Friday, February 24, 2012

Plonk By Monks?

Do you see what I see?
Few things in this world would beat witnessing the Lord Almighty, Virgin Mary or any of the Apostles emerge sublime and immaculate from the thick and creamy head of a rich Trappist Belgian beer. Doubters might argue you suffered from the hallucinatory effects of one too many Tripels, but sipping on anything lovingly crafted by monks is bound to involve a spiritual awakening of sorts. Soon enough I hope to land in Brussels, hand the keys to the rental car over to The Wife, Ph.D., and drink my way through the six Trappist monasteries in search of apparitions and that elusive case of Westvleteren. Until then, I am content to be sea-locked and chasing visions of heaven in the tears of a wine glass.

There's only one Cypriot winery that has enough clout with God to offer me a religious experience. Near the village of Panagia in Pafos, the Holy Virgin of Chrysorroyiatissa Monastery has been producing wine for more than two centuries. According to Yiannos Constantinou's Cyprus Wine Guide,
" September 1984...winemaking at the monastery was really modernized, when the present Abbot Dionysios decided to start operating the winery again. This was the first attempt to set up a regional winery that would restrict its activities to producing limited quantities of wine, in contrast to the large wine factories that dominated wine-production in Cyprus at the time. Today, Chrysorroyiatissa winery turns out around one hundred and fifty thousand bottles of wine annually, produced from grapes grown on some 25 hectares of its own vineyards planted with both local (Xynisteri, Mavro, Maratheftiko, Ofthalmo) as well as imported (Mataro, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling) grape varieties. The winery plans to treble its acreage of vineyards in the next few years."
2009 Monastiri, a Holy Blend.
The monastery is probably best known for its two table wines, Ayios Andronicos, a white wine made of Xynisteri and meant to be consumed young, and Ayios Elias, a simple red quaff of local varieties. Both are decent wines but neither of them had me seeing things. Lo and behold, the Parents-in-Law, after a recent weekend peregrination to the monastery to (I presume) cleanse all sins, brought me a bottle of 2009 Monastiri, a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz blend I had no clue the monks made. Alas, let's just say I am still desperately seeking Savior.

2009 Chrysorroyiatissa Monastiri (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz) - Satisfying aroma marked by blackberries, plum, black pepper, cloves and a light hint of vanilla and chocolate. To the palate, harsh tannins and a noticeable spike in the alcohol that smoothed out once the wine was matched with food and had enough time to breathe. Black fruit predominates in a blend that lacked some flavor in the mid-palate and ultimately failed to pack a punch. 83/100.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What A (Ce)Bitch(e)!

Someone—anyone—I beg you please. Send me a good bottle of Cretan Vilana.

I first tasted her in Athens. It was a joyous evening among fancy friends in Psiri, a fashionable neighborhood that once witnessed my drunken crooning of "Besame Mucho," landing me in hot water with The Wife, Ph.D., and on a sidewalk near Exarcheia passed out napping among anarchists. The French Connoisseur handpicked a bottle, which unfortunately was unremarkable and received low scores from those in attendance.

I tried again a few weeks ago in company of The Wife, Ph.D., Cousins #2 and #6, Radio Free Cyprus and My Alternate Personal Skipper (MAPS). On the menu, a fish ceviche matched with homemade tree tomato aji and plantain chips I ordered from Amazon (the website, not the jungle) because The Wife, Ph.D., has placed a ridiculous ban on all kinds of frying in our kitchen. Like a 90-60-90 brunette model strutting her stuff all over the catwalk, the ceviche took center stage. The Cretan whites, however, were tame villains (pun intended) to the ceviche's super powers and fell flat on the runway.

By the way, if you're ever interested in cooking some Ecuadorian food, check out Laylita's. Pretty reliable English recipes of Ecuadorian classics.

2010 Lyrarakis Vilana (Crete, Greece) - Peach, lime and some melon on a pretty nose. However, this fails to translate to the palate as it is very light, a bit flat and quite short and could have benefited from brighter acidity. Maybe it's past its prime (i.e. meant to be drunk real young just like Cyprus rosés) and I should have procured a 2011. 80/100.

2010 Boutari Kretikos (70% Vilana and 30% Other Cretan Varieties) - Some wild herbs and peach in terms of bouquet but even emptier to the palate than the Lyrarakis. Did not feel very fresh. 78/100.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Prozac Ain't My Road to Happiness

Many days I miss being alone in a bustling coffee shop with my music, literature and thoughts. To settle on a couch or chair for hours and grow unaware of my surroundings, sipping on a large piping hot cappuccino until the last—now cold—sip marks my time to depart. Between 2002 and 2004, when San Diego was "home," I'd take a break from social movement theory by fiddling through a Nick Hornby novel at Claire de Lune in North Park or checking out the Monaco-Grand-Prix curves on the sexy bespectacled emo chick tending the till at Pannikin Coffee & Tea on Girard Avenue. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, I'd roll out of bed at 6 a.m. and drive down to Mission Coffee Cup in La Jolla for breakfast quesadillas and the house brew. I spent so many hours in solitude drinking coffee, reading and writing that one day my mother, Mrs. Broken Record, felt compelled to audit me. Following a twenty-minute conversation, she advised that I could save close to $1,500 per year by cutting down on this fleeting luxury. I told her that if that was the price to pay to stave off depression, she could either hop on my road to happiness or bankroll a healthy stash of Prozac. Woman hung up.

Even though The Rock's coffee culture (i.e. booming social hour) is not very conducive to my modus operandi, I have found a few spots sprinkled throughout the city where I can defeat depression for about four Euros a mug and ample space to read a book, write (productivity galore!) and slam my head to my music of choice (right this second—Jeff Buckley's posthumous Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk.) So this post is dedicated to them. And, by the way, if you ever see more than one person flipping through a book at a Cypriot coffeehouse, there's a good chance you might either have to dial 112 to send the paramedics or count your blessings and wait for the deluge.

Gloria Jean's Coffees (Andrea Avraamides Street 50, Strovolos, Nicosia) - Located diagonally from Aretaeio hospital, this warm coffeehouse is often packed with pregnant women, morose patients and the usual suspects like myself. Plugs abound for laptops, my preferred spots the four tables leaning against the long wooden wall right across from the counter. Up until recently, they had the best coffee mugs on The Rock but for some reason felt the need to change them for some clunky black things that fit my lips as well as Hugh Heffner in a West Texas retirement home. Loyalty card (Buy 10, Get 1 Free) and plenty of parking at the back are a plus. Whine On The Rocks Rating: 4 out of 5 Sparkling Spatulas.

View from my usual table at Mocca
Mocca Café (Stasinou 44, Nicosia) - My neighborhood coffeehouse with a modern yet homey decor. Quite small but a few tables tucked towards the back of the room are perfect for those hard at work. Probably one of the only establishments that has flat whites—a smaller, more flavorful cappuccino—on offer. Salads and sandwiches are also tasty and, to Mrs. Broken Record's excitement, prices with a discount card are far more affordable than those at the chains. Two large televisions usually screen football matches or music videos and the baristas are friendly. Whine On The Rocks Rating: 4 out of 5 Sparkling Spatulas.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pastel Pink Mummies

The Wife, Ph.D.'s Latest Nightmare
One morning a few months ago The Wife, Ph.D., and I ran out of toilet paper. Colorful IKEA napkins and a couple packs of pocket-sized tissues were on standby just in case I couldn't track down extra-soft, fragrant and medicinal rolls at the convenience store just two blocks from our apartment. The selection wasn't remarkable, but a six-pack of pastel pink toilet paper printed with evenly distributed strawberries or dandelions (depending on the angle) caught my attention with its "Buy One, Get One Free" seduction ploy. Maybe it was the paper's shades of creamy-beetroot-and-mayonnaise salad that seduced me or the fact that deep down I stalk all types of bargains. The Wife, Ph.D., took one look at the puffy tubes and for a minute I feared she would wrap me in all that pink paper during my sleep, turning me into a flowered mummy Michael Kors would have been proud of calling his own creation. Her distaste for pink TP sparked my own revelation—Cyprus rosé season was upon us.

In the past, rosé wines never really rocked my kayak. However, as I sampled more and more of The Rock's rosé, the diverse bottlings made both with local and foreign varieties grew on me and have become a spring and summer staple chez nous. Unlike the toilet paper, The Wife, Ph.D., loves their fruitiness and freshness, and I agree with my friend AK-47 when he says that it's one of the better accompaniments to the schizophrenic spread—from crisp greens to grilled meats to saucy stews—known as Cyprus meze. Some bottles—the Zambartas rosé made of Cabernet Franc and Lefkada comes to mind—have become cult-classics, selling out quicker than the time it takes me to mock The Wife, Ph.D., on these pages. Besides Commandaria, I have no hesitation whatsoever asserting that, across-the-board, rosés are the best wines being produced on The Rock.

2011 Aes Ambelis Rosé (Maratheftiko & Lefkada)
Consumers, as well as the international and local press, seem to think alike. When I spoke to Theodoros Fikardos of Fikardos Winery at last year's Limassol Wine Festival, he pointed out that his clients' most beloved wines are his dry and medium rosés, Iocasti and Valentina. Furthermore, wine journalist Yiannos Constantinou extols on the virtues of The Rock's rosés throughout his Cyprus Wine Guide, probably the leading book on Cyprus wines. Likewise, year in, year out, Angela Muir, regional chair for Central & Eastern Europe in the Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA), highly recommends these wines to visitors but warns consumers to stick to the current year's vintage to enjoy maximum freshness and flavor. Personally, I find it mind-boggling that (last time I checked) The Mall's Carrefour still shelved many bottles of the 2007 (?!?) Sodap Kamantarena rosé, a wine that's definitely way past its prime and might taste like some of the really old plonk I uncorked as a joke with My Zolpidem Supplier one merry Sunday morning. This oversight is a true pity since this wine's 2010 vintage won a Silver Medal at last year's DWWA. 

What's great about The Rock's rosés is that wineries are crafting them with many different varieties, creating a wide array of distinct aromas, flavor profiles and vibrant hues. Meant to be drank young, these playful wines explode upon being uncorked with the scent of raspberries, cherries, cranberries, strawberries, pomegranate, red roses, violets and/or wild herbs, among others. To the palate, the drier ones are fresh, crisp and abundantly acidic, while those with some residual sugar (off-dry) feel weightier yet remain thirst-quenching when served at a temperature between 5 and 8 degrees Celsius. Ultimately, they are not ultra-complex but they do a fine job once the scorching heat rolls in and you spend your afternoons preparing asparagus omelets with the sidewalk as a skillet. Keep in mind that not all Cyprus rosés are great but lately I haven't come across a disappointing bottle. Besides the aforementioned, some of my favorites are Aes Ambelis (Maratheftiko & Lefkada), Ezousa (Maratheftiko) and Hadjiantonas (Cabernet Sauvignon & Shiraz). Additionally, people I trust—Cousin #2 and Radio Free Cyprus—rave about Tsangarides Winery's rosé (Shiraz), a wine I have not had the good fortune to try. The day I do, though, rest assured I will spill some all over a white tablecloth and force The Wife, Ph.D. to pat the splotches dry with some sea salt and bargain toilet paper.

2011 Aes Ambelis Rose (Maratheftiko & Lefkada) - I chose this wine to launch our humble abode's 2012 rosé season. Vibrant aroma of roses, strawberry and pomegranate. Candied strawberries and other red berries on the palate. Syrupy with good length and a nice lingering sweetness. 87/100.

2011 Zambartas Rose (Lefkada & Cabernet Franc) - Lovely red fruit (cranberry and pomegranate) on the nose with just a hint of sweetness. Bright red fruit (red apple?) throughout the palate with a tangy finish. Good acidity but not as remarkable as past years' vintages. 86/100.

2011 Tsangarides Rose (Shiraz) - Tame nose with hints of sour cherries and cranberry. Dry to the mouth with notes of raspberry and a lively acidity. In my opinion, lacked some flavor and length. 85/100.