Posts Tagged Macedonia

Unusual Pairings At Urban Union – Part 1

2 January 2013

Chef de Cuisine Joshua MarrellEvery now and then, an invitation to attend a special dinner will waft my way, and though I do my best to avoid overindulgence (ahem), I feel it is my bloggerly duty to accept whenever possible. And so,  immediately following my office’s Christmas party, at which much pasta and red wine was consumed, I headed to Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood, home to cozy and stylish Urban Union.

A handful of other food/wine bloggers gathered at the communal Chef’s Table, “where diners are served customized and unique creations, along with expertly selected wine pairings by the two sommeliers on staff,” according to the invitation. I felt a bit apprehensive, hoping that the pairings would be unusual enough to suit this blog, but as soon as I walked in, I knew it would work out just fine. A large chalkboard listed the “Wines on Tap,” starting with a Greek Moschofilero and a Californian Arneis. Yeah!

We started with a relatively conventional but undeniably delicious pairing of sake and ahi tuna sashimi with ponzu, basil and almonds. The Narutotai Ginjo Namagenshu, an unpasturized, unfiltered sake that continues to condition in its can, tasted fruity and a bit yeasty before driving to a clean, spicy finish. Paired with the sashimi, it seemed surprisingly less spicy; it became smoother, duskier. (You can read more about sake here.)

Domaine GiachinoThings started to get more unusual and exciting when General Manager and Sommelier Andrew Algren brought out the next bottle, a 2009 Domaine Giachino Abymes “Monfarina”.Very little wine escapes from France’s Alpine Savoie region, so I always feel delighted when I have the chance to taste one. This wine comes from the Abymes cru, about 100 kilometers south of Geneva, Switzerland, and it’s made with Jacquère, a white variety obscure to us but relatively common in Savoie. The wine smelled of rich green apples, and it tasted light-bodied and rather tart. The acids cried out for food, and a delightful winter beet salad with pancetta chips mellowed them nicely.

Chef de Cuisine Joshua Marrell kept things seasonal with his next course, a lush sunchoke purée topped with roasted sunchokes and sunchoke chips. Its deeply satisfying flavor worked marvelously with Algren’s most daring pairing yet: A 2011 Tikveš Rkaciteli from theSunchokes pureed, roasted and in chip form Republic of Macedonia (not to be confused with the Greek region of the same name). If you’ve encountered the incredibly ancient Rkaciteli variety at all, it was probably spelled “Rkatsiteli” and it probably came from Georgia (the country) or perhaps New York. It’s the most widely planted variety in the ex-Soviet republics, which isn’t necessarily a ringing endorsement, but it can make some excellent wines.

Macedonia, for its part, has a climate “extremely favorable to vine cultivation,” according to The Oxford Companion to Wine, and I was excited to see what this little country would do with one of the world’s oldest wine varieties. The Tikveš Rkaciteli fascinated me with aromas of bright pear and a bit of tar. It proved to be very acidic, oily and minerally, which sounds terrible, but I found it oddly enticing. The rich sunchoke dish balanced out the acids, making the wine rounder and fuller.

Up Next: The meal continues with an unexpected rosé and a wine that tastes like “grabbing a handful of the French forest floor and chowing down.”

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Taking A Risk On Rosé

10 October 2012
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I like to stretch out rosé season as long as possible, and now that the nights are flirting with freezing, I’m stretching it indeed. But my goodness, I know of few other styles of wine so broadly consistent as the long-maligned pink. How many dry rosés have I tried, made with who knows which varieties from heaven knows what godforsaken backwater — and they’re almost all at least good.

Why is that? The theory I’ve adopted is that since rosés can be tough to market, winemakers who choose to make them make them from the heart. These aren’t dumbed down to appeal to everyone, so the wines have a point of view, and have a good chance of reflecting the vineyard’s terroir. The winemaker is, hopefully, expressing him/herself with the rosé, and perhaps having a little fun. And fun is the point of a rosé — it should be lively and joyous, if not necessarily deep or complex or profound.

But even I have limits, and I find it difficult to work up enthusiasm for rosé in the winter. That’s why it’s important to pick up a bottle now and open it immediately, while the leaves still have a touch of green. You could do much worse than a 2011 Kir-Yianni “Akakies,” which will likely be my last pink of the season. Yep, it’s made from a who-knows-which variety in a godforsaken backwater, and it’s great.

In fact, it’s made from Xinomavro, one of the three grape varieties starting with “X” listed in The Oxford Companion to Wine. The name means “acid black,” according to the Companion, and it’s “one of the few Greek vine varieties which may not reach full ripeness in some years.” Perhaps that’s less the variety’s fault and more due to the fact that it’s popular in the cool, high-altitude vineyards of northern Greece.

This particular Xinomavro is a 100% varietal from Amyndeon (as spelled on the label), a region in inland Macedonia just south Greece’s border with Macedonia the country (as distinct from the Greek province of the same name). Adding to the geographic confusion, since Greeks use the Greek alphabet, the Arabic spelling of place names can get creative. In my various wine tomes, I have found it spelled Amyndeo, Amyntaion and Amindaio.

In any case, the region on the northwest side of Mount Vermio “is so cool that it can produce aromatic whites, a denominated Xinomavro rosé, and good sparkling wine,” according to the Atlas. I was delighted to see Sotheby’s note that the “brilliant” Alpha Estate is realizing the full potential of the Amyndeo terroir with its fine Xinomavro-based red blends. I first wrote about the Alpha Estate “Axia” here, and I liked the wine so much that I served it at my wedding.

But let’s get back to the Kir-Yianni rosé, because with autumn fully upon us, there’s no time to waste. A deep pink color, it smelled of sweet cherries and watermelon. On the palate, it exhibited juicy fruit, a slight prickle on the tongue, some tightly wound acids, a chalky midsection and a tart finish. A fun ride, and delicious paired with some slightly spicy red beans and rice.

So even this rosé of Xinomavro from Amyndeo (or Amindaio, or Amyntaion) — a risk if there ever was one — proved to be quite fine. Which again goes to show that taking a risk on an unknown dry rosé isn’t really much of a risk at all.


2011 Kir-Yianni “Akakies”: Fruity, but tight, focused, minerally and tart. An excellent choice with food that’s lightly spicy. Chill well in the refrigerator before serving, and serve it soon. Its summery flavors will soon feel out of place.

Grade: A-

Find It: I purchased this bottle at In Fine Spirits for $15.50, and I see that Binny’s also carries it.