Happy New Year! For many, the calendar signals the end of one year and the beginning of another. For me, the passage of time is only a continuation of my enolgical journey and the search for deliciousness, with no real end in sight. (Not such a bad thing for those of us who love to treat ourselves to wonderful things.) In years past, I have suggested that being members of our wine club, you should fasten your organoleptic seatbelt (is there such a thing?) and prepare yourself for a continued joyride of outstanding wines throughout the year. (After last year are you still standing?) With the globe as our wine list, the choices we have are amazing, and now our exploration continues. Pull the corks and read the notes. The goal is that the terroir of the vineyards, the region’s culture and history, and the talent of the winemakers will all be revealed as the wine travels from your nose, to your tongue, and to your mind.
Modern-day Greece is situated on a large peninsula at the confluence of the Mediterranean, Ionian and Aegean Seas. It has more than 200 populated islands, and archaeological evidence suggests that winemaking has existed on many of them for at least 4000 years. What makes Greek wine so unique are the more than 300 indigenous grape varieties grown there. For most of its history, Greece has been a producer of inexpensive, bulk-quantity wine rarely consumed outside its borders. It was during the 1960s that wine began to be sold in glass bottles, and modern winemaking techniques and technologies were employed. In 1971, an appellation system was introduced, using the wine classification systems of France and Italy as its model. Regions of historical significance were among the first to be granted appellation status, with regulations on the varieties to be used, and often on the altitudes required for cultivation. The main wine growing regions of contemporary Greece include: the Aegean Islands (Crete, Limnos, Paros, Rhodes, Samos, Santorini), Central Greece (Attic, Epirus, Zitsa, Thessaly, Rapsani, Ankhialos, Ionian Islands, Kefalonia), Macedonia (Amyntaion, Goumenissa, Naoussa), and Peloponnesus (Mantinia, Nemea, Patras). Greece is trying hard to revive its reputation in the world of wine. The world is finally taking notice of its new generation of world-class winemakers, fascinating indigenous varieties, and its remarkable terroirs.
In the mountainous central wine region of Thessaly, Christos Zafeirakis (4th generation winemaker) is one of Greece’s new generation of winemakers. After receiving his Bachelor degree in Enology in University of Athens (class of 2000), he continued his enology studies at University of Torino in Italy, obtained his Master in Winery Management at the Agricultural University of Milan, and did internships at Araldica winery in Piemonte, Kellerei Kaltern Winery in Alto Adige, and Avignonesi Winery in Tuscany. He returned home to Tyrnavos, in the southern foothills of Mount Olympus, to take over the family Domaine in 2004, and in no time at all, he has rocketed to domestic fame for his expressive, elegant wines and his dedication to organic viticulture (certified by Bio-Hellas).
The area of Tyrnavos, situated in the central-western part of the district of Larissa, is one of central Greece’s most important winegrowing zones. The PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) Tyrnavos zone, established in 1990, in the region of Thessaly, comprises the areas of Argyroupoulio, Damasi, Tyrnavos, Ambelonas, Vryotopos, Deleria and Rodia in the Ambelonas municipality. The PGI Wines of Greece comprise the Greek “Local Wines” category and some wines of “Traditional Appellation”. Malagousia is a grape believed to originate from the west part of Central Greece (Aitoloakarnania) and known mainly for its use in the production of sweet wines. Almost extinct, modern day plantings resurfaced in the Halkidiki region in Macedonia, and today, there are currently numerous producers cultivating Malagousia in most vine-growing parts of Greece.
Zafeirakis’ Malagousia is sourced from two distinct vineyards: Palaiomilos and Kampilaga. The Kampilaga offers intense aromas of citrus fruit, herbs, grapefruit, and lime, along with high acidity and tannins similar to green tea. Palaiomilos, with its sandy clay soils, adds aromas of white peaches and jasmine with a more moderate acidity. 90% of Domaine Zaferiakis’ 2019 Malagousia is cold-fermented using natural yeasts in stainless steel tank, while 10% is fermented in 1300-liter barrels (50% new oak) with small quantities of skins 'sur lie' for at least 60 days to add texture, before all the components are brought together in the final blend. The nose is very intense and highly expressive, showing hints of peaches, basil, and flowers. On the palate, it is round, bright and fresh. Malagousia is an exquisite match with greens, salads and even artichokes, a famous “wine killer.” Traditional Greek dishes such as fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with feta and mint, Xifias sto Fourno–baked swordfish steaks marinated in a mixture of lemon juice, olive oil, herbs, garlic, and mustard, or Kalamaria Yemista–squid stuffed with a mixture of rice, garlic, tomato paste, parsley, onion, and wine would be perfect accompaniments to Domaine Zaferiakis’ Malagousia.
Domaine Zaferiakis’ 2019 Malagousia is $20.00/bottle, $216.00/case.
Appellation Lirac Protègèe is a large wine-producing Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) located in the department of Gard on the western side of the southern Rhône region of France. Situated in the low-lying hills directly across river from the famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape region on the right bank of the Rhône River, Lirac AOC covers approximately 1,700 acres of land under vine, and includes the villages of Lirac, Saint Laurent des Arbres, Saint Géniès de Comolas, and Roquemaure. With a long enological history dating back to pre-Roman times, Lirac wines that were shipped from Lirac’s Roquemaure river port were enjoyed in the 16th century by Popes and Kings. Lirac is also where the term “Côte du Rhône” was first branded on barrels for export, and where the Côte du Rhône appellation originated before gradually being extended to other "Côtes du Rhône" wines. In 1863, the Village of Lirac was believed to be where the phylloxera pest originated in France, when a winegrower at Chateau de Clary attempted to plant Californian vines which proved to be fatally disease-ridden. The Lirac name temporarily disappeared from the market and the wines were subsequently labeled as Côtes du Rhône. The Lirac Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) was later officially established in 1945.
One of Lirac’s great benefits is its soils, which range from ferruginous clay, to limestone, to the same large round quartz boulder pebbles (galets roulés) that are found across the river in the much larger and more famous appellation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The key to the galet soils is that they help to absorb valuable moisture and retain heat during the day which is then slowly reflected back on the grapevines at night, resulting in better and more even grape ripeness. Not only does Lirac share the same soil and climate as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but Lirac’s wines are made from similar grapes. The reds are made from Grenache (minimum 40%), Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, and Carignan. Grenache provides the round soft texture, smooth tannins, high alcohol and peppery herby notes, while Syrah adds more tannin, structure, acidity, liquorice, and minty notes. Mourvedre can add structure, depth, and gamey notes to the softer rounder Grenache.
The first official mention of the vineyard ‘ad montem oliveti’ dates back to 1547, but it wasn’t until 1932 that Seraphin Sabon created the domaine of the same name. It is now his great grand-children Thierry, David and Celine who own and manage the estate. Thierry, who formerly studied physics, is the winemaker. Michael Skurnik of Skurnik Wine Imports writes, “Clos du Mont-Olivet is a true insider’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Lirac domaine. Often described as a beacon of traditionalism, the domaine makes Rhône wines that value freshness and elegance over bombastic prowess. The estate today is run by the dynamic and talented Thierry Sabon and encompasses parcels of mainly 60+ year old vines in the heart of Châteauneuf and Lirac. The wines are classical in style, with heady, complex aromatics, and garrigue-laden fruit that tastes of the stones that comprise the fascinating soils of the area. Thierry’s minimalist approach which highlights his terroir, has garnered him vast praise across the wine world, as Southern Rhône wines rarely speak so clearly and eloquently of their terroir.”
Clos du Mont-Olivet’s 2018 Lirac is a blend of 70% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre, and 5% Cinsault. The grapes are sourced from 12 parcels of estate vineyards located near the villages of Saint-Laurent des Arbres and Saint-Genies-de-Comolas on the “rive droite” of Rhône river, due west of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The soils are sandy, with flint and galets roulés, and the vines average 20-30 years old. Once the grapes were hand-harvested, the bunches were destemmed and then fermentation took place with indigenous yeasts in cement tanks. Once fermentation was complete, the wine was aged 50% in large foudre, 38% in cement tank, 8% in demi-muid and 4% in older French oak barrels. The finished wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Clos du Mont-Olivet’s 2018 Lirac is a rich, silky, medium to full-bodied wine that opens with intense aromatics. The bouquet reveals black cherry, red plum, raspberry and herbal notes. On the palate the wine has beautiful concentration, tension, and length. The fruit is focused and palate-coating with lingering flavors of dark, fruity cassis, ripe plums, a taste of minerals, and herbs (garrigue). Try this Lirac with braised beef cheeks, grilled steak or sausages, roasted pork or chicken, lamb chops, mushroom soup, or roasted root vegetables with polenta and Gorgonzola.
The 2018 Clos du Mont-Olivet’s Lirac is $25.00/bottle, $270.00/case
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