wine

Athenee Imports & New Wines of Greece

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Rocky, steep slope of Robola at high elevation on the island of Cephalonia

Esquin Wine Buyer Jeff Fournier recently took a two-week trip to Greece with Athenee Imports to gain more in-depth knowledge on one of the world’s most ancient wine regions. Here’s some of what he found.

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I was impressed with the diversity of climate and terrain. Many people think of Greece and imagine white beaches and bright blue waters but there is a lot more to this beautiful country. More than half of Greece is mountains and I drove and wound thru a lot of them. But let’s start with my first stop. After flying into Athens and a walk up to the Acropolis we headed for the island of Crete the next day.

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Slate from Karavitakis Vineyard

Crete is the southern most of the islands and the largest. We feasted on fish soup, sea urchin and octopus, and drank wines from the Karavitakis Winery. We had a Malvasia Aromatica, A Vidiano & Assyrtiko blend, and The Little Prince, which can be found here at Esquin which is 65% Viana and 35% Vidano for around $12. All of these wines had bright acidity with lemon-lime zest and of course the savory richness in the Assyrtiko. Check out these pictures of the slate in my hand and the rocky soils that provide the bright acidity in these wines.

The next day took us to the far north and the town of Drama. We visited cool-climate vineyards close to the Albanian border and the Pavlidiis Winery, which sits in a valley surround by mountains that was once a lake. Old boat anchors have been found in the hills. The vineyards are planted to Agiorgitiko, Tempranillo and Syrah for reds and Assyrtiko, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc for whites. We have a couple here at Esquin and the wines tend to be sophisticated and elegant with a modern flare.

Next stop, and one of my favorites, was the northern town of Naoussa and biodynamic producer Thymiopoulos Winery. The vineyards are cultivated biodynamic and are certificated organic. The soils have dark-green granite, light green schist and lime stone with cover crops of wild chamomile, clover, grass and wild roses. These mountain vines are 50 years old see pictures below. Xinomavro is the focus here and Thymiopoulos’ could be a good ringer in a Nebbiolo blind tasting. This is a very small winery that uses only wild yeast fermentation, no inoculation. Check out the Young Vines Wine in the store now at $17.99.

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Old vines and cover crops in Thymiopoulos’ vineyard

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Light green schist and cover crops in Thymiopoulos’ vineyards

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Mercouri Estate Foloi

Another one of my favorites is the Mercouri Estate, on the western coast of the Peloponnese, near ancient Olympia. Mercouri has a section of 140 year old Refosco vines in front of the winery. There are three wines currently here in the store you may recognize: the Foloi Label, always a favorite, blended with 90% Roditis and 10% Viognier for complexity. Check out the Domaine Mercouri and the Mercouri Cava. Both are blended with around 80% Refosco and 20% Mavrodaphne. Ask me about them next time you are in the store.

Next, a ferry ride to the island of Cephalonia and some fabulous Robola grown at high elevation on steep slopes from the Gentilini Winery. We have the Cellar Selection here in the store. This wine has citrus dry white flowers, thyme and herbs with chamomile. Check out these pictures of the rocky soils, wild thyme.

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Wild thyme in the Robola vineyards of Cephalonia

 

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Pumice stones from Santorini

Last but not least, everyone’s favorite the island of Santorini. The eruption that created Santorini was the second largest known on the planet, only to Krakatoa, and created a tsunami estimated between 150 to 500 ft. that destroyed Crete, and some believe caused the destruction of Atlantis, if it actually existed. Volcanic soils filled with pumice stones give these wines bright acidity. After a scary plain landing because of the wind, I now realize why the grapes are grown close to the ground. The method of coiling the vines is called Koulura, a technique I have never seen before and unique to Santorini.

 

I visited two brilliant wineries. First, Estate Argyros – we have two wines in the store right now, which are the Atlantis red and white. For $21, the red is 90% Mandilria and 10% Mavrotragano. It is fruity with good tannin and spice. The white is Aidani and Athiri, it is bright with lemon blossom and great with seafood. My favorite is the Aidani, a rare indigenous variety with tropical notes scented herbs and flowers but very dry. I hope to have it in the store soon.

Next off to the Gaia Winery. We carry the Thalassitis Assyrtiko, beautifully rich and complex with tropical fruit and alittle spice at $29.99. My favorite, the wild ferment Assyrtiko has more complex layers of fruit, spice and earthly minerals for $33.99. Gaia also makes a good Retsina that is 100% Roditis with a delicate balance of the pine resin that goes great with garlic sauce. And for red, we carry the Agiorgitiko, good fruit nice peppery notes, a little like Sangiovese but not as tannic and with more spice at $23.99.

Look me up next time you’re in the store and looking for Greek wines, I’ll be happy to talk with you!

-Jeff Fournier, Wine Buyer.

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food, wine

Three Views on Wine With Oysters

Wine With OystersEveryone has a thought on what to choose when it comes to wine with oysters. I feel that you can’t go wrong with white wines that hit all points on the crisp/dry/well-chilled mark. And bubbles are always welcome to the party. But we all have our favorites.

I’m going to go with the 2010 Pepiere Muscadet Clos des Briords.  A lovely, single-vineyard old-vine Muscadet from France’s Loire Valley. This wine was born to be consumed with bivalves. It’s a got a bit more richness and texture than your average Muscadet. And you can get it in magnums! What’s not to love about that? For bubbles, I’m sticking to the Loire and recommending any high-quality Cremant or sparkling wine from that region.

As the European wine buyer here at Esquin, I hope you can forgive me for showing my French bias. But in the interest of highlighting local wines to go with local oysters, I have consulted two bastions of Pacific Northwest wine for their two cents’ (two half shells’?) worth:

  • Clive Pursehouse of the Northwest Wine Anthem: “For Oregon wines that match up well with your favorite shellfish acid is king, and some of the beautiful dry Rieslings from Oregon’s Willamette Valley certainly fit the bill.  You don’t have to go far into the Valley to come across some beautiful cool climate Rieslings with some of the acidity, balance, and zest to properly pair with oysters. You’ll find wonderful examples in the northern end in Chehalem Mountain or Yamhill-Carlton. One example is the Trisaetum Coast Range Vineyard Dry Riesling; it delivers with zesty spice and green apple tartness.  Brilliant acidity brings this Riesling to a beautiful crescendo.”
  • Sean Sullivan of the Washington Wine Report: “The 2010 vintage in Washington saw the type of cool conditions and high acid that leads to fantastic white wines, and particularly wines that go with oysters. Two of my favorites from the 2010 vintage are the Cadaretta SBS and Guardian Cellars Angel Sauvignon Blanc. The 2010 Cadaretta SBS–a blend of 75% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Semillon–has a full, rounded feel, with white grapefruit flavors and tart, mouthwatering acidity. Guardian Cellar’s 2010 Angel Sauvignon Blanc is barrel-fermented, giving the wine a textured feel to balance it’s racy acidity. Both simply should not be consumed without an oyster shell in hand.”

So what is your pick for oysters? I’m always looking for a new wine to enjoy with oysters. And if it requires more research by the dozen, so be it.

wine with oystersThanks to Taylor Shellfish Farms in the Melrose Market and my host Jon Rowley for providing the oysters and the inspiration. (Well, oysters for me. Clive and Sean, I owe you a dozen. Each.) View the winners from Taylor Shellfish’s oyster wine competition.

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wine

Our Fall Sampler is Here!

Fall leaves

We’ve selected an eclectic, interesting, and tasty roster of a dozen wines for our ever-popular sampler. Take a look at our selections below with tasting notes and food pairings. Pick up a case today!

Buried Cane Pinot Grigio (Washington)

Zesty and vibrant, with floral and tropical aromas, followed by peach and lemon fruit flavors. A note of pear and spice adds complexity. Enjoy with grilled lemon prawns.

Arabella Sauvignon Blanc (South Africa)

Complex green grassy nose with passion fruit, guava and pear aromas. Gooseberry and tropical flavors on a full, rich palate with a long sweet-fruited finish. Delicious with fresh cheeses or sugar snap salad.

Domaine Maby Cotes du Rhone Blanc “Variations” (France)

Primarily Grenache Blanc blended with Picpoul and Clairette. White flower and bright peach scents start you off. The palate is a medley of tropical and pitted fruit flavors finishing with a delicious crispness. Try this with white fish topped with mango sauce.

Viano Chardonnay (California)

A nicely balanced, gently oaked Chardonnay from Contra Costa County. Ripe notes of apple, pear and allspice lead to a beautiful mouthful of fruit where tropical flavors emerge. All nicely accented with toast and cream. Serve with rosemary orange roast chicken.

Fiefs Les d’Anglars Cahors Malbec (France)

From the home of Malbec, where it is produced to reflect the true dark essence of the grape. This wine has fruity aromas of blackberries joining harmoniously with the mocha tannins. Fantastic served with beef pot roast.

Los Ailos Syrah Tannat (Argentina)

The addition of Tannat to this blend adds texture to the bright Syrah fruit. The wine is lush with deep berry, black pepper spice and subtle herb. The tremendous depth of this wine make it a great accompaniment to smoked meats, rich red sauces and savory beef dishes.

Cardiff Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (California)

This Cali Cab will draw you in with aromas of blackberry cobbler. The palate continues with plum, vanilla and allspice. Serve this with a top loin of beef or a savory lamb stew.

Ch. St. Louis la Pedrix Costieres de Nimes (France)

A tasty blend of Carignan, Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre. Ripe, fresh fruit scents lead you to mouthfilling flavors of ripe raspberry and plum with subtle smoky notes. Serve with sirloin burgers.

La Radela Tempranillo (Spain)

A dark ruby colored delight from the famed wine region of Rioja. Cherries, raspberries, minerals and earth combine to perfection. Elegantly intense and intriguingly complex. Try this paired with herbed roast pork tenderloin.

JP Azeitão Tinto Red (Portugal)

A fruity modern-styled blend of Castelao, Aragonez and Syrah. Intense aromas of black cherry, damson, spicy licorice and subtle smoky notes. Robust and flavorful with forest berries and delicious texture. This would be great with roast beef.

Zolo Malbec (Argentina)

Malbec with a deep purple color, with a high intensity of black fruits, raspberries, and violets. Spices play on the palate of fruit, combining with sweet earth and plum. The rich and spicy character of this wine make it a great match for BBQ Ribs.

Stella Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (Italy)

Serve up your favorite recipe of lasagna with this red. Black cherry aromas are highlighted by dark chocolate and soft leather notes. The palate has a traditional rustic style, with true Italian texture running through the dark fruit flavors.

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France, red wine, wine

Powerhouse Cotes du Rhone

Andezon Cotes du RhoneCotes du Rhone has been a go-to wine for me for years. It’s always an inexpensive, safe bet. There’s a lot of good examples I try regularly, but what does it take to stand out from the pack? Well, you’ve got to have some serious sizzle. I found it in the 2010 Andezon Cotes du Rhone.

The first thing that caught my attention about the Andezon (after realizing that it did not actually say Amazon) was the blend. Most Cotes du Rhones tend to be very Grenache-intensive. The Andezon,  however, is almost exclusively Syrah. (90% if you must know.) It reminds me of another favorite Cotes du Rhone, the Saint Cosme, which is an all-Syrah standout.

This is a big, brawny red. It doesn’t get it’s muscle from oak, though. The Andezon is fermented old-school, in concrete tanks. It’s delicious on it’s own but if you wondering what goes best with this delicious red, I’d say pair this bruiser with a bacon cheeseburger. Or anything you can eat with one hand so as not to obstruct a clear path to your glass.

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Washington, white wine, wine

Eroica Riesling: A Retrospective

eroica riesling washington wine

Had the opportunity to take part in tasting a vertical of Eroica Riesling at Wild Ginger. This collaboration between Chateau Ste. Michelle and Ernst Loosen from Germany is a benchmark for Washington Riesling. What started as a handshake deal between two winemakers has become a great partnership showcasing the potential for great Riesling in Washington State. We tasted the 2005, 2007, and 2010. I preferred the 07 as it (to me) had the most acidity. And thought it’s kind of a duh to say that Riesling is great with Asian cuisines, the wines really shifted to another level with the food. Especially noteworthy was the green papaya salad; it was put on this Earth to be enjoyed with Riesling!

The real show-stopper, however, was getting to try two vintages of the Eroica Single Berry Select. A TBA-style dessert wine of miniscule production, it’s a treat to try one let alone two vintages. (BTW, TBA is German for delicious, rare, nectar-like Riesling that’s picked berry-by-berry.) The 2001 (seen on the right in the above photo) was poured first and I have to say I was astonished by the color. It had already taken on a much deeper, darker color than the 2007 poured next to it. It was the Wine of the Day for me.

This special event was part of a larger, summer-long celebration of Riesling. Whether it’s from Washington or anywhere else in the world, I cannot recommend Riesling highly enough as one of the finest, most age-worthy, food-friendly wines.

Full Disclosure: This tasting and lunch was provided by the winery.

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wine

Exploring Virgina Wine Country

Afton Mountain VineyardsI recently attended the Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville, VA and a highlight was visiting the lovely wineries of Nelson County, with the Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop. I had no idea what to expect as far as the wines were concerned, and was thrilled to discover something that they already know in Virgina: there is some really good wine being made there. Here are a few of my favorites from my all-too-brief afternoon in the wine country:

Flying FoxPetit Verdot? From Virginia? Whaaaa? Yup. We started our day at Flying Fox Vineyard and, after a couple of (unoaked and refreshing) Viogniers, dove into a vertical of Petit Verdot: 2006, 2007, and 2008. I was so impressed with the 2006 that I ended up bringing a bottle home with me. The tannins had really smoothed out and and it was drinking beautifully.

Well-aged Virginia CabernetProbably the coolest, most unexpected wine came courtesy of the generous, affable Tim Gorman, winemaker at Cardinal Point Winery. How about a 1993 Virginia Cabernet? More than just a curiosity, it was a very tasty, well-aged Cab. Minty. Mellow. Yum.

Tim Gorman of Cardinal Point WineryTim’s a really cool guy. Animated, passionate, and humorous, he poured for us one of my Wines of The Trip: The 2009 Clay Hill Cabernet Franc. Fantastic! Would have loved to try this wine with a nice chill on it. (Especially considering it was 100 degrees in Charlottesville. With soul-crushing humidity, too.) Why didn’t I buy one? (Commence hand-wringing regret.)

One last shout-out to the vintage sparkling wine from Afton Mountain Vineyards. (Just checked out their website and dig their motto: “Grapes don’t grow in ugly places.” The photo at the top of this post is from my visit to Afton Mountain; I trust that vouches for their motto.) Their (hand-riddled!) 2008 Tete de Cuvee, corked just a few weeks prior to our visit, was a lovely sparkling wine with a nice richness. It’s a Pinot Noir/Chardonnay blend; thanks to the relative altitude of the vineyards, and one of the only places with a (thankfully) constant breeze, the odds are stacked in their favor to be succesful with Pinot and Chard.

Although clear across the country, and probably little-to-no distribution here in Washington, my trip to Virginia reminded me how lucky I am to live in a state with such a vibrant community of wineries. When you keep an open mind and cultivate a sense of adventure, you never know what you might discover.

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Italy, sparkling, wine

Tuna and Prosecco: A Delightful Lunch

Tuna and Prosecco
I’ve always been a big fan of Prosecco, the charming and thirst-slaking Italian sparkling wine, for festive and casual bubbles imbibing. At a recent lunch at Serafina, I was reminded what a great food wine it is as well. Prosecco belongs on your lunch (and dinner) table!

The Proseccos we enjoyed were from Valdo, a shop favorite. Their Brut DOC is a machine here at Esquin. The staff loves it and so do our customers. They also make an excellent Rosé Brut, though don’t call it Prosecco! The Italian wine laws in the region have recently changed to protect the good name of true Prosecco; it has to be made from the Glera grape and in a specific geographic area. The Rosé is made from the Nerello Mascalese grape (surely you’ve heard of it) and is a joy to drink. Ultra-fun! It was perfection with the Calamari, especially with the touch of chile flake giving a little heat. (The Brut DOC was no slouch with it, either. I was alternating back and forth between the two.)

Calamari

Most unexpectedly, the Prosecco even worked with a sweet pea and ricotta ravioli (with taragon butter and sauteed pea vines, to boot) The sweetness of the peas was a nice match with the DOC Brut, which has a whisper of sweetness.

Sweet Pea and Ricotta Ravioli

But my favorite pairing was with the tuna at the top of the post. I devoured it with two special Proseccos from Valdo: The “Cuvee di Boj” and “Cuvee Fondatore”. Both have DOCG status, which denotes the highest quality in the Prosecco region. These Proseccos were drier, more elegant, and most harmonious with the tuna and its melted leeks, fingerling potatoes, and frisee salad with a basil-grapefruit vinaigrette.

It was a wonderful lunch made even more wonderful by convivial dining companions and and special guest Dr. Pierluigi Bolla, the President of Valdo. Hard to think of a more personable and genuine ambassador for the region and the wines. Bravo!

Full disclosure: I was a guest of the importer and distributor who provided the food and wine.

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