Tuesday, May 25, 2010

New Wines of Greece Marketing Initiative: NYC Seminar

In a recent post, I mentioned the fact that New Wines of Greece was spearheading a marketing initiative designed to further expose wine-market players to the wines of Greece and, further, that I had attended the New York City instance of the launch event.  The New York City event, held at the Alice Tully Hall of New York's famed Lincoln Center on Thursday, May 20th, featured a Seminar, led by Doug Frost, Master Sommelier and Master of Wine, inclusive of tasting sessions led by Konstantinos Lazarakis, Master of Wine, followed by a "Grand Tasting" of 137 wines from 60 wineries.

In his opening remarks, Doug Frost touched on some of the challenges confronting Greek wine marketers as they attempt to further penetrate foreign markets.  Greece, he indicated, was "blessed' with 350 indigenous grape varieties none of which can be DNA-linked to any other grape in any other locale in the world.  This "uniquenesss," plus varietal name-complexity, combined to steepen the climb for marketers of Greek wines.  Within that context, the event organizers were entertaining the thought of bringing Greek wines to customers by relating them to more broadly recognizable varietals and sought to utilize seminar attendees to test this hypothesis. 

The test, titled Comparative Tasting of Greek and International Varieties, consisted of tasting four flights of five wines each with, as we later discovered, three of the wines in the flight being Greek varietals and the remaining two being international varietals.  The Greek varietals were, in order, Moschofilero, Agiorgitiko, Assyrtiko, and Xinomavro.  Three points of note.  (i) Many of the seminar attendees appeared to be familiar with each other, with the presenters, and with Greek wines and these folks were not very happy with the concept of presenting these wines vis a vis others.  In their minds, Greek wines were unique and should be treated and presented on their own merits. (ii) The fact that the seminar leaders grouped Greek varietals with specific international varietals, seemed to indicate that they had some leanings of their own.  That is to say, they did not ask the testers to suggest international varietals to go with Greek varietals.  They already had the first two flights poured when we stepped into the seminar room. (iii) The three instances of the Greek varietal in each flight were drawn from different vendors.

In leading off the Moschofilero tasting, Konstantino pointed out that Greece has some of the most complex topography in Europe.  There are very few fertile plots in the nation and the saying goes, so says he, that vineyards are only planted where the soil cannot support anything else.  The Moschofilero is a pink-skinned, aromatic grape variety which imparts a pink tint to its wines.  In the Mantinea appellation, where this grape predominates, it plateaus at 600-700 meters and, as a result, the area is cool after sunset.  Grapes mature slowly in this environment and it is difficult to get above 12% alcohol. The overarching characteristics of the Moschofilero were florality and acidity. It was later revealed that the internationals were Torrontes Crios, Susana Balboa 2009 and Gentil Hugel 2008.  The panel did not think that the Moschofilero could be in any way compared to these internationals.

Agiorgitiko, according to Konstantino, is primarily from the appellation Nemea, which, though close to Mantinea, is warmer and subject to autumn rains and vintages are definitely affected by weather patterns.  The appellation can be dividied into valley floor -- hotter, produces sweet, soft reds -- 350 to 500 meters -- classic Nemeas are produced here --- and the top subzone -- 700 meters and up; previously only rose but now high-acidity, quality wines are produced here.  The wines from this region have soft tannins and go well with oak.  The Agiorgitiko was much less floral than the Moscofilero with, depending on the producer, a preponderance of black or red fruit.  The international wines paired off against the Agiorgitko were the Monticello Reserva 2005 and Mt. Difficulty Pinot Noir 2008.

Konstantino described the Assyrtiko from Santorini as a "gifted grape variety" with extremely good acidity even in hot weather.  Santorini is a difficult place to grow grapes in that it is "too windy, too hot, and too sunny."  The vines have to be trained in baskets in order to generate humidity and production is 12 hectoliters per hectare.  There is no clay in the volcanic soil so it is phylloxera-free and phylloxera-resistant.  The vineyards are very old with some root systems being hundreds of years old.  The wine ages phenomenally. The wines have excellent texture and exhibit fruit and acidity with high stone minerality.  The international wines tasted were Chablis 1er Cru Vaulorent, Brocard 2007 and Reisling Gobelsburger, Schloss Gobelsburg 2009.

The final varietal tasted was the Xinamavro, described by Konstantino as "a punch in the face of globalization."  This wine manifests black fruit and some limited phenolics as well as good acidity.  The international wines paired with it were Barbaresco, Produttori del Barbaresco 2006 and castel Giocondo Frescobaldi 2004, Brunello di Montalcino.

The panel mostly held to its opening position that Greek wines were unique and could not be marketed via other grapes without further confusing the issue.  These wines would have to stand on their own and be supported by stories appropriate to them.  In his closing remarks Konstantino opined that, in the future, being good would become irrelevant because people would take that for granted.  Being different with what is in the glass, he said, is what will make sense going forward.  Meta data will be needed as a part of the selling process.  The data are the contents of the glass and the meta data are the stories that surround the contents.

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