Thursday, March 9, 2017

A Case of Questions with Exotic Wine Travel

Exotic Wine Travel is the brainchild of Matthew Horkey and Charine Tan, two authors, speakers, marketers, travellers and wine lovers who left Singapore two years ago in search of good wine and interesting stories to tell. Following an unexpected meeting with a representative of the Cyprus Tourism Organisation in Tbilisi, Georgia, Matthew and Charine landed on The Rock and visited more than twenty wineries and bars as part of a wine itinerary set up by Cyprus Sommelier Association's George Kassianos. So far, they have written about their first impressions of our island, a cheat sheet on Cyprus wines, and a glowing review of the work being done by the Kyriakides boys at Vouni Panayia Winery. Since us here at the blog are a nosy bunch, we got in touch and had them join our distinguished "Case of Questions" family. ¡Salud!

Why wine? 

Exotic Wine Travel (EWT): Wine is a wondrous port of entry into various topics like sociology, philosophy, geography, history, and science. As full-time travelers, wine makes us feel at home and connects us to people wherever we go, because wine lovers from all over the world speak the same language. Wine is like a steroid in communication and friendship. Meet a wine lover and the next moment, you'll be spending the night with his or her family and friends.

First wine that really captured your attention? How old were you?  

Charine Tan (CT): My first sip of wine was at an indecently young age. I believe it was a Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny Port, or 10 Year Old. But the one that really captured my heart was a red Burgundy. I had no clue about the producer, appellation, or region. It was my 18th birthday and I was treated to dinner at a French fine-dining restaurant in Singapore.

Matthew Horkey (MH): The first time I tasted wine that was distinctly different was a house red wine in Lucca, Italy. I was a broke graduate student, backpacking across Europe with some friends. We ordered a liter of house red wine that was completely different from the supermarket plonk I was drinking in America. As I drank it, there was an "ah hah" moment where I finally understood that wine could taste good and have fine nuances to it. 

All-time favorite bottle of wine? 

CT: Château d'Yquem 1986. It's not about the sensory merits per se; that wine showed me a new realm of possibilities for wine. I was never partial to sweet wine, so it was a surprise that I ended up loving that wine.

MH: Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage 2002 (red). I love Syrah but this wine had so much leather, earthy, and meaty nuances to it that were brand new to me.  It blew my mind that Syrah could taste like that. It was actually a present for Charine's birthday but I kept returning to her glass, sniffing away in wonder.

Favorite wine-producing region? Why? 

EWT: This took a bit of debating to get to a consensus. It'll be Piedmont. We spent two weeks in Piedmont in June 2015. We were just starting our long-term travel then and Piedmont was the first wine region where we engaged in some serious wine tourism activities. Piedmont has it all as a wine region—the views, people, food, wine, culture, entertainment, and to a decent extent the infrastructure.

Your favorite food-and-wine pairing?

EWT: We are very experimental with wine, food, and actually pretty much everything. So there's never a safe or default choice for us when it comes to pairing. But if we're put in charge of the food at a pairing session, we'd suggest a table full of different cheeses, bread, cold cuts, olive oil, nut oil, and dips.

What is Cyprus missing when it comes to wine? 

EWT: Just like most wine countries that are rebuilding their modern wine culture, Cyprus is still finding its brand identity and brand story. A geographical name and history are not enough to characterize and brand a wine country. Other salient points need to be considered. Cyprus needs to first identify the cues or attributes that are already strongly linked to the country: the legendary Commandaria sweet wine, the omnipresent Mount Olympus, the surprise of meze, the refreshing Xinisteri, the intense tasting reds made from old bush vines, etc. Then build the rest of the offerings upon that. The offerings will need to cover the entertainment, education, aesthetic, and participation aspects of wine tourism. A brand name is strengthened by a positive experience at every touch point—from the winery to the hotel, airport, and social media. 

The increased international awareness and global demand for Cypriot wine will also offer wiggle room for wine producers to experiment with new styles of wine. Based on our conversations with a few winemakers, it seems like Cypriot wine producers are very reactive to what the local market demands and sometimes feel obliged to make wine in a certain way that they don't necessarily believe is the best step forward.

EWT Loved Vasilikon Winery's Agios Onoufrios as a Bargain Red

What do you foresee for Cyprus’s wine industry? 

EWT: More focus on indigenous varieties and clonal selection to improve the quality of wine. More collaboration among producers and between the private and public sectors. 

What do you enjoy most about your work in the food & wine world?  

EWT: The people we meet and the stories of their countries told to us in various narratives and through different lenses.

What is your “Five Year Plan” for your business? 

EWT: We've decided on this since the very beginning of Exotic Wine Travel. We want Exotic Wine Travel to be an indispensable resource for wine travelers in the same way as how Lonely Planet was to independent travelers. But maybe with a touch of "Eat Pray Love" sort of inspiration thrown into it.

Who is your favorite wine personality? Why? 

EWT: Karen MacNeil. Her style of wine writing is something that we hope to emulate. The Wine Bible does a wonderful job of taking the readers through the world of wine. It is informative and entertaining. There is a perfect balance between facts, wine recommendations, and humor to keep drinkers of all level engaged. 

Any embarrassing episodes involving spilled wine, corkscrews, sommeliers or drunken behavior? 

MH: I'm so clumsy and knock over wine glasses all the time. Once I was at dinner with a group of friends. I got so excited and moved my hands so violently that I knocked over my glass and spilled red wine all over a guy's white dress shirt. It was the first time I met the guy and he was pretty upset (understandably so). And of course, I've spilled wine over Charine at tastings and events too.

Of course, your all-time favorite island wine?

EWT: The Vlassides Opus Artis 2011 was the best wine that we discovered during our two-week press trip in Cyprus.

You can reach Exotic Wine Travel via their website, Facebook, Twitter, Vivino and Instagram.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

White on White

Domaine Papagiannakos on Display
Greek wine has come a long way since those ignoble days when retsina, the pine-tinged beverage that reminds me of a freshly cleaned boy's toilet, defined the country's wine industry. During the past ten years, Greece's exciting work with a myriad of endemic varieties have left a conspicuous mark on global wine lovers' palates; demand for these wines is rapidly increasing and, unfortunately, prices are soon to follow with Paris Sigalas' earth-shattering whites, for instance, already asking fans to cough up an additional ten Euros per bottle. On average.

Besides Xinomavro, a red I would love Axe to bottle up as deodorant, two of my favourite Greek varieties are whites. Santorini's flagship Assyrtiko, of course, which breathes in the island's volcanic rock and brackish breeze and creates a wine that makes you lick your lips and pucker up. The second one is Malagousia, a dwindling variety that was rediscovered by Vangelis Gerovassiliou, and reminds me of the peaches, mango and cream body lotion The Wife, Ph.D., rubs on her tummy whenever she's trying to seduce me.

Vassilis Papagiannakos at A.G. Leventis
Besides these, however, I've recently re-discovered two other Greek whites that have further accentuated the country's unbridled potential as a world-class wine producer: Savatiano and Moschofilero.

During recent industry events in Nicosia, I had the privilege of tasting two of these varieties' incarnations and, while they do not belt out Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On in the same way Assyrtiko and Malagousia do, they've done enough to tickle my fancy.

Savatiano was originally known as the main grape behind retsina, a status that unfortunately blemished its reputation as a variety capable of delivering bigger and better wines. However, thanks to the work of Domaine Papagiannakos just a stone's throw away from Athens' airport, Savatiano has gathered steam during the past two decades and started showing plenty of potential as a grape capable of shining on its lonesome. As mentioned in a 2014 article by Tara Q. Thomas in Wine & Spirits magazine, Vassilis Papagiannakos' "young savatianos have caused waves all over Greece for their fruitiness and clarity—characteristics not often associated with the variety." In an event hosted by importer Vassos Eliades Ltd., at the A.G. Leventis Gallery, Vassilis mentioned that this variety is his pride and joy, one that has been worked on for decades and has firmly put his winery on Greece's wine map. His 2015 rendition delivered as evinced by my review below.

2015 Boutari Oropedio Moschofilero
As for Moschofilero, I have always loved the versions put out by both Skouras and Tselepos. It came as a pleasant surprise, however, to enjoy Boutari Winery's latest experiment with the variety—the barrel-aged Oropedio from Mantineia—during a soiree organised at Caraffa Bastione by its importer Photos Photiades Group. I've always associated Moschofilero—with its pinkish hue, citrus undertones and oh-so-sweet spice—to a more subtle understudy to Gewürztraminer, and Boutari's latest experiment didn't change my mind. And before you get all uppity about my description for this variety, please take it as a compliment: Gewürztraminers are sometimes like a once pretty woman who's iced her face with one dollop too many of turquoise-toned makeup.

2015 Papagiannakos Savatiano - Vibrant aroma of orange peel, stone fruit, apples, white flowers and sweet spice. On the palate, there's plenty of apple, melon, some honeysuckle and beeswax, and (maybe, just maybe) a piney element, which could be my brain telling me we're edging closer and closer to retsina. Full-ish to the mouth with good length, quite waxy and a bitter finish, which can be confounding. 86/100.

2015 Boutari Oropedio Moschofilero - Somewhat tropical on the nose, reminiscent of pineapple doused in sweet spices and a touch of white flowers. The palate is dominated by notes of baked apples with cinnamon, some pear and a delicious citrus finish. Medium bodied, quite fruit forward yet short, and overall well received thanks to its loukoumi-like qualities. 87/100.