Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Full of surprises, Frederick Wildman's "Taste the Wines of Greece" Manhattan

"Asprouda, Malagouzia and Chardonnay"  says the lovely Eva Mitropoulos of the wine she has just poured in my glass.  This is my first wine of the tasting and I am already in new territory.  "Malagouzia and what?"  I say.  Asprouda she repeats for me indulgently, an exercise I am sure she was put through many times at last Wednesday's "Taste the Wines of Greece" at the Landmarc at the Time Warner Center in Manhattan.  Eva, an Oenologist freshly graduated from the University of Dijon in Burgundy, is now working beside her father Nerantzi Mitropoulos at their organic winery, Domaine Nerantzi in the appellation of Serres in far northern Macedonia.   Back to the wine, I'm getting the fragrance and spice of the Malagouzia, but with a pronounced note of..."pears," Eva helps me again, the hallmark of the Asprouda.  The palate brims with pears as well, poached pears with hints of baking spices, there is richness and weight but the fruit remains fresh and lively...delicious.  This is going to be a good tasting.

Eva Mitropoulos, Domaine Nerantzi

With the help of Markus Stolz of Elloinos, Wildman has put together a thoughtful and eclectic portfolio of (primarily) small producers, who are working with grapes from family vineyards in a myriad of appellations from Sitia in Eastern Crete to Thessaly in the foothills of Mount Olympus.  There are many organic wineries, and a few "vin-de-terroir natural-wine makers" that would have made the late Joe Dressner proud.

The usual suspects are to be found here as well.  There is an able Assyrtico from Koutsoyiannopoulos, who have been continuously farming their 15 hectares on Santorini since 1870, and a pleasant Moschofilero from the tiny Troupis winery called "Fteri"or fern.

There is also a wide offering from one of the large and established producers of Greece, the combined Katogi Averoff/Strofilia wineries.  The selections include the classic Katogi Averoff Red. a limited production collection of terroir wines called "Rossiu di Munte" or Mountain red, and a sparkling Debina from Zitsa among many others.

There are two producers from the Peloponnese, from Nemea one of my personal favorites Christos Aivalis, and from Ilia in Western Pelopponese, Christos Kokkalis.    Both are garagistes of the first order.  Aivalis devotes his 4.5 hectares of land solely to Agiorgitiko, producing a "basic" Nemea as well as the single vineyard "Monopati" while Kokkalis made a name for himself with a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wine called "Trilogia"

Certainly, this fine collection showcases that the wines of Greece are evolving fast with a new generation of producers who are passionately respecting traditions, creating new ones, reviving lost varieties and honing their skills in the vineyard and the winery.  With such a wealth of raw material, grape varieties, terroirs and rich history to cull from, one thing is certain, we have only just begun to see what is possible from this great wine making region.  The old girl has more than a few tricks up her sleeve.

Domaine Nerantzi
 Domaine Nerantzi Syrah 2007
As you might guess from the name of this blog, I am not a big fan of international varieties cropping up anywhere and everywhere.  When I was at Oenorama four years ago, I was quite dismayed by the volume of voluminous, flabby, high alcohol, over-oaked, sweet and over-extracted Merlots, Cabs and Syrahs that were on offer (like I said, I am really not a fan.)  I had to start asking the producers to just pour me there indigenous offerings, just to save my poor palate.  So going into this wine, my expectations were not too high.   Luckily, I soldiered on, because the Domaine Nerantzi Syrah was none of those things.  Concentrated, firm and fresh with tightly wound and focused blackberry fruit, cedar and roasted meaty notes, with a spicy oak component that was another surprise.  The winery sources Balkan oak from the Bulgarian forests that border the vineyards.

Domaine Nerantzi Koniaros 2007
If you like a little story with your wine, this one is for you.  When Nerantzi Mitropoulos, a winemaker with a keen interest in Greek history and  indigenous varieties, encountered a rare plant called "Koniaros" by some local elders, he decided to research and attempt to vinify the variety.  The grape had been "left behind due to its lack of vigor and low yields."  He found only one reference to the varietal in literature, and decided to send it off for DNA testing to verify its origins.  It was determined that Koniaros is in fact a "new found genome and part of the wider Greek heritage."  So there you have it, and here we have the one and only Koniaros to be found. 
100% Koniaros
Strawberry/raspberry fruit, silky tannins and again against the spicy Balkan oak.  There are notes of coconut, and black pepper on a dry fresh and beautifully balanced finish.

Domaine Zafeirakis
Christos Zefeirakis, with a Masters degree in Oenology from the University of Milan, is a fourth generation wine maker who is bringing his considerable skill to bear in his native Thessaly.  He planted the first organic vineyard in the area, and built a winery where he is patiently coaxing some delicious wines along. Favoring long, slow fermentations with only natural yeasts, and bottle aging his lovely Limniona red for 18 months before release, it is clear that development, not manipulation, is the defining principle here.  They are in the process of being certified organic.

Domaine Zefeirakis Malagouzia 2011, Thessaly
A wildly floral wine with penetrating blood orange persistent this wine is incredibly bright and alive. 

Domaine Zefeirakis Limniona 2008
Christos Zefeirakis, Domaine Zefeirakis
Another varietal rescued from obscurity, Limniona had mostly been wiped out by phyloxxera.  A labor of love from vineyard to bottle, no yeast is added and the wine is fermented by naturally occurring yeasts in 3000L wooden tanks and aged 12 months in barrel.
The extra time in bottle has allowed the wine to completely absorb the oak, and vibrant strawberry, strawberry jam and red licorice dominate the palate with tinges of orange zest.  Lovely.

Domaine Economou
Another first for me, the vineyards of Domaine Economou lie in the high elevations of the Ziros plateau, in eastern Crete.  Specializing in a variety called Liatiko.  A long lived and age worthy variety, as the vintages on offer, 2000 and 1998 would indicate, I was reminded somewhat of Xinomavro.  It had the brick of an aged Nebbiolo, and indeed Yiannis Economou worked at both Cerretto and Scavino in the Piedmont.  The two vintages were quite different.  The 2000, which I tried first was filled with brettanomyces.  Then I scanned my pamphlet, "These natural wines undergo only a very low sulphering to stabilize before bottling."  Uh-oh, the N word, Natural.  I'm not always a fan of the oxidized and off flavors the genre can sometimes represent.  But I went back to my glass.  There was a lot going on, some oxidative notes yes, but this was a 2000.  Aside from being a little sweaty/barnyardy, there was cherry, spicy cinnamon, roasted chocolate, chestnuts on a dry frame still sporting structure and life.
The 1998 was a completely different animal, a very clean wine with wild cherry and licorice against the roasted nuts.  Neither of these wines showed any signs of being tired.  Mrs Economou said their cellar is full of vintages that are all different and they each have their favorites.  I can see why.  Back to my pamphlet, for a great summation, "As the great wine writer, critic and educator Nico Manessis noted, 'There is nothing quite like it elsewhere in the Greek vineyard.'"  And that is something to experience for yourself.