A light hearted insight into wine with no agenda other than to sniff out wine stories which capture the imagination… follow The Nose…

01/05/2019

Innovation in an ancient land.

Greece is a hot bed of intriguing native varieties and a generation of new winemakers who are pushing the boundaries to create some delicious and unusual wines.

It’s spring, but still chilly and I’m longing for blue skies and warm sunshine so we’re off to North West Greece where Apostolos Thymiopoulos (above) makes eye catching reds in the village of Trilofos in Nauossa. 

Xinomavro maybe unfamiliar, but in profile is strangely reminiscent of both Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo. They share floral aromatics, a slim texture, fresh acidity and the capacity of fine texture, albeit Nebbiolo and Xinomavro lean to the austere. Xinomavro nods to Nebbiolo’s savoury, rather than fruity, flavour profile, while all three have a special translucency to the terroir. And this Greek turf is worth a close look. 

The Nose was particularly struck by two of Apostolos’s wine. ‘Alta’ from a vineyard at 500-600m grown on a schist and gravel soils and Kayaks, from a much lower site at 180m, and planted on clay soil. The wines have a clear sense of place.

Naoussa Alta 2016

Pale colour, floral fragrance and fine talcy texture. Delicate and light. This is un-oaked, pure, energetic and mineral. You taste the freshness of the higher location.

Naoussa Kayafas 2016

This comes from a single vineyard, where the vines are un-grafted. Gamey, full and rich. Flesh, power and substance. Clearly a child of the clay. 

Apostolos racks it up a notch with a wine poetically called ‘Earth and Sky’ made from older vines growing in lower and upper sites. This is more compact, layered and dense. He’s using barriques. I find it a touch oaky at the moment, but it will mellow and he is planning a move to larger format foudres… which seems a good idea.

Greece has a plethora of intriguing grape varieties so now for a blend.

Rapsani Terre Petra

Xinomavro, Krassato and Stavroto – this sounds more like a trio of crusty old blokes sharing a bottle of ouzo in the village bar than three grape varieties. They are cultivated organically in an 11 hectare vineyard (above) to make a wine which has a firm mineral intensity and vigour.   

And for rosé as we’re not far off summer, Apoltolos Thymiopoulos’s steps up with…

Rosé de Xinomavro 2017

Floral, rose petal aromatics waft from the glass of this silky textured rosé which is fresh and has a light tannic bite. 

Santorini

Time for white and we’re moving to the gorgeous island of Santorini where there are two white grapes varieties of note, the indigenous Aidani and Assyrtiko. 

Aidani could be just your thing if you favour an overtly perfumed white, along the lines of a less potent Gewurztramminer or a super spicy Pinot Gris, but The Nose finds Assyritiko much more to her liking.  

Assyrtiko has become synonymous with Santorini. It has the advantage of retaining fresh acidity on this sun baked island, moreover it’s a good conduit of the terroir. After all,, if there is no sense of place, you’re just left with just a varietal wine.

Assyrtiko has sufficient personality to make it interesting while it’s not so assertive it dominates. It’s slightly floral and really quite citrus, often with a touch of spice. All the wine I tasted has a slightly salty character. This may well come from the soil… a certain sense of minerality drawn from roots delving deep into the volcanic soil or from the salt laden night air which settles in a damp blanket on the soil, ‘watering’ the vines and contributing a certain ‘seasoning’ to the wine they produce. Frankly I have no idea which, but either way, the Nose was enjoying the results. You sense the heat of the island and while the wine can be pretty rich, it is not heavy and it ages rather well.

The Nose was fortunate to delve into a flight of mature vintages from the winery of Hatzidakis. Assyrtiko will age for ten years or so. We tasted back to 2009. This revealed the wine slimming down becoming more salty, less fruity and gaining in interest. 

Haridimos Hatzidakis (above) really pioneered Assyrtiko on Santorini. He recognised its potential as a single varietal wine and where he led other followed. At the beginning – in 1996 – he replanted a small vineyard in the village of Pyrgos Kallistis. It had been abandoned after a large earthquake in Santorini in the Fifties. He began with Aidani, to which he added Assyrtiko and Xinomavro. The vines are cultivated organically on their own rootstock. The pesky phylloxera never discovered this holiday paradise… so vines here need not be grafted onto American rootstock. 

They have other challenges – strong winds and fierce sun. To protect them, the vines are curled like small baskets near the ground. Sadly Haridimos passed away in 2017, but his daughter is now running the estate. 

It’s a young, girl power team for the winemaker is twenty something Stella Papadimitriou. They are doing a great job and have launched a new wine called Skitali.

Hatzidakis Skitali  2016

This comes from a high altitude vineyard, which ripens and is picked later. It’s kept for a year on lees in stainless steel tanks and this comes across in certain rich nuttiness. It is fresh and fruity with lemony notes, quite a full body and a salty finish. 

*Hatzidakis Skitali Barrel 2018

In magnums only. This is more reserved. It is dense and quite powerful. The oak ageing works well to support the palate and it has power, intensity and layering. 

*Hatzidakis “Santorini Cuvée 15” 2917

This is organic. It is kept in stainless steel for 6 month on lees and is notably aromatic. This vineyard seems to bring out the spicy side of the grape, but is underscored with firm minerality and a good balancing acidity. Appealing ripe citrus generosity and richness. 

Hatzidakis Nykteri 2016

This is the highest altitude vineyard. Last to be picked. I believe there may be dried grapes here too and this would account for the alcohol – a heady 14.7. This is more traditional. It is kept in old oak, but the barrels are not topped, so it has a more oxidative style which works a treat with the salty character, enhancing it. While it is not as ‘fresh’ as the previous wines and has a lower impression of acidity, it has more obvious minerality. It is a big wine though. Beware.

Hatzidakis Vinsanto 2004

This is made from sun dried Aidani and Assyrtiko and is barrel aged.

Half bottles only. With a whopping 350g of residual sugar, this is strictly for those with a sweet tooth. Deep coffee colour. It’s much fruitier than I expected with dried pears and a touch of prune. It is spicy and aromatic and surprisingly fresh to boot. Just delicious.   

Stockists

Eclectic Wines: [email protected]

Rose de Xinomavro 2017 £14.50

Naoussa Alta 2016 £16.60

Naoussa Kayafas 2016 £18.20

Rapsani Terre Petra £25.70

08/04/2019

Wild One

The nose was all aquiver at a tasting of Hungarian wines. I had read about the female  grape variety Kéknyelü (Blue Stem) and was dying to try it. If you’ve followed this blog you will have read about the single sex wild vines in the south of France. These vines need luck, a good breeze or a helping hand to pollinate, and as such few have survived into commercial production. They simply died out or remain in tiny pockets growing wild in forests… but in Hungary, in Badacsony a 420m hill of basalt on the north shore of Lake Balaton, a heterogeneous variety has clung on. There are just 100 acres left. 

There has been winemaking here since Roman times and it’s not impossible that the wine was made from this variety. The terroir contributes significantly to the style of this wine – in other words this is not just a simple ‘varietal’ wine. The terroir originated with a volcano eruption under the sea a few mill years ago, which formed a hill of basalt as the sea receded. It’s rock, hard to work and sloped. The microclimate here is a combination of the direct sunshine, the heat from the basalt rock which absorbs the sun’s rays during the day and releases warmth at night and the reflection from Lake Balaton, the largest lake in central Europe.   

In the communist era production was all important and Kéknyelü all but disappeared. Not only was the terrain difficult to farm – those soviet tractors were not designed for such vineyards, but the vine itself was capricious. The variety existed in small vineyards, small holdings, in people’s gardens. It was replaced by allotments growing fruit and veg staples and as tourism took hold, more vines were replaced by holiday villas. It’s a wonder it has survived at all. 

But thank goodness it has. If the wine was just so-so, the story would be an interesting tale of survival, but as the wine is pretty damn good, the story is a triumph. Kéknyelü is a variety that reveals the terroir in its austere minerality. It ages very well indeed. The English Nose was suitably impressed by this intriguing Hungarian wine. 

Huba Szeremley founder of the Winemaster Guild of Hungary re-started his family’s winery in Badascony. The wines I tasted from this domaine were exciting.  

Szermeley, Kéknyelü 2006

The aroma is nutty with an edge of parmesan and a hint of kerosene. It is intense and arresting in a good way. The palate is quite rich with some viscosity and generosity. It is not heavy at all, but is powerful and dense. A compact wine. It is savoury rather than fruity with notes of wild flower honey. Cutting through this is the acidity – a sauvage acidity. The finish is assured.  

Szermeley, Kéknyelü 2000

Floral up-toned aroma. The palate is pure and citrus with a wafting note of lime flowers. It is a straighter and slimed down, trimer version than the 2006… less robustly youthful and more elegantly mature. Very fresh. The acidity gives it a verve and it has a firm stony, savoury finish. This wine is lovely now, but promises to continue to mature gracefully for a few years yet. 

Stockist

Hungarian Food and Wine. Contact Audrey [email protected]

01/03/2019

Disenchanted with mass market Prosecco? Rekindle the flame with Il Follo.

The global economic downturn has resulted in an upward lift in the sales of Prosecco adding a notable sparkle to this market. In the UK, where we unashamedly lapped up Champagne, now we quaff increasing volumes of Prosecco. 

I recall a time when Prosecco was slightly sniffed at, but when times are uncertain, it has become an acceptable alternative to Champagne. Indeed Champagne might be deemed somewhat ostentatious in times of some austerity. 

Prosecco is largely seen as a ‘bung in the trolley’ sort of wine together with the groceries, but frankly there’s little pleasure in some of these vapid wines at £8 or less. When the DOC Prosecco area was expanded a decade ago, it incorporated the flat lands, formerly cornfields, and this area churns out the nondescript mass market fizz. 

The better area became DOCG Prosecco Superiore. This stunningly beautiful hilly region is called Conegliano Valdobbiadene and either or both names may be used on the label and the wine comes in Brut, Extra Dry or Dry versions.

 

Btw Prosecco is made from Glena, a highly productive variety with large bunches. The DOCG has a maximum permitted yield of 13.5 tonnes per hectare, lower than on the plain and the wineries tend to blend from various micro-zones of the area for more complexity. 

 

Better quality Prosecco is certainly cheaper than Champagne, but is it good value? in my local supermarket, the better Prosecco brands are now closing on £14. Hang on, this is fizz made made by the Charmat method, in other words large volumes which go through a second fermentation in tank and are swiftly bottled. It’s a damn sight cheaper and quicker to make wines this way, than the traditional, bottle fermented fashion. In other words £14 seems rather expensive for an  industrially made product. You could argue it’s better value to stockpile some Champagne when it’s on offer. Look along the shelf at the same supermarket and – on occasion – you can snaffle Bollinger for £32. Maybe drink fewer and better bottles? 

But let’s not be too hasty…. or hypocritical, as I love a ‘good’ Prosecco. However I would advise against a lazy supermarket approach and focus rather on your local wine merchant. 

A wine merchant worth their salt will have ferreted out something interesting and well worth the money. Ideally selecting a family estate that has been quietly making quality stuff since long before the Prosecco bonanza. 

 

 

Follador is one such family. ‘Follare l’uva’ is local dialect for ‘to press grapes and make wine’ which this family have been doing for generations. When I tasted the wine from this estate, I felt I had to write about them for those equally disenchanted by their supermarket offering of prosecco.

The Follador’s estate is called Il Follo after a small village in the prime DOCG region of Valdobbiadene, where the family have both their winery and their finest vineyard Villa Luiga. At the helm are Luca, Maria and Marta.  

 

 

Il Follo Prosecco Treviso Spumante Brut

This DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) wine is fresh, fruity and really rather spicy with crisp apple notes. It’s charming and has personality. The grapes come from Treviso just 30 miles from Venice and is actually a declassified DOCG.

Il Follo Prosecco Superiore Villa Luigia Brut 2016

Here we move up to DOCG (e Garantita). The Luigia vineyard is 12 hectares and the yields are restricted to 70hl/ha. Now this is rather good. Elegant Prosecco with good intensity. The nose is rather floral. The body nicely rounded with a fluffy mousse. It is both fresh and perfumed. Again this is a Prosecco with character. It wants to be noticed.

Il Follo Cuvée rose Spumante Rosado Brut

This has 15% Cabernet Sauvignon for some structure, which means it cannot be called Prosecco. A pure and intense rose with a hint of strawberries on the aroma, a light creamy palate and a slight peppery tannic bite. I particularly like this one. 

So sniff around and in the flood of Prosecco to our shores you will be rewarded by a decent bottle. In other words something light with green apple freshness – not a ‘serious’ wine, but seriously enjoyable with more a modicum of structure and which does not fall of a cliff on the finish. 

 

Stockists

My local wine merchant – Lea and Sandeman 

Il Follo Prosecco Treviso Spumante Brut £12.95 (Price per bottle as a case £11.95)

Il Follo Prosecco Superiore Villa Luigia Brut 2016 14.95 (Price per bottle as a case £13.95)

Il Follo Cuvée Rosé Spumante Rosado Brut 12.95 (Price per bottle as a case £11.95)

 

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