Thursday, October 17, 2013

Greek Master Class with Matt Stamp, MS

Master Sommelier, Matt Stamp was back in Houston for a Greek Master Class at Camerata Wine Bar for members of the Guild of Sommeliers. The focus was entirely on the white wines of Greece, their improved quality and whether Houston consumers are ready to see these wines on our local wine lists.

My own experience with the white wines of Greece was limited to some overindulgence during my college years at the Houston Greek Festival, a couple of tastings of Moschofilero and Assyrtiko in some past wine classes and in a by the glass format at some local Greek restaurants. I also went to a tasting of mixed Greek whites and reds at the Midtown Spec’s over a year and a half ago where I had a bit of trouble obtaining a list of the wines we tasted, so I am uncertain as to what all I tried.
Greece has over 200 grape varieties and most are not well known in the Houston market. Matt was unable to get any dry white from Patras in the Peloponnese which disappointed him as he feels that these are important examples of the rising quality to be found in Greek wine and it was disappointing to me as I have only had a sweet red dessert wine from this area.
In my part of town, I have not seen too much availability of Greek wine at all; not on restaurant menus though there are many Mediterranean restaurants near me , not at my local Spec’s nor in my grocery stores, which is a shame, as my overall impression of the wines that we tasted was that they were refreshing and that they would work well with our local seafood.

The Wine Tasting – Island Hopping and beyond
2012 “San Gerassimo” Robola of Cephalonia PDO (SRP $20) This wine is 100% Robola from the central Omala Valley on Cephalonia Island where there is potassium-rich limestone soil. There are only two and a half hectares of this planted so it is a very limited production made by a cooperative of fifteen growers. This wine has aromas and flavors of lemon and spearmint with a bit of salinity. It is dry, light to medium body, medium+ acidity with a lemon pith finish.

2012 Skouras Moschofilero Peloponnese PGI (SRP $15) This wine is 100% Moschofilero which is very aromatic grape. It has pronounced floral aromas of rose with fresh peach flavors. Dry, light to medium body, medium+ acidity with a bit of an oily texture a fresh peach finish.
2012 Tselepos Mantinia PDO (SRP $17) This wine is 100% Moschofilero from Mantinia on the Peloponnese Island and it has a similar profile to the previous one though this wine had slightly lighter floral aromas of rose with fresh apricot flavors and it had a slight bitterness with a rosier color from the longer pre-fermentation skin contact.  It was dry, medium body with medium+ acidity and a clean finish.
2012 Monemvassia Kydonitsa Laconia PGI (SRP $17) This wine is 100% Kydonitsa. This wine had aromas of figs, dried herbs and grapefruit with matching flavors. The nose was more pronounced than the palate. It was dry, medium body, medium acidity with a creamy, almost waxy texture and a somewhat short finish.
2012 Lyrarakis Dafni Crete PGI (SRP $18) This wine is made from 100% Dafni from Alagni in the Iraklion district. I believe that it was my first time to taste this variety, it was not my favorite in this tasting but I would try it again. It had very light aromas and low levels of flavor; minerals, lemon pith and sage. It had a medium body, medium acidity and a short finish.
2012 Alexakis Vidiano Crete PGI This wine, like the one above, comes from the island of Crete but it is made from 100% Vidiano, a grape variety that is endemic to the island. This was my preferred taste of Crete. Grapefruit, lemon pith and minerals with a medium body, medium+ acidity and a long citrusy finish.
2012 Gerovassiliou Malagousia Epanomi PGI (SRP $21) This wine was interesting. It is 100% Malagousia from Epanomi in northern Greece on the Macedonia coast. Matt Stamp feels is almost like a Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc mix. Only 25 hectares are currently cultivated but more plantings are going in. It had floral aromas of jasmine with rich apricot flavors, a medium body, medium+ acidity and a long fruity finish.
Tasting Santorini these wines are all sourced from vines grown on their own rootstock in Santorini’s volcanic aspa soils in basket or crown shapes to protect the vines from the strong winds and to help collect the sea mist for water. Matt Stamp said the rootstock could be 400-500 years old while the vines are about 80-100 years old. It is common to find Assyrtiko blended with Aidani and Athiri in Santorini but, in this line up, all the wines are 100% Assyrtiko. Matt believes this variety in its pure form is a great wine to age up to ten years to see its evolution; its aromatic profile in maturity is similar to mature Riesling. In youth, it can be austere and can be more enjoyable after a couple years of bottle age. Enjoy with seafood, Caesar salad or tomato salad.
2011 Koutsoyiannopoulos Santorini PDO (SRP $20)Aromas and flavors of lemon and thyme with a saline minerality, medium body, medium+ acidity with a medium+ length citrus finish.
2012 Santo Wines Santorini PDO (SRP $20) This wine was very similar to the wine above. It also had aromas and flavors of lemon and thyme with a saline minerality; medium body and acidity with a medium+ length citrus finish.
2008 Sigalas Santorini PDO This wine has aromas and flavors of ripe grapefruit with a saline minerality, medium body and acidity with a medium+ length citrus finish.
2012 Sigalas Barrel-Fermented Santorini PDO (SRP $20) Aromas and flavors of sweet ripe lemon with a bit of sage, a full body, medium acidity and a medium+ length creamy citrus finish.
2009 Hatzidakis Nykteri Santorini PDO (SRP $25) Lightly oxidized, aromas of baked apple pie with light citrus and apple flavors. This wine is full bodied with medium+ acidity and a long finish. Salty foods, such as mackerel or other oily fish, make a good match for wines with some oxidation.
The Final Farewell – Greek Retsina or the “Moment of Zen” per Matt Stamp
Stelios Kechris Retsina “Tears of the Pine” This wine is not labeled by vintage. It is 100% Assyrtiko made with the addition of pine resin to give it the familiar distinctive character: the resin is removed before bottling. This wine comes from the Goumenissa PDO region. I have only tasted this style of Greek wine in class settings and I probably won’t be changing that habit anytime soon. I will agree with Matt Stamp that this particular bottle had milder pine aroma and flavor than any other that I have tasted. Try it well chilled with fried food and Greek cheese for optimal enjoyment.
Opa!

related posts:
Matt Stamp Masterclasses in Houston

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tasting with Peter Fraser of Yangarra Estate Wines

Last week, I had the opportunity to meet Peter Fraser, the winemaker for Yangarra Estate Vineyard, and taste some of his wines with him over lunch. Yangarra Estate makes biodynamic wines produced in McLaren Vale in South Australia.

Peter’s parents were conventional farmers and that’s how he initially approached his work. After attending a three day biodynamic farming seminar that really resonated with him, he was inspired to move the vineyards into an organic and biodynamic condition starting in 2008. By 2012, they were A-grade certified biodynamic by Australian Organics and as of 2013, all of their wines are certified both organic and biodynamic.   

The single vineyard estate has about 250 acres of land under vine with about 170 acres for natural corridors, creeks and vegetation. Rather than tending to the grapes for a big fruit, full body style of wine, they are focusing primarily on a more elegant style of Grenache and on a more savory and complex style of Shiraz. Peter feels that this all starts in the vineyard with healthy soil. “There is stuff that we do that I can’t explain why it works but it does, so I keep doing it. There is no science.” He explained that when you first stop using the herbicides, you get inedible broadleaf weeds coming up everywhere with long tap roots pulling up nutrients from deep underground so they don’t deplete the topsoil, when these die they add back in the nutrients. It is the way the soil tries to save itself. The grasses then come back and the soil gets back into its natural cycle.
Yangarra also uses all indigenous yeast to include more of the true terroir into the wine. They handpick their grapes and they use a mechanical sorting table that eliminates raisins in warmer years to control the excess alcohol and the flavor range.
All of the wines that we tasted were well made, delicious and food friendly; I feel comfortable recommending their entire line.
·         2012 Viognier had fresh fruit aromas and flavors of apricot, melon and citrus with medium body and acidity. Peter only has 2 acres of this Viognier under vine. He avoids the concern of high alcohol and the oily waxiness that can arise with this grape variety with gentle pressing. This wine is priced at $25.

·         2011 Old Vine Grenache is made in a light elegant style that starts in the sandy soils in which the vines are grown. It has concentrated aromas and flavors primarily of fresh cherry and thyme. It has a medium body with a plush texture, balanced structure and a long finish. Peter only uses old French oak for aging this wine. I would love to have this wine at my Thanksgiving dinner table!                       The 2012 Old Vine Grenache is more available now and is priced at $32. This was a slightly warmer year which made for a slightly fruitier wine though still similarly styled.

·         2010 Shiraz had rich aromas and flavors of ripe blackberries, pepper and potting soil. It has a full body, sweet ripe tannins, clean acidity and a long savory finish. Peter only uses about 20% new French oak with a very subtle toast. He wants the terroir to be showcased rather than the barrel flavor. He feels that this is his best vintage that he has made so far. He makes this in a more Burgundian style trying for more complexity with less in your face fruit; he employs winery techniques such as cold soaking and opting to punch down versus pumping over for more elegance and to obtain greater aromatics. This wine rests on the lees for 12-15 months giving it a smooth texture and a savory note. This wine is 100% Shiraz which is sourced from sandstone and ironstone soils.
The 2011 Shiraz is more available now and is priced at $25. This was a slightly cooler year which resulted in a more restrained wine with a bit more of an herbal note though still similarly styled.

·         2010 High Sands Grenache had intense aromas and rich flavors of fresh ripe dark cherry, dried fruit, white pepper and a floral rose note. Medium+ body and acidity with smooth tannins and a long lush slightly savory finish. While this wine is high end, it is not the big powerful, over ripe style that people associate with Australia in this price range. It is grown at an elevation of 700 feet in the highest part of their beach-like sand dunes. The sand is almost 5 feet deep and the 70 old vines create a more concentrated flavor profile and its bigger structure. Peter gives the vineyard all the credit for this fantastic wine. It is aged in their best older barrel program and spends six months longer in barrel than their other Grenache. Peter considers this wine to be the most expressive of the estate’s terroir.  Only 50 cases were produced, a splurge at $90 but so worth it!

·         2008 Ironheart Shiraz has pronounced aromas and flavors of ripe black fruit, iodine, chocolate, earth and leather. Full body, clean acidity, sweet ripe tannins with a rich savory finish. This robust and age worthy wine is sourced from 20 year old vines grown on ironstone soil. Peter says this is the biggest Shiraz he has made and feels his 2010 and 2012 are more restrained. This wine is priced at $80.

·         We also tasted his 2004 Cadenzia GSM blend with its aromas and flavors of raspberry, licorice, coffee and spice, which was absolutely fantastic. The Grenache and Mourvedre dominate with the Syrah more in the background. Unfortunately for us, very little has come to the United States as most of it is consumed in Australia.

All of these wines are highly recommended!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Don Melchor Vertical Tasting with Enrique Tirado

Winemaker, Enrique Tirado, from Don Melchor, Concho y Toro’s ultra-premium label, was in Houston last week conducting a vertical tasting of this iconic wine at Galleria area restaurant, Tango & Malbec. This was a real treat for the local wine trade and media as this was only a two state tour beginning in California and ending in Texas.

Enrique Tirado has been the head winemaker at Don Melchor since 1997. The only time he worries about his vineyards is when he is not there to handle any issue that could arise, that is the worst part about traveling for him. He can deal with anything else. He likes to watch the daily evolution that is always happening in the vineyard. Hearing this reminded me of how parents talk when they are traveling and I like that in a winemaker. I like to know that kind of care and attention go into each vintage.
The vineyard area is in Puente Alto which is located in Chile’s Maipo Valley at the foot of the Andes Mountains. The vineyard is subdivided into smaller parcels based on different terroir so each vine in each area can be specially tended to based upon its needs. This enables each section to be picked at the optimal time of ripeness. There are seven parcels with each one producing a different style of wine. One parcel might produce a wine with ripe fruit and soft tannins while another one creates a very concentrated tannic wine. All of these come from same vineyard but from the different soils in each parcel. The common feature of the soils is the lack of nutrients but the site holds multiple soil types including alluvial, stony and volcanic. The vines range in age from 20-35 years. Enrique feels that the complexity of the finished wine comes from the careful blending of the wines from the different parcels.
Puente Alto has a cool climate within a warmer region; the warm days bring ripeness while the cool nights protect the grape’s acidity. While they get some rainfall in the spring and summer, irrigation is needed. Harvest typically begins in April.
In July, they taste the wines to make the final blend.  They use 100% French oak with 14-15 months maturation in barrel and a year and a half in the bottle before release. Enrique says the focus of Don Melchor is to make a wine of quality that has finesse with good concentration but with soft ripe tannins that is expressive of the terroir. I would say he has achieved his goal. All of the wines that we tasted were rich, full bodied and balanced with no overt vanilla, toast, or oaky nuances and each one was a pleasure to taste.

 

Don Melchor, Puente Alto Vertical Tasting

  • 1987 was a slightly warmer than average year with slightly lower than average rainfall.  This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and has pronounced aromas and flavors primarily of tobacco and dark chocolate with soft elegant tannins and a lingering finish.  
  • 1993 was cooler and rainier than a normal year. This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon as well. This wine was more concentrated and younger than I expected it to be with intense aromas and flavors of black fruit along with the tobacco and chocolate. It had silky tannins, good acidity and a long finish. I really loved this one.
  • 2006 was a cooler than normal year with a longer and later harvest.  This wine is 96% Cabernet Sauvignon with 4% Cabernet Franc. This wine has intense aromas and rich flavors of ripe black fruit with coffee and dark chocolate. Of the four, this wine had the grippiest tannins but still elegant with a nice freshness that I really loved and a long rich finish.
  • 2009 was warmer than normal with some spring rainfall that gave them some worry. This wine is 96% Cabernet Sauvignon with 4% Cabernet Franc. It has aromas of sweet, ripe blackberry with a bit of cocoa and tobacco with matching flavors. It has sweet ripe tannins, good acidity and a long finish.
All highly recommended for your next wine splurge!