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Greek winery tour: Tetramythos (Achaea)

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[Hover over pics to display captions and credits; click to embiggen.]

The first two days of our mini-tour of the Peloponnese took us east to the hot valley floors and cool forested mountains of Arcadia and west to the rolling, Ionian Sea-breezed plain of Elis. The last day was devoted to Achaea, the rugged terrain of the peninsula’s north central coast, and to one of Greece’s most forward-thinking yet underappreciated wineries: Tetramythos.

The Tetramythos estate is located near the village of Ano Diakopto, by car about nine kilometres south of the beachside town of Pounta Trapeza on the Gulf of Corinth. About nine kilometres south and one kilometre up, that is, for the village, the winery and all its vineyards are perched on the side of a ridge that is part of the massive Aroania range, which includes the peninsula’s third-highest peak, the 2,355-metre (7,726-foot) Mount Aroania. In fact, if you continue up the road, you’ll soon arrive at one of Greece’s biggest ski resorts.

Tetramythos was founded by brothers Aristides and Stathios Spanos, both locals. After dabbling in farming, they decided to focus on wine-growing. In 1999, they connected with another local, oenologist Panagiotis Papagiannopoulos, and produced their first bottles of wine. In the years that followed, they planted new vineyards, expanding the estate to its current 14 hectares, and constructed the winery buildings, which consist of two handsome stone and stucco structures: a large shoebox-shaped winery and a more visitor-focused building that houses a reception area, a boutique cum (small) wine museum and a banquet/conference room. The windows and decks of the last offer panoramic views of the valley all the way down to the gulf.

The nearby vineyards are located at elevations ranging from around 500 metres to more than 1,000 metres. (Coming from a plot at 1,000 metres, the Sauvignon Blanc may be some of the highest grown anywhere.) The soil is mostly limestone and some of the vines are 80 years old. Most are bush-trained, though a few plots are planted in rows and trained on wires. Roditis, a local pink-skinned grape, is the main white variety, while another local grape, Mavro Kalavrytino, is used for the estate’s flagship red (the town of Kalavryta is another 25 km by car further down, well, up the highway from Ano Diakopto). The other Greek varieties are Malagousia, Muscat Mikrorago, Agiorgitiko and Mavrodaphne. Constituting about 15% of the vineyard, the international varieties (Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) came with the estate and are not Panagiotis’s favourites but “you work with what you’re given,” he says.

In midsummer, the vineyards – some in terraces, others following the lay of the land – are patches of green in an otherwise tawny landscape. Once covered in pine forests, the mountainsides are now mostly bare, the result of a huge wildfire that raged through the area in July 2007. Among much other damage, the roof of the winery caught fire and the building burned down. Oddly, due to the leaves’ high moisture content, the vineyards didn’t so much burn as act as a buffer. Tetramythos made their 2007s at nearby wineries. The winery building was reconstructed in less than a year and the 2008s were made on site.

Farming at Tetramythos is organic, which is surprisingly rare in Greece and here is surely facilitated by the climate: dry and sunny during the growing season, with maritime and mountain breezes providing good air circulation and the altitude increasing the day-night temperature spread crucial to maintaining good acidity.

The wine-making facilities are centred around a large, high-ceilinged vat room lined on two and a half sides with tall stainless steel tanks and a wooden vat. A recumbent cylindrical press sits slightly off centre and a bottling line, with a glass wall onto the vat room, is off to one side. Underground are found a barrel cellar, a bottle-ageing cellar and a private tasting room.

Like the estate, the wines seem both modern and timeless. The wine-making is mostly non-interventionist. With one exception (the Roditis Orange Nature PDO Patras Reserve), all the grapes are destemmed. Only free-run juice is used for the wines, which are usually fermented with the natural yeasts found on the grapes and in the winery environment; very occasionally – and then only to restart a stopped natural fermentation – are the musts inoculated with selected yeasts.

Though we tasted only one of them, “natural,” no-added-sulphur versions of many of their wines are now being made. Unfortunately, none of them is available in Quebec. Fortunately, that is about to change: the 2018 Muscat Sec Nature, Roditis Nature, Roditis Orange Nature and Retsina Amphora Nature as well as the 2018 Retsina and 2016 Sauvignon Blanc “Miliá” are slated to appear on the SAQ’s shelves soon (you heard it here first, folks).

Annual production currently hovers around 200,000 bottles. Considerably more than half is exported, with Quebec being a major market and alone buying more than three-quarters of the regular Roditis bottling.

Before going over, I’d wondered about the winery’s name. “Four myths” maybe? But if so, which? None actually. Tetramythos is the name of a local wild pear tree with small, bitter fruit. “Only my grandmother would eat it and only when it was so ripe it started turning mouldy,” Panagiotis explained. The Spanos brothers don’t speak English, so our ability to converse with them was limited (yet another reason to learn Greek!). Panagiotis, however, is fluent, and interacting with him was a highlight of the trip. Grounded yet a bit cosmic, he is soft-spoken and reserved, not florid, but also focused and frank, radiating integrity and inner-strength.

Why do I say Tetramythos is underappreciated? Well, here we have a groundbreaking organic, increasingly natural estate making characterful, terroir-driven and super-drinkable high-QPR wines mostly from native grapes. And, yet, for much of the world, the winery remains one of Greece’s best-kept secrets. Luckily, due to the wines’ quality, authenticity and affordability and to the legwork of oenopole’s sales team, Quebec is one of the few places where it isn’t. We should count our blessings.

You’ll find my tasting notes on all the Tetramythos wines we tasted after the jump. For details about where we stayed, where and what we ate and what we saw, including the Tetramythos vineyards, see the Day Four report on carswelliana.

INTRODUCTION
PAPAGIANNAKOS (ATTICA)
TSELEPOS (ARCADIA)
MERCOURI (ELIS)
♦ TETRAMYTHOS (ACHAEA)
THYMIOPOULOS (MACEDONIA)
ARGYROS (SANTORINI)

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Stone fruit

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Of the rising stars of the Greek wine world, Apostolo Thymiopoulos is at or near the top. Still quite young (he just turned 40), he hails from Naoussa in Macedonia, about an hour’s drive west of Thessaloniki. From grapes he grows biodynamically there, he makes several wines that have become big hits in Quebec: the exquisite Rosé de Xinomavro, the ultra-popular, ultra-drinkable Jeunes vignes de Xinomavro, the classy Naoussa and his flagship Terre et ciel (aka Earth and Sky in anglophone countries). If that weren’t enough, he’s also been expanding into new areas, including the entry-level ATMA line and two or three (depending on the vintage) high-end Assyrtikos from Santorini made in collaboration with the Chryssou family of grape growers and sold mainly to well-heeled vacationers at Aegean luxury resorts (he got his feet wet on the island several years ago by helping the Hatzidakis family when winemaker Haridimos was indisposed and also assisted with the 2017 vintage following Haridimos’s untimely death). His latest project revolves around a recently acquired old-vine vineyard in Rapsani, in Thessaly, on the slopes of Mount Olympus, 120 km south of his Naoussa base. Only one wine, a red, is made. This 2015 is the first vintage and it’s a beaut.

Rapsani 2015, Terra Petra, Domaine Thymiopoulos ($31.00, 13509199)
A blend of Xinomavro (40%), Krassato (30%) and Stavroto (30%) from organically dry farmed vines between 15 and 50 years old and grown in one of the highest altitude vineyards in the appellation. The vineyard’s schist and granite subsoil is covered with rolled stones while most of the vines are bush-trained, giving the vineyard a very Châteauneuf-du-Pape-like appearance. Fermented with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel tanks and matured in large, neutral oak tonneaux for 24 months. Unfiltered and unfined. Added sulphur is kept to a minimum. Comes in an elegant if heavy bottle with a soft wax capsule. Reducing sugar: 3.6 g/l. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Intensely aromatic nose of sweet red and black fruit, sandalwood and inky minerals. In the mouth, it’s medium-bodied and fluid. As befits a warm vintage, the fruit has a solar character but is in no way jammy or bomby, helped no doubt by the enlivening acidity and finely etched tannins. The fleshy mid-palate reveals a unique and beautiful complex of flavours, including plum, red berries, black fig, herbs (oregano? marjoram?), dark minerals, sweet spice, a dusting of black pepper and hints of olive, tomato and leather. There’s good depth for a young wine and the potential for more to develop. A thread of bitterness unspools through the long, dry finish. Such balance and refinement as well as a quality that has me reaching for “purity” or maybe “clarity” as descriptors. While the wine is drinking beautifully now, it will surely integrate and open over the next five or more years (the 2018 cohort of the Greek winery tour returned raving about a 10-year-old bottle of the Rosé de Xinomavro paired with kid stuffed with its entrails and rice and slow-roasted, so chances are good that this wine will hold up for a decade or two). Substantial enough to accompany grilled or stewed lamb, the acidity cutting knife-like through the fat, but also light enough to go with white meats like veal or rabbit braised with tomato. A world-class wine, maybe my favourite of Apostolo’s reds and undoubtedly one of the best Greek reds I’ve drunk. (Buy again? Done!)

This has been in the system only since the very end of August but it’s disappearing fast. If you’re interested and especially if you’re located in Montreal, don’t dawdle. And keep an eye peeled for the 2016: early reports are that the cooler vintage produced a wine that is, if anything, even finer than the 2015.

Written by carswell

September 17, 2018 at 14:18

Nebbiolo purissimo

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Founded in the 1940s, Scarzello Giorgio et Filigo is a low-profile Barolo estate with a mere 5.5 hectares of vines, nearly half of which are in Sarmassa between the better-known Cannubi and Cerequio vineyards. Founder Giorgio replanted the Scarzello vineyards in the late 1990s. After completing his studies at the Scuola Enologica in Alba and the University of Turin, son Federico took the reins in 2001 and immediately began making improvements, all while remaining in the traditionalist camp. Four wines are made: a Langhe Nebbiolo, a Barbera d’Alba and two Barolos. The wines are released when Federico feels they’re ready, which is often later than his peers.

Langhe Nebbiolo 2015, Scarzello ($29.90, 13679403)
100% Nebbiolo from vines averaging 10 to 15 years old in the calcareous and clayey soil of a 0.5 ha plot in the Sarmassa vineyard. Manually harvested. Macerated about two weeks. Fermented with indigenous yeasts. Matured 12 months in 250-litre Slavonian oak botti (some but not many new, I’d guess) and another 12 months in the bottle. Reducing sugar: 1.5 g/l. 14% ABV. Quebec agent: Agence du Château.
Appealing nose – red fruit (plum?), herbs and a touch of sandalwood spice – tending more to the floral end of the rose-tar spectrum. In the mouth, the wine is full-bodied but medium weight and very dry. The ripe, even juicy fruit has unmistakable cherry overtones and is deepened and darkened by earthy minerals. The texture is silky until the mid-palate, when the tannins kick in, turning it raw silky. The acidity is freshening and seamlessly integrated, bright but not sharp. The alcohol is felt more as power than heat. Finishes long and aromatic, with a light though marked astringency that will surely soften with a year or two in the bottle. Which is not to say the wine isn’t drinking well now, especially at table. A pure expression of Nebbiolo, richer and more structured than Produttori di Barbaresco’s benchmark bottling (the difference between a “Barolo” Langhe and a “Barbaresco” Langhe?), justifying the higher price. (Buy again? Absolutely.)

The SAQ has also just released the estate’s 2012 Barolo del Commune di Barolo ($65.00, 13679391). Based on the quality of the Langhe Nebbiolo, I’d say it’s worth a shot. Both wines are available in limited quantities: most stores stocking them received only 12 bottles of each. If you’re interested (and you should be), act fast.

And finally a side note: As you may have noticed, things have been quiet around here for a while. Faced with a crushing workload, not having the time or energy to devote the 10 to 20 hours a week required to organize twice-monthly tastings and group orders and deeply feeling the need to take a break from most thing vinous, I’ve put the Mo’ Wine Group on hold for a few months. So, while I’ve not abandoned Brett happens, posts will be infrequent, probably until the fall. Enjoy the summer!

Written by carswell

July 7, 2018 at 14:37

Posted in Tasting notes

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Orange line

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The Mo’ Wine Group have been fans of Radikon’s “blue label” orange wines since discovering the Oslavje when it was a private import. All three wines are now carried by the SAQ, albeit in minute and fast-disappearing quantities. This year, though the 2010s were released on different dates, all three were on the monopoly’s shelves for a few days in late February or early March, giving us our first opportunity to taste them side by side.

The wine-making is the same for all three cuvées. The manually harvested grapes are destemmed, then placed in neutral Slavonian oak vats (no temperature control) for maceration and fermentation with indigenous yeasts and manual punch-downs three or four times a day. When alcoholic fermentation is complete, the vats are topped up and closed until the wine has been in contact with the skins for two to three months. The grapes are then gently pressed and the wine is racked into neutral 25- to 35-hectolitre Slavonian oak barrels for about 40 months’ maturation, with further racking performed as needed. The wines are bottled unfiltered, unfined and with no added sulphur and aged another six months in bottle before release.

The bottles are 500 ml because the late Stanko Radkion felt that is the ideal amount of wine for one person to drink by himself or for two people to share, assuming they’ll also share a 500 ml bottle of red. Convinced that using a standard cork would allow too high a rate of oxygen exchange, he designed his bottles to have smaller bore necks and long, narrow corks. Long corks usually indicate that a wine is age-worthy and, in fact, the ageing potential of these wines is not in doubt: opened last year, a bottle of the 2002 seemed at or near peak and likely to remain so for another 10 years.

Venezia Giulia 2010, Jakot, Radikon ($44.25/500 ml, 13571312)
100% Friulano (formerly known as Tocai Friulano, as referenced by the cuvée’s name, which is Tokaj – the Hungarian spelling – spelled backwards) from organically farmed vines. 13.75% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Lovely, wafting nose that elicits several unexpected fruit descriptors, including “preserved plum,” freeze-dried strawberries and “peach Melba.” Swirling and time bring out savoury aromas, including yellow spice (turmeric, saffron), beeswax and old wood, and a hint of oxidation. Quite substantial on the palate. Zingy acidity pushes the fruit into citrus territory (kumquat, maybe?), while light tannins dance across the palate. Mineral and savoury threads intertwine with the fruit and last well into the long finish. A dense yet cutting wine with great focus: intense and exciting now but sublime in 10 years. (Buy again? Def.)

Venezia Giulia 2010, Oslavje, Radikon ($44.25/500 ml, 13571283)
A blend of Chardonnay (40%), Sauvignon Blanc (30%) and Pinot Grigio (30%) from organically farmed vines. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Complex, engaging nose of honey, “cedar,” “anisette,” pear compote, sultanas and a jasmine-like floral note. In the mouth, it’s rich and smooth, verging on opulent, despite the underlying acidity and tannic rasp. The flavours are less fruity, more savoury than those of its flightmates, with old wood and minerals providing ballast. Spice, dried fruit, an almond note and a faint bitterness linger. Approachable if a bit monolithic, this will benefit enormously from extended cellaring. (Buy again? Def.)

Venezia Giulia 2010, Ribolla Gialla, Radikon ($44.25/500 ml, 13555953)
100% Ribolla Gialla from organically farmed vines. 13.75% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
At this stage, the most complex bouquet of the three: dried clementine, floor wax, straw and cedar, among other things. Dense, somewhat waxy texture. Subtle tannins provide grain, piercing acidity freshness. A surprising creamy streak marks it out from its companions. Spice and minerals linger. Breadth and length it has in spades; greater depth and complexity will come with time. Astoundingly pure and savoury and nowhere near its prime. (Buy again? Def.)

MWG March 9th tasting: flight 5 of 5

Written by carswell

May 13, 2018 at 11:17

Spain 2, Australia 1

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Didn’t set out to do a Vintrinsec-only flight but that’s how it ended up. Is the agency cornering the Mencia market in Quebec?

McLaren Vale 2016, Mencia, The Anthropocene Epoch, D’Arenberg ($29.90, 13491136)
Australian Mencia. Who knew? Apparently, this is the first vintage of the wine. 100% Mencia. The grapes are hand-picked and vinified on a parcel-by-parcel basis. The grapes are gently crushed and placed in fermentation vats. About two-thirds of the way through fermentation (with selected yeasts), the grapes are foot-trod, then basket-pressed and transferred to old French oak barrels for nine months. Reducing sugar: 2.7 g/l. 14% ABV. Screwcapped. Quebec agent: Vintrinsec.
Outgoing nose of plum skin, berries, slate, herbs, black pepper, beef fat and clay. Full-bodied but not galumphing, dense with ripe fruit but not a bomb. Clean and dry, with soft tannins, freshening acidity and a flavour not that far from cherry cola. Good finish that gains wood notes as the wine warms and breathes. A shade less minerally than the other wines in the flight but respectable nonetheless. (Buy again? When looking for a crowd-pleaser to pour at a classy backyard barbecue, sure.)

Bierzo 2014, Gus, Raúl Pérez ($26.10, 13354457)
Rockstar winemaker Pérez named an earlier entry-level cuvée Dargo, after a pet dog. This cuvée is named after one of his cats. 100% Mencia from organically farmed 70-year-old vines. Matured 12 months in neutral French oak barrels. Reducing sugar: 1.6 g/l. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: Vintrinsec.
Red and black licorice, slate and a touch of volatile acidity lending a vinyl note (a second bottle opened a few days later was pristine). A medium-bodied, fluid mouthful of juicy fruit (black raspberry, mainly) and dark minerals. Alive with acidity and firmed by smooth tannins. Credible energy and depth. Faint vanilla and char notes emerge on the finish. Not quite the equal of the long-ago Lalama but about as good a Mencia as you’ll find for the price. (Buy again? Yes.)

Ribeira Sacra 2016, Joven, Mencia, Adegas Guímaro ($21.00, 12752533)
Mencia (90% with five percent each of Caiño Tinto and Sousón, all from organically farmed vines in various parcels with soils ranging from granite to slate and sand. Manually harvested. The lots are fermented separately by soild type. About three-quarters of the harvest is destemmed; the remainder is left in whole clusters. Cold-macerated six days. Fermented 20-30 days with indigenous yeasts, half in tanks and half in foudres. Matured six months in tanks on the lees. Unfiltered. Cold-stabilized. Fined with egg whites. Added sulphur is kept to a minimum. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Vintrinsec.
Bretty nose of tomato paste, red and black berries and slate. Medium-bodied. fruit-forward and fleet, due in no small part to the bright acidity. The juicy fruit is undertoned with minerals and overtoned with herbs. Light tannins provide an appealing rasp. Finishes long and clean on a spicy note. Nothing profound but honest, drinkable and affordable. (Buy again? Sure.)

MWG March 9th tasting: flight 4 of 5

Written by carswell

May 9, 2018 at 11:25

Dão duo

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Dão 2014, Quinta da Ponte Pedrinha ($18.14, 11895321)
Everyone seems to agree this contains Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo) and Jaen (aka Mencia); some add Touriga Nacional and Alfrocheiro to the mix. The manually harvested grapes are given extended maceration. Fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. Reducing sugar: 2.4 g/l. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: Bergeron-les-vins.
Plum, blackberry, slate and a whiff of dried herbs. Medium-bodied and quite dry, the ripe fruit notwithstanding. Bright acidity, wiry tannins and a mineral substrate provide freshness, structure and a modicum of depth. Overtones of leather and tobacco push the long finish into savoury territory. An earthy yet balanced wine and something of a bargain. Chill it down to 16-18°C before drinking. (Buy again? Yep.)

Dão 2011, Reserva, Quinta da Ponte Pedrinha ($25.45, 00883645)
Jaen (40%), Touriga Nacional (30%) and Alfrocheiro (30%) from old vines. Manually harvested. Macerated and fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. Half of the wine is matured for 12 months in French oak demi-muids (600 litres), half in stainless steel tanks. Reducing sugar: 2.4 g/l. 14% ABV. Quebec agent: Bergeron-les-vins.
Deeper, riper and a bit jammier on the nose. Swirling brings out savoury notes of tobacco, dried herbs and spice. Heading toward full-bodied. Rich, dark fruit and sweet, spicy oak are the dominant flavours. A minerally substrate lends an earthy depth. While the acidity is smooth, the tannins are anything but. An ashy note marks the long finish. Accessible but still quite primary. Needs another five to 10 years for the oak to integrate, the tannins to relax and the layers to develop. (Buy again? Sure.)

MWG March 9th tasting: flight 3 of 5

Written by carswell

April 14, 2018 at 09:32

Rebholz range

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Pfalz 2016, Riesling, Trocken, Ökonomierat Rebholz ($26.65, 12690707)
100% Riesling from organically farmed 20-year-old vines rooted in sandstone. Manually harvested. Macerated 24 hours on the skins. Clarified through sedimentation. Fermented (with selected yeasts) for two weeks and matured for six months in stainless steel tanks. Malolactic fermentation was prevented. Filtered but not fined. Screwcapped. Residual sugar: 3.1 g/l. 11% ABV. Quebec agent: Valmonti.
Granite dust, faint lemon and apple, distant straw, “canned mandarins” and a note described as “floral” by one taster and “jasmine” by another. Pitched somewhere between light- and medium-bodied. Slight fizzy at first. Clean and quite dry, with bright acidity, a dusting of minerals and lots of lemon. More linear than deep but mouth-filling. Sour apple and a touch of salt linger. Not dancing though that may well change as the wine matures. Accessible now but surely better in a year or three. (Buy again? Sure.)

Pfalz 2015, Riesling, Trocken, Vom Rotliegenden, Ökonomierat Rebholz ($42.50, 12353196)
100% Riesling from 25-year-old organically farmed vines rooted in red slate. Manually harvested. Macerated 24 hours on the skins. Clarified through sedimentation. Fermentation with selected yeasts lasted four weeks. Matured six months in stainless steel tanks. Malolactic fermentation was prevented. Filtered but not fined. Residual sugar: 1.3 g/l. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Valmonti.
Gorgeous nose of apple, lemon-lime, spring meadow and a hint of almond. Not quite as gorgeous in the mouth, at least for now, though hardly without appeal. Medium-bodied and smooth-textured with bright but integrated acidity. Minerals provide a backdrop to the fruit, which tends to citrus and apple and has fresh herb harmonics. The depth and length are admirable. Finishes with a faintly salty tang. Give it at least a couple of years in the cellar and you’re in for a treat. (Buy again? Yes.)

Pfalz 2015, Riesling, Großes Gewächs, Kastanienbusch, Ökonomierat Rebholz ($99.25, 13350704)
The estate’s top wine. Großes Gewächs (“great growth”) is an unofficial designation for top-level dry wines from selected sites that is increasingly used in the Mosel by the members of the Bernkasteler Ring and elsewhere (except the Rheingau) by the members of the VDP growers’ association. This 100% Riesling comes from 50-year-old organically and biodynamically farmed vines in the Kastanienbusch vineyard (the name refers to chestnut trees that grow nearby). The soil consists of loose deposits of granite, slate and melaphyre with a high iron content giving it a dark red colour. The manually harvested grapes were destemmed and then macerated on the skins for 24 hours. The must was clarified through settling. Fermentation (with selected yeasts) and maturation in stainless steel tanks lasted about seven months. Malolactic fermentation was prevented. Filtered but not fined. Bottled in May 2017. Residual sugar: 4.8 g/l. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Valmonti.
Closed yet super complex nose, an inexhaustible mine of minerals veined with citrus, stone fruit, apple, flowers and grassy herbs. In the mouth, it has it all, including great purity and an exquisite mineral-fruit balance. The acidity is very present, very tense but also unedgy. Flavours include apple, white peach and mineral water. The dazzling finish lasts forever. Such delicacy and yet such cut, precision and focus. Five to ten years in a cool, dark place will do it a world of good. Expensive, yes, but perfection has a price. (Buy again? If you’ve got the bucks, absolutely.)

In case you’re wondering, Ökonomierat is a German title of honour conferred upon individuals and organizations in recognition of their outstanding service to agriculture.

MWG March 9th tasting: flight 2 of 5

Written by carswell

April 11, 2018 at 13:47