Somm – film review

So here’s another review of a documentary for wine geeks. In fact, in this case I would say the documentary is for the subset of wine geeks that are curious about what it is like to study for the Master Sommelier qualification – I must admit that included me. The production team must have hoped was that it would have broader appeal as story about the human quest for excellence against the odds, but to me this story about a group of people studying for a difficult exam was every bit as exciting as it sounds. Millions of people everyday must be undergoing that experience. Yes, believe it or not, there are other incredibly challenging academic pursuits, and the small number of Master Sommeliers does not necessarily imply that this particular qualification is any more challenging than, say, a PhD in theoretical physics. Of the two, I’d fancy my chances more with the Master Sommelier exam.

Apart from the meat of the documentary, there were also musings about wine in general, for example explaining how it touched on so many other different subject areas, from history, geography and cultural studies through to agriculture, winemaking and science. Those bits I enjoyed, probably because I agreed with the musings. Indeed, despite my comments above, I personally did quietly enjoy most of it, and learned a lot about what the qualification was about. It seems to basically comprise three elements: wine facts, restaurant service, and blind tasting. There was no mention of a dissertation component à la WSET Diploma or Master of Wine.

So let’s start with the fact bit of the documentary. Fact-cramming is not much fun, neither for the crammer nor the audience, and there does not seem much more to say other than that there was a lot of flashcard flashing. Thank God for Google!

Wine service was not covered in much depth, despite this being the core skill (you would think) of a Sommelier. I say “you would think”, but it does seem that the Master Sommelier diploma is now regarded as a general purpose wine qualification, and those who hold it like to call themselves sommeliers whatever their job actually entails. The wine service component we saw was a couple of fake customers yelling at a Master Sommelier candidate to chill a bottle of wine as quickly as possible. To me it looked like the sommelier needed more water in with the ice (I happen to be a bit of an expert on that topic after our recent trip to Italy in a heat wave).

A lot of the film dealt with the blind-tasting aspect. I suppose that is the bit that is best suited to the medium, as there is more social interaction. All the candidates seemed mighty impressive in training, reeling many words off pat to say that the wine wasn’t cloudy, followed by a list of fruits and other aromas, a description of the wine according to the dimensions of intensity, body, acidity, sweetness etc., and finally nailing the varieties, appellation and vintage – all in just a few minutes per wine. But that might just have been the documentary giving a good impression, as they were less good under examination conditions. No one gets to find out what the exam wines actually were, but the candidates guesses were all over the place. Was it Sancerre or Albariño? Barolo or Brunello? That seems more like my blind tasting experience: you think the answer should be obvious, but it is so easy to mess up, and strict time limits and examination stress cannot help either.

In summary: if you are a wine geek who wants to find what it is like to take the Master Sommelier diploma exam this documentary is definitely worth watching, but I don’t think you will be bowled over.

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From the sublime to the ridiculous – Aldi Pinot Noir

aldi_pinot_noirSorry Aldi – I did not like your wines, but it is not nice to call them ridiculous. I just couldn’t resist after my last blog post.

The context for my focus on Aldi is that I am working my way through my case of Paparuda Pinot Noir, which I rate highly for the price, and I am planning my next case-purchase of decent uncomplicated Pinot. The Paparuda has now moved on to the 2014 vintage I think, though it is no longer explicitly mentioned on the label, and I had a glass of Aldi Pinot Noir that I quite liked some time ago.

So I thought I would try a bottle with a view to getting a case. But when I arrived at Aldi, I discovered they had two(!) Pinot Noirs, so I got a test bottle of each and opened them both with dinner last night. A quick impression of which one I like best can be obtained from the levels in the bottles the following morning.

Pinot Noir, Vignobles Roussellet, Vin de France, non-vintage, 12.5%, £4.40
Medium ruby. Fresh on the nose. Confected fruit, doubtless as a result of carbonic maceration. Medium acidity. Low but detectable astringency.  Could easily be a Beaujolais. Pleasant enough, but no Pinot character, and thin **

Pinot Noir, Premium Selection, Estevez, Quinta de Maipo, Chile, 2013, 13.0%, £5.00
Medium pale ruby garnet. Intensely woody. Oak chips perhaps? Rather unpleasant. Medium acidity. Low but detectable astringency. Decent length, but I wish the flavour would go away faster. Cannot find the fruit for the woodiness *

Yes I know these wines are cheap, and I freely admit I do not have much experience at this end of the market, but all I can say is that I personally would not buy more at any price. If you want a cheapish Pinot Noir, my recommendation would still be the Paparuda – available from £5.40, but generally it’s just above £6.00. If on the other hand you are in Aldi anyway, walk past their Pinot Noir and instead pick up a bottle of the bargain Crémant du Jura.

Update: Three days later with the wine being stored in the fridge, the Chilean wine is a lot better. The oak has receded and the fruit is coming through – dark berry fruit that with the palate of faith could even be Pinot Noir. I think now a solid ** . I don’t usually find wines improve like this. They may change, but usually in the downwards oxidative direction in my experience.

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Wine appreciation and the sublime

I’ve just finished reading Luca Turin’s book The Secret of Scent, in which he writes: The study of smell requires one to exit the realm of the beautiful to descend into what the German philosophers used to call the Sublime, and come face to face to face with the enduring strangeness of raw sensation. The sensation occurs for him when he smells a synthetic single-chemical fragrance, as it is being manufactured or on a smelling strip held up to his nose. It evokes a powerful image of the object that would normally be responsible for that smell, an unreal image that only he sees.

I suddenly realised that in discussions of wine aesthetics I do not remember the sublime ever being mentioned. Harmony, balance and elegance, and beauty of course, but not the sublime. And when I hear sublime mentioned in the context of wine, I strongly suspect it is meant in the modern trivial sense: very, or possibly extremely, good.


But what did those German philosopher chappies, and other deep thinkers, mean by the sublime? For details, I can do no better than to refer you to the Wikipedia article for Sublime (Philosophy). I shall attempt to summarise here. Sublime means a lot more than merely very good; it  refers to a greatness beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement, or imitation. The sublime is beyond beauty or, in the opinion of others, incompatible with it. It applies to raw nature in its most fearful, powerful and chaotic. Another definition says the sublime is a combination of the grotesque and the beautiful, as opposed to the classical idea of perfection. Also it has been said that the experience of the sublime involves a self-forgetfulness, where personal fear is replaced by a sense of well-being and security when confronted with an object exhibiting superior might. Those ideas, which come from various philosophers in different time, are not strictly speaking consistent, but they nevertheless give a broad-brush impression of the sublime. I also find depictions in art helpful in giving an intuitive understanding of the concept – try a Google image search for “the sublime” for example.

So are these ideas applicable to the aesthetics of wine? I think they are at least useful in emphasising aspects of wine that might otherwise be under-appreciated. For me, the experience of a glass of wine can never approach the true sense of exhilaration and fear I feel when exposed to a wild, rugged and inhospitable landscape.  However, some wines get closer than others. I also think, to use another definition of the sublime, some wines offer a combination of the grotesque and beautiful, rather than classical perfection. They are the wines that many might define as faulty; wines that I can find very rewarding. I remember, for example, a Madeira that was searingly acidic and  tremendously volatile – and of course oxidised. That was one of my all-time favourite wines, while elsewhere on the table it was getting chucked into the spittoon. Another wine that springs to mind was a brett bomb from Chile. Oh, and Frank Cornelissen’s Contaldino 5, which was cloudy, volatile and bretty – a sublime wine from the sublime Etna landscape.

I am going to start using the word sublime in my tasting notes. Only in notes intended for private consumption, but if one does escape beware – it might not mean what you think it does.

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How to get to grips with the wines of unfamiliar countries

hungary_regionsI cannot be the only one who finds getting to grips with the wines of unfamiliar countries rather daunting. I am thinking in particular about old world countries with a long tradition of winemaking – ones where you are a bit too shaky on the geography, do not relate very well to the language, and have probably never heard of the exciting indigenous grapes they use. It is difficult to figure out where to start.

Often the bodies responsible for promoting the wines are of little help. Perhaps for political and/or funding reasons, in my experience they tend to give equal weight to each wine-producing region, including the small and relatively insignificant ones, whose wines you stand little chance of obtaining outside the country. So you are presented with an encyclopaedic list of meaningless names. I give you exhibit A – the contents list from a book very professionally produced by the Hungarian Viniculture Public Benefit Company in 2003.

Ted Lelekas, with his own county of Greece in mind, describes a much better approach:
A few years ago, I was member of a thinktank advising the Greek Wine Board and, after a lot of thought, we took a strategic decision: instead of trying to promote Greek wine domestically and abroad putting forward a considerable chunk of the 300+ native grape varieties of our country, we should name four of them “ambassadors” and focus primarily on those. They would have to be popular, commercially appealing, food-friendly, carry significant history behind them and, most importantly, they should each come from a major PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) zone.” The four grapes and regions identified for Greece were Assyrtiko from Santorini, Xinomavro from Naoussa, Agiorgitiko from Nemea and Moschofilero from Mantinia.

So there is my advice – if you want to promote a country with a fine and long tradition of wine, do not attempt too much at the same time. Pick a few regions and/or grapes, and start with those. In Greece there happened to be a nice one-to-one mapping between regions and varieties, but other places might need a slightly different approach. Also if you as an individual want to learn about and unfamiliar country, the same applies. Figure out the key bits to explore, and start with those rather than adopting a scattergun approach.

And the other regions?  Well, yes, they are important in their own right too, and probably offer interesting and good value wine.  Of course don’t ignore them. But they can wait their turn.

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Assyrtiko from Santorini

In an a summary of my experiences with Greek wines a couple of years ago, and also on a trip to North Greece earlier this year, Assyrtiko wines struck me as being particularly worthy of more attention. So I have been exploring further, concentrating on Assyrtiko from the variety’s spiritual (and quite possibly actual) home – the volcanic island of Santorini. My exploration was helped by samples of Santo Wines sent to me by Tsantali, which I supplemented with two wines produced by Gaia, bought from Noel Young.


Before I tried these four wines my rather simplistic characterisation of Assyrtiko was intense and acidic, with Riesling as the closest point of comparison. Now I am more confused, but at a higher level as clearly there are many possible styles.  I still think I was basically correct, but the variety has a lot more to offer than I suspected. The wines were tasted, and then drunk with food, on different days in June and July this year – so more real life drinking than a “proper” comparative tasting. The Gaia prices are what I paid at Noel Young, but for Santo Wines I give estimated UK retail prices because as far as I know they are not available here (though you can get a different Santo Wines vinsanto from Hyde Park Wines).

Santorini, Assyrtiko, PDO Santorini, Santo Wines, 2014, 13.0%, £12.00
Pale straw with greenish tinge.  Intense and fresh, with lime and minerality on the nose. Medium high acidity. Dry, but with citric aroma sweetness. Palate aroma as nose. Primary. May keep a few years, but I suspect best drunk young.  If blind I would have guessed it was a Riesling – probably an Aussie one.  I thought *** at first, but this is growing on me, so ****

Thalassitis, PDO Santorini, Gaia, 2013, 13.0%, £16.25
The Assyrtiko grapes are from the Episkopi vineyard. Surprised to find a black plastic cork. Pale straw with greenish tinge.  Intense and fresh. Sweet and luscious peach. Soft and subtle on the nose. High acidity.  Bone dry, and hugely intense aromatically. Overpowering citrus aroma, lime I think, on the palate, but peach still in there somewhere. Excellent length. Full-bodied.  Feel I should mark this very highly, but for me it is too intense and challenging at this stage in its development.  Needs 10 years or so to calm down I thought, and then I read that Gaia suggest 2-3 years in the cellar so maybe that would be sufficient.  Maybe more rounded after a couple of days in the fridge. Note that I always rate wines on the immediate impression ****

Assyrtiko, Wild Ferment, PDO Santorini, Gaia, 2014, 13.0%, £17.60
Ungrafted 80yo Assyrtiko vines. Same black plastic cork.  Pale straw with greenish tinge. Intense.  Subtle oaky reductive notes, integrated into soft lime. Very attractive nose.  Medium high acidity. Bone dry. Palate aromas as nose.  Excellent length.  Good now, but I think it will improve with another few years, and better with food ****

Vinsanto, PDO Santorini, Santo Wines, 2007, 11.5%, 50cl, £18.50
Naturally sweet wine from sun-dried grapes. Mainly Assyrtiko, with some Aidani. Three years in oak. Bottled 2015. Medium pale caramel, with greenish tints towards the edges.  Fresh and sharp on the nose.  Lemon maybe, but mainly caramel with sultanas and almonds.  High acidity.  Sweet.  Nice balance of the extremes of acidity and sweetness, which is how I like sweet wines. Finishes sharp and then sweet. Not at all cloying.  Drink now ****

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Sunday night fever and the Kurniawan affair

I met Laurent Ponsot, a key play in the exposing of Rudy Kurniawan, this morning.  He is now working as sommelier in a Loire Valley restaurant.  Seemed a like a nice enough chap.  He pretended to have heard of my blog, but could only chat for a few minutes as he had to dash to get a taxi.

If you are thinking some of the details about my meeting with the Burgundian producer are about as suspicious as the label on one of Kurniawan’s bottles, you would be right – the encounter was part of a fever-induced dream just before I woke up. Late last night, when I was having problems sleeping due to a bout of the flu, I watched on YouTube the version of the Kurniawan affair according to the US television programme American Greed, and some bits of it had obviously resurfaced.

UK readers of my blog might find the American tone of the programme a bit too much at first, but stick with it for the content to come.  The accounts I have read left me feeling a strong antipathy to Kurniawan. How dare he build up trust with his friends, only to abuse it by defrauding them.

But this programme had me almost feeling sorry for him. It seems he was the front guy for a larger operation.  He was lured in by a gang, with promises of fine wine drinking opportunities and money, and probably forced into debt to keep the scam going for as long as possible.  OK, so this is just my speculation, but it seems plausible.  When the fraud was rumbled, as he was the public-facing part of the fraud Kurniawan was hauled in and received 10 years jail to be followed by deportation, while the rest of the gang were never tracked down.

And was there not some degree of culpability on Spectrum and Vanquish, the auction house that shifted a lot of Kurniawan’s wines? Maureen Downey at Zackys didn’t need any of her special anti-fraud skills to get Kurniawan’s number when he tried to get them to auction the wine – she merely insisted on some sort of evidence of provenance, which could not be provided. But Spectrum and Vanquish  had no such qualms, letting Kurniawan sell anonymously, and even allowing an obvious lie about how long a wine had been in his cellar to slip into the catalogue.

To be honest I neither have little sympathy for the “collectors”, some of which chucked millions of dollars at these fraudulent wine.  Harsh perhaps, I know, but there you are.  Where are Kurniawan’s gang now I wonder? Maybe involved with lower profile fraud, but I bet they are not piddling about with the likes of the wine that I buy.

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The Yin and Yang of wine appreciation

Yin_and_Yang_svgI don’t want heavy-in on Chinese philosophy here, partly because I am not convinced Yin and Yang match very well onto what I have to say. But they suit my purpose in that they represent different aspects of the same thing, and that thing is strongest if the Yin and Yang are in balance. Rather than enter into a debate about which aspects of wine appreciation are Yin and Yang, I am simply going to declare that I am using Yin to represent the tendency to collect wine and intellectualise about it, while Yang is for drinking and enjoyment.

The Yin of wine appreciation
Yin is the shady side of the hill or valley, and where better to locate your cellar?  It should of course also be underground, and with plenty of shelving for your unopened cases, and racks for bottles, each major wine region and producer in its own section. There may be a few wine books down there, but your main library of well-thumbed book is more accessible. Drinking wine breaks up your collection, and seems like a bit of a waste. If you are to open your bottles, you would prefer to use them as an educational opportunity, with like-minded people in vertical and horizontal tastings. Yin usually represents the female aspect of something, but I bet you are a bloke.

The Yang of wine appreciation
Yang is on the sunny side, and in the summer you will be out in the sun drinking a bottle of something. You have a good palate, and can easily tell the difference between the good stuff and plonk without seeing the label, which is just as well because you really couldn’t be bothered to read the label. But you have a picture of it on your phone, and you might remember what you were told about the wine at the time of buying or consumption. Drinking wine gives you a great deal of pleasure at many levels, and you would find it hard to live without it. There’s a small selection of good bottles under the stairs, though you are never entirely sure what is there. Yang is supposed to be male, but you are just as likely to be female.

I hope I have made my point by now: wine appreciation has an intellectual and a hedonistic aspect, but in my opinion it is strongest – and most fun – when the two are in balance. In my portrayals, I suspect that Yang seems more normal than Yin to most of us, as it is closer to the social-drinking end of wine appreciation. But do let at least a little Yin into your life, even if you think the balance should not be fifty-fifty.

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Barolo Boys – film review

Around 1980 I was on a budget holiday in Northern Italy, where most meals were bread, cheese and ham picnics.  However, one evening we pushed the boat out and went to a proper (albeit cheap) restaurant.  I remember we ordered a bottle of Barolo and, even though I had little interest in wine in those days, I can still conjure up a vivid image of how it tasted: brown, tannic, and totally devoid of fruit.  Today I would probably send it back, and I did consider it back then.  But of course we drank the bottle, even though it was impossible to derive pleasure from it.

That must have been an example of the wine that prompted the modernist revolution in Barolo.  It was the style of wine that sold for little money and kept the wine growers in poverty, as described in Barolo Boys, The Story of a Revolution.  But then how does it relate to the great traditional Barolo wines that, in the same documentary, David Berry Green said were so fantastic?  Ultimately I am still left a little confused about what the situation was before the revolution, and how it relates to the current state of affairs.  However, it seems that the quality of Barolo has been raised generally, irrespective of whether the traditionalist or modernist tag is applied. Are the Barolo Boys to thank for that?  Regardless, it must be seen as a good thing.

The Barolo Boys were a group of producers who introduced crop thinning, shorter maceration times and barrique aging, thus making the wines more appealing to consumers and critics alike, and allowing them to sell for a lot more money. The film tells this story through interviews with the people involved, and through archive clips.  However nice it was to meet the people, learn a bit about their culture and see the landscape, I am not convinced that is the best way to understand a story, but I cannot deny that I did learn quite a bit.

I am a little ashamed to admit that I used to think that the Barolo Boys was just the name of the winemakers’ football team.  Though it is that too, and the football team even featured in the film.  The other surprise was to see the documentary’s Langhe landscapes suddenly switch to the volcanic Mount Etna and Marco de Grazia.  I know about Marco – he is the guy that is currently busy raising the profile of Etna wines.  But what’s he got to do with Barolo? Ah, I see… before he arrived in Sicily he encouraged the Barolo revolution, introduced the Barolo Boys to America, and imported their wines.  In fact, it was on the American tour organised by him that their name was coined.

Interestingly, the booklet that accompanies the DVD mentions that in the early 19th century Nebbiolo was used to make a wine that was semi-sweet and slightly fizzy.  But the landowners wanted something better, so experts were called in to introduce the latest winemaking techniques.  Does that sound familiar? Terms like traditional and modern are, if they have any meaning at all, relative terms.  My only concern about change, particularly with modern communications, is that stylistic choice in the world of wine might get diminished. That might be a real danger in some cases, but I would say today’s Barolo remains distinctive. And if you want red wine in the early 19th century style, you can still get that from the region, in the form of Bracchetto d’Aqui. Has much really been lost?

If you are interested enough to read my blog, I think there is something in this documentary for you. DVDs of Barolo Boys, The Story of a Revolution are available here, along with further information. That is where I bought my copy. But be warned – the homepage is a badly-executed multimedia extravaganza, so you will probably want to turn your computer sound off.  If you want to see the trailer, you’d do better accessing it on Vimeo directly, by clicking on the above image for example.

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A visit to Alpha Estate, Amyndeo

We were getting towards the end of our trip in North Greece now, the last full day in fact, and were now in the heartland of Xinomavro.  To be more precise, we were visiting Alpha Estate in Amyndeo, one of the two PDOs that require 100% Xinomavro, the other one being Naoussa,

Alpha Estate’s export manager, Konstantinos Arvanitakis, showed us around the vineyards and winery.  The Amyndeo region lies on a plateau at 615m above sea level, between three mountain ranges, and the lakes on the plateau moderate the continental climate.  The estate was founded with 33ha of vineyard in 1998, now 120ha.  It contains vines of 14 different grape varieties, including some unlikely international varieties such as Tannat, and experiments with varieties and the most suitable terroirs continue.

Amyndeo is one of the driest regions in Greece, and thus irrigation is very important to Alpha Estate.  To achieve this, they use 19 wells as water sources, and many filtration units scattered around the estate treat the alkaline water obtained from the wells. The irrigation is sub-soil – it was the first in Europe – and controlled by underground sensors and leaf measurements.  They also have a vineyard weather station, and use satellite imaging, to monitor the state of their vineyards. Experiments with drones will commence next year.  On a smaller scale, their WineScan machine can analyse over 50 grape samples a day, and is used to check on the grapes’ development to help plan work in the vineyard.


Above left is one of their newer cordon-pruned vineyards, with the winery in the distance. To the right is a vineyard with pre-phylloxera bush vines, in a sandy soil that is hostile to the phylloxera bug.  Historical records show that this is at least 93 years old, and it is one of four old vine blocks on the estate.

In the winery they had all the usual kit, and also these cool-looking rotary fermenters which are used with Ximomavro.  A recipe for a tannic monster of a wine you might think, but we were reassured that they were programmed to rotate only very infrequently.  Oh, and Alpha Estate is the biggest importer of French barrels in Greece.


The Alpha Estate pursuit of excellence extended to the tasting room.  I have posted before how tastings could be improved, and this one implemented all six of my suggestions and went even further.  We had 13 wines in 13 glasses, each glass being selected to show off its particular wine.  The reds were poured before we entered the room, and the whites immediately before tasting so they were at the correct temperature. Note the differently shaped glasses, including an Oregon Pinot Noir glass for the Xinomavro Old Vines Reserve!  Note the detailed data sheet for each wine, including label image and space at the bottom for notes.  Note the map showing what wine is in each glass, and even where to find the “ancillary water glass” and “spittoon glass”.  The tasting proceeded in blissful silence, allowing us to concentrate on the wines themselves without marketing spiel to affect our impressions, but if we had any questions oenologist Katia Beli was on hand to help.


So with the perfect tasting conditions I have a fantastic set of notes to share with you, right?  Well, not really.  Although I occasionally make exceptions, I like to get to know wines better than is possible from a single tasting sample before giving my opinion.  But how about a list of my favourite wines?  Here they are: Axia 2012 (50% Xinomavro, 50% Syrah),  Syrah Single Vineyard Turtles 2011, Ximomavro Old Vines 2010, Utopia 2011 (Tannat), Malagouzia 2014, Omega Late Harvest  2012 (85% Gewurztraminer, 15% Malagouzia).  Alpha Estate has pretty good availability in the UK, and I already have a bottle of the Xinomavro Old Vines Reserve 2010 waiting to be picked up, so I might be posting tasting notes at some later date.

Alpha Estate delivers excellent wines now, but is a relatively new producer that is very much still striving for improvement, so definitely a producer to look out for.  And do drop by if you are in the region – we were told that they have an open door policy, and offer anyone who visits the same 13 wines we tasted.  But not necessarily in 13 different glasses.

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Xinomavro and me

I’m not going to give you an exhaustive account of  the native grape varieties I encountered on my recent wine trip to North Greece, but Xinomavro certainly deserves a few words.  And before that I’d like to say that the trip also confirmed my liking for Assyrtiko and Malagousia. They are very different grapes, Assyrtiko being lean and mean, the closest point of reference being Riesling I would say. A couple of times I even believed I detected a whiff of petrol in it.  Malagousia however is a lot more full-bodied and aromatic – more of a crowd-pleaser I think.  Incidentally, Malagousia was effectively rescued from obscurity by winemaker Vangelis Gerovassiliou, now owner of Ktima Gerovassiliou, who joined us for lunch there.  Assyrtiko’s stronghold is Santorini, which is now even more firmly on my list of places to visit. Anyway, back to Xinomavro…


Xinomavro vine with ripe fruit. ©User:Elisavetch

The variety is hardly a branding success with a tricky-to-pronounce name that translates as sour-black.  Actually the pronunciation is not too difficult: It starts with a “ks” sound and the stress is on the first “o”. Without a doubt, Xinomavro is the quality black grape of North Greece.  It is the only variety allowed in the important PDOs of Naoussa and Amyndeo, and, as mentioned in a previous post, one of the three varieties required for PDO Rapsani.  Most of Xinomavro wines are red, but it is not unusual to find rosé and even white examples.  There is nothing special about the grapes used for the white version; they are just vinified as a white wine, in the same way as the base wine for a Blanc de Noirs Champagne.

Xinomavro is often compared with Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo, and said to develop olive and tomato notes as it matures. I am not sure about Pinot Noir, but I can certainly see similarities with Nebbiolo, largely because the Xinomavro tannins are so huge. The aromatic profiles of Nebbiolo and Xinomavro also have points in common.  Someone on our trip said that neither variety was particularly fruity, and I think I see what they mean, but that is not to say they are not aromatic. On the basis of the young wine aromatic profile only, I also found similarities with Aussie Shiraz – a sort of engineering workshop smell of oil and Swarfega – but I think I was in a minority of one on that!

Am I selling the grape to you? Really, you have to believe that I came away as a big Xinomavro fan. Despite the name, I did not find the wines particularly acidic, but they were certainly not flabby either.  Maybe that makes it sounds more attractive?  But the best is to come.  Like Nebbiolo, Ximomavro wines age well.  I really would not like to characterise the bouquet of mature Xinomavro wines from my limited experience, other than to say that they are beautifully complex and I wasn’t totally convinced about the olive and tomato flavours they are meant to have.

The white Xinomavro wines I tried were attractive, with no hint of their tannic grape origins.  On the other hand, the rosés were pretty dark and beefy by rosé standards, tending towards a light red wine.  As I am not a big rosé wine lover, the closer it is to a red wine the better. It should also be noted that while most Xinomavro reds are very tannic, it is possible to vinify the grape to make a red wine that is much more soft and fruity when young.

A good example of that  style (to the honest, the only one I found on the trip) is Thymiopoulos Naoussa Jeunes Vignes, which is available from The Wine Society.  Marks and Spencer also do one of his wines at a similar price, which they call Thymiopoulos Xinomavro.  If you are buying from The Wine Society, you could also pick up a bottle of Thymiopoulos Earth and Sky Naoussa, which is considerably more tannic and age-worthy than the Jeunes Vignes.  I tasted the 2008, which I suspect had already begun to soften with age.  I wouldn’t want to single these wines out for excellence, as I tasted many other good ones, but I think they offer a nice contrasting pair, and have the advantage of being relatively easy to buy in the UK. If you would like another recommendation, I would suggest the Alpha Estate Xinomavro Reserve Veilles Vignes, which is PDO Amyndeo. We tasted the 2010, and it was definitely one of the highlights of the wines we sampled at Alpha Estate.  Amyndeo wines are supposed to be softer and more generous than those from Naoussa – Côte de Beaune rather than Côte de Nuit as someone put it – and this is approachable now, even if it would improve with age. It is available from a number of independent merchants in the UK.

So I have three Greek grape varieties that I know I like: Assyrtiko, Malagousia, and now Xinomavro.

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