Wines of Crete

Every once and a while the wine winds seem to blow the right way. Having been recently lucky enough to receive an invitation to attend an educational master class featuring the wines of Crete, it was my pleasure to spend a few pleasant hours of learning and tasting.

wines-of-crete-2015Crete’s wines are actually … shockingly good.

In fact, the word ‘delicious’ would not be inappropriate here.

I do anticipate, though, a slight challenge for those who are perhaps interested in checking out Crete wines for themselves: the varietal names are not exactly familiar ones, even among tradespeople.

So, rather than try to convince you that I am a bright fellow by, say, walking you through an historical timeline of Cretan wine making – which, by the way, extends impressively back to 4,000 B.C. when systematic winemaking began in Crete – I will provide a bit of varietal guidance that should get you closer to a memorable glass of Cretan wine posthaste.

Here’s what you need to know when inquiring about Crete’s wines at your wine shop:

White Grapes

Dafni
Still somewhat rare, wines made from Dafni grapes have an herbaceousness about them, most notably the scent of bay leaves, as well as notes of citrus and honey.

Malvasia di Candida
Sub-variety of Malvasia with an arousing, fragrant bouquet, sophisticated personality, good acidity.

Muscat di Spina
This varietal produces hugely scented, fresh, vivid dry wines.

Plyto
Plyto produces well-balanced wines with a pleasantly fruity nose and medium acidity.

Vilana
Undisputed star white varietal of Crete, Vilana wines are enchantingly aromatic, soft on the palate, with lemony acidity, medium alcohol, and Granny Smith freshness.

Thrapsathiri
Grown all over Crete, Thrapsathiri is uniquely aromatic with a rich, soft palate underscored with gentle acidity.

Vidiano
Aromas of apricots and peaches, herbs, mouth-watering acidity, with a subtle, creamy richness on the palate and good minerality.

Red Grapes

Kotsifali
Scented of plums, fleshy on the palate and only softly tannic, Kotsifali is often referred to as the “Merlot” of Crete.

Liatiko
Pale in color, with good intensity, Liatiko produces sweet and dry wines of unique character, perfumed of herbs, dried fruit, flowers. Softly tannic.

Mandilari
Considered to be king of Crete’s native red varietals, Mandilari makes wines of rich, red color and typically firm tannins. Often blended with Kotsifali.

Romeiko
Romeiko grapes produce vivacious, high alcohol wines with good acidity.

wines-of-crete-stilianou-2015Throughout the tasting segment, I found the wines of Crete brought good consistency, quality and value. And although international varietals are indeed part of the Cretan wine scene, it is very clear to me that Crete’s wine producers are pursuing their own unique identity and there seems no indication whatever to create, say, another internationally-styled wine that could be from “anywhere”.

Since the focus of this post is really the Crete varietals and the intention to familiarize readers with them, individual tasting notes seem less important here. That said, here are some producers / wines which totally stood out for me and deserve mention:

Dourakis Kudos 2014 – Malvazia Aromatica 100%
Gavalas Fragospito 2014 – Malvazia Aromatica 50%, Muscat di Spina 50%
Strataridakis Muscat di Spina 2014 – Muscat di Spina 100%
Diamantakis Vidiano 2014 – Vidiano 100%
Idaia “Ocean” 2014 – Thrapsathiri 100%
Efrosini “Lumincino” 2014 – Chardonnay 60%, Thrapsathiri 40%
Mediterra “Mirambelo” 2011 – Kotsifali 80%, Mandilari 20%
Stilianou “Theon” 2007 – Kotsifali 75%, Mandilari 25%
Domaine Paterianakis 2012 – Kotsifali / Mandilari, % unknown

The master class format allowed for tasting all the wines with food. With such a great Cretan food tradition, the wines of Crete were, as you’d expect, absolutely killer at table. So sensational was a bite of grilled octopus paired with Vidiano that I nearly wept 😉

To learn more about the wines of Crete please visit Wines of Crete

Two Wines, Snow, Hungry Birds

Given the recent weather, I am pretty certain, no matter where in the great New England outdoors you may be standing at the moment, that you are quite knee deep in snow. In my particular case, thigh deep, actually, and trudging through to fill a bird feeder with seed for our local fine-feathered friends.

I am thinking to introduce you to a couple of wines that, back indoors, brought some much appreciated sunshine – however virtual it may have been – to an otherwise snowy weekend:

vinarija-dingac-plavac-peljesac-2012-1Dingac Vinarija Pelješac 2012
I adore this somewhat geeky wine from the Pelješac (pell-yuh-shatz) Peninsula on Croatia’s rugged Dalmatian Coast. Produced from 100% head-trained Plavac Mali or Little Blue, Plavac is apparently a varietal cousin of California Zinfandel. Savory herb components are in good unison with the wine’s sweeter notes of wild berry, plum, and dried fig, underlined with delicious salinity, a taste / aroma profile calling to mind that of Carignano del Sulcis. Come to think of it, both do share a certain wildness of spirit. That humid conditions do not exist in the vineyard(s) has allowed the producer to forego spraying vines for mold. A flourishing yeast population kick-starts a wild fermentation conducted in stainless steel. Aged for one year in used oak.

vajra-barolo-albe-2009G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe 2009
Vajra’s Barolo Albe conferred a fitting level of refined drinking to a family sit down of rare-cooked lamb t-bone cuts, butternut squash risotto, and roasted asparagus, dinner taken by the woodstove on a recent and cold ass New England evening. On the feminine side of the Barolo gender-meter, this lovely wine gives up delicate notes of dried flowers, herbs, underbrush, hints of anise and cocoa, pleasantly ripe tannins. Blended from sustainably farmed grapes sourced from three different vineyards at altitudes of 400-440 meters, undergoes 30 – 40 day fermentation. The wine is aged ~36 months in Slavonian oak.

As an aside, both these wines, in their respective price ranges, bring serious value for money to the table. Poseur wines with inflated price tags: take notice. But, that’s a discussion for another day.

Anyway, yesterday brought another fourteen inches of snow. And I hear that Punxsutawney Phil, America’s weather forecasting Groundhog, on February 2nd 2015, the 129th North American Groundhog Day, predicted another six weeks of winter. Best I should pull on boots and thick wool trousers and head out to top off the feeder.

Wines of Macedonia NYC 2014

OK, indulge me for a moment:

Do the names Temjanika, Stanushina, or Vranec ring a bell?

HINT: No, they are not Eastern European tennis players 😉

The three grape varietals Temjanika, Stanushina, and Vranec from Macedonia, along with Zilavska, do, however, score big when it comes to delivering unique and interesting wines.

Photo Credit: Peter Doyle Photograpy
Photo Credit: Peter Doyle Photograpy
At a recent Master Class and guided tasting for the Wines of Macedonia presentation held at Tocqueville Restaurant in New York City, I had an opportunity to explore some real gems from this still rather quiet wine region.

Although winemaking tradition in the area goes back to Roman times, it is only since the breakup of former Yugoslavia that that there has been a move toward privatization and incoming investment dollars enough to support expansion of wine production in Macedonia. Local bulk wine tradition of the 1950’s has been these days left behind for innovation and serious thinking about the making of world class wines.

Temjanika (synonym Muscat) wines I tasted showed elegant perfumes, some with floral / herb notes or hints of tangerine, orange peel, apricot, arousing muskiness, passion fruit or pineapple. All drank with good acidity and freshness, nicely balanced wines finishing with good persistence. Recommended with hot or cold appetizers, first courses, fish, dessert (Temjanika can be dry, semi-dry, or dessert wine).

The Vranec wines – the word Vranec (pronounced Vran-etch) means strong and powerful horse – were well-structured, communicating supple power, plump and expressive, with firm tannins. As a group, the wines offered rich, intense sensations of red and black fruit, some with impressions of jam, sun, smoke. Depending on wood treatment, notes of cocoa, herb, toasty oak. Finishes were with satisfying with lingering aftertastes. Enjoy Vranec with red meats, game, stews or aged cheeses.

From a purely market perspective, I appreciate that producers I spoke with are not keen to simply recreate a Cabernet or Merlot experience (international varietals grow happily in the region). Rather, producers are focused on expressing the uniqueness of Macedonia’s grape varietals and its terroir, aware that Macedonia can introduce wine lovers to varietals not to be had anywhere else.

Photo Credit: Peter Doyle Photography
Photo Credit: Peter Doyle Photography
Take, for example, Stanushina, a uniquely Macedonian vine little known outside of Macedonia and found, I’m told, nowhere else in the world. I tasted both Stanushina Barrique and Stanushina Rose from producer POPOVA KULA, both were astonishingly good. Pale in color and lighter bodied, both wines showed intense berry aromatics, notes of dried herb, rich flavors on the palate and drank in wonderfully fresh style.

Overall, I found the wines of Macedonia to be sensuous and smooth, with somewhat modern personalities in some cases, immensely drinkable and offering excellent value for money.

Perhaps as importantly as having arrived at a positive impression of the wines, I came away from the day’s presentation with the distinct feeling that healthy food, good wine and gracious hospitality are to be had by travelers to Macedonia’s wine country.

Wines Tasted / Recommended Producers:

    Whites

BOVIN Temjanika 2013
CHATEAU KAMNIK Temjanika 2013
POPOVA KULA Temjanika 2013
SKOVIN Temjanika 2013
STOBI Zilavka 2013
TIVKES Temjanika 2013

    Reds

TIKVES Barova 2011
SKOVIN Markov Manastir Vranec 2010
POPOVA KULA Vranec Perfect Choice 2012
POPOVA KULA Stanishina Barrique 2009, Stanishina Rose 2013
BOVIN Dissan Barrique 2011
CHATEAU KAMNIK Vranec Terroir 2011
STOBI Vranec Veritas 2011

Kudos to Melanie Young and David Ransom of The Connected Table for especially thoughtful coordination of this well-done event.

Weiser Kunstler Riesling Spatlese 2010

Weiser Kunstler Riesling Spatlese 2010

Riding the open flats past local corn fields is always a windy proposition during autumn. The wind that, when at my back, earlier made me to feel like a better cyclist than I really am, now bears down hard on my forward motion.

Tall, dry corn stalks look on with disapproval as I ride by. “Better riders than you have been by here today” they crackle, their dehydrated whisper chasing me row across row.

Across the road, sunflowers bow their heads politely down so as not to stare as I struggle past.

The breakfast of champions was apparently not on my morning table today.

weiser-kunstler-riesling-spatlese-2010-aTo distract you now from this tale of lackluster pedaling, I shall draw your attention instead to the more winning performance of Weiser Kunstler Riesling Spatlese 2010:

Unlike the flatlands around our local cornfields, Weiser Kunstler vineyards are located upon steeply terraced slopes of weathered slate in Germany’s Mosel region. According to the company website, Enkircher Ellergrub vineyard is the “heart of” Weiser Kunstler’s wine growing estate. The vineyard’s ungrafted vines – up to 100 years old – and terraces of Devon slate leave their mark on this concentrated, sophisticated 100% Riesling beauty.

Core nose of subtly ripe apple, peach, pear with a stony mineral focal point. Petrol, honey, and herb influence changing aromatics. Some residual sugar, yes – it is a Spatlese, afterall – but not overtly sweet. Rich, yet lean on the palate, with great mineral purity and the depth of an alpine crevasse. Hope to make my way back to this wine closer to 2018 that I might receive its full message.

$$

A Visit with Eccoci Winery

A Visit with Eccoci Winery

Note: Eccomi Tinto Super Premium and Eccoci Blanco were provided to me as tasting samples. If interested, see Vintrospective policy about wine samples here.

The real thing. Ain’t nothin’ like it, is what the song says (thank you Marvin & Tammi). But, as in love, the real thing in wine can be hard to find.

While I must leave you to contend with love on your own, where concerns wine, I can perhaps offer this simple assist to locating a bit of the real thing:

Assistant Winemaker Manuel Lardeaux of Eccoci Winery
Assistant Winemaker Manuel Lardeaux of Eccoci Winery
I met Eccoci Assistant Winemaker Manuel Lardeaux at Solera in NYC to taste and discuss Eccoci wines alongside a selection of Spanish tapas. Over the next three hours, it would become clear that Eccoci is an estate capable of producing impressive wines while maintaining the highest levels of environmental consciousness.

And that, my friends, in our times, is the real thing indeed.

Working with French varietals in Spain, Eccoci has established itself in a unique landscape, with equally unique terroir considerations and a passionate commitment to align its corporate vision and activities with a compatible, sustainable environmental world vision.

The Eccoci estate … Eccoci translating as “here we are” in Italian…is located in Spain’s northeast within the province of Girona, two or so hours north of Barcelona. The estate’s 12 hectares of vineyards are situated at the base of an inactive volcano surrounded by the massive natural park reserve known as Les Gavarres, which provides an unpolluted and unique landscape for the growing of wine grapes. The natural environment includes pine, holm oak and cork oak woods. Vineyards are divided into parcels composed of well drained siliceous-limestone topsoil and volcanic stone sub-soil, planted with north-facing exposures to take advantage of the area’s unique climate and sun patterns. The nearby Pyrenees shield vineyards from inclement weather while the area’s wide diurnal temperature variations offer grapes plenty of encouragement to develop aromas, ripen tannins and polyphenol compounds in the grape.

In conversation, Manuel never strayed far from the theme of respect for Mother Nature and the integration of the estate’s production activities with the natural world. The topic is a passionate focus of the winery’s owner, former model and jewelry maker, Elsa Peretti. Notably, Eccoci is Spain’s first ZeroCo2 winery, a certification indicating that the winery has calculated and offset greenhouse gas emissions generated by its activities, reducing its carbon footprint throughout the entire winemaking process from vineyard to packaging and transportation. The estate remains steadfast in its commitment to fight global warming, aligning its corporate vision and activities with a compatible environmental world vision by implementing behavior-changing solutions instead of taking on solely technical strategies: hand harvesting over mechanical; natural wind instead of chemical treatments to fight mildew, along with leaf management to allow cluster-drying sunshine; coordinating with the national park service for cleaning along parcel borders; returning water use run-off back to the river; a project to explore the possibility of utilizing local cork from the park reserve.

eccoci-manuel-and-wines-2aThe Wines:

Eccoci Blanco 2011
Produced from a blend of Roussanne, Viognier and Petit Manseng from the estate’s Ca l’Elsa parcels, this sur lie blanco opens up beautifully at a slightly higher chill temperature (50 degrees) with an inviting floral nose and seductive whiffs of honeysuckle and lemon balm. Viscous and sensual palate, delineated by citrusy, well-balanced acidity. Long, persistent finish echoing floral impressions and a grace note of papaya.

Eccoci Rosado 2011
Born from soil of siliceous-limestone and alluvial stone, grapes for this 100% Petit Verdot Rosado (rare) are grown in Eccoci’s Can Nobas parcels. Encountering this wine is like what I imagine of Jackie Kennedy had I ever bumped into her at the coffee bar – sublimely interesting with an air of easy, sophisticated elegance. Lightly pink, onion-peel translucence, delicate aromatics that come to the nose as if one has just opened a dresser drawer full of fresh berries and potpourri. Magnificent, finely etched, massively expressive.

Eccomi Tinto Super Premium 2008
The first production year of this Marselan, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot blend is an astonishingly delicious effort. It was clear from my conversation with Manuel that from vine planting through to vinification, extraordinary care and meticulous work was given. Expressive and powerful, yet always supple, the wine is an absolute joy to hold in the mouth: soft, fat, rich, the wine sits on the palate reverberating inner mouth aromas of berry compote and warm spice. Swallowing conjures flavors and impressions of black forest cake underscored with milk chocolate. The well done wood regimen has conferred a kiss of oak in just the right measure. Graceful finish, refined and complex tannins to be appreciated.

Eccoci Tinto Premium
Combining similar varietals sourced from the same parcel area as the estate’s Super Premium, this premium red blend is based on a different blend prescription than its Super Premium big brother. While the focus here is on freshness, the wine is no less expressive, showing big, round, aromas of red and dark fruit that transfer beautifully to the palate. Finishes with soft, fine tannins.

Special thanks to Susannah Gold of Vigneto Communications for coordinating the excellent meetup with Eccoci / Manuel Lardeaux.

To learn more about Eccoci Wines, please navigate your browser to www.eccociwine.com

A Visit to Inglenook and Francis Ford Coppola Winery

A Visit to Inglenook and Francis Ford Coppola Winery

It was back in April that I arranged to visit the Coppola estates of Inglenook and Francis Ford Coppola Winery. I’d expected to report on the trip somewhat earlier though, frankly, it has taken me all of the intervening time to process the experience, to think my way through it.

Ambassador Harold, Inglenook
Ambassador Harold, Inglenook
The narrative around the respective estates and wines is deep in its breadth and detail. I won’t spoil it for you by retelling important scenes here, the estate tours are incredibly entertaining and informative in that way. I will say, though, that visiting Inglenook and Francis Ford Coppola Winery, I, the visitor, the wine lover, am suddenly connected to complex, often emotional stories about life, love, family, food, wine and adventure that, at times, extend far beyond the Coppola clan.

Thanks to the hospitable personalities and impressive local / historical knowledge of ambassadors Harold (Inglenook) and Bob (Coppola Winery), I feel not simply a bystander to a good tale, but rather a cast member of sorts. One might be inclined to dismiss it as strategic marketing, if it weren’t for the fact that, at the end of the day, visitors, I think, walk away with something: something discovered, or perhaps re-discovered, something awakened. In my case, I carried home with me a feeling that exists somewhere between nostalgia and identity, an awareness that the experience of growing up Italian-American plays no small role in my connection to wine.

And what could be surprising about wine playing the leading role in a story about family, food, wine and adventure by a five-time Oscar winning director? Coppola, by the way, is not the topic here, however, I think there is no way to write about the wines without making the connection: the wines are as connected to Coppola as Italy’s wines are to their respective local traditions and histories. So, you must allow me this one point:

Wines from FC Reserve Line. Label artwork by film production designer Dean Tavoularis.
Wines from FC Reserve Line. Label artwork by film production designer Dean Tavoularis.
In an interview with trumpeter Miles Davis, Bill Boggs asked Miles, “Your father gave you a trumpet, your mother gave you a violin, for your thirteenth birthday. What if your mother had prevailed?” Miles replied, “It wouldn’t have made any difference.” Whether Coppola had been “given” a 35mm camera, typewriter, saxophone or vineyard, I don’t think it would have made any difference: all other things being equal, a profound expression of love, family, belonging, food, wine and adventure would have emerged in either case.

While Inglenook and the work which Coppola has done there – renovation of the historic estate on a scale that gives one the impression that history can be reassembled – can be best be appreciated by grown-ups, the Francis Ford Coppola Winery is, in a good way, an over the top analogy to the Sunday dinner experience in most Italian homes: families, young and old, coming together, sharing, communicating and an overwhelming sense that you are a part of something much bigger than you.

What’s not to be forgotten here is that the wines stand on their own: lovely stories, Coppola, and Hollywood aside, in the glass, the wines justify the narrative and not the other way around.

And that’s just good wine.

Tasting Notes / Impressions:

Inglenook (Napa):

Blancaneaux 2011 Created in ‘95 as a partner to the estate’s flagship Rubicon, an organically farmed blend (as far as I am aware, the estate’s other wines mentioned here are also organically farmed) of Marsanne, Raussanne and Viognier. Stone fruit, notes of honey, florals. Rich on the palate underscored with harmonic citrus. Long, complex, mineral finish.

Edizione Pennino 2010 Apparently, early on, consultants advised removal of the Zin vines, a suggestion which Coppolo promptly vetoed. Applause. Berry jam, warm spice, smoke, lush in the mouth, one can drink this one all day.

Cask Cabernet 2009 Sporting the first Inglenook label that did not include a picture of the Chateaux, this Cab is sourced from vineyards located toward the estate’s front property (whereas Rubicon is sourced from vineyard sections located toward the estate’s back property). Stunning red fruit aromatics over rich, raisin-y undertones inflected with mint and spice. Intense flavors of briar fruit, cherry, with sublime, supple tannins. Miles deep.

Rubicon 2009 The estate’s flagship wine, a proprietary Cab blend from vines certified to be heritage clone genetic material brought from France by Gustave Niebaum, Inglenook’s founder, in the 1800’s. Interestingly, Rubicon and Cask are sometimes sourced from the same parcels, albeit from different sections. Rubicon, for me, is a darker personality than the brighter Cask Cabernet, offering insanely good berry fruit, pipe tobacco, violets, notes of baker’s chocolate, possessing good muscle and massive depth. Long, firmly tannic finish. Love it.

Francis Ford Coppola Winery (Sonoma):

FC Reserve Pinot Noir 2011 The vintage I tasted is sourced from Kylah’s Vineyard, Russian River (winemaker Corey Beck grades and selects growers each vintage). The vineyard is known for intense, slowly ripened Pinot, the result of wide diurnal temperature variations. A well-structured, feminine Pinot Noir with a sophisticated personality. Intense, dark fruit impressions play counterpoint with brighter berry tones, flower petals, nicely balanced spice notes. Gorgeous, lady-like tannins. Captivating.

Director’s Cut Sauvignon Blanc 2010 Produced from Alexander Valley vineyard fruit (same latitude as the winery) this Sauvignon Blanc is fermented and finished in stainless steel. Exotic fruit, citrus, hints of orange creamsicle and brown spice. Persistent mineral finish with impressions of dried fruit.

Director’s Cut Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 This nicely structured, very drinkable Cab delivers a nose full of dark berry fruit, tobacco and wet earth. Luscious, dark cherry flavors on the palate, hints of raisin, licorice and spice. Fine, ripe tannins and a way smooth finish. An everyday Cab offering great value for money.

Diamond Collection Merlot 2010 Produced with fruit from Napa, Sonoma, and Monterey, the wine contains a lion’s share of Merlot (~ 80%) with some Petit Verdot and a splash of Syrah added. Harmonius, soft in the mouth, brambly berries, saddle leather, brown spice and a smooth tannic suite.

Related Post, A Visit with Corey Beck of Francis Ford Coppola Winery