I was listening to a podcast the other day about a dictionary maker who had a reverse word index. Every headword – 315,000 of them, was spelt in reverse on the card. Want to know how many grape names end in ‘o’? Simple.
That was pre-computers, of course. Now it is much easier, especially if you have the ebook version of The Big Book of Grapes – we don’t. Anyway, if you are struggling to think of any, here are a couple, neither of which I could identify.
This was the first – susumaniello (little donkey), from the Salento region of Puglia, in Italy. Open 24h it had a faint note of vanilla which soon faded, a rather raw, green and spicy taste with a hint of sour cherry. Quite attractive, if not especially distinctive.
The second was a grape we have previously tasted – Geoff thought we had actually tried this bottle before – but I can’t recall it and it wasn’t blogged, although we tried a wine with the same grape from the region in 2016. This is aghiorghitiko, by Skouras in Nemea, Greece. Pale ‘pinot’ red in appearance, some vanilla and raspberry on the nose, a fresh taste, rather short and uncomplicated but drinkable. Quite different to the wine tried two years ago.
[Geoff: the Susamaniello was better the first day and suited Saturday night’s flavourful pizzas. Quite lean, light and refreshing, made from a grape I’d never heard of. The Greek wine was not a million miles away in flavour from the Puglian, not surprising really, given their location.]
Dafni is a vey old grape variety, its name being inscribed on Bronze Age vessels found on Crete. Its fortunes were revived by the maker of the wine we tried, namely Lyrarakis, in his 37 acres Psarades vineyard. This was the 2016 vintage. Descriptions tend to focus on the wine’s herbal aromas as well as bay and eucalyptus leaf smells.
Light lemon in colour with medium viscosity it certainly had an aromatic nose with a fresh lemon and peppery bouquet. The nose was certainly inviting but, unfortunately, the taste disappointed us. It was short, lacking in intensity with very high acidity. It started to cloy the palate and would have benefitted from some food accompaniment, though Richard said it did improve through the evening.
Much preferred was the Santorini wine made from the Aidani grape by Sigolas (2015). Kept in stainless steel for nine months, this wine had a Viognier-like, herbal and floral quality. Full-flavoured, the wine was quite nutty and would have really suited strong food.
Two more Mediterranean grape varieties: it’s certainly been interesting trying these more obscure grapes.
[Richard, we’ve blogged on Lyrakakis wines before – they specialise in resurrecting forgotten indigenous varieties on Crete. The dafni came from the duty-free at Chania airport, about 12€. More a curiosity than anything else which I didn’t see anywhere else for sale on the island. Despite the small production I see that both M&S and Berry Bros carry stock. Like Geoff I preferred the Aidani which had much more tropical fruit character. This was part of a mixed case of up-market Greek wine from the WS. No longer available, around £20, I’d guess.]
Over the weekend Richard produced wines from two grape varieties that I had never heard of, let alone tried.
The first wine was from the red grape Mandilaria, originating in the eastern Aegean. Jancis Robinson describes the wine as “very deeply coloured and tannic but generally lack[ing] body” so it is used in blends. However, she mentions that Lyrarakis (a Cretan producer) has used good sites and produces wines of balance. The wine we tried was from Lyrarakis’ Plakouri vineyard (2014) and it was very impressive. An intense red colour with purple rim, it had an attractive menthol nose followed by dark fruit aromas. The forward black fruit continued on the palate which was long, dry and with the right amount of tannins. The wine did not lack body – or quality.
Sunday’s white wine was a blend of Assyrtiko and Moshoudi, entitled Papargyiou Blanc (2016). The wild yeast fermentation had produced an alcohol level of 13%. Richard initially found it a touch sweet and very astutely proclaimed it similar to a Muscat – which it was! The Moshoudi grape is Muscat Blanc a Petit Grains, the world -wide classic but having Greece as its original homeland. Blended with the more austere Assyrtiko to raise the acidity levels, I found this another good wine. The nose was intriguing – mint, melon, spices (inc. ginger), very slightly smoky and still floral; it kept changing as it opened up. A rich mouth feel, fresh and very slightly off-dry, of medium length, this was another example of some excellent Greek wines that we have tried recently.
It’s really worth seeking out these wines.
[Richard: the red came from the duty free shop at Chania airport on Crete (if you ever visit, the shop on the right after you pass through security has much more stock), around €14. We’d tried, on holiday, a few wines from Lyrarakis and they were of consistently good quality and usually made with local grapes. This was a lovely wine with an an enticing nose and a good tannin/fruit balance. The white was from the Greek shop in Birmingham, mentioned here several times. Rather expensive at around £16 but…High Street rents and all that. For my taste not quite dry enough – I spotted the Muscat taste without realising it and Moshoudi were the same thing. But, a well made wine, with, for me, a pronounced mint aroma.]
The Tannat grape is native to south west France where it traditionally produces wines described as ‘rustic’, Madiran probably being the most well-known. It has also received plaudits in Uruguay which seems to produce a softer, fruitier style of wine then France. This wine, however, came from the far north of Greece, hard by the Macedonian border. Utopia 2011, made by Alpha Estate, is 100% Tannat and weighs in at 14% ABV.
The pronounced colour left a ruby stain on the glass when the wine was swirled. Some pigment there then. There was a delightful fresh nose, slightly menthol and blackcurrant, with an underlying smokey and vanilla perfume suggesting barrel- ageing. So far so good.
Richard had the palate description spot on – “hollow” – which was a disappointment after the pleasures of the smell. It was lacking richness and depth and could be described as ordinary red wine. The smell was better then the taste. This seems to have matured quickly, quite the opposite to its French equivalent which is, to be kind, rather austere for at least ten years.
[Richard: whenever I’m in Birmingham I try to call in to the Greek shop just outside New Street station. An interesting selection of wine and food and where this bottle was purchased, for around £10. As Geoff says you don’t expect to see Tannat in Greece and this made me want to try it. Alpha wines are always good quality and this is well made, with an enticing nose but the taste is acceptable without being special. An interesting experiment but I think Greek wines are better made with native grapes. Off to Crete shortly and hoping to try a few.]
We have sung the praises of Santorini’s Assyrtiko grape a few times on these pages; as a direct result, the wine has now quite a following in the UK! It was with great interest, therefore, that I learned that Majestic (rather belatedly for a specialist wine merchant) had started to stock the grape, proclaiming on their web-site “This is our first venture in to Greek wine in 10 years and we think we have found a corker. Bone dry and extremely fresh ….. ” Let’s test the claim, shall we?
Voila Assyrtiko 2016 is not from Santorini, but Crete; it weighs in at 13.5%. Very, very pale, slightly petillant with medium legs is how it appeared. The nose was clean with a lemon sherbet smell i.e. lemons with a slight sweetness.
On the palate, it had a weighty texture, rich in taste (someone said, like an Albarino) but it was slightly off-dry, with a taste of pears. A simple wine, a bit vacant in the back palate, pretty good value but rather cloying in the mouth after a while. Being rather unkind, I ventured it was ‘a flat Prosecco’. This wine has not the dryness of a Santorini Assyrtiko nor certainly the power and elegance. However, I can suggest that it is made for a market that likes this very slightly off-dry style. It would be good with seafood but, on its own, not for me.
Majestic, – “bone dry”? – no. Susy Atkins (Telegraph) – “salt – tinged”? – no. It’s neither – trust us.
[Richard: of the many bottles of Assyrtiko we’ve tried (not all blogged), this was easily the worst – or to be more charitable, the least interesting. It would have been difficult to identify the grape blind unlike, say, the Assyrtiko produced by Gaia. The comments by MWW and Atkins make me wonder if they were tasting a different wine.]
No, Richard and I are not financed by the Greek wine industry but here is yet another interesting wine from the Peloponnese – Nemea Reserve 2011 from Semeli Wines, north of the town of Nemea. It is made from the Aghiorgitiko grape, Greece’s most widely planted red variety, but better grown at higher (cooler) altitudes where the resultant acidity gives some structure. It’s the only variety allowed in the Nemea appellation.
So much for the background. What did it (blind) taste like?
The colour was a consistent block of black/red and it showed its viscosity and weight in the obvious tears. The smell, faintly menthol, was of plums, damsons and liquorice which later changed to cherry as it sat in the glass. This was an attractive nose which promised much. The palate was tannic structured, polished and rich but with a lean finish, so much so I ventured a traditional Rioja for its origin. There was an alluring spiciness to it; we both admired it even though it was a little on the short side.
There was a caveat, however. After about 30 minutes opened and sitting in the glass, it lost its sophistication and became distinctly raw, with the tannins barging their way to the forefront. Whether this was its age or an underlying lack of quality it is difficult to say but we would have liked it to maintain those lovely deep fruit tones of the initial tasting.
So, overall, good but not brilliant, initially wonderful but then declined. (There goes the sponsors’ money.)
[Richard: or maybe not since the raw taste had passed when I tried the wine an hour later. The wine was back to its previous state with the characteristics Geoff describes. Very drinkable over an evening with a homemade pizza bianco. I picked up the wine at Rhodes Airport Duty Free for €12.]
I tasted this wine blind – a very interesting experience indeed. The wine is Malagousia Single Vineyard 2013, bought from Highbury Vintners but I couldn’t find it on their current web site. As with other Greek wines I have tried, it produced a ‘wow’ factor with its unusual combination of textures and flavours, especially when tasted blind.
Appearance: pronounced lemon yellow, green tinge. Oily texture apparent in glass.
Nose: Obviously smoky, spicy (tried unsuccessfully to identify), hint of lemon. First thoughts, Chardonnay and then Semillon.
Palate: Rich, nutty, long dry finish, refreshing. Too big for Chardonnay so plumped for mature Semillon.
Overall: Lovely wine, interesting, complex – high quality.
The grape variety Malagousia was ‘rescued’ from extinction by Gerovassiliou, the maker of this wine in Epanomi in Macedonia. The wine won a Decanter regional award, and, after tasting this wine, I can understand why. I am searching for a supplier and have found Vincognito stock it. It’s a really good wine, probably even better on day 2.
(Subsequently established that the wine is stocked by Vin Cognito, an online retailer who stock a very interesting range of wines. It’s worth a visit to their web-site if only to marvel at the descriptions!)