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Greek winery tour: Papagiannakos (Attica)

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

Papagiannakos Winery (photo: E. Lebel/oenopole)

Located a 20-minute drive southeast of Athens International Airport, the Papagiannakos Winery sits on the northwestern edge of Porto Rafti in Markopoulo. Shoebox-shaped with a sloping roof and prominent girders that, in profile, look like a giant Π (pi, the first letter of the family name), the current structure was built in the mid-2000s. It is, in a word, gorgeous: clean and modern in design, integrated into the surroundings, eco-friendly and featuring extensive use of local materials, in particular stones. The equipment is state of the art, the compact barrel cellar houses Allier and Nevers oak casks. A glass wall under a large overhang faces south providing ample daylight while, on the north side, a row of clerestory windows runs above the tall stone wall ensuring good airflow and an escape route for warm air. At the far (west) end of the building are found, on the lower level, a large tasting room and, on the upper level, a beautiful, high-ceilinged event space with a sweeping view over the valley to the ridge separating the region from Athens, with the airport’s control tower just visible over the intervening hills. Carefully chosen artwork adorns the walls. In short, it’s a feel good place.

The Papagiannakos family has been growing grapes and making wine in Markopoulo since 1919. In the 1960s, the second generation upgraded the winery and improved the quality of its output. The current, third-generation owner-winemaker, Vassilis, took over in 1992, and almost immediately began the process of bringing the winery into the 21st century.

Vassilis in his barrel cellar (photo: E. Lebel/oenopole)It may be a conceit but I’ve often found winemakers to resemble the wines they make. In any case, it’s true for Vassilis: classy yet down-to-earth, generous yet reserved, rooted in the past yet forward-looking, attached to a place yet also aware of the world. Speaking about his wines, he rightly said “they don’t shout,” but he could equally have been talking about himself (or his winery’s handsome labels, for that matter).

Papagiannakos has several vineyards, some around the winery and others – including ones under contract – scattered throughout the environs. Though the soil varies from parcel to parcel, it is generally rocky and infertile over a limestone base. The area receives no rain to speak of from May or June through October, so the vines are grown in low bushes; rot isn’t a problem here, in contrast to, say, the Peleponnese, where grape vines are usually trained on wires. The dry, breezy conditions also mean there is no need for insecticides or fungicides. On the other hand, irrigation (drip to conserve water) is a necessity, especially for young vines.

Savatiano vines (photo: E. Lebel/oenopole)The winery has specialized in Savatiano since its founding. Actually, it was the only grape variety grown at the estate until Vassilis took the helm. He soon began playing with the newly resuscitated Malagousia variety and then red grapes. He also has several experimental plots, one of them Greco di Tufo, the first real vintage of which will be the 2016. “Italian grapes,” I exclaimed, unable to hide the surprise in my voice. With a shrug of the shoulders and a wry smile came the reply: “Well, as the name implies, it’s probably Greek.”

After a tour of the building, we gathered in the event room for a technical tasting with Vassilis and members of his family, including his children, affable, knowledgeable and articulate young adults who will eventually take the reins from their father. You’ll find my tasting notes after the jump.

For details about where we stayed, where and what we ate and what we saw, including some of Papagiannakos’s vineyards, see the Day One report on carswelliana.


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Written by carswell

November 6, 2016 at 16:19

Sweet Greek

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Attiki 2013, Melias, Domaine Papagiannakos
The third vintage of this wine. 100% Malagousia from dry-farmed vines rooted in limestone soil. The north-facing vineyard is located at an elevation of 100 metres in southeast Attica, not far from the Athens International Airport. An amount of must equivalent to 40% of the final wine is boiled down to concentrate it and the sugar it contains. Successive doses of fermenting unboiled must are then added. 13% ABV. Residual sugar is quoted as pushing 120 g/l. The elegant, svelte bottle holds 500 ml.
Golden to the eye. Beguiling nose redolent of green grape, peach/apricot and a touch of light honey. Sweet but not saccharine or cloying. The pineappley fruit tastes pure, fresh, uncooked. Bright acidity balances the sugar and lightens the unctuous texture. Long. A charmer with real presence. (Buy again? If only!)

I’m cheating a little here. It had been a long day and, as the wine tasted identical to the one tasted at the winery in early July, I decided just to sit back and enjoy it and not write a tasting note. Instead, I’m using the note I wrote in Greece, which will soon reappear on this blog as part of a series of reports on the trip. Our bottle was a gift from Vassilis Papagiannakos, and I wasn’t the only person around the table grateful to him for it.

MWG August 12th tasting: flight 8 of 8

Written by carswell

September 23, 2016 at 15:01

Two sweet meads

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Hydromel, Cuvée de la Diable, Ferme Apicole Desrochers ($19.95/375 ml, 10291008)
An off-dry mead made near Mont-Laurier in the Upper Laurentians from a selection of organic honey (spring, fall and buckwheat) and aged in oak casks for three years. The raw honey is mixed with water. The resulting honey water is decanted to eliminate impurities and transferred into stainless steel tanks for fermentation at ambient temperature for three to six weeks. Fermentation is stopped naturally by the alcohol and winter cold. The mead is then matured on the lees for six to 12 months before being transferred to oak casks for two and a half to five years’ aging. Selected casks are blended and bottled. Residual sugar: 80 g /l. 14% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV. The product is named after the nearby Diable River, la [rivière du] Diable in French (if it were named after the devil, it would be Cuvée du diable).
Complex nose of flowers, caramelized white fruit, honey, dusty beeswax, a touch of vanilla and more than a hint of cheese. Smooth, even buttery texture. Not particularly sweet. Possessed of a certain heft but far from heavy, thanks in no small part to the sustained acidity. Long finish with citrus and nougat notes. (Buy again? Sure.)

Hydromel, Or d’âge, Ferme Apicole Desrochers ($76.75, 12644145)
To make this sweet honey wine, the best barrels of the Cuvée de la Diable are given extended aging (between eight and 18 years) under a flor-like veil in oak casks that are not topped up. Unfiltered and unfined. Reducing sugar: > 60 g/l. 14% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Astoundingly complex nose of dried honey, spice (especially cinnamon), dried flowers, aged pine, faint nuts and more. In the mouth, it’s semi-sweet, spicy and ultra-refined, infinitely more layered than the Cuvée de la Diable, with great balance between extract and acidity. The complex flavours are dominated by caramel and dried pear. An intriguing bitter thread emerges on the mid-palate and wends its way through the long, dry finish. Unique, disorienting, fascinating and ultimately convincing. Excellent with blue cheese. (Buy again? Definitely.)

As usual at MWG tastings, the wines were served double-blind and it was interesting to see people’s reactions to this flight unlike any other. Within seconds of taking their first sniff of the Cuvée de la Diable, two of the more critical tasters declared it to be a mead and did so with a frown on their faces. Their initial reaction on tasting the wine was hardly more positive. Other tasters were less vocal, uncertain what to make of it. The grumbling died down as more time was spent with the mead and turned positive, even enthusiastic, as people moved on to the Or d’âge and tasted both meads with cheese. In the end, the consensus was that, while both were impressive, the Or d’âge was exceptional, a world-class if unusual product and the solution to the sticky problem of what made-in-Quebec gift to take when visiting out-of-province wine lovers.

MWG November 12th tasting: flight 6 of 6

Written by carswell

January 13, 2016 at 10:31

L’autour d’Anne Paillet

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Anne Paillet is married to Greg Leclerc. In 2010, she decided to abandon her corporate career and become a natural winemaker. Wanting to make wines different from Leclerc’s, she has leased 2.5 hectares of biodynamically farmed vines from Languedoc winemaker Christophe Beau (Domaine Beauthorey in the Pic Saint-Loup region). Harvesting is manual and the grapes are vinified naturally, in concrete tanks with no added anything, in the Languedoc. Wanting to make wines different from your everyday Languedocs, she transports the just-fermented juice to Leclerc’s cellars in the Loire for malolactic fermentation, maturation, blending and bottling with no fining, filtering or added sulphur.

Depending on the date on which the wine leaves the Languedoc, it is labelled Coteaux du Languedoc or Vin de France. To avoid red tape and confusion, Paillet is reportedly planning to opt exclusively for the Vin de France designation in future vintages.

Coteaux du Languedoc 2013, C.S.G., Autour de l’Anne ($27.71, private import, 12 bottles/case)
Syrah and Grenache with a little Cinsault thrown in. The 40- to 60-yar-old vines are rooted in limestone and red clay. The grapes are vinified separately in tanks, with alcoholic fermentation typically lasting 12 to 14 days. Maturation in concrete tanks lasts 12 months. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: Deux Caves.
Engaging nose of red and black fruit with hints of spice and faint burnt rubber. Medium-bodied, dry and savoury, with clean fruit and bright acidity. Fundamentally fluid and supple though not lacking tannic grit. The finish is long and minerally. As Loire-ish and it is Languedoc-ish, this is a wonderfully drinkable wine. What’s more, a few bottles remain available. (Buy again? Done!)

Coteaux du Languedoc 2013, Pot d’Anne, Autour de l’Anne ($55.47/1500 ml, private import, 6 bottles/case, NLA)
The cuvée’s name, which translates as “Anne’s pot,” is a homonym of peau d’âne (donkey skin). 100% Cinsault from 20-year-old vines grown on limestone and red clay. Half the grapes are destemmed, the other half left as whole clusters. Semi-carbonic maceration in concrete tanks lasts 12 days. Maturation in concrete tanks lasts 12 months. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Deux Caves.
Pretty, perfumy nose of red and black fruit, including berries, overtoned with flowers, sawed wood and spice. Barely medium-bodied. The lightly juicy fruit is fresh and fluid, structured by supple tannins. Finishes long and clean. So, so drinkable. (Buy again? Moot but yes.)

At the second tasting, someone asked why the wines were so Loire-like. Could the fact that they were fermented with native yeasts explain it? Probably not, as the wines didn’t leave the Languedoc until alcoholic fermentation was completed. On the other hand, malolactic fermentation took place in the Loire, so indigenous bacteria could be a factor (though wouldn’t the wines also bring some Languedoc microflora with them?). To my mind, Max Campbell’s theory that the difference is due to the cooler temperatures of the Loire cellars seems more realistic.

As mentioned earlier, both tastings were followed by a light meal of salads, charcuterie and cheese. As the tail ends of the Deux Caves bottles were insufficient to slake the collective thirst, a few other wines were uncorked (gratitude to all who supplied them). I stopped taking notes at that point but wanted to mention four in passing.

Damien Coquelet’s Beaujolais-Villages “Fou du Beaujo” has long been a Mo’ Wine Group favourite. At the second tasting, the 2012 ($22.43, private import, La QV/Insolite, NLA) and 2014 ($19.20, 12604080) were served side by side. The 2012 was a thing of beauty: vibrant, fruity, sappy, fluid, lip-smacking. The 2014 seemed a little harder and less smiling, though whether that’s a function of the vintage, the age, this particular bottle or the filtering and/or sulphuring possibly required by the SAQ is anybody’s guess.

The Valle del Maule 2014, Pipeño, Collection Rézin, Louis-Antoine Luyt ($18.15, 12511887) is a lovable, natural Chilean wine made entirely using purchased País grapes from organcially farmed vines about a century and a half old. (Luyt buys the grapes – at fair trade prices – from his pickers, one of whose photograph appears on the label.) Fragrant and fruity, ripe and juicy, light and fresh, with frisky acidity, very soft tannins, a disarming rusticity and a quaffability quotient that’s off the charts. I’ve drunk more of this wine than any other this year and it was interesting to hear others who were just discovering it planning to buy cases the next time it rolls around.

The 2001 Château Coutet is a classic Barsac that’s showing beautifully. Rich but not heavy (good acidity), sweet but not saccharine. The complex flavours and aromatics are dominated by stone fruit and botrytis. The finish lasts for minutes. A deluxe end to a most enjoyable evening.

MWG September 27th tastings: flight 3 of 3

Lastly, here’s a link to another, much less tardy report on the tasting – one from which some of the earlier-cited technical information about Xavier Marchais comes – that was posted on the Quebec-based wine discussion board Fou du vin by a new and welcome addition to the Mo’ Wine Group. Du beau travail, Raisin Breton !

MWG February 18th tasting: Impeccable and, more importantly, delicious

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Madeira, 10 years, Malmsey, Blandy’s ($50.00, 10896701)
100% Malmsey (aka Malvasia). The grapes were pressed and the must transferred to temperature-controlled (18-21°C) stainless steel tanks for fermentation with indigenous yeasts. After two days or so grape brandy was added, arresting fermentation and leaving a significant amount of residual sugar in the wine. The wine was then transferred to seasoned American oak barrels for 10 year’s ageing, during which period the barrels were gradually moved from the warmer top floors of the lodge to the cooler middle and ground floors. Meanwhile the wine was racked repeatedly. 3.6 g/l residual sugar. 19% ABV. Quebec agent: Les Sélections François Frechette.
Astoundingly complex bouquet of dates, dried fig, chocolate, candied nuts, old wood, leather and more, smelling deep and old yet also fresh. Unfurls across the palate: dense but not heavy, sweet but not saccharine. The texture is satiny despite the bright acidity. The mouth-filling flavours are as multifaceted as the aromas, with toffee, dried fruit and nuts dominating. Alcohol warms but doesn’t flame the long, long nougaty finish with its dried orange peel overtones. Impeccable and, more importantly, delicious. (Buy again? Yes.)

(Flight: 5/5)

Written by carswell

April 25, 2015 at 13:13

MWG January 8th tasting: A marriage made in heaven

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The tasting ended with a dessert wine, a Tokaji Aszú from Béres, the producer of the dry whites that so impressed us in the third flight.

As the aszú designation indicates, some of the grapes had been shrivelled and concentrated by Botrytis cinerea (aka noble rot). Assuming the Béres is made according to standard practice, the botrytized grapes are destemmed, stored for about a week and “then kneaded to a pulp which is added to a base Tokaji wine, or to must, by the puttony (a hod of twenty to twenty-five kilos). The eventual sweetness depends on the number of puttonyos added to the 136-140-litre barrels (called gönchi) of one-year-old base wine – usually 3, 4 and 5 puttonyos; 6 is exceptional,” quoting Hugh Johnson’s Wine Companion.

Tokaji Aszú 2007, 5 puttonyos, Béres ($53.45/500 ml, 12387791)
A blend of Hárslevelü and Furmint from vines between six and 32 years old. Manually harvested. Fermented with selected yeasts in Hungarian oak barrels for four weeks. Did not undergo malolactic fermentation. Matured off the lees in 220-litre Hungarian oak barrels for 24 months. Lightly filtered, then bottled and aged another 12 months before release. 9.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Valmonti.
Rich nose of apricot, honeycomb, orange marmalade and acacia blossom. On the texture spectrum, somewhere between satin and cream. It’s also very sweet. In fact, were it not for the racy acidity, the wine would be unctuous and cloying. Layered and complex but also clean and pure. Yellow apple and pear compote, peach and toffee are the dominant flavours; minerals are there if you dig for them. The finish lasts for minutes. Delicious now but still a baby (the producer claims this can age up to 50 years). (Buy again? Gladly.)

Like many Tokaji Aszús, this would make an exquisite pairing for foie gras. At the tasting, it was served with the clementine and almond syrup cake (sans chocolate icing) from Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s excellent Jerusalem cookbook. While I’d figured the pairing would work, it proved to do far more than that: not only did the wine and the cake make each other taste better, the effect was quite different depending on which you tasted first.

(Flight: 8/8)

Written by carswell

February 10, 2015 at 17:19

Bordel De Noël workshop (6/6)

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Alsace Gewürztraminer 2011, Rosenberg, Domaine Barmès Buecher ($32.25, 11655774)
100% Gewürztraminer from organically and biodynamically farmed vines grown in the Rosenberg vineyard. Manually harvested. Gently pressed. The must is allowed to settle and clarify for 12 hours, then fermented with indigenous yeasts and matured in stainless steel tanks. Lightly sulphured on first racking and at bottling. Lightly filtered at bottling. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
An echt Gewürz nose of lychee, honeysuckle and rose with white spice overtones. Off-dry, richly fruited and unctuous, saved from heaviness by just enough acidity. The long, clean finish shows none of the bitterness or heat often found in wines made from this grape. Probably best viewed as a dessert wine to pair with a not-too-sugary cake, mincemeat pastry or – be still, my beating heart – mirabelle plum and almond tart. Might also work with cheese, raw-milk Munster being a prime candidate. Too sweet to accompany most savoury dishes, I’d guess, though foie gras au torchon could be just the ticket. (Buy again? Sure.)

Written by carswell

January 18, 2015 at 12:10

A night in Villeray

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Fou du vin’s Chapitre de Villeray tasting group sometimes has a seat or two available for outsiders and I was lucky enough to snag one at their most recent event.

While there was reportedly some Pinon Vouvray sec floating around, for me the evening began with a glass of Givry 2010, Clos de la Servoisine, Domaine Joblot. The nose was textbook Côte Chalonnaise Chardonnay: lemon, apple, chalk, oats, a hint of butter and vanilla. Rich and mouth-filling but still fluid with a firm acidic backbone, tons of chalk, very pure fruit, well-integrated oak and a long clean finish. Tonic and delicious.

Glasses were shuffled as we moved on to the main event: a 12-bottle vertical of the Patrimoine line of Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil from Domaine Sébastien David (no website that I’ve found but the winemaker does have a blog). Turning 40 this year, David comes from a long line of Loire vignerons. His 15 hectares of Cabernet Franc vines were planted by his grandparents in the 1940s. The vines are farmed organically (the estate began converting to biodynamic farming in 2003) and the wine-making is fully natural. All the Patrimoine wines are made the same way: the whole clusters are crushed by foot, then macerated and fermented with indigenous yeasts in open wood vats for around 25 days. This is followed by a light pressing in a manually operated vertical press. After maturation in barrels for 24 months, the wines are bottled unfiltered, unfined and with minimal added sulphur. In the winery, the grapes and wine are transferred by gravity, not pumping.

One particularity of the Patrimoine line is that the label, bottle shape and name is different for each vintage: 1999 through 2004, 2005 through 2010.

All the wines were carafed several hours before the tasting. All are listed as 12.5% ABV except the 2007, which officially clocks in at 12%. You’ll find my notes after the jump.

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Written by carswell

May 26, 2014 at 19:48

oenopole workshop: picnic wines (4/4)

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Italians claim vin santo (aka vino santo) as their own invention. After all, they say, the name means holy wine. That no one can offer a convincing explanation of the wine’s holy connection is conveniently overlooked.

Greeks tell a different story. They claim the name is a contraction of vino di Santorini and that the style is basically copied from the Greek island’s legendary sweet wine that was first brought to the Italian peninsula by seafaring traders.

Despite the similarities – both wines are made from partially dried grapes, usually white – there are plenty of differences: different grape varieties, drying methods, maturation methods, ageing requirements and sweetness levels, with the Greek version almost always being quite sweet. The spelling of the name is also different: Italian vin santo, Greek vinsanto.

Vinsanto 1990, 20 years, Estate Argyros (NLA, though more may be on the way. When last sold at the SAQ, the price was $99 for a 500 ml bottle.)
A blend of Assyrtiko (80%), Aidani (10%) and Athiri (10%) from very old vines, some in excess of 150 years. The grapes are dried in the sun for 12 to 14 days, pressed, fermented with ambient yeasts and aged 15 years in old French oak barrels, two years in new French oak barrels and another three years in the bottle. 14% ABV.
Mahogany with orange glints. Complex nose of raisin, wet earth, nuts, orange zest, graphite and hints of vanilla and old wood. Though unctuous and sweet, not cloying due to the high acidity. The swirl of savoury fig, raisin and caramel flavours seems to last forever. There’s a category of wines with a special quality: you take a sip and time stops, the outside world disappears and, for a moment, only you and the wine exist. This falls into that select group. (Buy again? Would that I could.)
> A transporting delight with Hof Kelsten’s “Jewish biscotti,” a kind of mandelbrodt filled with walnuts and bitter chocolate and topped with a dollop of lemon-zested, sea-salted crème fraîche. The wine picked up the cookie’s walnuts and the cookie brought out the wine’s orange. Perfection.

Written by carswell

May 13, 2014 at 11:12

MWG April 17th tasting (3/6): Dry and not so dry

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Alto Adige 2012, Gewürztraminer, Kastelaz, Elena Walch ($40.25, 12142559)
100% Gewürztraminer from the steep Kastelaz vineyard, which has been devoted to the variety for generations. Manually harvested in two passes. The destemmed grapes are crushed, cold-macerated for six hours and pressed. The resulting juice is refrigerated and clarified by sedimentation. Fermentation, with selected yeasts, takes place at 18°C. The wine is kept on the lees for several months. 6.6 g/l residual sugar, 14.5% ABV.
Aromatic nose of rose and, yes, spice, not to mention juniper, orange blossom and a whiff of alcohol. Quite extracted but fresh and unheavy due to the bright acidity and relatively low residual sugar. The flavours echo the aromas and are joined by a hint of gin and tonic. Good depth and a lasting if heady finish. I’m not normally a fan of northern Italian Gewurzes but this is excellent, a wine that would make a good ringer in a flight of Alsatian grand crus. (Buy again? Yes.)

Alsace 2012, Gewürztraminer, Vignoble d’E, Domaine Ostertag ($31.75, 00870493)
100% organically and biodynamically farmed Gewürztraminer from several parcels located around the winery in the commune of Epfig (whence the Vignoble d’E moniker). As the wine is always made in a moelleux style, the grapes are picked late in the season. Manually harvested. Whole-cluster pressed and vinified in stainless steel tanks. Fermented with indigenous yeasts. 50 g/l residual sugar, 12% ABV.
Textbook Gewurz nose dominated by floral and lychee aromas. In the mouth, the wine is pristine, dense but still fluid, fruity but not too, quite sweet and rather long. Lovely in its slightly cloying but not caricatural way. (Buy again? If looking for a fruit-forward, luscious and definitely not dry Gewürztraminer, yes.)

After tasting the wines on their own, we tried them with a fine stinky Muenster from Yannick, which the Walch handled with aplomb and which redeemed the Ostertag.

Written by carswell

April 30, 2014 at 21:17