It is unlikely that, in this life, I will ever become a jazz musician. Yet, after sitting in with Eric Boissenot’s annual gig, I am elated. Eric who? This famously discreet, modest man is not listed in the telephone directory, nor does he have a website...
It is unlikely that, in this life, I will ever become a jazz musician. Yet, after sitting in with Eric Boissenot’s annual gig, I am elated. Eric who? This famously discreet, modest man is not listed in the telephone directory, nor does he have a website. Social media is not on his daily action list anytime soon. His consulting services are in high demand from a who-is-who list of 150 clients worldwide. Based in the quiet village of Saint Laurent, in the heart of Medoc, in Bordeaux. The left-and right-bank top addresses make for the ultimate name-dropping list out there. Elsewhere, in Spain, Rioja and Ribeira del Duero figure. How on earth did Alpha Estate in Florina come into the picture? Founder-partner Angelos Iatridis met Eric at Bordeaux University. During his studies, Angelos had to do an internship in the Medoc. So he jumped on a bus, but the village of Saint Laurent was the last stop. His destination was quite a long way. Eric spotted him and offered a lift.
The opportunity of sitting in with a master of his craft was inviting. A rare insight in shaping the blend of Alpha Estate flagship. The 2014 was a wet, cooler vintage. Dozens of cask-sample bottles were lined up of Merlot, Syrah and Xinomavro. Merlot was elegant, aromatic, vinous, with marked freshness – not something you usually find in Greek Merlot, often overripe and lacking typicity. Syrah followed. A broad spectrum, ranging from floral, pepper, dense, textured, cocoa to grapey. Impressive. It clearly has adapted brilliantly in this cooler-climate plateau of 650m. Xinomavro was split in two groups: younger, 15yo vines, noted for their all-spice, and the ungrafted 90yo that was feral. Eric led the crafting blending session. He chose the initial heart and continued to taste in groups that we rated and categorised by style. So far, it was fun. We continued all morning, while Eric, calculator in hand and taking meticulous notes, added and adjusted. It was all about subtlety. The foundation of the blend had taken shape – yet, we were far from finished. Then came tasting bottles of samples of vin de presse. Merlot was difficult. Broken mosaic pieces. Individually, they were clumsy. No complete snapshots. Its chameleon-like talents help it fill in the gaps. Syrah was all-around impressive. It was difficult to believe that these were vin de presse. There were some good wines in there. Above several other addresses I can think of. Local diva Xinomavro was compelling. Higher in natural acidity than the two French grapes, it adds an electric charge, bringing aromatic fireworks and prolonging the aftertaste. Throughout the session, assistant winemaker Katia Belli offered valuable counterpoint to Eric’s craft. Insight gleaned from listening to these two was illuminating. Ying and yang, right in front of you.
We started at 9:30 am and finished at 4.30 pm. Grinning our stained-teeth smiles, we seized the moment in silence. It felt as if I had attended a Dizzy Gillespie jam when he was turning jazz on its head. Prior to leaving, we revisited the day’s work. Though raw, it was brimming with bright, spicy, fruity notes and rich flavour, with Amyndeo’s trump card: crystalline freshness. Alcohol level was all of 12.8% abv. Not all of Greece is capable of delivering so much character at this useful lower-alcohol level. It moreover underscores Amyndeo’s mesoclimate. Diurnal temperatures, sandy-clay topsoil sitting on bedrock of limestone plus precision-farming by founder-partner Makis Mavridis. Asking Eric what pleases him in this venture, ‘By helping to shape it, it is satisfying to see it sell.’ Iatridis, who has created some of the most inspiring wines, egoless, rhetorically replied, ‘How many lives do I have to live to acquire Eric’s experience? I also like to hear comment from the real world. Eric’s feedback is precious.’ Next time you hop off a bus, have a good look around. You never know who may come into your life.
This unusual review comes from a different address, of sorts: It has aged for four years and a few months at a depth of 20m. Temperature oscillates between 12℃ and 18℃. This is a zero-oxygen-uptake environment. Is the land or sea ‘cellaring’ super...
Aegean Islands | White | Assyrtiko
This unusual review comes from a different address, of sorts: It has aged for four years and a few months at a depth of 20m. Temperature oscillates between 12℃ and 18℃. This is a zero-oxygen-uptake environment. Is the land or sea ‘cellaring’ superior? Tasting back to back, the barnacle-covered example goes beyond than just a unique experience: Its evolution is scintillating, eye-popping stuff. Moreover, from the submerged 450 bottles only 300 have survived. These are going to be auctioned. Proceeds will go to a non-profit marine-conservation foundation. Gaia is on to a good thing here. If you cannot bid this time, there are another four vintages in the pipeline. Expect to hear more from this unique island vineyard, whose haunting beauty is so eerily reflected in these mineral-laden wines.
Synthetic closure. Paler than land-aged Thalassitis. No oxidation, or reductive notes. Fruit is more vibrant than the land example. Moves on to a refined viscous palate. Wet stone. A nod towards Loire Savennières Chenin blanc. Mid-palate is polished (as in all Gaia’s wines), but with a character all of its own. Phenolic bite has melted. Insistent soft-mineral salinity. Tension. Linearity. More gentle than the land-cellared wine. A new-to-me type of wine: ‘young’ yet evolved. An utterly fascinating dive into previously uncharted territory.
19 Aug 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 18.5/20
|Gaia Thalassitis Submerged|
|Area: Aegean Islands|| |
Some of you may start humming Ringo Starr's nasal deliverance of the famous Beatles song. Others, who have no recollection, may be curious to know of octopus hunting and gathering which took place off the beach of Kamari, on the eastern Santorini shorelin...
Some of you may start humming Ringo Starr's nasal deliverance of the famous Beatles song. Others, who have no recollection, may be curious to know of octopus hunting and gathering which took place off the beach of Kamari, on the eastern Santorini shoreline.
Each year, Gaia Wines founding partner Yiannis Paraskevopoulos, submerges a palette of his Thalassitis Santorini. The depth is about 18-20m. Violent winter storms may drag the metal cage full of bottles away from where they originally land. Some survive intact, some break up, a few spill out onto the seabed. Apart from the publicity it brings, the main point of this exercise is to find out if these bottles age differently than the same wine ageing in a cellar on land. Guess what?
There is a difference. More about this in a tasting post.
Back to the Octopus. Something extraordinary happened while a BBC film crew were diving with Paraskevopoulos to retrieve some bottles to be tasted. What this dive found was a scene only nature could deliver. Far removed from the cage, they found a bottle of Thalassitis 2010 with it's neck wedged in the sand. The experienced underwater cameramen were amazed as they realized what had happened. The resourceful octopus had dragged the bottle back to his thalami (habitat). The octopus's garden was littered with shellfish debris around the bottle.
Regrettably, said octopus was unsuccessful in his wine tasting event because the bottle was too large to enter his house. If Paraskevopoulos continues with his marine endeavours perhaps we shall witness octopus evolution changing the course of wine history.
Santorini’s geology puzzle is breathtaking. While researching my forthcoming book with Chef Vassilis Zacharakis, I have been fortunate to broaden my scope beyond vineyards and wine. Vassilis is a brilliant wine taster. As most cooks, he has a holistic ...
Aegean Islands | White | Assyrtiko
Santorini’s geology puzzle is breathtaking. While researching my forthcoming book with Chef Vassilis Zacharakis, I have been fortunate to broaden my scope beyond vineyards and wine.
Vassilis is a brilliant wine taster. As most cooks, he has a holistic approach – ‘balance’ is his mantra.
He understands terroir through his suppliers of local specialties. “There is no question that the tastiest fava is grown along the foothills of Profitis Helias.” This mountain (550m) and a sliver of Akrotiri are the oldest parts of what we call Santorini today. This limestone mass dates from the Mesozoic period, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. It is 200-45 million years old. Some 80–90% of the island’s vineyards, containing magma, ashes, and pumice stone are 3,600 years old.
Such thoughts came into the picture while tasting, with Mattheos Argyros, of his ungrafted 150-year-old Assyrtiko from Episkopi. The vines lie on volcanic ashes and sand on a limestone bedrock on the eastern side of Profitis Ilias. On another front, Argyros’s commitment in investment has far-reaching ramifications. Since his father Yianni's premature death, in 2012, he has rebuilt all the stone walls of the estate vineyards. He has purchased fallow land on mid-slope foothills to plant more of the rare, aromatic Aidani. His new winery is opening in 2016. Most of it is underground, with a Vinsanto cellar to house the island’s most important reserves.
“I could have made (the above ground) prettier; functionality was my main focus, though.” He is not alone on this new venture: Bordeaux heavyweight Stéphane Derenoncourt Consultants has been advising on all fronts. Julien Lavenu leads a team of fellow technicians Grigoris Skopelitis and Manos Kotsonis. This renewal by the fourth-generation producer contains an important message: There is a bright future in the island's wine fortunes, so hang on to your vineyards. I hope, after I have moved on, someone looking at this website can nod approvingly, muttering along these lines: “Yes, the vineyard protection zoning act has passed; we are planting loads more of the three As.” No prize for guessing what this acronym stands for.
Platinum. Floral. A cocktail of lemon zest and chalk. Stylish blend of 80% and 20% (seamless) oak cask. Focused. Great precision and texture. Subtle iodine marine salinity in the classy finish. Shellfish were created for such wines. More Chablis Premier Cru than Puligny Montrachet.
23 Jul 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 18.5/20
|Area: Aegean Islands|| |
Fifteen years ago, Zacharias Diamantakis was a distiller. His fragrant, textured Liatiko tsikoudia sets the standards. Its properties present this misunderstood, gifted Cretan specialty in the best light. He continues to distil now, selling his grape spir...
Crete | White | Vidiano
Fifteen years ago, Zacharias Diamantakis was a distiller. His fragrant, textured Liatiko tsikoudia sets the standards. Its properties present this misunderstood, gifted Cretan specialty in the best light. He continues to distil now, selling his grape spirit on to drinks artisans on the island. His energies have shifted to planting more terraced vineyards on his estate. Assyrtiko, Vidiano, Chardonnay, Malvazia Aromatica, Mandilari and Syrah are his choice of grapes. Location is Kato Asites, 400-650m above the sprawling city-port of Heraklion.
In this reviewed new top white blend, he has married rising star Vidiano and recent to Crete Assyrtiko. This effort is one of several new-wave wines to emerge on this now energised wine scene. On the east-facing, mostly calcareous clay soils, a new dawn is upon us. The age-old question arises: Place or grape? Well, looking at forthcoming reviews along these northern-lying scattered vineyards, there is a number of arguments that some grape varieties transform into something of note due to the place, gaining gravitas through eastern exposure and altitude. Having star grapes is not instant visa to terroir greatness – far from it.
Diamantakis points out: “Wine needs observing and patience.” In this instance, he has chosen to balance the aromatic with the mineral. Vines were planted as recently as 2009: It stands promising. Time will tell if he has chosen the right spot of producing something exceptional, capturing the magic only terroir can deliver. If anything, his sweat-equity experience in distilling, which requires disciplined precision, may turn out an invaluable asset.
In equal parts of both varieties. Vidiano’s viscous, creamy mouthfeel showcases stone fruit, merging seamlessly on to a firm, energetic Assyrtiko minerality. Smokey, nutty. Lasting savoury-saline aftertaste. Cask-driven ferment with a three-month stay on its lees offers a luxurious profile. Different. Best 2015–2019.
04 Jul 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 16.5/20
|Diamantakis Diamantopetra Vidiano-Assyrtiko|
|Area: Crete|| |
|Variety: Vidiano / Assyrtiko|
The setting: the Venetian Grand Arsenal overlooking the port of Chania. A beautifully restored 15th-century dockyard, it is possibly the finest venue for a wine tasting in Greece. The 8th Oinotika was a well-organized, enlightening show. Large, airy room,...
The setting: the Venetian Grand Arsenal overlooking the port of Chania. A beautifully restored 15th-century dockyard, it is possibly the finest venue for a wine tasting in Greece. The 8th Oinotika was a well-organized, enlightening show. Large, airy room, cool temperature. A civilized flow of tasters that allowed wine scribes to do our business. Genuine engagement, good questions. Generous bonhomie and humour, encouraging the high amount of 30somethings attending. This was also an opportunity to meet the most obscure addresses, especially from the far-flung western reaches of this continent of an island.
On a west to east axis, highlights that stood out include:
Pnevmatikaki Kritopelagitis 2014 White: An intriguing blend of Vilana and Romeiko, with fruity earthiness.
Manousakis Mourvedre 2012: Perfumed, civilized, smooth tannins.
Dourakis Euphoria: A dessert wine from sun-dried Romeiko, orange wine minus all the funky stuff. Bergamot scented, silky.
Alexakis Athiri Dandelion: Textured, vineyard-driven minerality.
Maragakis 8th Art Vidiano 2014: One of the show’s brightest stars. White flowers bursting with pit stone fruit.
Douloufakis Dafnios Liatiko 2013 : Boldly scented, thought provoking.
Lyrarakis Mandilari 2012 Plakoura Vineyard: Spice, vinosity, class-leading ripe, tasty tannins.
Digenakis Marisini 2011 Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Liatiko. Clever blend where the terroir imprint dominates the (mostly) cosmopolitan grapes.
Diamantakis Vidiano-Assyrtiko 2014: Apricot fruit in a pungent, mineral cocktail.
Nikos Gavalas Fragospito 2014: Malvazia and Spinas Muscat organically farmed at 400 m. Sensual aromatics with a sense of place.
Stilianou Winery Kotsifali: Sun-dried-citrus-rind-infused nectar.
Idaia Gi 2010 Kotsifali-Mandilari: Brimming with old vine concentration.
Silva Daskalaki Enstikto 2010: Remarkable Syrah from 22 year-old vines from a high, well-draining plateau.
Strataridakis, the southernmost winery of Europe: A candidate for the finest Spinas Muscat on the isle. Focused, unusual depth, refined. Re-taste the dry one after daydreaming on the dessert version.
Beyond the show, getting around is another matter. Wine-tourism development is a no-go without a safe, modern road network. At best, roads date from the 1950s. Blind corners, potholes, destabilizing heaving, falling rocks. Simply dangerous. To paraphrase those famous lines from Zorba the Greek, the smashing film hit of the 1960s, ‘the complete catastrophy’. One has to adapt, slow down, escape from the main routes to Venetian-era built and restored villages, such as Kastelos. Or simply walk the numerous well-mapped gorges. Get lost in the maquis: home to marine fossils covered with rare herbs or miniature prinos oak. Watch rare birds on thermals readying the plunge attack. Climb, with guides, one of the island’s four majestic mountains, such as the Lefka Ori (2,400 m).
In discovering new to me addresses, I managed safely to do a nerve-wracking coast-to-coast run from Chania to Sitia. But I did not manage to run into a handful of addresses with faulty wines. Cellar hygiene issues, such as reductiveness or bret. These can be relatively easy to fix. There is also a break-away group which is over-delivering. Thanks to the rich diversity of their soil types, unique grape mix, altitude, north-facing vines cooled by the Aegean winds, the best of Crete are compelling wines. Much to report here.