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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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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

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

Austro-Hungarian fizz

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Somló 2017, Foam, Meinklang ($23.75, private import, 12 bottles/case)
An unclarified ancestral method sparkler, meaning the wine is still on its lees and a bit hazy as a result. Blend of Hárslevelü (60%) and Juhfark (40%) from biodynamically farmed 35- to 60-year-old vines grown at Meinklang’s estate at the base of the long-extinct Somló volcano in western Hungary. Spontaneous first fermentation in stainless steel tanks. No temperature control, fining, filtering or added sulphur. Crown-capped. Residual sugar: 4 g/l. 10.5% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Complex, savoury nose of lemon, wax, lees and hints of brett and sweat. Fine bubbles. Cidery, minerally, tart and longish in the mouth. The flavours are hazier than – not as precise as – the Prosa’s, not that there’s anything wrong with that. This fresh and fun sparkler reminds me of some of the natural Proseccos we’ve tried and seems purpose-built for a summer day. The winery’s suggested food pairings of leek and goat cheese quiche and smoked eel sound right on target. (Buy again? Yep.)

Österreich 2017, Prosa, Meinklang ($23.75, private import, 6 bottles/case)
Another ancestral method sparkler, but this time 100% Pinot Noir from biodynamically farmed wines grown in Meinklang’s east Austrian estate. Spontaneous first fermentation in stainless steel tanks. Unfined but filtered. Residual sugar: 14 g/l. 10.5% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Minerally nose of crushed cherries and more than a slight hint of boudoir. Fine bubbles. Clean, fresh and bright in the mouth. There’s a touch of residual sugar (a bit more than in earlier vintages, if memory serves) though it’s in no way cloying and may be attributable to our bottle being a little warm. “Strawberry-rhubarb,” including the rhubarb’s acidic tang and streak of green, dominate the mid-palate. An almond note lingers. If you like Bugey-Cerdon, you’ll probably like this. Works as a summer sipper, an aperitif and as an accompaniment to not-too-sweet strawberry desserts (berries on vanilla ice cream drizzled with basil syrup? hmm.). (Buy again? Sure.)

MWG March 9th tasting: flight 1 of 5

Coup de Fouet

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Vin de France, P.M.G., Pétillant naturel, Domaine Fouet ($21.65, 13497802)
The family-run estate is located in Saint-Cyr-en-Bourg in the heart of the Saumur-Champigny region. It began officially converting to organic farming in 2017. The P.M.G. stands for “pour ma gueule” (for my mouth/gullet). A 100% Chenin Blanc ancestral method sparkler fermented with indigenous yeasts. No dosage. The wine’s clarity makes me wonder whether it wasn’t disgorged. Reducing sugar: 2.6 g/l. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Benedictus.
Delicious nose of pear and quince, white blossom and whiffs of white spice, limestone and lees. Less remarkable in the mouth. The bubbles are delicate and not profuse. The extract gives the wine a certain roundness that softens the pronounced acidity. The fruit takes on a citrus and maybe malic edge. Follow-through is fair but there and the wine did gain breadth and depth as it breathed, the last glass being better than the undeniably drinkable first. Clean-cut, dry and refreshing though not particularly complex. Probably best thought of as an aperitif, raw bar or maybe even sushi wine. Niggling aside, the price is hard to beat; to get something significantly better at the SAQ, you’ll need to fork over another $6 or $7. And while there are more engaging and entertaining pét-nats around, you won’t find them at the beloved monopoly. (Buy again? Sure.)

Written by carswell

April 8, 2018 at 14:16

Grand Cru

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Written and directed by MWG member David Eng, Grand Cru is a documentary film whose subject is winemaker Pascal Marchand.

Pascal Marchand, an aspiring poet from Montreal, arrived in the mythical land of Burgundy to work the harvest at age 21. Enchanted by the region, he settled there and embarked on an unlikely path to winemaking stardom. Now over 30 years later, he is renowned as an artist and innovator, finding his inspiration in the ancient techniques of the Cistercian monks who meticulously studied and refined Burgundy’s winemaking in the middle ages. Shot over his most difficult year ever, the catastrophic 2016 season which saw devastating frosts, hailstorms and disease in the vineyards, the film is both a love letter and a cautionary tale, as winemakers like Pascal must face the unpredictable and destructive consequences of climate change.

Grand Cru begins its Montreal theatrical run at Cinéma Beaubien this Friday, April 6, at 12:35 p.m., 5:15 p.m., and 7:15 p.m. David and Katarina Soukup, the film’s producer, will be present for a Q&A session after the 7:15 screening. The run continues through Wednesday, April 11, with screenings every day at 12:35 p.m., 5:45 p.m. and 9:25 p.m.

The film will also be shown at Cinéma Le Clap in Quebec City on April 6 (9:45 a.m. and 6 p.m.) as well as on April 21 and May 4 and 21. Further screenings are slated for Newport Beach (April 30 and May 3) and Toronto (May 11), the last with David and Katarina leading another Q&A (see the Grand Cru website for details).

In March, I attended an advance screening at the ITHQ. Besides the pleasure of meeting Pascal and watching the worthwhile film, we were provided with glasses of three wines from the Marchand-Tawse portfolio. You’ll find notes on them and a comment or two from Pascal after the jump.

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Written by carswell

April 5, 2018 at 11:56

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