Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Curl That Nebuchadnezzar, Master!

Master of Wine at Work
If you've seen the movie Somm, you probably know that the exam to become a Master of Wine (MW) is one tough cork to crack. 

The exam for what's considered the highest possible degree awarded to wine professionals consists of three sections: 1) a research paper on a subject of the candidate's choice; 2) a theoretical exam in which candidates might be asked to list the main white grape varieties in Narnia or closest to Hogwarts, and; 3) a blind tasting that requires as training tasting thousands of wines and hoping, come crunch time, your palate remains sharp, your memory lucid and your nerves strong like a bodybuilder's biceps curling a Nebuchadnezzar. During this three-headed monster of a test, I imagine some poor candidate from some distant land like Andorra or Turkmenistan or Ecuador (gasp!) being blindsided by a question on the colour and thread count of the underwear worn by the spouse of a particular Burgundian winemaker during the third day of harvest in 2005. This is no laughing matter.

Only (maybe) a couple hundred people have passed the exam and become MWs. While The Rock still awaits its first conqueror, our neighbours in Greece have produced two: Konstantinos Lazarakis, who obtained this degree back in 2002, and Yiannis Karakasis, a victor just last year.

Honey I Ate the Honey
A couple months ago, Cyprus had the pleasure of meeting Karakasis during a sophisticated event at Annabelle Hotel in Paphos. Organised by Cyprus's own wine celebrity, Thanos Hotels's Manager George Kassianos, the soiree consisted of a cocktail reception with several Cypriot wineries (Kyperounda, Fikardos, Vassilikon, Ktima Mallia, Tsiakkas and Tsalapatis, to name a few) showcasing a few of their bottles, followed by a dinner marking the launch of the hotel's Cypriot-themed buffet, mind you, a buffet that makes all other buffets look third-rate and the best I have *EVER* experienced in Cyprus.

Karakasis, who in a past life flew helicopters for the Greek Navy, stealthily worked his way through the lineup, sipping the wines and jotting down his thoughts on a minuscule note pad. The Wife, Ph.D., and I, joined by our new drinking buddy Sam I Am, made the rounds too, leaving particularly impressed by Tsalapatis's whites, Vouni Panayia's Yiannoudi and a few of the many Maratheftikos in attendance.

Such a Ham
A few weeks following the event, Karakasis commented on his experience in Cyprus on his blog and highlighted several of the bottles that made an impression. He had plenty of praise for Xynisteri ("boasting freshness, zesty acidity and delicacy"), Yiannoudi and Promara, while he thought Maratheftiko, although considered the local star, "is not a forgiving variety" and "can be quite rustic as well."

In terms of whites, he awarded 90-plus points to 2015 Kyperounda Petritis, 2015 Tsiakkas Xynisteri, 2015 Vassiliades Expressions Xynisteri, 2015 Vouni Panayia Alina Xynisteri and Kyperounda Epos Chardonnay, to name a few.  Likewise, he dedicated an entire article to Vouni Panayia's renditions of Promara, a variety with loads of potential, and awarded the highest mark (93 points!) to the winery's 2014 vintage, praising it for its "excellent oak integration," "elegance on the palate," "high concentration, underlying bright acidity and clean finish."

As for the reds, Yiannoudi definitely shone bright for Karakasis. Awarded the highest score for a local red, the 2014 Vouni Panayia Yiannoudi was described as "mineral, extracted tannic with a strong core of fruit" and "serious stuff." KEO Ktima Mallia's 2011 version also stood out, being "very elegant with solid tannins that show good potential for development." This, of course, merits putting Yiannoudi to the test in one of my infamous blind tastings.

Smoked Salmon / Beetroots
What I found particularly curious when looking over his articles was the lack of tasting notes on Commandaria, the one wine that I believe truly leaves a mark internationally. He tasted Agia Mavri's always lovely Mosxatos, but nowhere did I find a trace of the world's oldest recorded wine. I think it'd be an interesting exercise to sit him before a lineup of The Rock's best stickies on a journey culminating with the 1984 KEO Saint John, my new alive and kicking thirty-two year old lover.

During dinner, Karakasis briefly spoke to the attendees and had this to say about Cypriot wine: "In my opinion, the wines from Cyprus show great potential. It is like opening a treasure chest and discovering new things, new gems. So you have your indigenous varieties here. Xynisteri is very interesting, very fresh with bright acidity. Then you have some other varieties, specially red varieties like Maratheftiko. But, for Maratheftiko, I am not so sure because I saw some irregular results. Yiannoudi can also be exciting. There is potential but you need to believe in your treasures and invest in the vineyards first to get the most out of them. If you take a good look at what's happening in Greece with Assyrtiko, with Naoussa, first of all you need good communication and then everything will fall into place."

Congratulations to Mr. Karakasis for defeating the gargantuan MW exam and we hope this was only the first of many trips to sample The Rock's finest!

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