Greece

Top Red Wines Of 2013

30 December 2013

August Kesseler SpätburgunderThis list, especially when taken together with my companion list of whites, illustrates how absolutely delicious wines are being made in all sorts of unexpected places all over the globe. Nowadays, there is simply no reason to confine your drinking to wines from two or three classic regions.

You’ll note that nary a wine from France made the list below, for example. Everyone knows top Bordeaux and Burgundy taste great, and the prices reflect that fame. Taking a risk on something lesser-known can reap significant rewards, both in terms of saving money and broadening the palate.

The planet is encircled with tremendous wine-making talent. Fantastic wine makers can be found in just about every wine region on the map, and just as important, insightful wine growers are exploiting vineyard sites to their full potential, finding new terroir for classic grapes as well as resurrecting nearly forgotten ancient varieties rich in character and history.

We wine lovers have never had it better, whether we’re in California, Italy, Uruguay or British Columbia.  Cheers to the vintners in far-flung places taking risks on unorthodox wines, hoping that we’ll notice their beauty, and cheers to the importers, restaurants and wine shops courageous enough to work with them. My life is much the richer for it.

The most memorable reds I tasted in 2013, in alphabetical order:

 

ART+FARM “THE MESSENGER” RED WINE NUMBER ONE (LOT #612):

This is one complicated blend. No fewer than 11 different Californian wines made their way into the mix, including Cabernets from Lake County and Napa, Merlots from Napa and Sonoma, Malbecs from Napa and Dry Creek, Cabernet Franc from Napa and Montepulciano from the Shenandoah Valley.

After reading the list above, you might be wondering what a Montepulciano is doing in a blend that’s otherwise all standard Bordeaux varieties. According to winemaker Kat McDonald, just 12% of Montepulciano “completely changes the texture and color of this wine. As one of my fellow tasters astutely noted, “It’s dark, but not heavy.” I loved the aromas of mocha and dark fruit, and indeed, it tasted dark and dusky but lively as well, with well-balanced black-pepper spice. Paired with some dried blueberries, additional floral notes came to the fore, and the tannins became even more pronounced. This is one sexy blend, and a fantastic value at $18.

 

Cantele2009 CANTELE SALICE SALENTINO RISERVA:

According to The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia, the best wines in Italy’s Salice Salentino DOC are its Negroamaro-based reds, and the Cantele certainly did not disappoint. This 100% Negroamaro had tight, powdery red-fruit aroma and ample fruit on the palate. I got a blast of cherries, and others in the group also tasted currants and raisins. Rich but bright, this full-bodied wine had well-balanced, rustic acids and some serious tannins on the finish. Binny’s sells this red beauty for $11,  which is a steal.

 

2008 D.H. LESCOMBES CABERNET FRANC:

This wine was crafted by viticulturalist Emmanuel Lescombes and winemakers Florent and Herve Lescombes under the umbrella of St. Clair Winery, New Mexico’s largest. I sampled their Cabernet Franc in St. Clair’s Albuquerque tasting room and bistro, but the grapes were grown near Deming along the border with Mexico, at an elevation of about 4,500 feet. What a delight — it had an aroma of rich raspberry jam, and dark fruit balanced by bright, broad acids. The wine resolved into some tannins and focused spice on the finish, without a hint of anything vegetal. This wine has the richness and power to justify its rather steep $36 price tag.

 

Lake Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada

Lake Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada

2007 D’ANGELO SETTE COPPA:

This British Columbian blend contains all five of the classic Bordeaux varieties, grown on just eight acres of vineyards. It smells red and surprisingly minerally, and wow, that flavor. It has bright red fruit, focused acids, well-finessed tannins and some metallic earth on the finish. It’s a delight to drink, and a very fine value for $25.

 

2012 DOMAINE TERLATO & CHAPOUTIER SHIRAZ-VIOGNIER:

An appellation of the northern Rhône which never fails to quicken my heart is Côte Rôtie, which produces some of the world’s most coveted Syrah-based wines. These generally unaffordable wines were the inspiration for this Australian collaboration between Anthony Terlato and Rhône-based winemaker Michel Chapoutier. Together, they purchased some land north of Melbourne in the Pyrenees Hills, which is about as far from the Rhône as you can get. Nevertheless, the terroir must be similar, because this Côte Rôtie-style blend of 95% Shiraz (Syrah) and 5% Viognier is an absolute delight to drink. Shiraz, of course, is known to do very well in Australia, and it only makes sense that aromatic Viognier, another variety from the Rhône, would also flourish.

This wine had a startlingly beautiful aroma — jammy and redolent of violets. I loved its rich texture, extravagant fruit, and perfectly balanced spice and tannins. Gorgeously lush, without becoming overblown. Averaging about $17 according to Wine Searcher, this is one of the best red-wine values I’ve tasted all year.

 

2007 GEISEL WEINBAU BRENTANO “R” MARKELSHEIMER PROBSTBERG MERLOT TROCKEN:

I had a devil of a time finding a website for this single-vineyard Merlot (Markelsheimer Probstberg is the vineyard name), but I have a sneaking suspicion it’s produced by the same Geisel family which owns the hotel where I tried it, the Königshof in Munich. The restaurant’s adventurous sommelier, Stephane Thuriot, selected this wine from northern Württemberg in Germany to pair with a main course of rabbit with artichokes, spinach and saffron, and it was startlingly delicious. I knew I was in for a treat when I gave the wine a first sniff, enjoying the aroma of ripe red fruit and earth. It had a velvety texture, rich fruit and big but firmly controlled spice. Absolutely excellent.

 

2009 PALUMBO FAMILY VINEYARDS SANGIOVESE “DUE FIGLI” VINEYARD:

Matt and Joe at Palumbo

Matt and Joe at Palumbo

On a quiet side road away from the big wineries in Temecula, this winery was recommended by almost every local I spoke with. All the fruit for its wines comes from Palumbo’s 13 acres of vineyards, because owner Nicholas Palumbo “believes in producing only what he grows himself,” according to the winery website.

This single-vineyard Sangiovese was brick-red, with an earthy, jammy nose that had me itching to give this wine a taste. I was not disappointed. It was wonderfully lush, with jammy fruit, a luxurious mouthfeel and a tannic finish. Temecula is on few people’s fine-wine radar, but if it can produce wines like this Sangiovese, it’s a region worth keeping an eye on.

 

2005 PISANO “ETXE ONEKO” LICOR DE TANNAT:

The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia speaks very highly of the Pisano winery, noting that Eduardo Pisano “has produced some of Uruguay’s best wines in recent years.” I also discovered that this particular Licor de Tannat, a fortified wine made in the manner of port, merited inclusion in The World Atlas of Wine. The original Tannat vines in Uruguay, called “Harriague” by the Basque settlers who brought them, almost all died off over the years. “However,” the Atlas notes, “Gabriel Pisano, a member of the youngest generation of this winemaking family, has developed a liqueur Tannat of rare intensity from surviving old-vine Harriague.” This wine (the name of which means “from the house of a good family” or “the best of the house,” according to Daniel Pisano) blew me away with its richly sweet, jammy fruit and impressively balanced acids. These were followed, as you might expect, by a big bang of tannins. Not only is this wine spectacularly delicious, it’s a taste of history. If you see it on your wine store’s shelf, it’s worth the splurge.

 

2010 RUST EN VREDE ESTATE:

Three South African Bordeaux BlendsThis Stellenbosch estate in the shadow of the Helderberg has produced wine off and on for three centuries, though it took its present form only after 1977, when the Engelbrecht family purchased and restored it. The Rust en Vrede Estate wine blends Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot in a “hermitaged” style of wine popular in Bordeaux in the 19th century, when producers would sometimes beef up their blends with Syrah from the Rhône’s Hermitage region.

The deep red-fruit aroma was very enticing, marked by additional meaty and floral notes (a fellow taster at the table also detected “man musk,” which led Jean Engelbrecht to half-joke that she was forbidden from sampling any more of his wines). I loved the wine’s silky texture, rich red fruit, firmly controlled white-pepper spice and raisiny finish. The Estate felt very supple, yet it still cut right through the richness of my beef filet. I lamented that I hadn’t tried it with my appetizer of mussels, but Engelbrecht assured me I hadn’t missed anything: “I’m more of a main course kind of wine,” he quipped. But I was rather startled to discover that the Estate also paired well with a side of roasted asparagus, a notoriously difficult vegetable to match.

 

2007 SKOURAS GRAND CUVÉE NEMEA:

The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia calls Greece’s Nemea appellation “relatively reliable,” and the Skouros Agiorgitiko I tasted at the Wine Bloggers Conference more than supports that rather tepid assertion. It was memorably delicious, with a beautiful aroma of tobacco and cherries, plenty of bright acids, ample fruit and luscious notes of mocha. Anyone who still thinks Greece is nothing but a sea of Retsina should taste this.

 

And this concludes my awards for 2013! You can read about my picks for top white wines here, and my favorite spirits and cocktails here. Happy New Year, everyone!

Unusual Whites At Tangley Oaks

3 August 2013

This is the way to start a Friday afternoon.After a sparkling introduction to the mansion at Tangley Oaks, we moved on to tasting some delicious whites imported and/or distributed by Terlato Wines. I very much enjoyed the grassy but well-balanced Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc, the rich and minerally Chateau de Sancerre Sancerre and the flinty, creamy and spicy Lapostolle “Casa Grand Selection” Chardonnay, but of course what I really want to talk about are odd ducks of the tasting. And there were some mighty tasty odd ducks.

2011 Cuarto Dominio “Tolentino” Pinot Grigio: I tend to avoid Pinot Grigios unless they come from the far northern Italian provinces of Friuli or maybe Trentino-Alto Adige. Too often, Pinot Grigios from elsewhere can be insipid and wan. But how could I resist a Pinot Grigio from the Uco Valley in Argentina? The World Atlas of Wine calls the high-altitude vineyards in this valley “the most exciting part of Mendoza,” and if the Tolentino is any indication, Pinot Grigio does just as well in the Uco Valley as Malbec. It had a rich but very fresh aroma, and a lush texture leavened with focused, almost pointy acids. Fruity, but with a dry finish. Delightfully refreshing.

2012 Protea Chenin Blanc: As Lettie Teague recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, Chenin Blanc “may be the world’s most noble yet most discredited grape.” Chenin Blanc has been “responsible for a great deal of plonk,” she rightly notes, but it also “can produce wines of depth and complexity.” This Chenin Blanc from South Africa certainly fits the latter description — in fact, it’s “made by a genius,” remarked Anthony Terlato during the tasting. Crafted by winemaker Johann Rupert, the Chenin Blanc had an enticingly perfumed aroma with a bit of a grassy note. It tasted full and plump, but a dry backbone and some zesty spice kept it well-balanced and thoroughly charming.

2007 Boutari Kallisti Reserve Assyrtiko: This remarkable wine comes from Santorini, which The World Atlas of Wine calls “the most original and compelling” of the Greek islands. On this unusually scenic speck in the Aegean, most vines are trained in little bushy balls close to the ground, to protect them from the wind. Assyrtiko originated on Santorini, according to The Oxford Companion to Wine, which calls it a “top-quality white grape variety” with a “severe mineral profile.” This particular Assyrtiko certainly struck me as top quality. It had a sweet and smokey aroma which reminded fellow taster Liz Barrett (Terlato’s Vice President of Corporate Communications and PR) of toasted oak. It felt rich and almost buttery, but quite taut and fruity as well. There was something exotic about it too — a certain spicy, aromatic quality which I loved. Delicious.

2008 Chimney Rock “Elevage Blanc”: I don’t often write about wines from Napa Valley, but this blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris blew me away. I can’t remember ever tasting a Sauvignon Gris, so I looked it up in my trusty Oxford Companion. This relatively rare variety is a pink-skinned mutation of Sauvignon Blanc, and “it can produce more substantial wines than many a Sauvignon Blanc,” the Companion asserts. Sauvignon Gris has a following in Bordeaux, the Companion goes on to note, which perhaps explains why the Elevage Blanc reminded me a bit of Pessac-Léognan, one of my favorite whites from Bordeaux (or from anywhere, for that matter). This beautiful wine practically glowed with elegance, its creamy fruit focusing into some carefully restrained white-pepper spice. Voluptuous but perfectly balanced — a joy to drink.

Note: These wines were provided free of charge as part of a wine tasting at the Tangley Oaks estate.

Up next: The Reds.

Recovering From The Ottomans

26 June 2013

Parparoussis Mavrodaphne de Patras ReserveDespite its noble history, Greek wine continues to have a terrible reputation. Partially this is due to Retsina, a pungent, pine-resinated wine common in Greece and “a potent catalyst of taverna nostalgia outside of it,” as The Oxford Companion to Wine notes. But mostly it’s due to the Ottoman Empire.

When the Ottomans took over Greece in the late 15th century, the local population suffered from hefty taxation and discrimination as Christians, and many people were reduced to little better than serfdom. The wine industry didn’t even begin to recover from this period of stagnation until the 1960s, before which most Greek wine was sold in bulk (in barrels, not in bottles), according to the Oxford Companion.

The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia argues that “The speed with which the best boutique wineries… have turned around the reputation of Greek wines is nothing less than breathtaking,” but I’m afraid the author may be confusing reputation with quality. After all, just a couple of years ago, when I requested a Greek wine recommendation from a salesperson at Binny’s, he looked at me like I’d just loudly passed gas.

Whatever the current state of their reputation, Greek wines are some of the most exciting on the market today, as reconfirmed by a recent “Wines of Greece” tasting at the recent Wine Bloggers Conference. After tasting through eight whites, two rosés, nine reds and five dessert wines, it became crystal clear that Greek wines have officially arrived. In addition to the labels I’ve previously recommended, here are others to seek out:

Assyrtiko from Santorini: This white variety (also spelled Assyrtico) originated on the island of Santorini, a picturesque caldera in the heart of the Aegean Sea. Wines from this very dry, windy island tend to be sunny, minerally and zesty. The 2012 Santo Wines Assyrtiko impressed with lush fruit, refreshing acids and a slate finish, and the 2011 Koutsoyiannopoulos Assyrtiko also brought a smile to my face with appley fruit, zippy acids and some grapefruit peel at the end. I also sampled Assyrtiko in a blend — the 2012 Santo Wines Nykteri combines it with Athiri and Aidani, resulting in a cheery and citrusy wine with notes of exotic spices.

Agiorgitiko from Nemea: Sotheby’s calls the Nemea appellation “relatively reliable,” and certainly the two Agiorgitikos I tasted support that rather tepid assertion. The Oxford Companion also seems lukewarm about Agiorgitiko, noting that though grapes grown in the higher-elevation Nemea vineyards can produce long-lived wines, Agiorgitiko can often be fruity but lacking in acid. Well, the examples I tried both tasted memorably delicious. The 2007 Skouras Grand Cuvée Nemea had a beautiful aroma of tobacco and cherries, plenty of bright acids, ample fruit and luscious notes of mocha. Nor did the 2004 Nemeion Estate Hgemon Estate let me down, with an enticingly raisiny aroma, big fruit and big spice, and a surprising touch of Robitussin on the finish. “Yes!” I wrote in my notebook.

Xinomavro from Naoussa: The name of this variety translates, rather distressingly, as “acid black,” but don’t let that deter you, especially if you find an older example. The Oxford Companion notes that Xinomavro ages well, “as mature examples of Naoussa can demonstrate.” Sotheby’s almost gets excited about Naoussa, writing, “I cautiously suggest that almost any Naoussa could be worth the gamble.” I gambled on five examples from this Macedonian region north of Mount Olympus, and most proved delightful:

  • 2010 Thymiopoulos Uranos Naoussa: Lots of cherry and strawberry fruit, but tannic, with an astringent finish.
  • 2009 Kir Yianni Ramnista: Leathery aroma. An earthy and funky wine, also with broad tannins.
  • 2008 Alpha Estate Hedgehog: This single-vineyard wine had a nose of mocha and raisins. Ripely fruity, with something intriguingly green on the tannic finish.
  • 2008 Karydas Naoussa: A lush texture, with juicy red fruit, iron and earth. (In case you’re planning a little dinner party, this wine pairs well with grilled wild boar and goat in a pot, according to the website.)
  • 2007 Boutari Grande Reserve Naoussa: This slightly older example had an almost figgy aroma, bright fruit, focused acids and comforting tannins. As predicted by the Oxford Companion, the oldest was indeed the best in this case.

Dessert Wine from Patras or Santorini: I mentioned how fantastic these dessert wines were to an acquaintance, who promptly cut me off, asserting, “Oh, I don’t like sweet wines.” Oh yes you do. You just don’t like insipid alcoholic sugar water, like Schwarze Katz or White Zinfandel. The five dessert wines I sampled at this tasting, on the other hand, were each lively, balanced and positively bursting with flavor:

  • 2004 Sigalas Vinsanto: This blend of 75% Assyrtiko and 25% Aidani from Santorini is “my kind of dessert,” I wrote in my notebook. It starts with blast of caramel (“mega caramel attack” were the words I wrote), improbably leavened with appley fruit and fresh acids.
  • 2006 Samos Anthemis: A fortified Muscat-based wine also from Santorini, with rich chocolate-covered raisin fruit balanced by zesty green acids.
  • 2002 Samos Nectar: A non-fortified Muscat, with about half the alcohol content of the Anthemis. I wrote that it’s a “Heath Bar in a glass,” and yet somehow, again, the acids rise to the occasion and balance things out.
  • 2006 Parparoussis Muscat Rio Patras: This passito or vin de paille-style wine is made from Patras-grown grapes dried in the sun to concentrate their sugars. It smelled enticingly of orange blossom and dark honey, and though it  tasted richly sweet, it was lively too, with some intriguing herbal notes and a zing of spice.
  • 2003 Parparoussis Mavrodaphne Patras Reserve: The Mavrodaphne variety is a specialty of the Patras region, located in the north of the Peloponnese Peninsula. Almost opaque with sediment, this wine had an orangey, tawny port-like aroma, which was just a hint of the magic to come. It tasted raisiny but not at all syrupy, because the acids practically leapt right out of the wine. Indeed, the finish was almost tart — even dry.

If you pass on dessert wines like these, you deny yourself one of life’s great pleasures.

Five Unusual Wines For Spring

10 April 2013

Dr. Loosen Sparkling RieslingAt last, crocuses are poking their colorful little heads through the dirt, robins are bouncing along the sidewalks, and people walking outside have expressions other than a pained grimace. Spring has finally arrived, and in celebration of the season, I think I drink is in order.

Here are five bright, springy, and unusual wines sure to banish any lingering winter lethargy which might still be gumming up your system:

1. DEUTSCHER SEKT: Frankly, most Sekt, a German sparkling wine, tends to be unpleasant, with uninspiring flavors and bubbles the size of my big toe. That’s because most Sekt is made from bulk fruit grown outside Germany. Deutscher Sekt, on the other hand, is made with German fruit, likely Riesling, that tends to be of much higher quality. Deutscher Sekt tends, therefore, to be much more drinkable, and dare I even say delicious. The Dr. Loosen Sparkling Riesling, for example, has a fruity/floral nose, elegant bubbles and sweet fruit balanced by zesty acids. Available at Binny’s for $13.

2. SAVENNIÈRES: Because of this appellation’s favorable location on south-facing Loire hillsides and the low maximum yields allowed, Savennières produces “the world’s greatest dry Chenin Blanc,” according to The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia. If you, like me, can rarely afford to drink the world’s greatest anything, this wine is for you. Because it doesn’t have a lot of name recognition, prices tend to be very low in relation to the quality of the wine. I recently sampled a 2008 Domaine du Closel ”La Jalousie” that I described as “Rich, spicy and tightly focused — sheer delight.” But I’ve never had a Savennières I didn’t like, so don’t worry if you can’t find this specific example. Expect a bottle to cost $20-$25 in a shop.

3. MOSCHOFILERO: If you tend to prefer your whites to be aromatic and dry rather than rich and spicy, seek out wines made from this marvelous Muscat-like Greek variety. Whole Foods carries the excellent Voyatzis Wineries Kyklos Moschofilero, for example, which is a smashing value for $12 or $13. Of the 2011 vintage, I wrote, “After a slight prickle on the tongue, flavors of ripe pears and apples led to limey acids, a brief pop of white pepper and just a touch of limestone.” If you can’t find this specific Moscofilero, look for one from the Peloponnese’s high plateau of Mantinía, where the elevation keeps the vineyards cool enough, allowing this late-ripening variety time to fully develop. (Or just ask your wine shop for a recommendation.)

Massaya Classic4. ANYTHING BY MASSAYA: I’ve had very good luck with this Lebanese winery’s entry-level bottlings. The red Massaya Classic — a blend of 60% Cinsault, 20% Cabernet and 20% Syrah — is perfect for a party, with big, ripe fruit and a black-pepper kick at the end. The white Massaya Blanc is also a blend. Familiar varieties Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc each account for 15% of the wine, with the remaining 70% evenly divided between Clairette (one of the 13 varieties allowed in Châteauneuf-du-Pape), and Obeidi, an indigenous Lebanese grape. This wine was a bit viscous but balanced with juicy acids. When I tasted the 2009, I wrote, “The ancient flavors of honey, wood and resin stirred a desire to experience the terroir — to see the… Bekaa Valley for myself.” (The Massaya Blanc induced me to write one of my more emotional and sentimental posts.)

5. MÜLLER-THURGAU from ALTO ADIGE or OREGON: The Oxford Companion to Wine doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to this cross of Riesling and Madeleine-Royale, describing the wines made from it as “fat, flaccid… too often with a slight suspicion of rot… extremely dull, flabby.” And it’s true, this humble variety doesn’t tend to excel in its German homeland. Transplant it to more favorable, climes, however, and suddenly you’ve got something worth drinking. Here’s how famed wine critics Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher described a Kofererhof Müller-Thurgau from Italy’s Alto Adige region: “Flinty, with some melons and dirt but brighter than we had expected. Earthy but not heavy, with real vitality. Surprisingly juicy, with some white pepper.” I discovered a tasty  2009 Montinore Estate Müller-Thurgau from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, which costs between $13 and $17. Ripe pear and apple flavors were balanced with a bit of prickle on the tongue, and tart acids pulled it together for the finish. I’d avoid German Müller-Thurgau, but if you see one from elsewhere, especially Alto Adige, ignore the protestations of your sommelier and give it a try.

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