Wednesday, June 6, 2018
An Odyssey Greek Wine Tasting with Cava Spiliadis
--The Odyssey, Book XIV, by Homer
In the epic poem, The Odyssey, Homer told the story of the warrior Odysseus, who spent ten long years returning home from the Trojan War. Now, the term "odyssey" generally refers to any long and epic journey, and its nature can take many different forms. Recently, Cava Spiliadis, an importer of Greek estate wines, engaged in its own Odyssey, covering eight cities in the U.S., presenting a variety of wine events, from winemaker dinners to consumer tastings. The idea was to showcase their portfolio, Greek wines from nine family-run wineries, and their last stop on their Odyssey was in Boston.
Cava Spiliadis chose to hold a consumer tasting event in Boston, the venue being Post 390, and 100% of the ticket sales were donated to the Boys and Girls Club of Boston. The nine wineries at the event were divided into three regions, including Northern Greece (Ktima Gerovassiliou, Ktima Biblia Chora, & Domaine Katsaros); Peloponnese (Ktima Driopi, Ktima Tselepos, & Ktima Parparoussis) and the Greek islands (Canava Chrissou, Venetsanos Winery, & Rhous Winery). I attended the event as a media guest, sampling a few dozen wines, and overall I was impressed with what I found. Excellent wines, intriguing indigenous grapes, fascinating stories and more. It is wines like these that make me a passionate advocate of Greek wines.
--The Pulaski Citizen (Tennessee), September 18, 1873
Established in 2007, Cava Spiliadis is the creation of George Spiliadis, the son of famed Estiatorio Milos restaurateur Costas Spiliadis. As their web state states, their portfolio contains, "From small family run domaines with limited production to larger estates breaking new ground, discovering unique blends and working with ancient varieties, Cava Spiliadis Collection brings you only the very best from Greece." As I mentioned above, the portfolio includes nine, family-run wineries, which are also dedicated to certified sustainable and/or organic viticulture. The number of wineries in the portfolio is unlikely to change, as Spiliadis works on expanding distribution across the U.S. The portfolio isn't stagnant though, as the wineries are working on new projects, so new products will eventually be released.
At the tasting event, I had a chance to speak with George Spiliadis, to ask him some questions about his portfolio as well as Greek wines in general. George is a charming personality, and it is clear he has a deep passion for Greek wines. That was especially evident when we discussed the reasons for George entering the wine industry. George stated that it is more important to understand why someone does something, rather than understanding what they do. That is a thought provoking sentiment, one I've long held myself. Plenty of people sell wine, yet what truly separates them are the reasons they do so, which have a significant impact on how they go about everything.
For example, Wine Seller #1 may possesses a mercenary attitude, seeking to maximize his profits above all else. He will sell only wines he knows that are popular, wines which will sell out quickly and which almost sell themselves. He doesn't care about niche wines or anything more unique. He doesn't want to spend his time trying to hand sell those wines when he could stock other wines which fly off his shelves. Wine Seller #2 may be a more passionate advocate for wine, seeking to expand the palates of his consumers, to showcase delicious and fascinating wines, even if they might be unfamiliar to many consumers. Sure, he wants to make money, but that isn't his primary motivation.
Would you rather buy wine from Wine Seller #1 or #2?
--The New Orleans Daily Democrat, October 2, 1877
As you can see in the above quote, Greek wines once had a very negative reputation in certain circles. George wants to show people another side of Greece, to change their perceptions about the nature of Greek wine. He wants to make people aware that Greek wines are as good as wines from any other region in the world. Since 2007, George believes he has had some success and progress, but there is still plenty more to do, especially with the general public.
Consumer education is an important objective, and George stated that consumers shouldn't feel intimidated by the strange names of indigenous grapes. What is significant is what is in the glass, how the wine tastes. On their own, a consumer might not purchase a Greek wine, with a strange grape name, because they know little about that wine. However, a wine store employee can often persuade a consumer to take a chance on such a Greek wine, giving them knowledge and reasons why they should drink the wine. If the consumer enjoys the wine, they are more likely to explore other Greek wines.
“There are many varieties of Greek wine, but almost all are strong and fiery and are tempered with water when they are drank. Wine cost only a trifle (about 8 cents per quart of excellent quality), but is seldom taken to excess.”
--The Mineola Monitor (Texas), August 4, 1888 "
It is also important to make Greek wines more common in mainstream restaurants. In the Boston area, there are several Greek restaurants with impressive Greek wine lists, but it is far more difficult to find Greek wines in non-Greek restaurants. George suggested that Greek wines should be instituted into more by-the-glass programs at these non-Greek restaurants, to make them seem less exotic and more commonplace. If consumers start to see Greek wines available at Italian, French and Japanese restaurants, or steakhouses and burger joints, they are more apt to give those wines a try.
When I asked George about his particular portfolio, I questioned him about the reasons consumers should be interested in his wines. George replied that the wineries represented "quality without compromise" and also had good geographical representation. In addition, the portfolio had a good representation of indigenous grapes, including some wineries which were especially instrumental in saving or promoting certain indigenous grapes. These includes Ktima Tselepos (Moschofilero), Ktima Gerovassiliou (Malagousia), Ktima Parparoussis (Sideritis), Domaine Katsaros (Xinomavro), Rhous Winery (Vidiano & Moschato Spinas), and Ktima Biblia Chora (an unknown grape variety).
“Dr. Landerer writes to the Drug News that the Greek wines are prepared from pure grape juice, and are the strongest of all wines—their percentage of alcohol being from 10 to 16. They are thought to be well adapted for the improvement of American and European wines. The Restinat wines, which are drunk by hundreds of thousands of people in Greece and Asia Minor, have been known from the days of Homer. The Brazilians have begun to import these wines largely. The fruitfulness of the Greek vines is accounted for by the fact that they remained free from phylloxera.”
--Wheeling Sunday Register (West Virginia), December 28, 1884
Post 390 provided a delicious spread of foods for the tasting event, which is especially beneficial at a consumer event where most of them won't spit the wines they taste. There was a good showing for the event but it wasn't overly crowded so you didn't have to wait long at any table to get a sample of wine. From the conversations I overheard, a fair number of the consumers knew little about Greek wines and were pleasantly surprised to find how much they enjoyed the wines. I heard very little negativity, and most of that seemed more a matter of simple preference.
I tasted almost exclusively Greek wines made from indigenous grapes, as I feel they can often best showcase a region and its terroir. Plus, I am fascinated by many of these grapes, some which extend back thousands of years and others with intriguing stories behind them. I found plenty of diversity in the wines I tasted, a myriad of styles and flavor profiles. They were generally food-friendly, very approachable, and quite delicious. The quality of these wines was high, they were priced fairly, and should appeal to most consumers.
“The wines of Greece and Hungary partake of the character of California wines. They are fruity in taste.”
--Pacific Rural Press (California), March 15, 1873
As for Ktima Biblia Chora, I previously reviewed their 2011 Ktima Biblia Chora Biblinos, and that article will provide you with information and background on the winery. I'll also note that their vineyards are certified organic. The 2014 Areti White, made from 100% Assyrtiko, was fermented in stainless steel and spent about 4 months on the lees. It was aromatic, crisp and fresh, with tasty citrus and mineral notes. A fine wine for the summer wine or paired with seafood. The 2010 Areti Red, made from 100% Agiorgitiko, was fermented in stainless steel and aged for about 12 months in small French oak barrels (30% new). I found this wine to be dark and elegant, with plum and black cherry flavors, some minerality, and hints of spice throughout. With a long, satisfying finish, this was an impressive wine, one which would pair well with grilled meats.
The 2016 Biblinos Rosé, made from 100% of the same unknown grape used in the Biblinos, is also fermented in stainless steel. It was also crisp, dry and fresh, with more subtle red fruit flavors enhanced by some savory notes. This would also be a fine summer wine, and would pair well with many different foods. Quite delicious!
Ktima Gerovassiliou, I also previously reviewed their 2013 Ktima Gerovassiliou Avaton, and that article will provide you with information and background on the winery. At the Odyssey event, I got to taste a newer vintage, the 2015 Avaton, and my prior tasting notes are applicable here as well. I didn't detect any significant differences between the two vintages, except that the fruit in the 2015 was a bit more prominent. It is an amazing wine and highly recommended!
The 2016 Malagousia is produced from a grape that was rescued from near extinction back in 1975. The winery had a small amount of vines that they used to plant more, to ensure this grape's survival. And we should all be glad for that as it makes an excellent wine. Some of the grapes are fermented in while another portion is fermented in French oak, the wine also is matured on the lees for a fw months. This was a compelling white wine, fresh and crisp, with tastes of pear, grapefruit, lemon and jasmine. There is a pleasant richness to the wine, and it would be delicious on its own, or paired with seafood. One of my favorite white wines of the event. The 2009 Malagousia Late Harvest, made from grapes that were left on the vine to over ripen, is not made every year, and the last two vintages were the 2012 and 2015. It is vinified in French oak, and then aged for 3 years in that same oak. At only 13% ABV, this makes for an intriguing dessert wine. It has a mild sweetness, well balanced by its acidity, and is presents as both subtle and elegant. Complex flavors of dried fruits and honey, mild citrus and wisps of spice. Bring on a cheese plate and I'd be very happy.
As for Domaine Katsaros, I also previously reviewed their 2014 Ktima Ktsaros Valos, and that article will provide you with information and background on the winery. I tasted their 2014 Valos again, and my thoughts were largely the same. In some respects, it reminds me of Pinot Noir, more Oregon than California. It is another wine that is delicious on its own, but will also pair well with a variety of foods, from grilled meats to salmon.
“In Greece the Corinto vine has been the leading agricultural interest. It is planted on 172,000 acres, and the average annual product is 250,000,000 pounds. But since the limitation of the export to the United States, its place is being taken by wine grapes, and Greek wines are assuming considerable importance. The wine vineyards now exceed the Corinto vineyards, as they occupy 333,000 acres, and the wine export in 1904 was 457,259 hectolitres. Of the total product 80% is consumed in Greece."
--The San Francisco Call, February 23, 1906
We'll now move our exploration of Greek wines to the Peloponnese, with the wineries of Ktima Parparoussis, Ktima Driopi, and Ktima Tselepos.
As for Ktima Parparoussis, I previously attended a wine dinner hosted by the winery's founder, Athanassios (Thanassis) Parparoussis, and got to sample a number of their wines. Check out my prior article, Parparoussis Winery & Greek Delights, for more backgrounds and information on the winery, as well as reviews of some of their wines. Dimitra & Erifyli Parparoussis, daughters of Athanassios, have followed in their father's footsteps, and their wines should make their father very proud.
I got to taste a few newer vintages of wines I'd previously tasted at the wine dinner. The 2016 Ta Dora tou Dionyssou ‘The Gifts of Dionysos’, made from 100% Sideritis, had a similar flavor profile as the earlier vintage, though maybe with a little less brininess. It remained complex and delicious, such a nice melange of flavors, and was one of my favorite white wines of the evening. The 2014 Ta Dora tou Dionyssou ‘The Gift of Dionysos’ CAVA, a blend of 75% Assyrtiko and 25% Athiri, also possessed a similar flavor profile to the prior vintage, though with more prominent fruit and still possessing the same pleasant depth of flavor. The 2012 Nemea Reserve, made from 100% Agiorgitiko, with 60% from old vines, was once again a superb wine, highly recommended, with a bit less earthiness and more spice than the prior vintage. This wine still reminds me of a fine Burgundy.
I also enjoyed some of their wines which I had not previously tasted. The 2016 Petite Fleur, made from 100% Sideritis, was dry and elegant, with a subtle complexity, interesting savory notes and a lengthy finish. Definitely a wine I would like to savor over the course of several hours, to see how its transforms in the glass over time. The 2016 Assyrtiko, which spends about 5 months on the lees, was dry and crisp, with a pleasant richness, tasty citrus notes, and an underlying minerality. An excellent summer and seafood wine. Bring on some octopus! The 2010 Taos, made from 100% Mavrodaphne, spent about 2 years in the barrel (40% new). With alluring aromatics, the wine was medium bodied with tasty fruit flavors of plum, blackberry and cherry, with some spice notes enhancing the melange. A lengthy, pleasing finish capped off this excellent wine.
Ktima Parparoussis has an excellent portfolio and I'd recommend all of their wines.
Ktima Tselepos is located in the Arcadia region, concentrating on Moschofilero, while Ktima Driopi is located in Koutsi, Nemea, concentrating on Agiorgitiko. I previously reviewed the 2015 Ktima Tselepos Nemea Driopi, and that article will provide you with more information and background on the winery.
The 2016 Ktima Tselepos Mantinia, made from 100% Moschofilero, was fermented in staineless steel. It was aromatic, dry and crisp with a hint of effervescence. On the palate there were tasty flavors of citrus, accented with a touch of herb. A fine summer wine. The 2016 Ktima Driopi Rosé, made from 100% Agiorgitiko, had about 18 hours of skin contact. Dry and crisp, it was more savory, with subtle red fruit flavors. Great for summer, it is also an excellent food wine. I was most impressed with the 2013 Ktima Driopi Nemea Reserve, made from 100% Agiorgitiko and which spent about 12 months aging in new French oak. This was a superb wine of great depth and complexity. Rich black fruits, dark spice, a touch of herb, well integrated tannins, and a lingering finish. So much going on in this wine. Highly recommended and one of my favorites of this tasting.
“Some authorities, however, call Greek wine a mistake instead of a product. Beside a glass of Greek resin wine, they declare, the hemlock cup that Socrates drank was a delicious beverage.”
--Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), July 24, 1930
The third winery of Yiannis Tselepos is Canava Chrissou, located on the island of Santorini. The 2016 Santorini, made from 100% Assyrtiko, was fermented in stainless steel. The wine was fresh, crisp, with pleasing flavors of grapefruit and lemon, with an underlying minerality. Great choice for summer or seafood. I was especially intrigued by their 2016 Laoudia, also made from 100% Assyrtiko, but the fermentation was conducted in an amphora, and it was also aged for about 10 months in that amphora. The Assyrtiko vines are also quite old vines, over 100 years. The wine was complex and interesting, much more savory in nature, though subtle fruit notes were in the background. Minerality was still present and the lengthy finish intrigued my palate. Highly recommended.
Venetsanos Winery, established in 1947, is also located on the island of Santorini and is one of the oldest wineries on the island. It is also the only winery on the island that is 100% estate grown, possessing about 10 hectares of vineyards. The 2015 Santorini, made from 100% Assyrtiko, is fermented in stainless steel and spends about 4 months on the lees. Fresh and crisp, tasty and complex, this wine possesses a nice blend of citrus flavors, minerality and a briny note. Easy drinking, this is a great summer wine and would pair well with seafood. The 2015 Nykteri, a blend of 95% Assyrtiko, 3% Aidani, and 2% Athiri, spent about 4 months in French barrique. It too was fresh and very crisp, with lots of depth and complexity, citrus flavors, minerality and a lengthy finish. Simply delicious and one of my top white wines of the event. The 2016 Mandilaria, made from 100% Mandilaria, was fermented 60% in French barrels and 40% in stainless steel. Aromatic, the wine had a light body, black cherry and raspberry flavors with some spice notes and a touch of herb. It reminded me in some respects to Pinot Noir.
Rhous Winery is located on the island of Crete, in the village of Houdetsi, which is within the Appellation Peza, the largest wine-producing region in the Heraklion Prefecture. The family run winery has an organic vineyard of about 7.5 hectares and was instrumental in saving two indigenous grapes, Vidiano and Moschato Spinas.
The 2016 Estate White, a blend of 50% Muscat of Spina and 50% Vidiano, was fermented in stainless and underwent battonage for a month. Bright and crisp, there were pleasant flavors of lemon and grapefruit, enhanced by Muscat spices. The 2016 Estate Red, a blend of 90% Kotsifali and 10% Syrah, was fermented in stainless steel. It was aromatic and fruity, with subtle spice and herb notes. An easy drinking and tasty red wine.
The 2014 Skipper White, a blend of 70% Vidiano and 30% Plyto, was fermented in 60% stainless steel and 40% in new French barrique, with a final battonage for 4-5 months. The Skipper line includes their more terroir-driven wines. Vidiano is a more herbal grape, while Plyto, an up and coming grape, has good structure, nice acidity, and ages well. The wine was very aromatic, lots of herbs and underlying fruit, and on the palate it was complex and interesting, with excellent acidity, subtle citrus notes, herbal accents and a long finish. Another of my top favorite white wines of the event.
And now you have plenty more reasons to Drink Greek Wine!
“Teddy and Gus Pappas of Sacramento, the former a taxi operator and saloon owner, have been in court here of today before Superior Judge W. A. Anderson attempting to force an appeal of the judgment of the justice's court against them, them, levying heavy fines and a jail sentence for Teddy upon charges of extensive bootlegging. They were arrested here last summer and about 25 barrels of Greek wine in storage at Elkhorn, half way between Woodland and Sacramento, were seized. Both were sentenced to pay a fine of $5OO, with a three-month jail sentence added to Teddy Pappas’ punishment. The appeal is to obtain a dismissal of the judgments on the ground that the county ordinance is defective and the wine illegally seized."
--Sacramento Union, January 5, 1922