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Eaten Back to Life launch

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Mo’ Wine Group stalwart, Weinplatz commander, occasional blogger and débauché hors pair, Jonah Campbell has just published his second collection of essays, Eaten Back to Life.

Though food is the titular topic, drink almost could be. Indeed, the essays “On Natural Wine, Punk Rock and Too-Easy Analogies” and “On Bad Melons, Bullshit, and the Emergent Qualities of Wine” are among the highlights of – and longest pieces in – the book.

The launch is tomorrow, August 17, at Drawn & Quarterly bookstore, between 7 and 9 p.m., with an after-party to be held at Alexandraplatz. Charcuterie from Boucherie Lawrence and wines from oenopole and Ward & associés will be served at the former; the Weinplatz cellar will be raided at the latter.

(And, yep, that Schueller 2007 Alsace Riesling Grand Cru Pfersigberg was something else.)

Written by carswell

August 16, 2017 at 11:02

The Key to Greek Wines

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I’ve written an article for oenopole‘s new Boire vrai blog: The Key to Greek Wines.

 

Written by carswell

June 30, 2017 at 11:50

Posted in News, Wine travel

Tagged with ,

Greek winery tour: Mercouri (Elis)

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

In so many ways – historically, climatically, viticulturally, architecturally, culturally, even scenically – the Mercouri Estate stands apart from the other wineries we visited and quite possibly from all wineries in Greece.

Created in 1864 by merchant Theodoros Mercouri, the estate is one of the oldest in the country. Wine-growing began in 1870, when Refosco vines imported from northeast Italy, where Mercouri had trade ties, were planted. The resulting wine soon gained a reputation and was not only consumed locally but also exported on ships that docked at the estate. Such was its renown that the Refosco grape came to be called Mercoureiko in Elis (aka Ilia). New wine-making facilities were built in 1930. Production more or less ceased between World War II and 1985, when Vasilis and Christos Kanellakopoulos, the fourth generation of the family, began revitalizing the estate and its wines. These days, Vasilis’s two sons are taking the helm, Dimitris as the oenologist and Labis looking after the business and marketing side of things. To all appearances, the estate’s future is in good hands.

Set like an emerald on a small bay to the west of Korakochori, the estate enjoys a unique micro-climate. The Ionian Sea has a tempering effect and, as rain clouds in Greece tend to travel from west to east, the average annual precipitation and relative humidity are higher than in the rest of the Peloponnese, though paradoxically the summer and fall are drier than areas further east, a boon for grape health and harvest. The danger of frost is very low.

The mix of grape varieties grown in the 40 hectares of vineyards is as unparalleled as it is cosmopolitan, and includes the Greek Agiorgitiko, Assyrtiko, Avgoustiatis, Korinthiaki, Malvasia, Mavrodaphne, Rhoditis and Robola as well as the extra-Hellenic Mourvèdre, Negroamaro, Ribolla Gialla, Syrah and Viognier. The winery also reportedly has or has had experimental plots of Albariño, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Merlot, Sangiovese and Sauvignon Blanc.

Several of the buildings, including ones still in use, are little changed from when they were constructed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many are built from local stone. Several have steeply pitched tiled roofs. Parts of the winery have been preserved as if in amber, with the original furnishings, paintings and equipment intact. Walking through the front door is like stepping back in time, a feeling only increased by a visit to the estate’s small museum with its collection of old presses, tools and photographs, among other things.

While Greece is rightly seen as a meeting place between the western and eastern Mediterranean cultures, the estate feels closer to the west than the east, seems to have one foot in Greece and the other foot in Italy. Take the grape varieties, for example. Take the now abandoned owner’s mansion, which is depicted on the label of the estate’s flagship reds and wouldn’t be out of place in Brindisi or Bari. The Italian feel even extends to the park-like grounds. With its lush foliage, huge trees, expanses of lawn, gentle inclines and pristine shore, the landscape is uniquely pastoral and bucolic.

However present the past may be at Mercouri, the wine-making is resolutely modern, which is not surprising for an estate that has been crafting wines from local and foreign varieties for close to a century and a half. Even the wine labels seem to express this embrace of new and old; the flagship dry whites, Lampadias rosé and Antares red feature reproductions of colourful stylized or abstract paintings; the flagship reds’ labels are far more traditional; the newer reds’ labels live in both eras, with modern typography and an old photograph of young members of the family.  The kicker is that all the bottlings, whether old or new and especially the reds, are among the most elegant Greek wines I’ve tasted.

You’ll find my notes on all the Mercouri wines after the jump. For details about where we stayed and ate and what we ate and saw, see the Day Three report on carswelliana.

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

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by carswell

June 29, 2017 at 15:01

A global quartet of organic Pinot Noirs

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Patagonia 2015, Pinot Noir, Barda, Bodega Chacra ($29.65, 11517515)
Located in the Rio Negro region of northern Patagonia, the estate was founded by Piero Incisa della Rocchetta, the grandson of the creator of Sassacaia. All its vines are ungrafted and biodynamically farmed. 100% Pinot Noir from the estate’s youngest vines, planted in 1990. Low-temperature fermentation with indigenous yeasts took place in cement tanks. Matured 10 months in French oak barrels. Unfiltered. Reducing sugar: 2.0 g/l. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: Réserve et Sélection/Trialto.
Classic nose of red berries, spice and a hint of vanilla caramel. Fruit forward but medium-bodied and balanced, with bright acidity, light tannins and a raw youthful astringency on the strong finish. Not what you’d call deep but easy enough to drink and something of a crowd-pleaser. (Buy again? If in the mood for a civilized New World Pinot, sure.)

Niagara Peninsula 2012, Pinot Noir, Réserve du Domaine, Domaine Queylus ($47.25, 12456494)
The estate is owned by a consortium of Quebecers (including Champlain Charest) and managed by Thomas Bachelder, who also serves as head winemaker. 100% organically farmed Pinot Noir from the Twenty Mile Bench and Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellations. The grapes were picked by hand, sorted and destemmed but not crushed. A short cold maceration was followed by fermentation with indigenous yeasts. The fermented wine stayed on its skins for several days, then was pressed. Matured 16 to 20 months in French old barrels, a third of which were new. 5,300 bottles made. Reducing sugar: 1.8 g/l. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: Vins Philippe Dandurand.
Smoke and sweat then sandalwood with fruit and oak in the background. The palate is a suave mix of rich fruit, moderate tannins, sleek acidity and a minerally/tarry depth. Unfortunately, the oak becomes obvious on the finish, masking the beautiful fruit and robbing the wine of refreshment. While another year or two in the bottle may rectify that, for now I prefer the 2014 Tradition bottling ($31.00, 13276137), even without taking the Réserve’s somewhat wacky QPR into account. (Buy again? Maybe.)

Willamette Valley 2014, Pinot Noir, Red Cap, Montinore Estate ($29.50, 13186609)
100% biodynamically farmed Pinot Noir from various vineyards. At least some of the manually harvested grapes were given a cold soak. Fermented with indigenous yeasts. Spent ten months in French and Hungarian oak barrels, around 20% of which new. Reducing sugar: 3.4 g/l. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Cranberry, black raspberry, spice and sawed wood. Medium-bodied. The texture is more velvety than silky, the fruit pure, the oak in the background. Round tannins frame while sleek acidity nips on the long finish. Not particularly deep but, hey, it’s under $30. Several in the group bought earlier vintages of this when it was a private import; opened last year, a 2011, like this a bit rustic in its youth, had evolved into a silky Pinot Noir with definite Burgundian qualities. (Buy again? Yes.)

Bourgogne 2015, Garance, Domaine Montanet-Thoden ($34.75, private import, 12 bottles/case)
The eight-hectare estate was founded in 1990 by Catherine Montanet (of Domaine de la Cadette) and Tom Thoden. The original vineyards were part of Cadette’s holdings that had a higher proportion of clay and thus produced distinctive wines. Cadette’s oenologist and Catherine’s son, Valentin, now makes the wines. 100% Pinot Noir from a organically farmed two-hectare plot of vines between 20 and 25 years old. Manually harvested. Whole-cluster fermentation with indigenous yeasts takes place in temperature-controlled wood vats, initially with punch-downs and later with pump-overs. After about two weeks, the wine is pressed and transferred to large barrels until fermentation is finished. Matured in used 228-litre barriques (80%) and 114-litre feuillettes (20%). Unfined. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Initially shy nose of red fruit and papier d’Arménie. Becomes more expressive with time in the glass, gaining red berry, leafmould, cola and spice notes. In the mouth, it’s medium-bodied, fluid and very dry. The tart red fruit is underlain with minerals, balanced by lithe tannins and lifting acidity. A faint, spicy bitterness lingers. Remarkably pure, this wine pushes all the Burgundy lover’s buttons, so it’s not surprising that local restaurateurs quickly snapped up the entire shipment. Accessible now but probably singing in one or two years. (Buy again? If only I could…)

MWG May 18th tasting: flight 6 of 6

Pairing Melon with Burgs

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Vin de France 2015, Melon, Domaine de la Cadette ($28.80, private import, 12 bottles/case)
100% Melon de Bourgogne (aka Muscadet) from organically farmed 25- to 30-year-old vines in the Bourgogne-Vézeley appellation (despite its name, the grape isn’t one of Burgundy’s permitted varieties, which explains the VDF designation). Manually harvested. Whole-cluster pressed. Fermented with indigenous yeasts, matured six months in stainless steel tanks and bottled unfined with only a tiny shot of sulphur dioxide. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Lemon, chalk and the faintest hint of grass. Wonderfully clean, round and fresh. Fruitier than your average Muscadet. Less crystalline too, though with the grape’s trademark mineral substrate. Soft acidity gives it a glow. Straightforward, long and pure. “I like the lingering sourness,” notes one taster. Me too. (Buy again? Oh, yes.)

Bourgogne-Vézelay 2015, La Châtelaine, Domaine de la Cadette ($29.35, 11094621)
100% Chardonnay from organically farmed 25-year-old vines rooted in clay and limestone. Manually harvested. Gently pressed. Fermented with indigenous yeasts and matured 14 months on the fine lees. Lightly filtered. Sees only stainless steel until bottlng. Reducing sugar: 2.7 g/l. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Lemon, oats, quartz, white flowers – typical, wot? Clean and fresh but less overtly fruity than the Melon. More minerally though. The stuffing and bright acidity are well balanced, the finish long and clean. Even at this early point, one of the best vintages of this wine I’ve tasted, with the potential to improve over the short and medium term. (Buy again? Yes.)

Bourgogne-Vézelay 2015, La Piècette, Domaine de la Cadette ($31.25, 11589691)
100% Chardonnay from organically farmed 20- to 30-year-old vines in several parcels. The hand-picked whole clusters are gently pressed. The must is transferred to 228-litre barrels (called pièces) for six months’ alcoholic and malolactic fermentation (no added yeasts or bacteria). Matured 11 months on the lees. Lightly filtered. Reducing sugar: 2.3 g/l. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Initially reticent nose of butter and faint vanilla, opening to lemon and quartzy chalk. Rich but not happy. There’s bright acidity, entwined minerals and oak, a certain depth and, disconcertingly, a “weird sweetish taste” that lasts through the long finish and makes the wine taste not so much off as unsettled. A taster notes that a recently opened six-year-old bottle was “amazing,” supporting the impression that the 2015 is a wine that will benefit enormously from a few years in the cellar. (Buy again? A bottle or two to lay down.)

MWG May 18th tasting: flight 2 of 6

Written by carswell

June 16, 2017 at 13:25

Two Dolcettos and a zinger

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Dogliani 2014, Valdibà, San Fereolo ($24.10, 12647709)
100% Dolcetto from organically and biodynamically farmed vines averaging 15 to 35 years old. The grapes are picked by hand, destemmed and crushed. Maceration and alcoholic fermentation with indigenous yeasts last around eight days and are not temperature-controlled beyond preventing the must from exceeding 29°C. The wine is then racked into clean tanks for malolactic fermentation, followed by four months’ maturation on the fine lees. Lastly, the wine is “clarified,” bottled and aged another six to 12 months before release. Sees only stainless steel until bottling. Reducing sugar: 2.0 g/l. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Outgoing nose of mulberry, smoke, mineral, “ashtray” and dried rose. In the mouth, it’s supple, pure and caressing, with soft tannins, bright acidity, sweet-tart fruit and an underlay of earthy slate. A floral note overtones the long finish. An admirable effort from a difficult (read cool and wet) vintage. Probably not a keeper but a winner here and now. (Buy again? Yes.)

Dogliani 2015, Briccolero, Chionetti Quinto ($25.55, 12131112)
For background on the estate, which is converting to organic farming, see here. 100% Dolcetto from vines averaging around 45 years old. Manually harvested. Destemmed. Soft-pressed. Maceration on the skins and fermentation with indigenous yeasts in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks (29-30°C) last around two weeks. Matured around 11 months in stainless steel tanks. Cold-stabilized but not filtered before bottling. Reducing sugar: 2.5 g/l. 14% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Powerful, youthful nose of mulberry, blackberry, plum and not much else (complexity will come with time). A sip reveals an extracted wine that remains fluid despite its richness. Dark fruit and slatey minerals cloak firm, raspy tannins. Sleek acidity adds welcome brightness, the long drying finish an appetizing bitterness. Achieves a fine balance between fruit and structure, finesse and power. Enjoyable now but will benefit from time in the bottle. (Buy again? Yes, especially to cellar for a decade or more.)

Langhe Nebbiolo 2011, Il Provinciale, San Fereolo ($40.50, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Nebbiolo from organically and biodynamically farmed vines planted in the commune of Dogliani. The grapes are picked by hand, destemmed and crushed. Maceration and alcoholic fermentation with indigenous yeasts last around three weeks and take place in wooden vats. The fermentation temperature is not controlled. The wine is racked into large Slavonian oak barrels, where it matures on its lees with regular stirrings and undergoes spontaneous malolactic fermentation. Unfiltered and unfined. 14% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Spice, thyme and “baloney” segue into red berries, floral aromatics and a hint of tar. On the fuller side of medium-bodied, the texture somewhere between silk and satin. Notable for its beautiful surface (such pure fruit), considerable depth (flavours, minerals and wood) and elegant structure (firm yet flexible tannins, bright yet integrated acidity). One taster declares it a little too heady but I don’t find the alcohol intrusive. Indeed, this seems like a model for what Nebbiolo can achieve outside of Barolo and Barbaresco. (Buy again? Def.)

Crossed wires meant the 2009 San Fereolo Dogliani I thought I’d ordered ended up being the 2011 Provinciale. Not a problem. For most tasters, it was the wine of the flight if not the night. Actually, a small riot nearly ensued when it was learned that the wine was sold out and that four bottles from our case were all that was available for purchase.

MWG April 6th tasting: flight 4 of 7

Written by carswell

April 26, 2017 at 12:49

Greek winery tour: Tselepos (Arcadia)

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

One of the leaders of the Greek wine renaissance and the modern day king of the ancient Moscofilero variety, Yiannis Tselepos is a phenomenon. A Cypriot by birth, he studied oenology at the Université de Bourgogne in Dijon and, after graduating, spent a couple of years working at several Burgundy estates. He then moved to Arcadia in the eastern Peloponnese, where he found employment as a consulting oenologist, married a local girl, Amelia, and with her founded the eponymous winery. The Tseleposes currently own two estates and have an interest in a third.

Located in Rizes, central Arcadia, Ktima Tselepos is the larger and older of the two estates, dating back to 1999. It sits on a plateau on the eastern flank of Mount Parnon. While the main buildings are surrounded by 30 hectares of vineyards, the estate’s holdings actually total some 240 hectares. The soil here tends to shale and rocky clay and the average elevation is 750 metres, helping ensure the all-important wide difference in day and night temperatures. The handsome winery is built in the traditional local architectural style; less flashy and touristy than some, it feels like a facility whose main vocation is wine production. Although around two-thirds of its output is devoted to Moscofiliero, the estate makes a wide range of wines, from sparklers to still dry reds and whites to sweet wines, from international as well as local grape varieties. With a total annual production of 350,000 bottles, half of which is exported, this is no small operation.

In 2003, Tselepos acquired a second property, Ktima Driopi, an 8.5-hecatre plot of 50-year-old vines rooted in steep clay soil in Kousti, near Nemea, about an hour’s drive to the north-northwest. The estate specializes in Agiorgitiko, another ancient indigenous variety. A small winery has since been built to handle the estate’s output. The estate’s striking labels, as classy as its wines, feature a dormant tree in silhouette.

Tselepos’s latest project is a joint venture with the Chryssou family on Santorini. The Chryssous provide the grapes (from 12 hectares of ungrafted 50- to 100-year-old vines in Pyrgos and Emporio) while Yannis provides the wine-making expertise. Dubbed Canava Chryssou Tselepos Santorini, the estate currently produces around 12,000 bottles a year of a single wine, a 100% Assyrtiko.

At all three estates, the viticultural practices are enlightened without being full-bore organic. In Arcadia, the vines are trained on wires, a virtual necessity in the region’s humid climate. On arid, wind-blasted, sun-stroked Santorini, the vines are coaxed into nest-like spirals that lie close to the ground, the better to protect the fruit and preserve precious water. Irrespective of the estate, the grapes are manually harvested in the cool of the early morning and transported to the winery in small crates. Though the facilities are outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment, Yiannis views technology as limited to a supporting role. “Good technology makes for good wine, but only the right vineyard will yield a great wine,” he says.

One aspect of this balancing act between technology and terroir was the focus of an interesting exchange during our technical tasting. A member of our party, a professional sommelier with an impressively acute palate, wondered why Tselepos used selected instead of indigenous yeasts since, he felt, the former scalp and compress wines. Yiannis countered with “I have 17 families besides my own who depend on the winery’s success. I’m not going to put their livelihoods at risk.”

I can see both sides of the argument. Obviously, indigenous yeasts – the yeasts native to a place – are a factor in terroir. And many other winemakers have shown that fine wines can reliably be made using them. So it seems a little paradoxical that the winery, which proudly describes its central wine-making philosophy as “to grow Greek varieties within their specific native ecosystem” and which, as the following notes show, does indeed make terroir-expressive wines, doesn’t go all the way down the terroir path.

Then again, Yiannis is clearly more than just a winemaker. He’s also a successful businessman, a player in the local community and a standard bearer for the wines of his region and country. His Moschofileros and Agiorgitikos are widely viewed as models for what the grapes can achieve. His Mantinias have almost single-handedly put that appellation on the map. One of the reasons this has happened is the wines’ consistency. Why, then, tinker with a winning formula? Why introduce another variable into the process? Why do anything that could undermine the livings of so many and the reputations of a business and a region?

More than just a winemaker? Yes. But still a winemaker at heart, as the following story shows. At one point, Yiannis told us how he came to chose oenopole to represent his wines in Quebec. One day this Greek-Canadian showed up, introduced himself as Theo Diamantis and explained that he was setting up an agency dedicated to selling “real,” terroir-driven wines with a high drinkability quotient, wines made not by industrial producers but by vignerons. Which was why he wanted Tselepos in the portfolio. “It was the first time anybody called me a vigneron,” Yiannis beamed, “and it was all I needed to know. I was ready right then to sign on the dotted line.”

You’ll find my notes on all the day two wines after the jump. For details about where we stayed and ate and what we ate and saw, including some of Tselepos’s vineyards, see the Day Two report on carswelliana.

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

Read the rest of this entry »