Thursday, March 14, 2013

In Our Element

Cellar at Zambartas Wineries
As a (pseudo) wine blogger, I am not industrious enough to visit and write about The Rock's wineries on a semi-regular basis. Financial constraints, the size of my liver and The Wife, Ph.D.'s indecisiveness put a damper on any desire I might have to hit the winding roads each weekend, tour a handful and load up my station wagon with cases of Xynisteri, Maratheftiko and Shiraz. Once in a while, though, my bullheadedness barrels through and The Wife, Ph.D. can only nod as I lead her up the mountain into the arms of a local winemaker.

So in an obvious lapse of parental judgment, the stage was set a few weeks ago for Little Miss Despot's first winery visit—a long drive to Zambartas Winery, one of The Rock's best and most consistent wineries, a didactic presentation on wine-making, a tasting of six excellent wines, great conversation, and multiple breastfeeding and diaper changing sessions in the back seat of my soccer mom car. My Zolpidem Supplier, Radio Free Cyprus and Cousin #2, brave enough to join us on our adventure, can attest to the stink that emanated from inside our vehicle.

A piece by Hambis in the tasting mezzanine
The Dijon-mustard-toned winery (which doubles as Mr. Akis Zambartas' residence) sits at the edge of Ayios Amvrosios, a village just northwest of Limassol, and overlooks a sprawl of vineyards and hills. What first captures your attention upon walking in is the oenologist's wonderful collection of engravings by his close friend and noted Cypriot artist Hambis Tsangaris decorating its walls. A touching portrait of Mr. Zambartas hangs as centerpiece on a living room wall and several other pieces are showcased on the metallic stairwell that descends into the tasting and vinification areas. The tasting room, a welcome addition since my last visit pre-blog, is a modern yet warm mezzanine with shiny red cabinets for storage, lacquered barrels topped with clear glass as bars, and a long plastic white table to accommodate the imbibers. From the balcony, one can peer down and see the many steel fermentation tanks, each with its own humorous moniker, standing in a row like shiny, metallic watchtowers. Overall, the winery's facilities are not extravagant and might convince the foolish and/or uninitiated (like Radio Free Cyprus and myself) that all one needs to make good wine is a medium-sized warehouse and some start-up capital to buy the necessary equipment. And that's precisely why my nous is better suited to "write" (cough, cough) than to keep a business afloat.

Akis Zambartas in his element!
Mr. Zambartas, former winemaker and general manager at KEO, led us downstairs for the educational component of the tour, a detailed explanation on the agricultural, biological and chemical processes involved in wine-making. Following an informative (chemists rejoice!) and engaging 25-minute session, we headed back upstairs to the tasting mezzanine where wine glasses and a simple white bread and cheese platter awaited. The Zambartas lineup consists of two whites, one rose and three reds, each among the best of their kind on The Rock. The 2012 Zambartas Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend recalled grapefruits, pears and a touch of white flowers on the nose and had a bewildering hint of spicy Turkish  Cypriot delight and honey on the palate. The 2012 Zambartas Rose, a wine which I have waxed ecstatic about in the past, is as good as ever, likewise the 2011 Zambartas Maratheftiko, a favorite of mine, and the 2011 Shiraz Lefkada, arguably Zambartas's most refined, powerful and intriguing wine. The 2011 Zambartas Epicurean, a Merlot and Lefkada blend, though, surprised me the most. This wine's 2010 vintage combined Maratheftiko, Merlot, Shiraz and Lefkada and, in my opinion, paled in comparison to the new-and-improved bottling which had interesting plum and dark forest fruit notes and was a lot more focused, leaner and elegant.

L.M.D. in her element?
Even though Marcos Zambartas, the younger half of the wine-making team and latest interviewee on the blog's "Case of Questions," was busy tending the vines, Mr. Zambartas and Marleen Brouwer, the winery's social media, P.R. and marketing machine, sat with us and discussed what the future beholds for the family business. Like Tsiakkas and Kyperounda wineries, a high-quality Commandaria is in the works (barrel aging right now!) and should be released in 2014. Furthermore, simple and affordable red and white wines will soon be for sale in restaurants and hotels, a clear sign of the industry's need to cater to tourists and the lighter wallet during these times of recession. Overall, our hosts' graciousness, hospitality and vats of knowledge, combined with the inviting setting, make Zambartas Winery an ideal place to learn about and taste some of Cyprus' best wines.

On our way out, I purchased half a case of wine, including two bottles of the Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend as a puppy treat for The Wife, Ph.D., being such a good sport. We stopped at the beautiful Apokryfo Traditional Houses in Lofou for lunch at Agrino Restaurant (unfortunately overrated!) and then rushed back to Nicosia before Little Miss Despot woke up, begging once again for wine-spiked milk and a wet cotton-ball scrub down. For better or for worse, this is our new element.

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