Author Archives: ricmmorris

A fortnight in Crete

Just returned from a lovely holiday in Rethymno, a large town on the Cretan coast, facing the Aegean Sea.

The town has several good wine shops so we tried to drink nothing but Cretan wine, avoiding, if possible, non-indigenous grapes, many of which, like cabernet, syrah and sauvignon blanc, were planted in the seventies.

The Cretan wine industry has now seen the light and many local varieties are being rediscovered and vinified.

Some general observations:

Many Cretan tavernas or mezedopolío (like tapas bars) don’t have a wine list and only sell ‘bulk wine’ – as it is described on the menu – either red or white, decanted into a carafe, as shown. Low alcohol, undistinguished and around €4 for half a litre.

The better restaurants do have wine lists with a varying range of Cretan wines.

All Cretan wine, including reds, is served chilled.

Good Cretan wine is not cheap, with prices in the €10-20 range in shops, €20+ in restaurants. VAT at 24% is a factor.

 

These are some of the wines we tried:

This was recommended to me in the most upmarket shop on the town. Vidiano is a common grape, Plyto much less so. Lots of character but a bit too expensive and not quite enough acidity, around €12. A rather Rioja like red was better.

 

 

There was a classy wine bar round the corner form our apartment, where I tried this. Liatiko grape, a very polished, full flavoured wine. Served chilled, which helped. Around €8 a bottle from a wine shop and excellent value.

 

 

This company (Lyrarakis) specialises in old Cretan varieties  – here Kotsifali and Mandilari, with some (undetectable) Syrah added. Around €10.

 

 

Around 70% of the wine made on Crete is white. There is hardly any rose but we tried this one, at a rather chunky €9. Typical chalky nose, big flavour and another unknown grape – Romeiko, along with Syrah and Grenache. Incidentally I saw a bottle of red made with 100% Grenache but couldn’t bring myself to pay €16.

 

 

Tried this one in a good local restaurant, Alana. Plyto again, reputed to be a very acidic grape but it was nicely rounded. Went well with sea bass and squid. €20.

 

 

I couldn’t resist this one, seen in a local supermarket so broke my self-imposed rule about Cretan only. From Nemea, mainland Greece, €12. Obviously cabernet, very soft, slightly woody but very drinkable. Nearly over the hill. None of the shops we used had air conditioning so I did wonder about the effects of many hot days on wine storage, especially with something like this which I suspect had been on the shelf some time.

 

 

These were both drunk with what was the best meal of the holiday, a tasting menu, in a lovely garden courtyard at Avli. The sparkling wine was compared by our waitress to prosecco but was slightly better, I thought, being drier and crisper. Made on the mainland from Moschofilero grapes. The white was even more unusual, being made with Soultanin – the sultana grape. Our waitress warned us that it was quite reserved but we thought it developed well in the glass with an intriguing spicy bitterness underlying the fruit. No hint of sultana.

 

 

Probably the best red of the holiday, from a wine shop I discovered in the second week and never went back to. Soft, complex, lots of fruit and only €9.

 

 

Finally, no report from Crete would be complete without a mention of retsina, a wine we’ve previously blogged on. This was much more resinous but not unpleasantly so. Made in Chania, up the coast. A half litre bottle with a crown cap. €1.5 in a shop, double that in a taverna. Worth trying but I didn’t feel inclined to repeat the experience.

From someone who had never been to Greece in many years of holidays I’ve now been three times in three years. All visits were different and good in their own way but for food and drink this was the best and I’d like to return.

 

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Filed under posted by Richard

Clearly cabernet

Sauvignon, that is. Unmistakeable, an enticing nose with hints of menthol. Open for 48 hours under vacuum when I tried it, very deep red, brown rim, rich taste with lots of fruit and a lovely mouthfeel. Very enjoyable and we both had a second glass. Not French as I first though but Australian (Katnook Estate, 2012, CS), my second guess.

[Geoff: A confession – my prejudiced view of Australian wines has limited my experience of them. Hefty, jammy and clumsy has previously been my opinion. That is, until recently when I’ve been impressed with CSs from western Australia (blogged) and now this beauty from Limestone Ridge’s Coonawarra district. The famous red soil, overlaying limestone, is noted for its Cabernets which benefit from cloud cover and cooling breezes. This was a rich, black-fruit, silky mouthful with some attractive complexity. As Richard said, very enjoyable. Interestingly, Katnook Winery occupies the original sight of the area’s first commercial winery, started by James Riddoch in 1896.]

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Gaillard and daughter

This wine (Gaillard’s Marsanne IGP Collines Rhodaniennes 2015) was tasted blind. Had a nose which reminded me of riesling, then chardonnay – it was neither. Rather short, rather lacking in fruit – I think it had been open some time –  but it developed well in the glass and became an attractive drink. I eventually figured out it was a Rhone white but I find it hard to distinguish the grapes, apart from viognier so couldn’t get any further. Perhaps I should have done since we tasted another, different,  Rhone white only seven days ago.
The name on the bottle reminded me of a Cote Rotie (not blogged) by a maker with the same surname. This turns out to be the father of Jeanne Gaillard.

[Geoff: I liked this wine which I bought from Vin Neuf in Stratford (cost circa £10). Just off the main street, this independent shop is well worth a visit for its range of wines and the knowledge of James, the owner.

I think the wine needed time to open out into the full style of stone fruits and low acidity which are the hallmarks of the wines of the grape from this area. It was an interesting follow up to the St Peray, not quite as classy but excellent value.]

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Unmistakeable

Probably the most reliable indicator for spotting a particular grape is white pepper on the nose and taste. This invariably means syrah.

Given the taste and appearance I felt confident that this was a syrah from the Old World, that is France, Rhone valley. Right, wrong and wrong. In fact from the Gimblett Gravels region in New Zealand. Not a style I know very well but this was certainly an excellent example, being light and youthful in appearance, lean and savoury on the palate.

[Geoff: This was a purchase from a recently discovered wine shop in Ledbury called Hay Wines. Just over £10, it had all the characteristics of a gentler Northern Rhone syrah with bags of refreshing flavours and weighing in at a lightweight 12.5% ABV. Ideal for us oldies and rather nostalgic as this is the alcohol level we grew up with. A lunchtime syrah, no less. It was the first of two good wines this Sunday]

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Right place, wrong grape

This wine had a grassy nose I felt sure was cabernet franc from the Loire. It wasn’t. The taste was silky and textured but I couldn’t get a distinctive grape. I was pretty sure it was New World/Australian but couldn’t get any closer – my knowledge of Australian wine regions is rudimentary at best.

In fact a cabernet sauvignon but one which, for me, lacked classic CS characteristics. Good wine though – recommended. The M&S webpage (£90 for 6) says there is 20% Merlot which may account for my puzzlement.

[Geoff: I bought this because of the reputation of the Margaret River area for Bordeaux blends. I wasn’t disappointed and expected the forward-fruity style. What was attractive to me was the edge of unripeness/herbaceousness (Richard’s “grassy”) that saved it becoming too plump and sweet (my issue for with Oz wines). A good wine, well made and easy to drink – if a little lacking in complexity.

Aah, the search for complexity – the curse of the wine buff.]

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Double Blind

Sunday tasting. Two wines, the same grape – syrah – from different continents, a similar price with us each opening and tasting one of them the night before. Would we be able to identify them if tasted blind? How good was our taste memory? (Claire, Geoff’s wife did the pouring in our absence). In fact it was pretty easy, even from the nose.

The wines: Cline 2012 (California) and Hermitage 2014 (France, from the Cave de Tain co-op). The Cline has been blogged before. We thought MWW had sold out but a few more turned up, around £16. The Hermitage was from Waitrose, reduced from £28 to £17. I’d tried the Hermitage on Saturday and thought it was restrained and elegant, with a rather reticent nose. The Cline delivered a big blast of blueberry fruit on the nose and was tarry/smokey on the palate with a silky mouth feel and clearly wasn’t the Hermitage. Both wines were very enjoyable and well priced – although I don’t think we’d have paid £28 for the Hermitage – and drank well into the evening. (Geoff was having fish so I got both bottles).

[Geoff: Comparisons are at the heart of wine tasting. We compare in expectation – “I think this wine might be like …”; we compare via memory – “This wasn’t as good as …..”; and we compare grapes, vintages, areas, growers etc. And I especially love blind comparisons.

These two wines created lots of discussions which Richard had summarised excellently above. For me, the Hermitage had the edge on elegance and freshness because of the apparent higher acidity – I’d noted it as tasting like (another comparison) a bowl of summer fruits, both red and black. The Cline, slightly older, had developed some tertiary notes – tar, smoke, vanilla – which was shown up against the fresher Rhone. Both were lovely wines – well-made, layered and great examples of a lovely grape.]

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Full English

 

Over the last few years I’ve tried most of the big names in English sparkling wine – Chapel Down (quite often), Ridgeview, Three Choirs, Camel Valley – but never Nyetimber. This was remedied yesterday when we tried a bottle of the non-vintage. A powerful mousse led into an equally powerful aroma which was no different from any well made champagne. The full, rich taste had plenty of depth and length – this is not really an aperitif champagne – although it is certainly elegant. All three champagne grapes are used but the proportions are not revealed. Probably the best English sparking wine yet. This was a present but I think it came from Waitrose.

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