Tuesday, April 16, 2019

A Case of Questions with Annabelle McVine, Wine Scribble

Since releasing her first Cypriot video blog almost a year ago, Annabelle McVine, the cheeky, fun-loving dame behind Wine Scribble, has taken The Rock by storm.

For the past eleven months, Annabelle has been on a tear, interviewing Cypriot oenologists, organizing funky food-and-wine pairings and reporting from the trenches at a myriad of wine-themed events.

With her trademark fiery red bob, matching lipstick and bubbly personality, Annabelle has endeared herself to The Rock's wine world, becoming a timely breath of fresh air to all of our vinous festivities.

As one of Wine Scribble's biggest fans, we thought we'd reach out to have her tell us her story.

Why wine?

I tend to get bored easily, but wine never bores me. Wine always has something to say that is worth listening to. With wine, especially European wine, and the boutique wineries, there is an explosion of permutations and iterations, every country, region, winemaker, blend, label and vintage is different. And just when you think you are getting the hang of it, then the weather changes and the next year tastes different to the year before.

Wine is also an interest that allows me to practice my writing, filming, photography and research skills. All of these activities I greatly enjoy.

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

I was in Plovdiv in Bulgaria on an academic EU project in my early 20s, and I was served an aromatic white that made me sit up and pay attention. I asked the waiter what it was and he told me the variety was called Traminer. Until that point, my position had been always that white wine was not worth bothering with. That bottle awakened me to the fact that white wines can be nuanced, complex and aromatic. To be fair to non-red wines, the only white wine that I had tasted until this point was the usual Cypriot-wedding house-glass of ‘weiß-plonk’.

All-time favorite bottle of wine?

Oh, now you are making this difficult. Do I strike you as the kind of girl who would restrict herself to a single option? Have you seen my shoe collection? [Editor's Note: We love shoes too.]

Annabelle McVine & Unidentified Local Fanboy

Favorite wine-producing region? Why?

If we are talking about my fantasy wine region holiday that I have not yet taken, then it would probably be something Tuscany based. Have you seen the pictures of Tuscany on Instagram? It looks amazing. 

However, my favourite wine producing region that I regularly visit and stick my stilettos into its earth: Krasochoria in Limassol. When you speak to the locals and learn more about the history of the Krasochoria, you soon realise that they don't just love wine, they eat, drink, sleep wine. It is an integral part of their existence, and I have a lot of respect for such unadulterated passion.

Your favorite food-and-wine pairing?

Cypriot Yiannoudi and a medium rare rib-eye steak, with all the trimmings. It is poetry.

What is Cyprus missing when it comes to wine?

Sophisticated online communications, both between the wine industry members and with the wine consumers. To clean this statement up, I mean no disrespect to our wonderful winemakers, and it is not their job to be internet communications experts, but what Cyprus is missing is a clear brand identity as a wine destination. We have wonderful tastes, aromas, growing regions, indigenous grape varieties, so many things that appeal to a modern millennial market in search of a wine adventure - but no one is saying this out loud to the market segment that can travel and discover Cyprus and Cyprus wine.


 What do you foresee for Cyprus’s wine industry?

At this stage, I feel it would be more salient to paraphrase from my recent interview with Sophocles Vlassides, who told me that about ten years ago the winemakers started to cultivate the indigenous local grapes such as Yiannoudi and Morokanella. It takes a long time to convert an experiment in this space to a mass market product that is consistent and enjoyable for everyone. So, what do I see for the Cyprus wine industry in the coming years? It would be more products based upon the local indigenous grapes, more sophisticated cultivation of these grapes, which can be difficult to work with in the vineyard, and more market awareness for the consumer making a choice at the point of sale.

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

Getting to know the Mediterranean wine lovers around me, the viticulturalists, oenologists, wine merchants, chefs, sommeliers, and people like you and I, who have taken to the Internet to talk about our favourite subject.

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

Communication is my passion. That’s why I enjoy writing, photography and making videos.

I want to keep growing as a visual story-teller and a film-maker. I want to spend the next few years focused on growing the WineScribble Instagram account and the WineScribble YouTube channel. There are so many great stories yet to be told about the people involved in Cyprus and Mediterranean wines.

However, I realise that in the process I am learning an incredible amount about communication on the Internet. It would be great to run seminars to disseminate everything I have learned about visual storytelling and engaging a large audience. I think I have worked out a secret formula here. In 9 months my Instagram is approaching 14k followers and my YouTube channel has almost 14k video views. I think this is pretty unusual with such a niche topic and without the help of any professional marketing agency. This is just me, a camera, a good eye for a picture/story and a good understanding of how today’s Internet works. I think there are people who would love to know how to replicate this success to pursue their own dreams, passions and business start-ups, and I would love to help them make these aspirations a reality.

Annabelle McVine & Orestis Tsiakkas Tasting Mavro Mouklos

Who is your favorite wine personality? Why?

I have a lot of respect for the older generation who moved into the wine business without formal education in wine-making, leaving behind regular careers for a dream. Without them, the current generation of oenologists and viticulturalists wouldn’t have had wineries to return to. They are the foundational stones of our wine industry. I haven’t met everyone that I want to yet, but three of these gentlemen have been very welcoming to me and my project so far. I should name and thank Costas Tsiakkas (Tsiakkas Winery), Andreas Kyriakides (Vouni Panayia Winery), and Charis Athinodorou (Ktima Gerolemo) for respecting this project and making themselves available to chat, answer questions and support me.

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

I cannot even start to make a list of all of the things that have gone wrong during filming. It is epic. I am the proud owner of a deeply traumatised goldfish that experienced a profound existential moment when a sparkling wine cork launched itself and landed in the fishbowl. If you look closely during the video called ‘The Sparkling Wine Adventure’ you can see the epic B-Roll segment of me unwrapping the foil, releasing the cage, but never actually removing the cork. It removed itself. At speed.

Also, for the purposes of the video titled ‘Vineyard Terroir’ I scripted myself to fail at making a Merlot Chocolate Cake, but in fact I failed at failing. The cake baked fully before the staged power-cut, and to make it look like a flop I had to behead a perfectly good cake and turn it into brownies. My mother has never let me forget the waste of cake.

I am not known for my dexterity, in fact quite the opposite. I did spend a few months annihilating corks as I tried to master the art of using the Waiter’s Friend corkscrew. It is a running joke in my office that I can talk about the wine, I just can’t open the wine.

Of course, your all-time favorite island wine?

You know what? I am not going to name a producer, that would be quite unfair to everyone else that scores 9.9 on my list instead of 10. I shall let you know that I do love the Maratheftiko and Yiannoudi wines that I am tasting right now. I love what these wines taste like right now, and I love what these wines will grow up to be in the future. Here’s to the local volcanic terroir! Cheers!

You can reach Annabelle on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or her website.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

An (Almost) Case of Questions with Sotiris Neophytides, Sommelier, Parklane Luxury Collection Resort & Spa

Sommeliers on The Rock have started to gain plenty of local and international recognition.

One of these young up-and-comers is Sotiris Neophytides, who currently plies his vinous trade as a Somm at Limassol's swanky Parklane Luxury Resort & Spa.

Sotiris, who has won the Cypriot title for Best Young Sommelier three years running (2017 to 2019), is also the second Cypriot (after Andreas Kyprianou of Vinocultura in Nicosia) to receive the Advanced Sommelier Certificate by the Court of Master Sommeliers following his first crack at the exam.

As usual, we sat down with Sotiris to pick his brain on all-things wine!

Why wine?

As part of our culture and religion, Cyprus has a long history of winemaking with its most famous wine being Commandaria. Moreover, in each glass of wine there is magic, especially when you try it blind and you have to discover all of its aromas and flavors in order to identify its region, something that we call terroir. This is why I fell in love with wine.

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

The first wine that captured my attention was a wine that comes from Greece. It is called Museum and Domaine Gerovasiliou in Epanomi near Thessaloniki makes it. This wine had a powerful structure on the palate with a very long finish that has remained in my memory up until today. I was 24 years old when I tried it.

All-time favorite bottle of wine?


My favorite bottle of wine that I would like to enjoy is La Tâche by Domaine de la Romanée Conti in Burgundy, France. [Editor’s Note: Wouldn’t we all?]

Favorite wine-producing region? Why?

One of my favorite wine regions is Piedmont in northern Italy, especially Barolo. The reason I chose this region is that Barolos have both the character and temperament. They are high in acid and their tannins make the wines powerful but elegant at the same time.

Your favorite food-and-wine pairing?

I would pair a beautiful Wagyu beef with an Australian Shiraz. Shiraz has the structure and tannins to match the richness of the beef and its weight.

With Master Sommeliers Demetri Mensard (L) & Ronan Sayburn (R)

What is Cyprus missing when it comes to wine?

Promotion and positioning in the market at an international level. We do promote Cypriot wine but in very small steps.

What do you foresee for Cyprus’s wine industry?

Cypriot wines and winemaking have developed a lot during the last five-to-ten years. Therefore, I expect more experimentation from local winemakers. Moreover, Cypriot winemakers will look for more elegant styles of wines, and vines will be planted at higher altitudes. Seeing the industry’s huge improvement, new wineries will be built and, therefore, there will be greater competition between the wineries aiming to achieve a higher quality each year.

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

The diversity of the guests’ needs with certain food and wine pairings and of course their satisfaction at the end of the service are my favorite parts of the job. Basically, keeping the guests happy and providing them with a memorable experience through my wine list.

Who is your favorite wine personality? Why?

My favorite wine personality is Arvid Rosengren, who won the award for Best Sommelier in the World in 2016. He shows how genuine and elegant we need to be towards our guests.

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

At the beginning of my career as a sommelier I went to a table to open a bottle of Prosecco. The cork was so tight that I could not open it. At a certain point, as I was holding it, it popped out and I had a wonderful bath of Prosecco.

Of course, your all-time favorite island wine?

This is a beautiful question for which I could write in many of my favorite wines. Each winemaker has a different philosophy and winemaking style. Therefore, some of my favourite producers, I would say, are Tsiakkas, Vlassides, Argyrides, Zambartas, Vassiliades Expressions, Kyperounda, Ezousa and many more.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Fill Up My Cava - Part II

There are few moments in life when you can confidently say that you are in the presence of greatness. Most of mine, of course, have involved a bottle of wine, molecular gastronomy, live music, a piece of art or a novel that render me speechless and teary-eyed, a fat boy before an overflowing chocolate fountain.

I recently had one of these encounters, an impressive wine tasting hosted by Nicosia's Vinocultura at Aelia Wellness Retreat in Tseri that confirmed Nebbiolo as one of the few chosen varieties to fill up my cava.

Kyprianou, Altare, Karakasis & Barolo
Elio Altare, the legendary Barolo winemaker and grizzled veteran of more than fifty vintages, schlepped his way to The Rock where he guided us through a tasting of eleven of his world-class wines. In his broken English, Elio, a grandfatherly figure with a warm voice and boundless dreams, narrated his story with Nebbiolo and wine-making in northern Italy, assisted by Vinocultura's Andreas Kyprianou and Greece's Master of Wine Yiannis Karakasis.

Elio tells us that everything changed during a 1976 visit to Burgundy alongside Angelo Gaja, arguably the one man responsible for putting Piedmont on the wine map. Historically speaking, Barolos were born as sweet, oxidized wines that were difficult to drink and originally stored on the winery's roof. Precarious conditions didn't help either. Cellars were nary clean and tough to sanitize; Elio recalls potable water only arriving at his family winery in 1962. In Burgundy, after sampling wines that were that much more expensive and different to those being produced in his northern Italian home, Elio shifted gears and following Gaja's lead brought modern wine-making techniques into the region.

At first, everyone opposed him. His parents believed he was soiling Barolo's traditions. Elio, however, stood his ground. "If a son does the same job as the father, the economy takes a step back. The son must do better, that's progress," he tells us. "There's no success without mistakes, without experiments. If you're ambitious, you look for competition with the best."

The Big Boys of the Tasting
With Burgundy clearly on his mind, Elio introduced shorter maceration times and the use of rotary fermenters, which in turn churned out wines with more color, greater stability and nobler tannins. Nowadays, he uses no pesticides (out of respect for his clients), does not filter his wines, and adopts indigenous yeast to maintain the identity of the harvest,  winemaker and terroir.

Elio speaks about wine the same way you or I might speak of the love of our lives. It's that type of love where passion, compromise, disagreement, comfort and doubt come together to create something unique and endless. Elio tells us, "I don't drink a label, I don't drink a name. Wine is a great symphony, it is my job to give it harmony and balance. I make wines for me."

Ultimately, there is this comforting humility that shines through with each one of his words and actions. "I have not created anything, I have just added to the experience of vignerons in Burgundy and California," he affirms.

Here are my thoughts on these wines, which clearly depict what I refer to as the decay of wine tasting notes, i.e., the amount of wine consumed is inversely related to the volume and quality of notes taken.

Amount of Wine Consumed 1/Volume & Quality of Tasting Notes

This is a scientifically proven formula so don't @ me.

2017 Elio Altare Dolcetto d'Alba - Vibrant red fruit, cherries, licorice, mint and some meatiness in this fruit-forward wine. Tannins are really present but the red forest fruit shines through. Quite long and with an intact purity of fruit.

Dolcetto d'Alba & Friends
2017 Elio Altare Barbera d'Alba - Dark cherries, floral elements, notes of pepper. Silky, sweet tannins with cherries that sing. Not as bright as the Dolcetto d'Alba but a lot fuller. This is a wine I am convinced both The Wife Ph.D., and I could enjoy without argument considering her unhealthy obsession with full-bodied Shiraz.

2011 Elio Altare Larigi Langhe DOC - This was absolutely lovely. A remarkable nose with notes of chocolate, overripe yet bright fruit, potpourri and herbal components, spice, hints of oak. I found the big and heavy nose on this wine to be rather deceptive. Once tasted, it's sprightly, full of life, marked by the type of lightness that I fall head over heels for with a wonderful spicy finish and great length.

2011 Elio Altare La Villa Langhe DOC - Plenty of sweet spice, meaty, an appealing stink and rawness, some chocolate. Very smooth and clean and approachable after seven years.

2011 Elio Altare Giàrborina Langhe Rosso DOC -  Funky, meaty, caramel and sweet spice. Tannins are very firm, very present. Plenty of structure to age but not quite approachable at the moment in my opinion.

2014 Elio Altare Barolo DOCG - I love these noses! Stinky, raw, peppery and meaty. Plenty of sour cherries and a great structure.

The Barolo Lineup
2012 Elio Altare Barolo DOCG - A lot more fruit, floral almost, tannins have softened and wine is now a lot rounder and chewier.

2013 Elio Altare Barolo Arborina DOCG - Soy sauce, meaty with a beautiful body marked by sweet cherries and firm tannins.

2008 Elio Altare Barolo Arborina DOCG - More tertiary aromas, plenty of leather, a lot cleaner and elegant. An all-around balanced wine.

2012 Elio Altare Barolo Cerretta DOCG - Sweet spice, tobacco, meaty, smoky, loaded with cherries, a raspberry finish. Elegant as fuck (I actually wrote this on my notepad), clean, round, integrated tannins. Best wine of the night. By far.

2007 Elio Altare Barolo Cerretta DOCG - Bright fruit, floral, meaty, leathery with a finish marked by tar. Quite mineral with a great structure and tannins that are still alive and kicking. A lot less concentrated than the 2012.

For Part I, click HERE.

For an old blog post on the third variety (region) in my Triumvirate of Taste, click HERE.