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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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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

Unique, authentic, treasurable

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Dolceacqua is a commune and village in western Liguria, just inland from the Mediterranean and touching the border with France. It is also a DOC for red wines made from the Rossese grape. The DOC’s annual production averages a mere 1,500 hectolitres.

Founded in 1961, Testalonga is widely considered the top estate in Dolceacqua. Its owner-winemaker is Antonio Perrino, now in his 70s and preparing for retirement (his niece Erica has begun assisting him and will eventually take over). The estate’s holdings total around one hectare of vines in small terraced plots on steep hillsides, like all the best vineyards in the appellation. Testalonga’s overlook the sea and are located a half hour’s drive from town. The vines average 35-45 years in age though some are as old as 100. Two varieties are grown: Vermentino and Rossese. The farming is organic (uncertified) and the vineyards are worked manually. Harvesting is manual, too.

The wine-making takes place in a converted garage in the centre of town. The wine-making equipment is pretty much limited to a vertical press and a couple of old large barrels. All fermentations are spontaneous. No temperature control is used. With total annual production typically being seven 600-litre barrels (five red, two white), Testalonga qualifies as a micro-producer. Antonio says he makes wines like his father made them and there’s no denying that have a rare timeless quality.

Vino da Tavola 2016, Bianco, Testalonga ($43.12, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Vermentino. Macerated on the skins for five days. Matured in 600-litre old oak barrels. Unfined and probably unfiltered. 14% ABV. Total production: less than 1,000 bottles. Quebec agent: Deux Caves.
More deep yellow than “orange” in the glass. Somewhat closed yet intriguing nose dominated by dried citrus and whiffs of alcohol. Suave and spicy in the mouth. Tending to full-bodied. The savoury fruit is overtoned with dried herbs, deepened by minerals, tensed with acidity. Ghostly tannins confer a lightly gritty texture, most noticeable on the mid-palate and long, saline finish. Involving and rewarding. (Buy again? Def.)

Rossese di Dolceacqua 2016, Testalonga ($51.74, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Rossese di Dolceacqua (aka Tibouren), nearly all of which comes from the Arcagna vineyard, considered one of the best in the appellation. Made using the whole clusters. Matured in 600-litre old oak barrels. Unfiltered and unfined. Total production: around 2,000 bottles. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: Deux Caves.
Dusty cherry with notes of dried flowers and iron shavings. Medium-bodied. Dry and savoury, with rich fruit, a dusting of black pepper, light but pervasive acidity and rustic tannins in the background. While there’s plenty of breadth and a certain depth and length, this seems more about flavour and texture. Not a knockout, then, but unique, authentic and teasurable. Reportedly ages well. Probably shows best with food; a Ligurian rabbit stew sounds like just the ticket. (Buy again? Yes.)

MWG February 22nd tasting: flight 5 of 5

Garage music

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Vermont 2016, House Music, La Garagista ($42.25, private import, 6 bottles/case)
An ancestral method red sparkler made from a field blend of Marquette, Saint Croix, La Crescent, Frontenac Gris, Frontenac Blanc, and Frontenac Noir. Co-fermented with indigenous yeasts. Unfiltered and unfined. No added sulphur. 11.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Les Vins Dame-Jeanne.
Protean nose of red berries (and “blueberry pie” per one taster), earth, “good canola,” shoe cream and a not unattractive whiff of barnyard. Lightly fizzy and dry, smooth and fleet. The fruit is sweet-tart, the acidity bright, the slender tannins relegated to the background. A slatey vein extends into the lip-smacking finish. Fresh, juicy and well-neigh irresistible. (Buy again? Def.)

Vermont 2015, Damejeanne, La Garagista ($42.54, private import, 6 bottles/case)
Damejeannes are better known in English as demijohns or carboys, the glass vessels most of La Garagista’s wines are fermented and sometimes matured in. This is a blend of Marquette (90%) and La Crescent (10%). Fermented on the skins with indigenous yeasts, matured one year. Unfiltered and unfined. No added sulphur. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Les Vins Dame-Jeanne.
Wild red berries including cranberry, earthy notes of slate and beet, spice, an evanescent touch of volatile acidity and an orange-almond note reminiscent of the Vinu Jancu. Denser and rounder than its flightmate, a mouthful of sweet and sour-edged fruit that has me thinking of pomegranates, cherries and red plums, among other things. A mineral base provides foundation for a structure of lightly raspy acid and supple if sinewy tannins tannins. Long, clean, tart finish. (Buy again? Yep.)

Whatever else the assembled tasters thought about the La Garagista wines, everyone agreed they had an energy and a vibrancy – a closeness to the fruit and terroir – that are rare for any wine, let alone ones made from hybrid grapes grown in a harsh climate. The buzz around the table in the tasting room and the Vins Dame-Jeanne booth at the Salon des Quilles was palpable. People, myself included, were stoked about the wines themselves but also about realizing that truly exciting wines unlike any others can be made in our part of the world. Quebec vintners should take note.

Mo’ Wine Group November 23rd tasting: flight 5 of 6

Orange zeal

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Vermont 2015, Vinu Jancu, La Garagista ($45.76, private import, 6 bottles/case)
Vinu Jancu means “orange wine” in a Sicilian dialect. 100% La Crescent. Spontaneously fermented on the skins in glass demijohns. Overwintered on the lees. Unfiltered and unfined. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Les Vins Dame-Jeanne.

Hazy bronze-orange. Effusive nose: floral, choco-orange, wax, tamarind, cinnamon, hints of caraway, “grappa” and honeycomb. Almost too intense on the attack, “like strong chestnut honey,” but mild-mannered more nuanced on the mid-palate. Fruity, even muscaty (the grape’s Muscat of Hamburg parentage comes through) but dry, with smooth acidity and faint tannins. Focus and you’ll find a mineral vein running throughout. The finish – “really pithy,” “like clementine pith” – lasts for minutes. Fascinating. Like nothing else I’ve encountered, orange or otherwise. (Buy again? A bottle to revisit and contemplate.)

Mo’ Wine Group November 23rd tasting: flight 4 of 6

Brianna split

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Located near the Killington ski resort, on the slopes of Mount Hunger in Barnard, Vermont, and run by Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber, La Garagista Farm + Winery traces its roots back to 1999, when the couple began farming to provide produce for Osteria Pane e Salute, their restaurant in nearby Woodstock. (The osteria closed in 2017 when the cooking operations were moved to Hart Tavernetta Forestiera + Bar à Vin on the winery grounds.) The estate also has two vineyards at the western edge of the state, overlooking Lake Champlain.

Experimental plantings aside, cold-hardy hybrids – crosses between vinifera grapes and native American species – are the only varieties grown: La Crescent, Marquette, Frontenac Gris, Frontenac Blanc, Frontenac, Brianna and St. Croix. When I asked Caleb if they winter-proofed the vines (for example, by burying them), he said no. When I asked whether that was a problem during the harsh cold spells we’ve had in recent winters, he said, “quite the opposite.” The vines had no trouble coping with the cold but the same couldn’t be said about insect and other pests, so the vines thrived the following summers.

Commercial wine- and cider-making is relatively new at the estate, the first vintage being the 2010. From the start, all farming has been organic and biodynamic. The fruit is picked by hand and crushed by foot. Fermentations are spontaneous, relying solely on indigenous yeasts and bacteria. Fermentation and maturation take place in glass demijohns and old barrels, though amphorae and cement eggs are on the couple’s wish list. Filtering and fining are avoided. Sulphur additions, if any, are minimal.

Production is tiny – only a few thousand bottles a year – though plans are to ramp that up to 10,000 or even 20,000. In Montreal, the latest arrival sold out in a flash and personal allocations were limited to a bottle or two, if that, of a given cuvée. Here, then, your best bet for trying La Garagista wines is to visit a wine bar or restaurant that focuses on natural wines. Alternatively, head south, where bottles can sometimes be found on store shelves and restaurant wine lists in Vermont, Boston and New York City.

Vermont 2016, Pétillant Naturel, Ci Confonde, La Garagista ($42.25, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Brianna. An ancestral method sparkler. Not disgorged. No added sulphur. 11% ABV. Quebec agent: Les Vins Dame-Jeanne.
No head to speak of but a few lazy streams of tiny bubbles. Complex nose with notes of ham, lees, Belgian beer yeast, apple, lemon, white spice and “apricot buckwheat pastry.” Somewhat mead-like in the mouth. Very dry, with lightly souring acidity and a real mineral component. Flavours? Beeswax, drying hay and “passion fruit,” as one taster notes, though it’s by no means a fruity wine. Which isn’t to say it lacks intensity, especially as it breathes and warms. The effervescence mostly disappears by the time the finish rolls around. Chamomile and a hint of honey linger. (Buy again? Gladly, though not without wishing it were $10 cheaper.)

Vermont 2016, Loup d’Or, La Garagista ($42.25, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Brianna. Made in glass demijohns. 11.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Les Vins Dame-Jeanne.
The first glasses poured were clear pale yellow-green; due to the deposit, the last glasses were translucent beige verging on opaque tan. For that reason if no other, this is a wine to carafe before serving. And as my sludgy glass was that last one poured, I didn’t spend a lot of time being analytical about it. A complex nose once again: white grape skin, distant stone fruit, spice chest, flowers and a note one taster not disapprovingly describes as “tennis ball.” Fortunately, a neighbour lets me take a couple of sips from his glass, the first one poured. They reveal a textured white with plenty of extract to balance the fine-edged acidity, savoury fruit and mineral flavours set against a leesy backdrop and a satisfying finish. On the whole, an even more accomplished wine than the Ci Confonde and one I look forward to re-encountering in a more pristine state. (Buy again? Ditto, but such is the law of supply and demand.)

Mo’ Wine Group November 23rd tasting: flight 3 of 6

Nativi di Lazio

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Based in Cori, founded in 1947 and named after Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, Cincinnato is a well-run cooperative that makes a wide range of red, white, sparkling and dessert wines from local varieties as well as grappa and olive oil. The 255 members farm 550 hectares, 100 of which are worked organically.

Lazio 2014, Cesanese, Arcatura, Cincinnato ($21.70, 13096689)
100% Cesanese from vines rooted in volcanic-clay soil. The manually harvested grapes are destemmed and soft-pressed. Fermentation on the skins in temperature-controlled (24°C) tanks lasted around 11 days. Underwent malolactic fermentation. Half was matured in French oak barrels (first, second and third fill) for eight months and half in stainless steel tanks for nine months. Filtered before bottling. Aged in the bottle for six months before release. Reducing sugar: 4.8 g/l. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Valmonti.
The first bottle is corked. The backup has an intriguing nose of “buckwheat honey,” cocoa, sweet spices, background plum, “copper, like pennies” and, eventually, leafmould. In the mouth, it’s fluid, medium-bodied and super smooth. The ripe fruit, soft acidity and round tannins. Decent finish. A little overshadowed by its flightmate, though that could be due to its being popped and poured. (Buy again? Sure.)

Lazio 2013, Nero Buono, Ercole, Cincinnato ($23.25, 12557754)
100% Nero Buono, a teinturier (red-fleshed) grape, from 15- to 20-year-old vines rooted in volcanic-clay soil. The manually harvested grapes were destemmed and soft-pressed. Fermentation on the skins in temperature-controlled (23°C) stainless steel tanks lasted around 15 days. Underwent malolactic fermentation. Matured in French oak barrels (first, second and third fill) on the lees for 12 months and in the bottle for eight months. Filtered before bottling. Reducing sugar: 4.8 g/l. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Valmonti.
Not carafed but allowed to breath for a couple of hours before serving. Dark – verging on black – in the glass. Extroverted nose of dark berries, “dried banana,” “old leather,” tobacco, “baking spices” and a hint of orange chocolate. Richer than the Cesanese. The intense core of fruit is overtoned with spice. Smooth acidity and velvety tannins are pretty sotto voce yet present enough to provide buoyancy and tone. The oak is obvious but not obnoxious. Orange chocolate returns on the credible finish. A bit New Worldish and far from deep, complex or subtle but authentic and likeable all the same. (Buy again? Yes.)

MWG October 26th tasting: flight 4 of 6

Written by carswell

December 22, 2017 at 15:02