Thursday, June 23, 2016

Cantine Paolo Cali (Vittoria, Sicily): Vineyard tour and tasting

After an appetizing early breakfast at Locando Cos, we drove over to Cantine Paolo Cali for the second phase of our visit.

Breakfast at Locando Cos on the COS estate
Paolo welcomed us, indicating that we would begin the day with a drive into one of the estate's vineyards. Before, during, and after that vineyard tour, Paolo sought to shed light on the estate's origins, philosophy and practices. That dialog is weaved in with my observations and perceptions.

According to Paolo, the estate has been in his family since 1780. There were vineyards here when he was a kid and coming here to play. Those vineyards had apparently been abandoned because, according to the estate's website, there was a replanting in 1990. The estate was turned over to Paolo by his father in 2008.

Cantine Paolo Cali is located in the Salmé district of Vittorio in the heart of the Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG and Vittoria DOC regions. Within the larger estate, 15 ha of organic vineyards are planted on pre-historic marine dunes at elevations of 180 m. Two of plots -- Forfice and Frappato -- are planted on these beach sands.

As we drove between the rows, Paolo pointed out the sandy portions, which stood in sharp contrast to the redder soils in other portions of the same vineyard. The sand is approximately 8 m thick and is undergirded by a limestone bedrock. These dunes were under the sea at sometime in the distant past, a sea which is currently 10 km away from these vineyards.

The vineyards are planted to the indigenous red varieties Frappato and Nero d'Avola. The Nero d'Avolo vines are between 10 and 15 years old, planted on 114RUG rootstocks, and are cordon-trained. Planting density is 5000 vines/ha. The white wines are made from Grillo grapes grown in Bulera at 350 m on limestone-rich clay with many rocky outcroppings.

As he reached down and threaded the soil through his fingers, Paolo began a discourse on its impact on the wines. "Because of the soil, there are no muscular wines here. The wines, instead, are fine, elegant, and possess some salinity."

All vineyard operations are manual in nature to include hoeing, planting, dry and green pruning, and green harvesting. The estate utilizes canopy management in order to extend the growing season for up to three weeks.

No chemicals or fertilizers are used in the vineyard but the vines are subjected to copper sulfate spraying four to five times per year. In terms of pests, the vineyard hosts crickets that burrow down and eat the root structure. There is no defense other than to turn the soil over, moving the crickets temporarily away from the vulnerable deeper roots.

The arid conditions dictate (deficit) irrigation two to three times per year.

Grapes are harvested by hand with the pick-decision based on taste. There is rigorous selection during harvesting. Fermentation is conducted in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks with natural yeasts.

Paoli Cali explaining the vines and training system
Vineyard pruning in background; Paoli and Vineyard Labor
Supervisor in foreground
Vineyard and soils. Note Albarello end-cap
As we worked our way back to the tasting room Paolo reflected on the perception of the wines of the region: "People think of Sicilian wines as powerful but in the eastern part, the wines are fine, elegant, light in color, and more perfumed. The soil and the climate dictate the wine style in this area. The soil is sandy so you are not going to be able to get concentration. The Cerasuolo style here is perfumed, fine, no big structure, and easy to drink."

Our tasting started out with a 2015 Grillo. Paolo said that that had not been a great vintage in the region. The wine exhibited pineapple, grapefruit, and a florality on the nose. On the palate, sapid and mineral with great texture and weight. A ferrous character. This wine was fermented with selected yeasts. Paolo was very happy with this particular Grillo.

The second wine tasted was a 2015 Frappato Rosata (IGT Siciliana). For Paolo, this was one of the estate's most important wine. They were the first company to produce a rosé in Sicily. They have since changed the way they make this wine. Previously it had more color and alcohol but, since 2015, they changed to a Provence style. In his thoughts, a Rosé must be a wine with its own intensity. "If you make a Rosé, you make a Rosé as a Rosé, rather than a Rosé as a second wine."

They select the grapes specifically for this wine. In 2015 they harvested pre-ripeness and got a fresh Rosé with light color and more acidity. After harvest, the grapes are cooled down to 8℃. When he likes the color, after four to five days, he de-stems and removes the seeds. The juice is then warmed to 60 degrees and fermented with selected yeasts. 4g/L of sugar is added and the wine chilled to 0℃ in order to arrest fermentation, resulting in CO₂ petillance. It is held at 0℃ until bottling and is clarified naturally.

This wine was salmon-colored. Strawberry and cherry on nose. Unctuous with a richness. Bright acidity and spiciness. Rust character.

The next wine tasted was the 2014 Mandragola, a 100% Frappato wine. This wine was aromatic with red fruit, dried herbs, chalk and carob on the nose. Good weight and full on the mouth. Red cherries. Good acidity. Bitter finish. From 2015 on this wine will be vinified in barriques.

Paolo sees Nero d'Avola as an important wine for Eastern Sicily and his estate's contribution in this area is a 100% variety named Violino. On the nose savory, kerosene, phenolic, with plum and carob notes. The kerosene character carries through to the palate. Broad-based fruit with good acidity and late-arriving tannins

Jazz is a Frappato (55%)-Nero d'Avola (45%) blend. We tasted the 2015 vintage of this wine. Paolo chose this blend as a friendlier, easier-drinking wine. It is cleaner because of the high levels of Frappato. Fruit very evident but with high levels of acidity.

Manene is classed as a Cerasuolo di Vittorio Classico and was the winery's first entry in the class. The wine is named after his son. The blend in this wine is 60% Nero d'Avola and 40% Frappato. The 2012 version that we tasted exhibited nuttiness on nose and a savoriness, dried herbs, earth, dust, red cherries, bright acidity, and liveliness on the palate.

Forfice is also a Classico DOCG but is made from grapes sourced from a specific plot of the same name. The Frappato and Nero d'Avola are macerated together for 100 days before being co-vinified. The wine is aged for 36 months in 30 hL oak barrels and then spend another 6 months in bottle. Nuttiness, savoriness, dried herbs and sawdust on the nose along with cherries and strawberries.

Lineup of wines tasted

As a capper to the morning Paolo brought out a bottle of 1932 Cerasuolo. As he explained it, this was a family wine that has been stored in a 250 L chestnut vat and is only tapped for special events like holidays, festivals, and family occasions. He was somewhat sheepish in offering it, apologizing ahead of time for any injury that it might cause. He had nothing to apologize about.

The wine was golden in color, providing a visual clue to the presence of oxidative notes (or oxidation). On the nose, an elegant tawny port, figs, dates, walnuts, coffee, dried cocoa, and burnt orange. On the palate smooth, balanced with a surprising amount of acid still present after all these years. Oxidative notes that struck the right tones. Surprisingly different than what I was expecting. Still a lot of life left in this baby. Long, smooth tropical finish. I luxuriated in this wine and rued the fact that we had to leave abruptly -- with most of the bottle still intact -- in order to get to another appointment.

This was an excellent visit. Paolo was the perfect host throughout and his estate is producing wines of very high quality. One other intangible: he has a story to tell about his estate and he does so with enthusiasm and great emotion.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Visit with Paolo Cali (Cantine Paolo Cali, Vittoria, Sicily): Dinner at Quattro Quarti

After a scintillating and thought-provoking session with Frank Cornelissen at his winery (details in a future post), Brandon Tokash and I headed out on a 2.5-hour jaunt from Castiglione di Sicilia to Vittoria. Our home base for the two days we were spending in the area was Locando Cos, the Inn on the grounds of the COS estate so we headed there first to deposit our luggage and to compose ourselves for our late afternoon visit to Cantine Paolo Cali.

We were neither of us very familiar with the roads in the area so Brandon drove and I had navigation duty (an especially daunting task when you ran into coverage dark spots).

When we pulled into Cantine Paolo Cali (after listening to Brandon's lengthy story of how he had spent two hours lost and driving around this area sometime in the past) twilight was setting in. Brandon called Paolo on the telephone so that he could open the gate and it was with some relief that I saw the gate begin to slowly open. It was then that I realized how much I had been traumatized by Brandon's "lost-in-the-Sicilian-hinterlands" story.

The winery sat within a walled enclosure with buildings on both sides of a courtyard and a small, glass-fronted building in the center of the courtyard, directly opposite the main entrance. Within that small building there was a central table with accompanying chairs; and almost every inch of the table was covered with partly filled wine bottles. The building was occupied by two adult males and a boy.

Brandon introduced us. One of the men was Paolo Cali, the proprietor, and the kid was his son. The other adult male was Emiliano Falsini, the estate's consulting Enologist who was visiting from Tuscany. We had walked in on a blending session.

After shooting the breeze for a while, and informally tasting  a few wines, we headed out to dinner. The restaurant where we were dining is called Quattro Quarti and is located on the main promenade of Marina di Ragusa, a seaside town in Southern Sicily. The setting was welcoming with banks of seating stretching away from the entrance both straight ahead as well as along the restaurant's sea-facing flank.

During the time we had spent at the tasting room, I had been intrigued by the sight of Paolo's son -- his name is Emanuele -- scurrying about opening bottles, translating for his dad, and explaining some aspects of the estate's operations. While we were waiting for our drinks, I engaged him in a discussion about his role and objectives. He is 17 years old, is a wine fanatic, and fully expects to come into his father's business sometime in the near future. He has been to Vinitaly for 12 years in a row to promote the estate's wines. I have yet to make my inaugural trip to Vinitaly.

Emanuele Cali
Brandon Tokash and Cantine Paolo Cali
oenologist Emiliano Falsini
Paolo Cali of Cantine Paolo Cali and oenologist Emiliano Falsini
We ordered a bottle of Il Grillo di Santa Tresa Spumante Brut and followed up with a Billecart Salmon Brut Reserve. During the course of our discussion and drinks, the proprietor brought over his suggestion for dinner: a barely dead giant fish surrounded by a brace of only slightly smaller shellfish. The guys in the know nodded their approval and he took it away to begin the preparation. If I had only known.

The first course to hit our table was an antipasti, a cornucopia of colors, textures and flavors that teased the eyes and then the palate. I tried to go light on this but even taking a small portion of each offering meant that you ended up with a bunch of stuff on your plate. And I was cognizant that there was still other food in the offing.

Then the shellfish that I had seen bracketing the giant fish earlier showed up, this time the stars of their own show. And the five of us had to wade through this mound. I took a few pieces but once I had cleared my plate Paolo was ready with another serving.

By this time the night was becoming long in the tooth and I was hoping that they had forgotten about the fish. No such luck. It showed up drowned in a butter sauce garnished with olives and potato slices. Beautifully presented and tasty. A shame that I could not acquit myself in an honorable manner.

After closing the restaurant down we headed back to our cars. We followed Paolo until we got to our turn off and made our way back to our residence without any problems. No two hours driving around for Brandon on this trip.

The plan was to meet Paolo for a vineyard tour and full tasting on the morrow. I was excited. I liked Paolo and his kid.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sicily rising: Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG and Vittoria DOC

On the afternoon of the day following Contrada dell'Etna, Brandon Tokash and I headed out from Mt Etna to visit a few wineries in the southern part of the island. The first wineries visited were Cantine Paolo Cali and COS, both resident within the Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG zone.

The Cerasuolo (cherry-like) di Vittoria DOCG zone extends for approximately 70 km between Ragusa in the east and Riesi in the west -- a relatively large area for this particular classification. The regions and municipalities falling into the demarcated area of the zone are shown below the figure. The figure directly below shows the presence of a Classico sub-zone, which includes all of the municipalities included in the original DOC classification, as well as an area around the town of Santa Croce Camerina (outside of the main zone) which has a tradition of making the subject wine.


As is the case for most of Sicily, the climate of the region is hot and arid. Vineyards in the heart of the Classico region are on a plateau that ranges between 175 and 300 m in elevation. Areas further from the sea can have higher elevations, with Chiaramonte Gulfi and Licodia Eubia, for example, having elevations of 450 m and 500 m, respectively.

In general, the soils are limestone and clay, with sand increasing with proximity to the coast. Inland and high-elevation areas often have calcareous, clay-dominated soils. The two pictures below capture the soil variability within one of the Cantine Paolo Cali vineyards. It is held that soils with higher sand content produces wines that are "intensely perfumed, light, and delicate" while wines produced from grapes grown on redder soils are stronger and dark.

Sandy soil in a Cantine Paolo Cali Vineyard
Terra rossa soils in the same vineyard
Cerasuolo di Vittorio gained DOC status in 1973. Prior to that, the region's history mirrored that of the broader Sicily. The legislation associated with the DOC specified a wine comprised of 40% Frappato, a maximum of 60% Nero d'Avola, and a maximum of 10% Nerello Mascalese and/or Grossonero. The wine was elevated to DOCG status (the only one in Sicily) in 2005 and the composition was modified to be 50% - 70% Nero d'Avola and 30% - 50% Frappato. The wine must be aged a minimum of 8 months.

As shown in the chart below, Nero d'Avola is by far the most planted (18,300 ha) red indigenous variety in Sicily. Frappato, on the other hand, has much smaller surface area (803 ha) devoted to its growth (Nesto MW and di Savino).

Nero d'Avola (also known as Calabrese and translating as the "black of Avola") likes hot climates and produces wines with high tannins, medium acidity, and strong body. If grown in high elevations, it can produce smooth wines. The vines are generally trained espalier. The grape brings weight and body to the blend.

Frappato grapes are round-oval, medium-sized berries collected into medium-sized, pyramidal, compact bunches. The grapes produce cherry-colored reds which are light in body, aromatic, and low in tannins. As does Nero d'Avola, Frappato thrives in the hot, dry conditions of Sicily and brings flavors of black cherries and strawberries to the blend.

In addition to the DOCG zone, there is a Vittoria DOC zone which maps directly to the DOCG zone and has similar varietal blends. The primary difference between the wines are the yields (52 hl/ha for the DOCG and 70 hl/ha for the DOC) and alcohol levels (13% for the DOCG and 12% for the DOC). Wines made from grapes grown in the Classico region can be so labeled if the aging requirements (> 18 months) are met. Within the DOC classification area you are allowed to produce varietal wines which must have a minimum of 85% of the stated variety to be compliant with the regulations. The allowed wines are Nero d'Avola, Frappato, and Inzolia (white). The rules also allow for Novello di Vittoria, a Beaujolais-Nouveau-style wine.

The mostly small producers (ancient land-allocation practices doled out 2 ha plots to supplicants) utilize a number of varying fermentation and aging regimes. I will use COS practices as an example. This producer practices biodynamic farming in the vineyards and indigenous-yeast fermentation in the cellar. Some wines are fermented in resin-lined concrete vats while others are fermented in large clay amphorae. The wines are aged in Slavonian oak vats, large concrete barrels, or clay.
Amphorae at COS
I will detail the visit to Cantine Paolo Cali in my next post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The history of quality wine production in Sicily (after Nesto MW and di Savino)

I visited a number of Sicily and Mt. Etna wine producers around the time of Contrada Dell'Etna, the annual event that showcases the region's producers, and I am slowly working around to reporting on those visits. Before delving into the individual visits, though, I am attempting to characterize the broader environment, an effort which began with a post on the soils of Sicily. In this post I continue that framing with a history of quality wine in Sicily. As did the prior post, this one also draws heavily on the scholarship of Bill Nesto MW and Frances di Savino (The World of Sicilian Wine).

When the Greeks and Phoenicians began establishing settlements on Sicily between 800 and 700 BC, they encountered the "indigenous" peoples as indicated in the figure below. The Greek settlements on the east coast of the island encountered the Sicels (originally from Calabria) while the Phoenicians encountered the Elami (from modern-day Turkey) and the Sicani (from the Iberian Penninsula).

The figure below shows that Sicily has had a multitude of rulers over the years. The Greeks brought their grape-growing and winemaking skills to Sicily and it became known as Oenotria -- the land of trained vines. By 300 BC Sicily had become a well-regarded wine producing and exporting region. With Rome's usurpation of Greece as the primary Mediterannean (and world) power, Sicily's role in the world of wine changed dramatically in that it became more relevant as a grain source of the Roman Empire.

Sicily's history of quality wine production has been characterized more by its absence than by its presence. According to Nesto and di Savino, Strabo, the Greek geographer, writing about a wine from Messina called Potitian (after its producer), said that it was as good as the best wines produced in Italy. In the same writing he also lauded the terroir of Mt. Etna.

The figure below maps out the history of quality wine production in Sicily from just prior to the arrival of Woodhouse at Marsala -- and the beginning of the Marsala industry -- and the start of the Marsala industry. As the table in the figure shows, wine was being produced in a number of different zones but, in that time period, would have been, as described by Lukacs (Inventing Wine), non-modern, poor-quality wine.

Woodhouse came to Sicily, saw the quality of the fruit and wine (as well as the cost of production) and determined that he could profitably make a less-expensive alternative to Madeira. He was extremely successful and was followed by a number of other British merchants and, together, they built a robust industry. According to Nesto and di Savino, the British Marsala merchants brought a market-driven standard of consistency to Sicilian winemaking in that region by:
  • Fronting money so Sicilian farmers could expand their vineyards and improve the quality of their grapes
  • Investing in the farming, production, and transport of Marsala wine
  • Investing in the infrastructure of the town of Marsala
  • Prescribing improvements in viticultural and enological practices (Ingham handbook).
The figure also shows the recognized quality problems with non-Marsala wines. In 1824, the Duke of Salaparuta began bottling a dry white wine, dry red wine and a sweet wine at his estate in Bagheria. This wine was described as French-like due to its delicate taste. These wines were later named Corvo and, according to Nesto and di Savino, were "Sicily's beacon of quality for the next 150 years."

The figure identifies a reduction in Marsala quality that came about after the Garibaldi invasion but there were a number of other contributing factors (Nesto and di Savino):
  • Increase in the number of Sicilian merchants, many with no agricultural experience
  • Phylloxera
  • Taxation on buying spirits and making wine
  • Worsening US markets resulting from Prohibition.
A bulk-wine market had sprung up to support the French need for cutting wine (vino da taglio) but, as shown in the figure below, this market also eventually collapsed; a collapse evidenced by the declines in vineyard acreage and wine production between 1880 and 1892 as shown in the table following the figure.

This collapse of the bulk wine industry led to the development of a small-scale quality wine industry led by the previously mentioned Corvo wine. Due to its method of production, this wine was "delicate and fresh tasting" and compared favorably to Sicilian whites which were generally "amber-tinted, high-alcohol, and coarse-textured." The vino da taglia wines were normally "deeply colored, alcoholic, and tannic." This quality-wine initiative died in 1905 when the Palermo Chamber of Commerce criticized the Corvo as weak. Winemakers reverted back to the wines of yore. According to the authors, "By 1950, the Sicilian Wine Industry had lost almost everything it had achieved during the 19th century."

The modern quality wine industry was launched in the 1960s, precipitated by events such as the consulting work of Ezio Rivello, the contributions of Diego Planeta, the rise of family wineries, the influence of Giacomo Tachis (the enologist who had risen to fame through his work with Antinori properties), investments from the North, the rise of Etna, and appellation status for the broader region.

The big takeaway here is the relative youth of the Sicilian quality wine industry vis a vis other Italian and European wine regions.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Tasting of selected Greek wines: The reds

My most recent post described a tasting that I hosted in Orlando for area Sommeliers, wine retailers, and collectors and, specifically, focused on the sparkling and white wines included therein. Based on the feedback of a subset of the attendees, the Karanika Brut Cuvees, the Domaine Zafeirakis Malagousia 2015, and the Domaine Costa Lazaridis Semillon 2014 were the most well-regarded of the wines tasted up to that point. This post will cover the red wines tasted on that day: the 2006 and 1999 Domaine Economou Sitia and several vintages of Domaine Porto Carras' Chateau Porto Carras,

As was the case for the previous posts, I have solicited feedback from selected participants and use their voices to report on the tasting. The panelists utilized thusly are:
  • John Siudut, Proprietor, Vintage Vino
  • Andres Montoya, Proprietor, The Wine Barn
  • Jill Kathyrn Davis, Former Head Sommelier Capa Grill at the Four Seasons and Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse
  • Ron Siegel, Collector
  • Juan Valencia, Assistant General Manager and Sommelier Norman's at the Ritz Grande Lakes.
Domaine Economou Flight
I encountered this wine for the first time when I was in Athens for the 4th Anniversary Winelovers reunion. The 2006 was served as a part of a dinner we were having at Vintage Wine Bar and Bistro but the owner, Panos Kyriazis, mentioned to me that the recently released 1999 was even better. That sounded like a dare so I bit and purchased a bottle. It was good. So good that I went back the following evening in order to taste this wine again. Once I got back to the US, I sought out the wine and stocked both the 2006 and the 1999 in my cellar.

The figure below provides some background on the estate and its operating environment.

The panelists shared my view that this producer is doing an excellent job and that the 1999 vintage was the better of the two.

John thought that the Domaine Economou Flight was surprising considering the release dates of the wines. He really enjoyed the brooding power of the 2006 and the distinct power and structure of the 1999 which matured in the glass and was the better wine. These wines reminded Jill of Valpolicella in that they had a raisinated note with high acid.

Juan found the 2006 to be slightly oxidative and raisinated up front. Sweet and sour cherries appeared on the palate shortly thereafter. Supple tannins. Andres saw this wine as having "warm scents of garrigue, smoke, tar, and rose petal," the latter of which could be associated with Nebbiolo from warmer sites. "In the mouth it shows lead pencil, smoked plum, anise and currants, which make it seem closer to Cabernet on the finish."

The Economou 1999, according to Andres, had a beautiful nose of violets, grilled herbs, and red plum (it reminded him of Nerello Mascalese), shows high acidity, and finishes with intensity. This vintage is showing very well. Juan: "Wow. Muscular for its age. Very well structured in terms of acid, and tannin. Fruit was dried and fresh simultaneously."

Chateau Porto Carras Flights
I have described the Domaine Porto Carras environment in a prior post.

The Porto Carras was tasted in three flights: Flight 1 -- 2006, 1990, 1993, and 1989; flight 2 -- 1995, 2001, 1994, 1985; flight 3 -- 1981.

Ron said the dog ate his homework so he made an overall assessment. "As noted at the tasting I thought the 1993 and 2001 of your vertical stood out for me. Both were very Bordeaux-like and displayed beautiful red berry fruits with floral notes and baking spices. Elegant and balanced on the finish with good structure."

John thought that Domaine Porto Carras flights were the obvious highlight with "an amazing mix of vintages and flavors."  His favorites included the 1993 with its bold fruit and incredible length.  "The 2001 was nearly as good but the showstopper was the 1994, awash in mint and black fruit flavors ..." He would love a chance to taste this paired with an entree dish.  "And one cannot forget the 2006 magnum which I thought was the best right out of the gate but as the other wines settled in the glass it got slightly outpaced."

Juan's assessment of the flights were as follows:
Flight 1:
2006 - Young and fresh. Explosion of red fruit flavor with a slight barnyard funk. Taut and destined for greatness.
1990 - Muted and starting to fade. Might be past the zenith of opportunity in its lifespan.
1993 - Tar, canned vegetables, smoke, compost, all with a dash of brett. A hermit of a wine with stories to tell.
1989- Muted on the nose, wet earth and moss on the palate. Very little character.

Flight 2:
1995 - Delicious. So alive in every way; fruit, acid, tannin, everything. All the greatness of Bordeaux with a very original personality. My winner of the flight.
2001 - Wow. A little wilder than the other vintages we had so far. More of a farmhouse character of dried hay, brett, and basket of dried red fruit. Vibrant acidity lifting all the dimensions of flavor. Second favorite of the flight.
1994 - Comments all around were comparing to Grange. I am not as versed, but I got a very savory character out of this vintage. Like salted and cured meat, spice, herb. Umami.
1985 - First one was corked. Second one was much better, but still slightly flawed in my opinion. A meditative wine. The most thought provoking of the night.

Flight 3:
1981- Showing very well. Still fresh for its age. Elegant and wrinkled. I tried to listen to its story but I’m still learning the language of old wine.  

Andres' assessment of the flights:
Flight 1:
2006 - Petrol, smoke, cherry. Nice finish, reminds me of a Sangiovese-based Tuscan blend. 
1990 - Mint, eucalyptus, little fruit left on the nose or in mouth. Over the hill.
1993 - My #1 Wine of the tasting. Glorious nose of black currant, baking spice, black tea, anise, and peanut oil. Excellent mouthfeel, high acid. Very left bank Bordeaux-like! Reminded me of a Pichon-Lalande on the nose and the finish.
1989 - Faint smell of black tea and leather. Short finish. Over the hill.

Flight 2:
1995 - Green bean, eucalyptus, and "stemmy" aromatics. Smells underripe. Short finish.
2001 - My #2 (tie) pick - Excellent nose, black plum, licorice, grilled herbs, and smoke. Showing very fresh and still youthful, good acid, long finish.
1994 - My #2 (tie) pick - Excellent. Baking spice, tar, menthol, black currants and tanned leather. Reminds me of a Penfolds Grange from the early 90's. Seamless finish. Very complete. 
1985 - First bottle corked. Second bottle showed dried herbs, black tea and dusty tannins. Showing its age. 

1981 - Not showing any signs of life. 

The wines which garnered the most acclaim were the 1993, 1994, 2001, and 2006. And this mirrors what I had found with two of these wines that I had tasted while at the estate. At the time I had stated: "it was the Bordeaux blends that blew me away with spice, tobacco, cedar, dark chocolate, and vanilla notes accompanying a red-fruit character, velvety feel, and lengthy finish. The 1993 was just an evolved version of the 2006."

It is not clear to me what causes the variation in the vintages given the relatively even climatic conditions but methinks that the estate may have some storage issues because of the varying conditions of the bottles delivered to me. At its best this is a Bordeaux blend which is world class. When the purchase price is factored in, it becomes even more attractive.


The group had not had extensive experience with Greek wines prior to this tasting and it was heartening to see the generally positive manner in which they reacted to the wines presented. An example of this sentiment was John's comments: "Thank you again for a great afternoon!  I enjoyed the tasting immensely and was very happy to attend along with a wonderful assemblage of wine people.  I haven't had Greek wine since my visit to the islands back in 2006, so I was surprised to taste so many interesting wines with complex structures. Again it was an honor to be invited and I look forward to the next lunch tasting."  Jill: "Overall, it was evident that Greek wine deserves our attention. All of the wines Keith selected were quality wines at ridiculously low prices considering. I am sure we will see much more from Greece in the future."

I look forward to sharing different Greek wines with this group in the not-too-distant future.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Orlando tasting of selected Greek wines: The sparkling and whites

Switching from absorption to evangelizing, I recently held a tasting of selected Greek wines for Sommeliers, retailers, and collectors here in Orlando. The tasting was held at Capital Grille (International Drive) on May 25th and included the following wines:

Sparkling: Karanika Brut Cuvee Speciale, Karanika Brut Cuvee Prestige, Karanika Brut Rose
White: Ktima Gerovassiliou Malagousia 2014, Boutari Malagousia 2015, Domaine Zafeirakis Malagousia 2015, Domaine Costa Lazaridis Semillon 2014
Red: Domaine Economou Sitia (2006, 1999), Domaine Porto Carras Chateau Porto Carras (2006, 1990, 1993, 1989, 2001, 1994, 1985, 1981).

All of the wines were sourced from the author's private collection.

This post will cover the sparkling and white wines with the reds being covered in a subsequent post. I solicited the perspectives of attendees post the event and use their voices herein.

Sparkling Flight

I have previously recounted my initial exposure to this wine as well as its growing conditions and production process.

John Siudut (Proprietor, Vintage Vino): "Sparkling is always a great way to begin any tasting and I was glad to share a toast at the beginning (Prior to the actual tasting, I had opened a few bottles of Chartogne-Taillet to serve as ice-breakers).  The first three wines in the sparkling lineup were all outstanding, but my favorite was the Rosé which held me riveted with its complex, fresh red fruit flavors and its beautiful length."

Jill Kathryn Davis (former Head Sommelier at Capa Grill at the Four Seasons and Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse): "I have only ever tasted Xinamavro as a red still wine. Karanika’s Brut surprised me. Who knew anyone was even making sparkling wine in Greece, let alone méthode traditionelle with organic Xinamavro grapes in Amyndeon." She thought that the Karanika wines "showed incredibly well" and that "the relatively new project has lots of potential."
Juan Valencia (Assistant General Manager and Sommelier, Norman's at the Ritz Grande Lakes) saw the Karanika Brut Cuvee Speciale as "dense and creamy" with "large gluttonous bubbles"and a "dried red fruit component." He felt that bright acidity was the driving force for this wine. For Andres Montoya (Proprietor, The Wine Barn) this wine was medium-bodied, with a light mineral quality, good acid, and a long, powdery finish. He found it to be a very nice introduction to Xinomavro.

Juan saw the Karanika Brut Cuvee Prestige as much more tropical than the Cuvee Speciale with bubbles that seemed a little finer. "On the palate, focused and angular. Reminiscent of dried apricots and green strawberries. Clean finish as was the case for the Speciale. For Andrew, this wine had a "fuller style, intense mouthfeel, poached pear, mineral and lightly yeasty character. High acid and salinity on the finish."

There was a lack of unanimity as regards the Karanika Brut Rose. As we saw above, it was John's favorite. Juan, however, described it as "tootie fruity" with slight residual sugar. To him it "seemed geared to the poolside consumer rather than serious wine drinkers" and had "lots of room for improvement." Andres described it thusly: dark pink color; intense nose of watermelon and red cherry; rich mousse; residual sugar is very evident. Finishes flat. Low acid.

All participants were amazed at the price point of these wines and clearly saw them, especially the Cuvees, as extremely good value for money.

White Flight
This flight consisted of three Malagousias and one Semillon, the latter of which had been gifted to me by Yiannis Karakasis on my most recent trip to Athens. I have covered the potential origins of Malagousia as well as the Ktima Gerovassiliou operations in prior posts.

John thought that this flight was pleasant but a slight step down in quality from the Sparkling wines. According to John, "I enjoyed the diverse profiles of all the wines and, although none of them reached outstanding, all three were in the good to very good range. I enjoyed the Domaine Zafeirakis Malagousia 2015 a great deal and was impressed by the balanced acidity. I would love to try it with some white fish to see how well it would pair with food. The Semillon was a hard read at first, but the richness and the fruit flavors opened up in the glass.

Malagousia is not a varietal with which Jill was very familiar. She felt that the selection of versions from different producers and regions allows one to see the varietal for itself. She found the varietal  aromatic and not overly acidic. Her personal favorite of the flight was the Domaine Zafeirakis.

Juan saw the Gerovassiliou Malagouzia 2014 as having "pretty white floral aromas, dried muscat, dried peach, nectarine flesh" and being refreshing on the palate. Andres concurred with that characterization: "floral, dry-muscat like, with orange blossom, honeydew and honeysuckle aromas. Reminds me of the dry muscats produced in Malaga by Victoria Ordonez (Botani)."
The Boutari Malagouzia 2015 had "Jasmine and artificial jasmine on the nose, almost like dish soap lavender. On the palate, the wine had an awkward steely character that fell flat. Somewhat awkward" (Juan). Andrew saw it as simple and clean with a light finish.

The consensus winner among the Malagousias was the Zafeirakis. Juan saw it as having "vibrant lavender and citrus oil on the nose. Bright acidity leading the way for ripe stone fruit on the palate. Winner of the lineup for Malagouzia." Andres struck the only discordant note finding it to be refreshing but less aromatic than the Gerovassiliou and having a simple finish.

The Costa Lazaridi Semillon was universally liked. Andres: "powerful, intense aromatics, poached pear, tangerine, vanilla bean, creamy mouthfeel. Reminds me of a Napa Chardonnay made in a full style but still showing good fruit, oak, and not overdone. Juan was equally poetic: "simply delicious. Exotic tropical fruit on the nose like guava flesh, overripe red mango, and golden pineapple. Meaty and brooding tropical fruit on the palate. Beautifully lifted finish. Like an echo that slowly fades.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Ristorante Il Centro: Priocca D'Alba's (Piemonte) contribution to culinary excellence

In the week or so that I recently spent in Piemonte, no higher praise did I hear, nor better dining experience had I, than for/at Ristorante Il Centro, the establishment owned by the Cordero family and located almost in the shadow of Chiese parrocchiale di San Rocco e Sant'Elisabetta in Priocca d'Alba.

Ristorante Il Centro (Used with permission)
Chiese parrocchiale di San Rocco e Sant'Elisabetta
I first encountered this restaurant at the Labor of Love (the Suzanne Hoffman book on Piemontese wine families) pre-launch dinner and was impressed by: the wine cellar (both its esthetics and content): the sommelier Giampiero Cordero (knowledge, charm, kindness, and engaging character): the food (pleasing in both appearance and taste; innovative); the ease with which a large party was handled; and the overarching sense of humbleness which emanated from all of the family members that I met.

As I went around Piemonte visiting wineries and other restaurants, the question invariably asked was "Where have you eaten while in Piemonte?" When I mentioned Il Centro, the feedback was universally positive. Luca Cigluiti of La Spinetta and Contratto said that it is the only restaurant in the region where he feels he could eat every day. The food, he said, was tasty and did not leave you feeling heavy upon completion. With all of the goodwill directed at the restaurant, we decided to pay a return visit and did so for its Sunday Brunch.

Before discussion of our brunch experience, some background is in order. A noted eatery had existed at the current location for 100 years before it came into the Cordero family by acquisition in 1956. Pierin Cordero and his wife Rita, abetted by the culinary skills of Pierin's mother Lidia, began to firmly imprint the Cordero name on this establishment. When Pierin died in 1970, Rita took the reins and continued to build on the gastronomic traditions established by Lidia. When Pierin died, Enrico was 18 years old and he left school at that time to take over management of the enterprise. Elis dropped into the restaurant seeking employment and one year later was running the kitchen. And today her culinary skills are widely lauded. Their children are involved in the family business with Giampiero having primary responsibility for cellar development and wine service while his sister, who is a journalist in New York City, is responsible for marketing and some financial aspects of the business.

Giampiero, his mom Elis (also the Chef), and his dad Enrico
with Suzanne Hoffman at the Labor of Love pre-launch dinner
The restaurant's philosophy is that tradition and innovation are not necessarily countervailing forces and that careful attention to both will continue to yield success. And the the success of the application of that philosophy is reflected in the wide acclaim that the cuisine has garnered. The restaurant also receives kudos for the cellar and its contents. The cellar has a table in its outer chamber where tastings or small dinners can be held and an inner chamber where more than 600 labels of regional and international wines are kept.

So back to the brunch. We chose to eat the 5-course tasting menu which drew three selections from the appetizers and one each from the first- and second-plate sections of the menu. The first two dishes ordered were Acacia Flower and Salumi (the salumi had a lighter color due to no chemicals being used in its preparation) preparation and Sweet and Sour Pepper and Anchovies. The acacia flower had been dipped in flour batter and then lightly fried and had a crunchy texture along with hints of sweetness and some salt. The pepper had been cured in-house from September of last year using sugar, olive oil, and vinegar,  a combination which provided an explosion of contrasting flavors in the mouth.

Acacia Flower and Salumi
Sweet and Sour Pepper and Anchovies
The first wine ordered was the Contratto For England Rosé 2010, a sparkling wine from the Alta Langa Metodo Classico DOCG. A clean, unyielding nose with a subdued mousse, strawberry flavor, and a bitter finish. Bitter rose water with limited persistence.

The second course ordered was a Veal Cooked Under Salt and Prawns with Asparagus. I had had the veal on my previous visit and it was still excellent. The saltiness calls out for an ameliorating liquid.The Prawns had been lightly fried in a lemon, ginger, and olive oil emulsion and was giving, with a dark brown color. Very pleasing. The asparagus had a piney flavor and a crunchy texture.

Veal Cooked under Salt
Prawns with Asparagus
A Smoked Sturgeon and Roasted Quail Salad followed. The sturgeon was the least favorite of my dishes as the earthiness and the texture did not work well together for me. It may also have been overdone. The Quail, on the other hand, was pleasing to both the eye and the palate. The little drumsticks just begged to be handled; and when they were, they rewarded with salt and smokiness, great texture, and perfect temperature. The breast chunks were well marinated and did not suffer from lack of proximity to a bone (How far away from a bone can you be if you are quail meat?). This latter dish was accompanied by home-made peppers and pearled onions.

Smoked Sturgeon
Roasted Quail Salad
I was pleased to see a 2011 GD Vajra Riesling on the Il Centro list. After consultation with Giampiero, I ordered a bottle. It reinforced my convictions regarding this wine. It had a light golden color, hinting at the development it had undergone. On the nose, initially, petrol, golden apple, white pepper, and a soapiness. On the palate pineapple (underripe), intense acidity, minerality, and tamarind. A long, drying finish which evolved into an intense chalkiness with a metallic undertone. After a while in the glass, the wine transitioned to lemon-lime dominance both on the nose and palate but still distinct petrol. Additional time in the glass brought grapefruit into the equation and a growing black pepper and Indian spice presence. Minerality still present. Wine more focused and weightier on the palate. Giampiero mentioned that, three or four years ago, there were only three or four Riesling producers in the region, with Vajra the leader. With the success of the pioneers, there are now over 20 Riesling producers in the region but Il Centro will only carry three; one of which is Vajra.

The Ravioli Stuffed with Pork Ribs and Sweetbreads and the Gluten-Free Pasta in Tomato Sauce were excellent dishes both. The Ravioli was another of the dishes I had tried previously and was excited to revisit.

Ravioli Stuffed with Pork Ribs and Sweetbreads
Gluten-Free Pasta
The final dishes were a Breaded Veal Steak with Salad and a Roasted Cod with Crispy Vegetable Thins. The veal was excellent with the soft inner core contrasting admirably with the textured, seasoned breading. The codfish was wonderful, a savory explosion of tomatoes and herbs. This dish was paired with a 2009 Marzino Abbona Terlo Ravera.

Breaded Veal Steak with Salad
Roasted Cod with Crispy Vegetable Thins

The dishes served were excellent but I would be doing the restaurant a disservice if I did not mention the service. Giampiero was an excellent Wine Steward, being there exactly when needed (whether for conversation or for wine orders) and his scope of knowledge (in terms of the wines and winemakers) is immense. He likes to think of the people who make the wine when he is drinking it as his enjoyment is increased if he knows its story.

The wait staff was well-trained and quietly efficient. You got the sense of them hovering just off set and rushing in at the slightest indication of need. Enrico was a presence, pitching in in a silent yet familiar manner. He knows everyone sitting around you, knows their life stories. His conversations with the guests are substantial.

In Piemonte? Visit this place. You have been before? Go again.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme