Monday, February 04, 2008

Resting on the Ottoman

Followers of the Vine know that the SPinC and I enjoy exploring. From ambling the twisty roads of Sonoma to the back roads of Indiana, we're on the lookout for new tastes in new places. Thus far, our oenological travels have been largely domestic. Our "international wine" exploration has largely stemmed from perusing the aisles of our local wine stores. (With the exception, of course, of the Thai wines…)

As winemaking technology spreads, so do the abilities of "nontraditional" wine areas to crank out a respectable vintage. Argentina, Chile, South Africa, New Zealand have all placed themselves firmly on the "check 'em out" list next to Germany, Italy, France, and Australia.

When wine that's not from a "typical" wine producer shows up, I'll give it a go -- for research's sake, of course. I recently stumbled across a few bottles from "elsewhere" to try:

Naoussa Boutari 2004 Dry Red Wine -- Greece, as much as any country, started the Western world down the oenological path. Were I a pantheist, Dionysius (the Greek God of wine and the liberation of the mind) would be one of my patron deities, of course. The Greeks boast the oldest recorded wine production in Europe -- starting about 6,000 years ago. Indigenous Greek grapes were the roots of many varietals around the world, especially in Italy. Greek winemaking flourished until its conquest by the Ottoman Empire, when wine production was repressed. The subsequent World Wars didn't help much either. In the 1950's and 60's, an inexpensive Greek wine called "Retsina" dominated the market, but it wasn't highly thought of outside the country's borders. Only in the last 40-50 years have Greek winemakers been interested more broadly in producing exportable product.

In this wine's nomenclature, "Naoussa" is the region. Boutari is the family name of the winemaker. This wine is largely made from the indigenous Greek Xinomavro varietal. This is one of the two main red varietals used in Greek wine (The other is Agiorgítiko). After I cracked the bottle and poured, I could have been looking at a glass of light-styled Beaujolais. The nose is a little more alcohol-scented than a Beaujolais, but the basic profile is similar. The nose reminds me a little of cranapple juice. There are some nice understated fruit flavors -- it's almost delicate…until you swallow. The wine then hits you with a load of tannin and a long, dry finish. The bottle suggests pairing with "roast meats and cheeses of…an intense character." I can certainly see that -- the tannins will slice through just about any kind of flavor like that. Lamb would be great with it, not surprisingly. $10.

Monarchia Cellars 2006 Pinot Grigio -- This is a Hungarian wine from near Budapest. The only other language with an indigious word for "wine" is Hungarian. (The word is "bor.") Hungary has produced wine since the 5th century AD. The best known wines in Hungary are either dessert wines from the Tokaj region, or a red wine concoction known as "Bull's Blood." I recently tried the latter, which was rather thin, watery, and did not make me grow horns.

The only other Hungarian offering I've had has been a novelty wine called Vampire, which pops in from Transylvania once a year -- and you're better off drinking blood, honestly. Hungary's wine industry was also slowed by the Ottomans for a long time, and the phylloxera epidemic did additional damage. In the mid-to-late 20th century, Hungarian winemakers started experimenting with varietals from other places, especially many of the German & Austrian varietals, along with pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon. Only in the last 20 years have their big indigenous varietals come back into play.

I was able to locate a pinot grigio from Monarchia, one of the larger Hungarian producers. Their pinot grigio has an appley-citrusy nose and a pleasant initial tartness. The body of the wine starts to go a bit south after first sip. After a few sips, it becomes a little watery instead of staying crisp. The finish is soft and not too tart. It's an easy drinking wine, but not really anything out of the ordinary. It's a good experiment with a grape, but there are probably better ones out there. $9.

Kavaklidere 2006 Yakut -- Turkey is one of the largest producers of grapes in the world, but only two percent of its yearly harvest is used for wine. Once again, the Ottoman influence had a major effect. Turks are not big wine drinkers. Americans consume 33 times more per capita, while the French consume almost 215 times as much. Even so, Turkey is starting to explore its winemaking abilities as well. They are making some higher quality products. Yakut is the varietal. It's made of two native varietals (Bogazkere and Öküzgözü) and islabeled "red table wine." Honestly, that's exactly what it is. The nose is interesting. It's got a lot of plum up front, but there's something behind it that almost smells like apples. There's some good dark fruit on the medium palate, and the finish is long, dry, and a little earthy. It's similar in style to a Cotes-du-Rhone, and I'd probably pair it with similar foods -- like cheeses, hearty soups, and saucy meats. About $10 if you want to give it a go.

A number of other countries are getting into the act. Russia and the former Soviet Republics are producing more and more wine, and China will likely be a big player in the international wine market in the years to come. They shouldn't have any trouble from the Ottoman Empire, either. The number of varietals available on the market continues to expand, and I'm all for the options. Have any of you tried wines from "elsewhere?" Do share in the comments, if you would.


JettieSatellite, The_Wizard of Covington said...

makes me wanna get an Iskendar kebob.

Anonymous said...

We enjoy the homemade fruit wines from Maple Leaf Orchard in Spring Valley, WI!

The Naked Vine said...

I've had some decent fruit wines. Many of them end up far too sweet for my liking -- but there were a couple I've run into that were decent. Huber Winery in Starlight, Indiana, does an absolutely killer apple brandy.