Sunday, May 31, 2009

What a stunning Greek wine: Ghi ke Uranos

Yesterday I organised a blind surprise tasting that my wife arranged for Laurine, a friend who is getting married as part of her all-day hen party. Eight friends (rigourously all women, since it was a hen party) attended the tasting, where I chose wines from some of the countries that Laurine likes the most.

I selected myself all wines, except for a Greek red wine that was gently offered by a Greek-Belgian friend who was at the tasting.

I have to admit that my knowledge of Greek wines is very limited. Despite being the place where the culture of wine developed in the ancient times, Greece has not built a strong reputation for wine in the last decades, and is known outside its borders mostly for white wine and of course for its retsina.

I then had to search for information regarding this wine in order to prepare the presentation. I started to look in the net and first I found some info on the grape, Xinomavro, considered one of the best indigenous red grape of Greece, with good acidity, tannic character and aging potential and cultivated mostly in the north of Greece.

During my research on the producer, Apostolos Thimiopoulos, I found a reference in an interesting wine blog in english on Greek wines, Elloinos. In a post the German blogger , Markus Stolz, described a dinner he had with Apostolis Thimiopoulos and my attention focused on a detail: the two of them opened during the dinner a bottle of Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto 1999. Since Bruno Giacosa is one of the best (and highly traditional) producers in Piemonte and his wines are not easily available (and quite expensive), I was surprised and of course very intrigued to discover more about this wine, his producer and also this side of Greece that for me is still unknown.

Well, and here I quote the blog Elloinos which is a very precious source of info on interesting greek wines, Apostolos Thimiopoulos is a very committed producer, who strongly believes on the potential of Xinomavro grape and the strong terroir of the area of Naoussa in the north of Greece for this grape. He has been producing only this wine, Ghi Ke Uranos (meaning "Earth and sky") starting in 2004 and during the recent years he has been very successful, notably with export to the US.

My expectations were then growing and I decided to put this wine (a 2006 vintage) towards the end of the tasting. After pouring the wine, I felt a sense of purity in the aroma, a bunch of dried flowers together with pure black fruits. An overall sense of elegance and complexity from the beginning. And then in the mouth there was an immediate match with the first sensations: complexity, structure, acidity and a very good lenght. The sensation of a real terroir wine, expression of a strong attention in the vineyard. A complex wine with a good potential for aging well.

I will be looking to find some bottles, even if the limited production and availability in Belgium will make it difficult. Most likely I will have to use my Greek network. And I start to think about paying a visit to the region to explore the world of Xinomavro grape.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Italian Pinot Noir tasting: some differences in style, a good overall quality

On April 30th the tour of Italy tasting was focusing on the world of Italian Pinot noir.

While the USA have started to build a reputation for pinot noir during the last twenty years (California - Russian River and Carneros for example - Oregon and Washington) and then virtually everybody interested in wine knows about these wines, the pinot noir of Italy has experienced a great difficulty in crossing the frontiers, despite having built a solid experience of more than a century of cultivation of the grape in Alto Adige (Alps, north of Italy).

It is true that it may be easier to compete with the most revered indigenuous grape of France from several thousand kilometers (like US or New Zealand) than from a few hundreds, but while the reference for pinot noir still remains the Burgundy of the Côte d'Or (and of course the Champagne, the largest producer of pinot noir grape), Italy is producing several pinot noir that profit from a very appropriate climate and soil in the valley of the Adige river. In addition, in Italy pinot noir is largely cultivated in Franciacorta (province of Brescia, west of Lago di garda), producing traditional wines on the basis of the "methode champenoise". But the tasting was focusing on red vinification and not on franciacorta, and then the reference was clearly the Alto Adige area.

The tasting confirmed the good quality of the pinot noir produced in Alto Adige with some excellence, notably the Barthenau Vigna s. Urbano 1997 of Hofstatter, a wine that has been appreciated by the whole panel and combines power and elegance with a perfect evolution. I have read with pleasure the impressions of Franco Ziliani on this wine in 2001 and I am impressed to see how the wine has maintained after eight years most of the elements reported there (notably sweet tannins, great structure, impressive lenght and elegance).

Another wine that has performed very well at the tasting was the Pinot Noir Sanct Valentin 1999 of San Michele Appiano. An impressive nose for this 10 years old pinot noir with still small red fruits and pleasant tertiary aromas of earth, mushroom and cedar sustained by a perfect acidity, balanced structure and good lenght.

The Pinero 2000 of Ca' del Bosco is a difficult wine to judge. In this case, some of typical elements of Pinot Noir, both with regard to the colour, aromas and taste cannot easily be found and the style appears much more extracted compared to the other wines of the fight. The colour is dense and deep, the nose is extremely spicey and penetrating, with some sweet elements of chocolate and moka. The mouth appears rather tannic, with some bitter notes and good lenght. Overall a very atypical pinot noir far from the tradition that, while not corresponding to my style of pinot noir, exhibits a strong personality.

Pinot Nero Muri gries Riserva 2005 was an appealing wine, not particularly complex but with a good aroma of red fruits and cinnamon. The taste shows a strong start with well integrated tannins and good lenght.

The Pinot Nero from Tiefenbrunner, a Lincticlarus 1997, was showing sweet red fruits at the nose, with some evolution. On the palate, the wine was not showing strong tertiary aromas but a rather sweet taste, with a not very long finish that was most likely a sign of a rather evolved wine, because the same wine tasted better in past experiences.

The first wine of the tasting was a Pinot nero 2002 from Pojer e Sandri, a producer from a lightly southern area of the Adige valley. This pinot nero had "musty" scents (I would use the term "vinoso" in Italian) with some red fruits. On the palate there is a good freshness with no great complexity (note that this wine is not a "riserva" like the other wines tasted).

I left at the end the "outsider" of the tasting, which was tasted blind like the other last four wines of the tasting. I was rather curious to see the reactions of the participants to a pinot noir that exhibits a very original personality (reflecting well the character of his producer) and a wine that I like particularly. However, today, the Burlemberg 2002 of Marcel Deiss (Alsace) was not performing very well (I had a perfect bottle one month ago and was very impressive), despite having been opened and decanted for 2-3 hours. The barnyard, animal nose that characterises this wine appeared here rather unbalanced and did not find a proper place subsequently. On the palate the wine appeared to be unstable, not very pleasant. A possibly off bottle for a wine that, while clearly not making usually the uninanimity, represents a great interpretation of pinot noir in Alsace.