market and developing greater appreciation for indigenous varietals such as Xynisteri and Maratheftiko. Tonia does however criticize many locals for preferring French, Spanish or Italian wines; according to her, the national wine industry "cannot go forward unless Cypriots buy their own wines."

Currently, Tonia is obsessed with the 2010 Aes Ambelis and Zambartas Roses. She also enjoys a chilled glass of Vassilikon's Agios Onoufrios red blend and was recently surprised to learn about Lambouri Winery's Ya'in Kafrisin kosher red wine, which makes an appearance in the Torah.

For much more on Tonia, check out my full article in the The Financial Mirror, August 10 - 23, 2011.

Friday, September 2, 2011


This post has nothing to do with wine. It's all about the day I stopped trusting young Cypriot men returning from their summer holidays in Phuket sporting ridiculously-looking conical straw hats, balmy eyes and tattoos of reggae legends smoking doobies the size of Pafos bananas on their shaved calves. Please keep in mind that this is a fictionalized (but only very slightly) version of the events.

I've had some bad flights in my life but few were worse than Etihad's ETD093 from Abu Dhabi to Larnaca on Friday, August 26th. Last time I felt this queasy on a plane was back in 1998: I still owned a portable CD player, rarely needed a shave and hadn't yet discovered Pinot Noir. I was en route to Quito from Miami on an American Airlines flight that had to twice maneuver its way back to the airport through one of those budding Floridian thunderstorms thanks to a flaps malfunction. Suddenly a four-hour flight became a twenty-four hour nightmare and a vow on my part to never again fly on AA. Honestly, I'd rather attend AA meetings and shut down this blog than set foot on another one of their planes.

I've always been apprehensive about flying, maybe because I associate it to certain traumatic events of my childhood. I was eleven years old living through Colombia's darkest years when Pablo Escobar blew up Avianca flight 203 hoping he'd take out promising presidential candidate Cesar Gaviria. He was not on board but one hundred and seven people perished on that flight including the parents of a boy who attended my school. I remember that day just like I remember all of the previous years. The guerrillas seizing the Ministry of Justice and battling it out with the military—you still see bullet holes in the surrounding buildings' facades and on a gloomy day the main square feels haunted by the ghosts of the fallen. The assassination of the prominent Minister of Justice Rodrigo Lara Bonilla at the mercy of the trigger-happy fingers of handsomely-paid sicarios. The random bombs detonating in malls and out on the streets. Pick up a copy of Juan Gabriel Vasquez's stunning new novel, El ruido de las cosas al caer, and you might then begin to comprehend what this all means to me.

In any case, The Wife, Ph.D., and I boarded ETD093 in Abu Dhabi at around 9:25 a.m. after a thirteen-hour flight from Melbourne. For a change, I was looking forward to our return to The Rock because I desperately wanted to whet my lips with the bottles of 2010 Oakridge Chardonnay, 2010 Giant Steps Applejack Vineyard Pinot Noir and 2010 Innocent Bystander Cordon Cut Viognier stuffed in my suitcase. But twenty minutes into the flight—I had just decided on the chicken tandoori for lunch—the captain announced that, "due to technical issues and for the safety of the passengers," the flight would have to land in Doha, Qatar. My palms got sweaty. From across the aisle, The Wife, Ph.D., looked pale. Behind me, a woman, just a few seconds of turbulence removed from an out-and-out panic attack, wheezed. Even the flight attendants, who are trained to be bastions of confidence and calm in moments such as these, seemed on the verge of tears. For a few minutes, I resigned myself to death. But I remembered that if I had survived AA's incompetence thirteen years ago, then I'd be fine on what is considered to be one of the world's best airlines. The Wife, Ph.D., who had been paying attention to the commotion around us, briefly came to life and told me that she had overheard some Cypriot guys in the back talking about bombs and how it was all a ha-ha joke. One of the guys said that if this was a Cypriot airline with Cypriot crew members, the man-in-charge would have laughed it off and offered him a beer and a blanket. Another one mockingly practiced his statement for the Qatari authorities: "My friend, I am Cypriot, land of Aphrodite, tasty grilled ambelopoulia (blackcaps) and Trikkis Palace, I go to Thailand for holiday and slowly slowly I go back to Limassol." I just shook my head in disgust at the youth's arrogance and misguided sense of invincibility. Some seedy girl on our aisle, though, was convinced the turbines had gone kaput and that we were somehow gliding to safety like dry foliage in November or plunging straight into the Persian Gulf, an errant Scud missile of sorts. The Wife, Ph.D., went from pale to an unflattering shade of green.

As soon as we landed—in an isolated runway, acres of desert between us and the main terminal, several fire trucks on standby—the captain informed us about the bomb threat. The doors opened and a Qatari police officer, his hands waving frantically and sweat dousing his face, barked at us to quickly disembark without our personal belongings. We ran into a wall of heat and onto a large patch of sand and as far away as possible from the aircraft. If it exploded, I guess, the authorities wanted to prevent any loose wreckage from flapping us on the side of the head and decapitating knocking us unconscious. Rumor has it that one passenger, having little time to slip on his footwear, braved the mid-forties degree heat barefoot. Imagine, burn blisters and war stories as souvenirs. Marvelous. At the foot of the mobile escalator, a young Cypriot, who I had earlier spotted wearing a traditional conical Asian hat, was being handcuffed and tossed in the trunk of a white jeep, probably bound for a lengthy stint in a ruthless Middle Eastern prison and/or a hefty fine for disrupting our travel plans. A little bit later, the same police officers, now furious and beyond strict, escorted the main culprit's friends to whichever dingy interrogation room was going to be used to break them down.

The Qatari police and airport authorities must have mobilized at least one hundred people to deal with the perpetrators, crew members and passengers. Given the sense of urgency and unpredictable nature of a bomb threat, I was truly impressed by Qatari officials' efficient, responsible and respectful handling of the situation. They loaded us onto three buses and took us to a satellite terminal in the middle of nowhere where we were handed bottles of water and I was allowed to use a bathroom where I discretely wiped clean my slightly soiled underwear. The Wife, Ph.D., and I were lucky enough to receive a boxed lunch and, once the airplane was deemed safe, we were carted off to identify our luggage, pick up our carry-on bags and board the plane back to Abu Dhabi, where we would change air-crafts and relieve the nervous crew of their duties. As I lodged our hand luggage in the overhead compartment, I heard a Cypriot girl, also on her way back from Bong-kok with some of her friends, screaming at one of the exhausted flight attendants for having left her Toblerone chocolate bars out in the heat. Of course, the chocolates became ganache and went to waste, but, as I told The Wife, Ph.D., within earshot of the girl's friends, that "should be the least of her fucking worries." She bitched and moaned and demanded a full refund from the airline for its negligent treatment of edible produce under subhuman temperatures. Out of nowhere, the flight attendant snapped and threatened to knock her off the flight if she didn't drop the attitude. That's that, I thought, until one of the girl's friends told her not to worry—he had traveler's insurance and they'd better right all wrongs. Stay classy, Cyprus.

For a less...uhm...bombastic tale of the flight, click here.