New Georgian PDOs

Well, actually they were registered between August and December 2022, but I have only just added them to my earlier post that summarises the Georgian wine PDOs. The new ones are Asuretuli Shala, Okami, Okureshis Usakhelouri and Zegaani.

One interesting development is the Zegaani PDO, which I believe is the first Georgian PDO to specify that the wine must be made in qvevri. It also states that Zegaani is a “bio-wine”, but the meaning of that is not defined in the document, so I am not really sure what it signifies. In my opinion these are at least steps in the right direction.

Various artisanal wines from Georgia

I had been wanting to try wines from Oda Family Marani for some time, so when I heard that Sager and Wine had imported some into the UK,  I approached them in August 2022 to get some, and finished up buying a mixed case of interesting artisanal wines from Georgia.

I’m afraid it took me over a year to work my way through the case, so it is unlikely that it is possible to buy more of these vintages – from anywhere actually, considering the small production volumes – but I thought my tasting notes might still be of some interest.

They were all tasted at home, and drunk with evening meals, so each one got a good “road test”. But the downside of course is that they were not compared side-by-side.

Tsolikouri, Oda Family Marani, 2020, 14.5%, £25.00

Dry amber wine. Natural, unfiltered. Grapes from small vineyard in Nakhunavo village (Martvili), in Samegrelo region. Naturally fermented on 50% skins, in qvevri for 7 months. 900 bottles made

Palish amber, or medium pale gold. Shiny and clear. Slight formation of froth in bottle after double-decanting. Intense, complex and peppery, reductive notes. Medium acidity. Dry. Slight astringency. Lip-smacking from the tang, astringency, and pepper notes. Flavours I more normally associate with orange wines, which were not so evident on the nose, came through on the palate. Dry, refreshing finish. Overall feeling of lightness despite the high alcohol content. Drink now. A solid *****

Dzelshavi, Oda Family Marani, 2020, 12.5%, Sager and Wine, £27.00

Dry red wine. Natural, unfiltered. Grapes from small vineyard in Bostana village (Ambrolauri), Racha region. Naturally fermented on all skins, aged in qvevri for 7 months. 900 bottles made

Medium pale ruby, with some hints of purple. Intense, fresh berry primary fruit. Cherry, and blueberry perhaps. Medium acidity. Low astringency. Some sweetness of ripe fruit. Quite edgy, similar to astringency, but I guess it was bitterness. But in a good way, as it helps the wine finish dry, and clean, fresh and grown, while still being lip-smackingly good. Drink now. I liked this a lot on first tasting, but not so much together with a chicken curry. However, another bottle bought at the same time seemed to improve with food throughout the evening. Overall, let’s say *****

Kakhuri Mtsvane, Kortavebis Marani, 2020, 12.7%, £30.00

Amber, dry,  natural qvevri wine. Unfiltered. Gremi village, Kakheti region. Full skin fermentation, age 9 months in qvevri. Made by Tamuna Bidzinashvili

Medium caramel brown. Not very intense. Sharpish, caramel and lemon. High acidity. High astringency. Strange aromatically – like herbal cough drops. Is that some sort of brett? Also quite phenolic. Not yet sure about how much I like this. It’s not what I would expect. As a tentative, uncertain score, I’d say ****

“Mimoza”, Freya’s Marani, 2020, 14.0%, £26.00

Tsolikouri grapes from Tsitelkhevi, Imereti region. Grapes foot crushed and left on all skins and stems for 10 days. Made in qvevri. Made by Ének Freya Peterson

Medium amber. Smoky. Burnt rubber maybe. Medium high acid. Dry. I sense there is intense fruit in there somewhere, but it is clobbered by the smokiness. Maybe with time throughout the evening the smokiness is blowing off and a complex wine is being revealed. I’m going to say ****

“Oh, the wind and the rain”, Freya’s Marani,  2020, 12.0%, £26.00

Tsolikouri and Krakhuna grapes from Persati, Imereti region. Foot crushed and left on all skins and stems for 4 months. Made in qvevri. Produced by Ének Freya Peterson

Medium pale ruddy gold. Fresh, gentle phenolic aromas. Medium high acidity. Dry. Medium high tannin. Intense, as nose, and complex. Bretty bandage notes – not unpleasant to my taste, but others might object to this. Worked well with food *****

“Cuvée Polyamoria”, Gogo Wine, 2019, 13.5%, £31.00

Saperavi, Mtsvane and Rkatsiteli grapes from Artana village, Telavi, Kakheti region. Macerated on skins for 6 months. Made by Keti and Kakha Berishvili

Proper red wine colour – crimson purple – but strangely pale. I guess that’s the blended red and white varieties. Intense, aromatic and spicy. Berry fruit. Medium high acid. Dry. Massive tannins. Intense, as nose. Decent length. Finishes dry. Lip-smacking from the flavour profile and the tannins. I love it, but definitely a food wine *****

Tiamora”, Gogo Wine, 2020, 15.5%, Sager and Wine, £31.00

Rkatsiteli. Amber, dry wine. Macerated with skins for 7 months. Made by Keti and Kakha Berishvili, Artana village, Telavi, Kakheti region

Medium ruddy amber. Intense, sharp, pungent almost, complex fruit. Bitter oranges? Nuts. High acid. Hugely intense, as nose. Massive astringency. Despite the astringency almost, this is a classy wine, and delicious. Why not drink now? Great example of a good hard-core Kakhetian wine in my opinion ******

“Moksa”, Gogo Wine, 2020, 12.5%, Sager and Wine, £31.00

Dry rosé wine. Chinuri, Mtsvane and Danakharuli grapes. Half were foot-crushed, and the remainder with skins maceration. Made by Keti and Kakha Berishvili, Artana village, Telavi, Kakheti region

Pinkish medium pale amber. Intense. Floral, rose perhaps. Phenolic. Medium high acid. Dry. Low but detectable astringency. As nose. Gentle, elegant, yet distinctly an orange wine. Drink now. One for orange-skeptics *****

Saperavi, Artanuli Gvino, 2019, 13.5%, £29.00

Red wine. 12 days skin maceration, qvevri ageing for 8 months. Made by Keti and Kakha Berishvili of Gogo Wine, but the  Artanuli Gvino project was started by their father. Artana village, Telavi, Kakheti region

Intense ruby purple. Intense, rich and brooding, dark fruit. High acidity, and acerbic. High tannins, maybe the root of the acerbic nature. Intense, as nose, the brooding weight being alieviated by the acidity. Big and impressive. Would probably age well to give a completely different wine, but attractive now in its own way if you like that sort of thing. I did, so *****

Chinuri, Samtavisi Marani, 2020, 12.0%, Sager and Wine, £33.00

Amber, dry wine, unfiltered. Made in qvevri with 7 months skin contact. Samtavisi village, Shida Kartli, region

Medium pale amber. Smells mainly of slight oxidation. Medium acid. Dry. Actually, this might be a tad corked too. Either way it’s not very pleasant. No joy to be had from this, but hopefully it is just a faulty bottle *

Goruli Mtsvane, Samtavisi Marani, 2020, 13.5%, Sager and Wine, £31.00

Amber, dry wine, unfiltered. Made in qvevri with 7 months skin contact. Samtavisi village, Shida Kartli region

Medium amber. No sediment, despite it being unfiltered. Medium phenolic. Dry. Alcohol on nose, and also on palate, where it conferred weight, some sweetness, and a slight alcoholic burn notes. Medium low acidity. Medium tannin. Despite the prominent alcohol, in some ways this was smooth and classy, and I quite liked it ****

 

A Tvishi wine, from Chateau Tvishi

The wine originates from this beautiful vineyard in Tvishi, a village in the Lechkhumi region of Georgia, a drive of around 45 km north from Kutaisi. Different styles of wine are made in the village, but unfortified wines carrying the Tvishi name must be white, semi-sweet and use only the Tsolikouri grape variety.

It is from a family winery, Chateau Tvishi, headed by the winemaker Oleg Nemsitsveridze, and the bottle was gifted to me by a good friend who is a family member.

I think this is the first white semi-sweet Georgian wine I have tasted, so I have little to compare it with except sweet wines from the rest of the world, but for what it’s worth here is my tasting note.

Chateau Tvishi, Tvishi, Semi-Sweet White Wine, Georgia, 2021, 12.6%
Medium amber colour. I would guess there was at least a little skin contact, but do not know for sure. Intense and fresh on the nose, with pear aromas. I could also detect some alcohol on the nose. Medium acidity and sweetness. It felt surprisingly full-bodied considering the alcohol level. In addition to the pear aromas I also noticed some ginger on the palate. There was maybe a slight bitter edge on the finish, which I saw as a positive thing, as it left the mouth feeling refreshed *****

It really was unlike any other sweet wine I have tasted, and I found it intriguing and very enjoyable. Often sweetish wines without high acidity can feel flabby, but this one remained taut regardless. I should perhaps also mention that I didn’t pair it with a dessert, as recommended on the label, but with a pear, pomegranate, cheese and almond salad, which was then followed by the Georgian dish shkmeruli (pieces of chicken, fried and then cooked in a creamy garlic sauce), and I thought the wine worked very well with that food.

I’d also like to give a big shout out to Kneina in Tbilisi, who were very welcoming when we asked if we could open this bottle in their restaurant. They also gave us excellent food, and friendly service, on a few other visits during our time in Tbilisi.

Talha Tales – book review

I first read about talhas (Portuguese clay fermentation vessels) in a World of Fine Wine article written by Paul White back in 2015. On reading it again a few years ago, I decided I’d like to visit the Alentejo myself, and drink Talha wine in situ, but I could find very little information about how I might organise such a trip. What I needed was this book – a few years before it had actually been written. Paul White’s book, Talha Tales, is available from Amazon in Hardcover (£28.13), Paperback (£20.00) and Kindle edition (£9.99).  I was sent the Kindle copy to review and, while very grateful for the opportunity, my first comment would be that if you want to buy this book I suggest you spend a bit extra and get the paperback. As with many books of this type, you quite often want to flick backwards and forwards between pages, and it’s not so easy in Kindle.

And the content? For an overview, I couldn’t put it better than Paul himself:

There are three main sections. The first is full of background information and esoteric geeky wine and cultural stuff I love as a former historian. The second part explores individual producers and their wine in relative detail, to guide readers to the wines they may want to taste or wineries they may want to visit. The third part is more oriented towards the wine tourist. What to eat, where to stay and what to do beyond drinking.

Even as someone who was not a former historian, I think it was the background with “esoteric geeky wine and cultural stuff” I enjoyed most. I loved to hear the story of how the tradition of making wine in talha was saved from the brink of extinction, and is now starting to thrive again – I feel happier and more at home in a world where there is a place for maintaining historical traditions and diversity.

Also, as someone a lot more familiar with Georgian qvevri wine, I found the comparisons of talha and qvevri winemaking fascinating. Despite the historical and geographical points of difference, they have a lot in common. In terms of more recent developments, with both talha and qvevri there is increasing experimentation with the addition of wood ageing, and also of course bottling to allow broader distribution in cities and abroad, when historically the wine was more likely to go straight from clay vessel to the table.

Those were some of the geeky highlights for me (oh, also the bits on how the inside of talha are coated), but there is plenty more to get your teeth into. Paul’s enthusiasm and informal style carried me along through the story, and there is much I’d like to return to when I have more time.

The rest of the book, I must admit I read less avidly. Maybe it’s just me, but I find it difficult to concentrate on reading about producers and lists of wines I know little about. Were I to revive my plans to visit the Alentejo though, perhaps inspired by the 3rd section of the book (actually written by another author, Jenny Mortimer) they would suddenly become a lot more relevant.

The long and short of it is that if you are like me: fascinated by, or even just curious about, ancient winemaking methods and how they persist into modern times, or if you have a specific interest in talha wines, you really need this book. You should also be keeping in touch with Paul on his website Wine Disclosures (and check the archives of my blog). If on the other hand you are not so fascinated…. well, maybe you should be 🙂

Qvevri PGI

There has been a Georgian PGI for qvevri since 21st May 2021. Most web pages announcing the event seemed to be little more than rehashed versions of the same press release. So here, somewhat belatedly, I try to explain a bit of the background, and discuss some of the issues around the Qvevri PGI as I see them.

Originally, the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) was introduced as an EU category that could be used interchangeably with country-specific terms such as Vin de Pays for wines from France, Vino de la Tierra for Spain, or Indicazione Geografica Tipica for Italy, etc. Key differences were that under the new system, the same name for the category was to be used in all countries, albeit possibly translated into a local language, and also that the same PGI category applied across a range of agricultural products and foodstuffs, such as wine, cheese and olive oil. In a similar fashion, the EU Protected Denomination of Origin (PDO) was introduced as an alternative to the old Appellation d’Origine Controllée, Denominación de Origen, Denominazione di Origine Controllata, etc.

Following EU terminology, Georgia also introduced its own list of PGI and PDO goods. Previously it used the term Appellation of Origin, and while you still see that term used on the official website, which is a little confusing, all recent documents refer to the newer terms PGI and PDO.

Georgia’s list is independent of the EU’s, and is primarily only of relevance in Georgia, in the same way that the EU list applies primarily within the EU. However, both the EU and Georgia have entered into treaties with trading partners to gain recognition of their protected names in other countries too. Thus, for example, the USA recognises most EU PGIs and PDOs, though it has negotiated a small number of exceptions. Recognition of Georgian PGIs and PDOs outside of Georgia is however quite a lot more limited. You might like to note for reference that the official list of Georgian protected names is on the Sakpatenti website here, and the names protected by treaty in other countries are linked to from this page. If you are primarily interested in the Georgian wine PDOs, I recommend you take a look at this article first: Georgian Wine PDOs.

You can find the text of the Qvevri PGI document on the Sakpatenti website, which opens as a pop-up from the list of PGIs, but for your convenience I have created a PDF version of its text. The first thing worthy of note, is that the PGI applies to the qvevri itself, not the wine that is made in the vessel. So in that respect it breaks with EU usage, where PGIs and PDOs apply only to agricultural produce and foodstuffs. Also, as far as the geographical element of the PGI is concerned, the only requirements are that the raw materials should come from Georgia and that the qvevri be made in Georgia. I believe this is also inconsistent with EU usage, where PGIs and PDOs typically, if not always, refer to regions within countries.

In the PGI document, there is a lot of historical and cultural detail, but as far as I can see the only documented requirements of the PGI for qvevri seem to be that:

1) The raw materials should come from Georgia, and the qvevri is made in Georgia,

2) The qvevri maker is a member of the Organization of PGI Qvevri Producers/Makers, or other authorised body, and

3) The authorised body needs to certify that the vessel is indeed a qvevri, and make a permanent official mark of the organization on it, to allow traceablity.

The details of what is required to gain certification are not specified in the PGI document, and seem to be totally the responsibility of the certifying body.

I think it is commendable that steps are being taken to protect usage of the term Qvevri, but I am struggling to understand what precisely this PGI achieves. If I understand it correctly the PGI would stop someone in Georgia claiming to sell or own a qvevri if that vessel does not have appropriate marking and associated documentation. It might also prevent a wine producer claiming Qvevri as a trademark, as happened in Armenia with Karas, the Armenian equivalent of the qvevri. However, the PGI seems to exclude any qvevri made before the authorised bodies came into existence. And the chances of any other country recognising the Georgian Qvevri PGI will be pretty slim, as it applies to a clay vessel, rather than an agricultural product or foodstuff.

To me, the important thing is how the qvevri is used in winemaking. If the wine barely touches the insides of the qvevri, why should I care about whether it conforms to the new PGI? I was rather hoping for something on wine labels that would provide a guarantee that the wine was fermented, and aged for a specified period of time, in a qvevri vessel that conforms to a specific definition. To me, the obvious way to achieve this would be to append “Qvevri” to existing PDO names for such wines. And to be totally unambiguous about the claim, the text “PDO” should always be used on the label where it applies, e.g. “Kakheti Qvevri PDO”.

Within Georgia, I guess reputable qvevri winemakers are well known, and in some cases friends or relatives. But those of us that buy exported Georgian wines need a bit more reassurance – a reassurance that Qvevri PGI sadly does not provide.

Thinking inside the qvevri

Firstly, I’d encourage you to read this article by Daria Kholodilina. It gives a great summary of recent wine trends in Georgia, and was the stimulus for the opinions I am about to share here.

Evidence of ancient winemaking in the Vardzia cave complex

Well, have you read it now? Go on – I promise it won’t take you long.

I agree with Daria that the story of Georgian wine can get repetitive for people familiar with it – 8,000 years of wine history – qvevri and orange wine – importance of wine in Georgian culture – Soviet wine production in Georgia (boo) – etc, etc. But we lovers of Georgian wine should remember that most people are still ignorant of that story.

While boring for some, it is still in my opinion vastly important to communicate that story of tradition, because it is a true unique selling point that differentiates Georgia and its wine from the rest of the world. The recent introduction into Georgia of pet nat wines, free-standing qvevri, and concrete eggs, is also interesting, and may make some producers stand out amongst their fellow Georgians, but in the global context they are not so remarkable. Of course underground qvevri are used elsewhere in the world too, but not with all the tradition and experience of Georgia.

If you think traditional qvevri are boring, you should try visiting producers in other countries! I am sure most tourists and importers would much rather see qvevri tops, than yet another array of stainless steel tanks followed by a bottling line. I hasten to add that I personally am sufficiently geeky to find all of the above interesting, so if you have recently shown me your bottling line please don’t be offended 🙂

But to return to the story of Georgian wine, here are some suggestions as to how Georgian producers might seek to differentiate themselves amongst their neighbours within a traditional context:

1) If you use qvevri, talk about the variation in qvevri winemaking throughout the country, and explain how you fit into the national picture, and within your region. I know your wines are not all heavily extracted tannic monsters, but I am not sure how many people understand that yet.

2) Give context to your grape varieties in the same way. Explain how local or widespread they are, and where they are grown. I personally also find it helpful to know how the names translate into English, because they then become more meaningful and easy to remember.

3) I think most people already do this, but tell your backstory. I find the roots of Georgian producers particularly fascinating as they are so diverse – from hobbyist to ex-Soviet wine factory and everything in-between.

4) Finally – terroir. My impression is that this is given very little emphasis in Georgia, but wine people in general seem to love hearing about terroir. So why not do some research on your geology and soils, and your micro- and macro-climates, and explain why they are so important?

I know I cannot speak for everyone, but the above is my opinion as a British drinker of Georgian wine who has so far made a couple of trips to Georgia, and has visited vineyards on both trips. I’d also like to emphasise that I am not against innovation per se -it’s just that it is the Georgian tradition of winemaking that will keep drawing me back to the country and its wine.

Having now completed most of Daria’s bingo card, I shall end with a gaumarjosგაუმარჯოს.

How not to pick a wine

In a nutshell, contrary to the advice and suggestions you might see in some places, do not pick a wine based on how you presume the price is determined. That is how you don’t do it.

Even I have been guilty of offering price-related selection advice to an extent, in that I wrote a version of the common trope that explains how, if you spend a bit more money on your wine, there is a huge increase in the money available for the wine production element of the cost. To be fair to myself, I did add a touch of scepticism that you don’t usually get in those explanations. But these days I would give greater emphasis to the fact that, just because more money is available for wine production, it does not necessarily mean it is spent that way. It could for example go on marketing, to yield more profit, or to subsidise other wines in a producers range. Also, even if more is spent on production, it does not necessarily mean that you are going to like the wine any more. New oak barrels are expensive, but how much do you like oaky wines?

Then there is the idea that people typically go for the second cheapest wine on a restaurant list, to avoid spending too much while not appearing to be a skinflint.  So another piece of advice often given is to avoid the second cheapest wine, because that will be marked up more highly by cunning restaurateurs. That idea was recently debunked a few months ago, and gleefully reported on in the wine press. Apparently, in reality percentage markups are highest on midrange wines. So in these newly enlighted times, presumably those are now the wines to avoid? No, actually not.

All of the above is irrelevant to the consumer. Let people in the wine trade and restaurant business worry about the economics of wine production, mark-ups, and price points. For the wine consumer there are only two relevant considerations: how much the wine costs, and how much pleasure we can derive from it. Of those two factors, cost is a perfectly straightforward, but the concept of pleasure bears more analysis.

It is not just the liquid in the bottle that is important for pleasure, or even the issue of how well it goes with whatever you are eating. For all manner of goods, and wine is no exception, we seem to gain pleasure from all sorts of things. Rarity, for example. How many bottles were produced, and how common is the grape variety? Then some people take pleasure in enjoying expensive items; while others love a bargain. And labels can be as important on wine bottles as on items of clothing. It’s all a question of what works for you, and pleasure is rarely rational. If you are interested in How Pleasure Works, you may like the book with that title, written by Paul Blom – I did.

I admit that it is difficult to know how much pleasure one will get from any particular wine. But at the very least, thinking about pleasure is more pleasurable than fretting about the economics of wine trade.

Aldi wines – some impressive, some not

For a supermarket with a relatively small selection, I think Aldi have a very interesting and eclectic range of wines, which I have been exploring recently, sometimes trying recommendations from others, and sometimes just taking a punt on what looks interesting. I must say that the recommendations have been the more successful wines for me so I am hoping here to pass on some of that success for others to enjoy. If you don’t have an Aldi store nearby that stocks them, you can buy online and get any quantity of wine delivered for £4.95. (I have BTW paid for all the wines reviewed here, and have no commercial relationship with Aldi other than as a customer.)

Impressive

Let’s start with the impressive wines – ones that I would recommend.

Firstly, I would remind you of the Spanish Bobal wines I reviewed back in 2019. Aldi are still selling the organic one for the same price of £4.99 (but a different label), and I having been ordering and drinking it with enjoyment throughout that period. Not every day, but it is a staple that I always like to have available at home, and of the people I know who have tried it, all like it. It is admittedly a very small sample, but remarkable in that it covers a wide range of wine lovers with different levels of knowledge and experience. So that is definitely on my list of recommendations. Just to be clear, it is the Toro Loco Spanish Organic Red.

Next up is another wine that was recommended to me and I have recommended. And all the reactions, including my own, have been positive. This is Aldi’s Greek Assyrtiko for £6.99. If you have been following my blog for some time you will know that the home of the Assyrtiko variety is the Greek island of Santorini, but this wine is from the north of mainland Greece, in Amyndeo, a region better known for its red Xinomavro wines. Nevertheless, this is the most Santorini-like Assyrtiko I remember tasting that is not actually from Santorini. I’d say it is comparable to a low-end Santorini, but at less than half price. If you are wondering what that is like, here’s my tasting note: Intense, fresh, mineral and citrus. High acidity. Dry, but ripe fruit. Decent length. A hint of liquorice edginess, which I like. Refreshing and clean ****. On re-reading my note, I am not sure how typical liquorice is of Santorini to be honest, but I wouldn’t get too hung up on that – it was after all only a hint I found.

Finally in my impressive category of Aldi wines is Specially Selected French Jurancon, also at £6.99. But be warned that I have only so far had one bottle of this, though I definitely intend to buy more. Also be warned that it seems to be a bit of a Marmite wine. Myself, I love it, but some others are not so keen. My very brief tasting note is: Intense citrus – lime and orange. High acidity. Dry ***. So the overall effect is that of a very tangy wine, but without the lemon citrus notes that often accompany that style. I am not very familiar with Jurançon Sec, but from my limited experience the Aldi wine certainly conveys the correct feel, but with the volume turned down a little – you cannot have it all for £7.00. In my opinion it is just a pleasure to have such an interesting wine readily available at a supermarket for a very reasonable price. Edit 20/12/21: After drinking a few bottles of this (not all at the same time), I decided that the volume was turned down too much, and the overall effect was a bit watery. It’s still not a bad wine, but I have knocked a star off the score, and I would always drink the Aldi Assyrtiko in preference. The Assytiko continues to impress.

Indifferent

Now for a brief mention of the more indifferent wines I have recently tried from Aldi. These were all OK, and the low price encourages exploration. I don’t feel motivated to return to buy more, but do try them if you are tempted.

Dealuri Romanian Feteasca Regala £4.99: Intense, pear-drop mainly. Medium acid. Off dry, maybe a little residual sugar but certainly sweet aromatics. Not unpleasant, but simple, and maybe a bit cloying **.  This is a Romanian wine from a good quality Romanian grape, but in my opinion totally lacked any character – it may as well have been a cheap Pinot Grigio.

Castellore Italian Frappato £6.49: Cherryade. Medium acidity. Low but detectable tannin. A touch of bitterness too, and it’s certainly not flabby. I think this is just off-dry. Pleasant in a childish sort of way ***. The Sicilian variety Frappato can make glorious wines, with vibrant crunchy red fruit, but this is not one of them. And while I did see some varietal character, I really would prefer to pay considerably more money to get something better.

Italian Aglianico £6.99: Vague dark berry fruit. Oak. Medium acid. Medium tannin. Very restrained. Perhaps some floral notes. Oakiness that gets stronger as the wine warms – I prefer it close to cellar temperature ***. I was a bit conflicted about this. I do like restrained wines, and this certainly was restrained, to the point of a fault. And I also appreciated that it was not made in an obvious crowd-pleasing style. But on the other hand Aglianico is one of the great Italian varieties, and this showed barely a hint of that greatness. If it were £4.99 I may have been more forgiving, but at £6.99 I felt I needed more, however irrational that might be.

Bad

There were no bad wines amongst the ones I tried 🙂

Glinavos Paleokerisio 2019

If you are at all adventurous in your taste for wine, you really must try this one.

As the label is all Greek, let me start by deconstructing it to the best of my ability. Paleokerisio is the name of the wine, and it is produced by Ktima Glinavos, where ktima means estate. It is a mere 10.5% ABV, and comes in a crown-capped 50cl bottle (which is a pain to stack in a wine fridge as the bottles teeter worryingly on top of each other due to the barrelling in the shape). Merchants seem to interpret the “19” in the lot number as the vintage indication, and I’m sure that is correct, but formally speaking this is a non-vintage wine.

The wine is designated PGI Ionnina, and thus comes from a mountainous region in north-west Greece. The region does not extend as far west as the coast, but has Albania to the north, and the Greek regions of Macedonia and Thessaly to the east. It is around 100km north to south, and 75km east to west, and thus has a wide range of growing conditions. Sadly, I do not know which part this particular wine comes from.

It is made from 97% Debina, and 3% Vlachiko, which are both varieties local to the region. Debina is a green grape, and Vlachiko red.

The name Paleokerisio means “like the old times”, which is the first hint at why you might find this wine is particularly interesting – it is made in the old style of the region. This means the grapes are fermented on their skins, and the wine is semi-dry and semi-sparkling. But the viticulture is not organic, and the second fermentation is in tank, so its production is maybe not quite as old-style as you might think. Nevertheless, it is interesting and, more-importantly, delicious. Yes, it’s an orange wine, though the small percentage of red grapes seems to give the amber colour a ruddy tinge.

I’d describe the colour as a deep ruddy-amber, or a palish ruddy-brown. The nose is not intense, but has some of that phenolic character you tend to get on orange wines. It is very slightly sparkling, off-dry, has highish acidity, and a slight astringency and bitterness. I repeat: it’s delicious. The sharpness, astringency and bitterness adds a refreshing edge to the wine, but is nicely balanced by its slight sweetness *****

Generally I like orange wines at cellar temperature, but I think this one benefits from being properly fridge-cold. It is great to drink by itself, and also with food from the eastern Mediterranean, from Greece to the Middle-East, or even with spicier Indian food. Yes, I know that is a pretty broad brush, but I think the wine is very flexible. As I see it, the main exceptions are that it would not work so well as an aperitif, nor with very delicate fish dishes, or dark meats in a heavy sauce.

If you are interested in buying some, I suggest you google “Glinavos Paleokerisio”, and expect to pay £12-14 for the 50cl bottle.  I got my last lot as a case from Pure Wines, for £12.50 each. Prior to that I used Wine and Greene, but the last time I looked they no longer had it in stock. If you make my suggested search, you will also find Julia Harding’s review of the wine, which I only noticed after I writing my tasting note. I was pleased to see that she too was enthusiastic about it, but we differ on the ideal serving temperature.

In addition to the label and my palate, information for this post came from merchants’ websites, The Wines of Greece by Konstantinos Lazarakis (also recommended), and Google Maps.

Botijas – Peruvian winemaking in clay

In an online discussion on “amphoras” in winemaking, wine enthusiast Peter Harvey drew my attention to a vessel I failed to mention in my earlier blog post on the various types of clay pots in winemaking: the botija, as used in Peru. I am very grateful to Peter for the information and photographs, which I use with permission.

He saw botijas in use at three wineries in the Ica Valley – Vinos Intipalka, Bodega Tres Esquinas and Bodega Lazo – and La Reyna de Lunahuaná, in the Lunahuaná valley.

Unlike most clay winemaking vessels, botijas seem to me to be true amphoras. They are the right size for amphoras, and the shape looks correct too. There is a narrow opening at the top, meaning the contents must be poured out rather than scooped. And they have a pointed bottom which, in common with classical common-use amphoras means they can be stuck into the earth to help keep them upright, as shown above at La Reyna de Lunahuaná. They do not have the usual long narrow neck, but are more like the belly amphoras from 640-450 BC, and although the name amphora implies something that can be lifted from both sides using two handles, handles were not always present.

The framed picture above is of the actual press still in use at Bodega Tres Esquinas, and their winemaking process is described by Peter Harvey:

The grapes are trodden Portuguese style, and the juice from the treading floor and the press runs directly into the botija which is carried in a wooden frame and plonked in lines under cover but otherwise in the open, loosely covered by hessian or suchlike. When the fermentation’s over they’re stopped off with a bung and cloth to settle the contents. After use they are simply washed out with water.

He also points out that

The Botijas were mainly used of course to make the base wine to be made into Pisco. Like the Georgians they seem to be “rediscovering” this technique for table wine and I know that the big Ica player Intipalka are sourcing old ones and re-using them.

While the use of botijas in Peru is currently of no direct relevance to UK wine drinkers, botija wines may eventually arrive over here, and in the meantime I feel reassured that the Peruvian winemaking traditions are being maintained.