Sunday, July 16, 2017

Game of Thrones Wine -- Just in Time for Your Watch Party

Gather ‘round, Khals and Khalessi, Ladies and Sers. Game of Thrones returns after its hiatus to whisk us back to Westeros this evening and our respective water coolers on Monday.

The blood, the magic, the palace intrigue – they give welcome respite from the Drogon-ing of our country’s democracy. (And what I wouldn’t give to watch a face to face between Our Dear Leader and Lyanna Mormont…)

With Season 7’s premier in the offing, I got a text from my good friend The Wizard of Covington a couple of weeks ago that read “Winter is Coming” next to a picture of a bottle of Game of Thrones red wine. I did a little research and was able to make contact with my friends at Folsom, who are heading up the PR for this new label, and they were goodly enough to get me a couple of bottles to sample in time for the premiere.

Game of Thrones Wines are produced by Vintage Wine Estates – the California company behind Cosentino, Firesteed, Middle Sister, and many other brands. They make three versions of GoT wine – a Chardonnay from California’s Central Coast and a red blend from Paso Robles, both of which retail for around $20, and a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which retails for $50.

My samples were of the first two. How were they? Well, as they say around (what’s left of) King’s Landing…

Valar dohaeris:”

Game of Thrones 2016 Chardonnay – This Chardonnay started out very floral, likely from the 10% Riesling blended in. I thought it smelled like peach ice cream next to a bouquet of wildflowers. The Chardonnay/Riesling interaction creates a pleasant, integrated set of flavors. Mouthfeel wise, there’s a bit of “stickiness” that comes from a Riesling, with a little accompanying apple-y sweetness. The Chardonnay creaminess and lemon flavors come through secondarily as the acidity kicks in. The finish is a bit on the fruity side, with the peaches returning, followed by a bit of lemon peel. Really not much oak to be found anywhere, other than at the tail, tail end of the finish. My guess is that this would be a crowd-pleasing white – the perfect sort of thing for a watch party – but it’s not one that I’d probably snag just for general consumption. The Sweet Partner in Crime thought that the wine was one of the better Chardonnays that she’d had in a while. She really liked the floral/fruity combination, saying that it reminded her a lot of a Viognier. I wasn’t quite as keen on it, but I certainly thought it was decent.

Game of Thrones 2015 Red Wine – When we first really got into wine tasting, we loved big reds. Back then, this field blend of Malbec, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, and Syrah from Paso Robles would be been right in our wheelhouse. “This wine would have been my jam,” said the SPinC, “and now it’s just jam.” She’s not kidding. This full-blooded, fruit-forward inky monster wouldn’t be out of place on a table with roasted joints of meat and mince pies. You want extracted blackberries and dark cherries? Check. You want tannins chewy as an old waterskin? Bingo. You want some vanilla and pepper in your finish? Aye. That’s your quaff. If you want to understand the XY side of the “masculine vs. feminine” wine divide, try this one. The testosterone level matches the alcohol. While it was too much for the SPinC’s pinot-loving palate, I thought it was a pretty strong offering for what it was – a wine that will pull your attention back from the screen to let you know you’re drinking *wine*. For science, I had this next to a strip that I bought from the local butcher. It was as good as you might expect.

While these wines may retail for around $20, your wine stores will probably be running specials on them not long after the premiere. Bottom line – they’re pretty solid wines, but they’re hardly subtle. But who watches GoT for the subtleties, I ask you?

So, saddle up with Dany as she gets across the Narrow Sea, pour yourself a flagon or tankard of your choice, and return to one of the last instances of “appointment television” that we still have left.  Enjoy, and try your best to be nice to that guy yelling “NO SPOILERS! NO SPOILERS!” from a few cubes down and the bummed out lover of the novels who can’t hit you with a “You know nothing” anymore.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Greek Wine: From Across the Ionian Sea

There are wines in the Vine’s archives from all over the world – but one place we haven’t stopped often in our oenological travels is Greece. The Greeks have been making wine longer than anyone else in the Western world. They’ve got nearly 6,000 years of experience cranking the stuff out. Why don’t we Statesiders know more about them?

The Vine's proprietor gets all animatronic
at the Santorini Wine Museum
First off, production – Greece produces in the neighborhood of 300 million liters (about 80 million gallons) of wine each year. Compare that to their neighbors across the Ionian Sea, Italy, which churns out between four and five billion liters annually. Second, winemaking processes in Greece only really began to modernize in the 1980’s. Before then, Greece produced a lot of interchangeable table wines and Retsina – a native wine-based beverage flavored with pine resin. Yes, you read that correctly – and it’s as much of an acquired taste as you might imagine.

Third, not to disparage Greek language, but the nearly 300 autochthonal (Winespeak for “indigenous”) varieties of grapes carry names that translated, to the uninitiated, can look like a Scrabble draw pile. While many American consumers would undoubtedly enjoy a glass of Athiri or Malagousia – they tend to shy away from unfamiliar grapes.

Well, stop overlooking them. Greek wines are excellent food complements, especially seafoods, cheeses, and other Mediterranean-styled dishes. If you’d like to give them a go, there are four primary Greek grapes with which you should start your explorations. Here are examples of each of the Greek Big 4:

Moschofilero grapes -- red grapes for white wine!
Tselepos 2015 Mantinia Moschofilero White Wine – OK, first -- to unpack this wine’s name: “Tselepos” is the winery. “Mantinia” is the region, which is just north of the city of Tripoli in Pelleponese. “Moschofilero” is the grape. This particular grape, pronounced MOS-ko-feel-er-o, although used to make white wines, is reddish in color. I found the wine’s flavor to be quite similar to a Muscadet – fairly high in acid, floral notes on the nose, and lemony flavors over a flinty, minerally backbone. The finish is crisp and cool. Noting that it was Muscadet-ish, shellfish immediately sprang to mind as a pairing, and we tried it with a bay scallop ceviche. Our thoughts were correct, as the acids complemented each other to make a lovely meal on a warm summer evening. $16.

Bairaktaris 2015 “Monolithos” Nemea Agiorgitiko Red Wine – This red wine’s moniker comes from, what else, a giant rock that sat in the midst of the vineyards of Nemea. This rock was demolished and the dust spread across the vineyards, which apparently improved the quality of the soil. For mythology geeks like myself, Nemea is the site of one of the 12 Labors of Hercules, where he slew the Nemean Lion and then probably settled in for a flagon of red wine made from Agiorgitiko (AY-ee-or-YEE-tee-ko), the most widely cultivated red in Greece.

I found the wine that the Big Man might have been drinking to be quite an interesting quaff. It’s a lighter-styled red in body, but there’s still a considerable amount of tannin and flavor punch here. Plenty of cherry and blackberry flavors and scents alongside nice, even tannins and an interesting mineral character. I think it’s along the lines of a Languedoc red or a less “chalky” Chianti. We had it alongside a couple of grilled lamb steaks, and I thought it a very solid summertime red. $18.

Chatzivariti 2016 “Eurynome” Goumenissa Assyritiko White Wine – Eurynome is one of the Titans who ruled Mt. Olympus before the Greek Gods took the place over. When cast from Olympus into the earth-encompassing Ocean, according to myth, she had nowhere to rest, so she
“split sea from sky” and danced on the waves, creating the land. (Hey, don’t ask me for the physics of it…) Assyritiko (Ah-seer-tee-ko) is Greece’s signature white – the most exported and well known grape on the international market.

This wine, made from 100% Assyritiko, is a difficult wine to pin down. Initially acidic, the wine develops an interesting creaminess as it gets some air. Reminiscent of a Sancerre or a light unoaked Chardonnay, there’s plenty of peach and citrus over a steely backbone. The creaminess that emerged made for an interesting balance. We actually tried this with a thin crust pizza with serrano ham, artichokes, olives, roasted garlic, and Parmesan. Darned good combo, if you ask me, although the price of this particular bottle -- $24 – seemed a tad high.

Boutari 2012 Naoussa Red Wine -- This wine is made entirely from our fourth autochthonal Greek varietal, Xinomavro (Ex-SEEN-o-Mahv-ro). Nouassa is a region in northern Greece in Macedonia. (This is not to be confused with the Republic of Macedonia, which was once part of Yugoslavia – a locale which also makes darned good wine.)

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, and reminded me somewhat of cranapple juice, minus the sugary scent. There are some nice understated red fruit flavors -- it's almost delicate…until you swallow. The wine then hits you with a load of tannin on the 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 rich flavor. Lamb, again, would be great with it, not surprisingly. $14.

Since these wines are lesser-known at the moment, they’re fun to spring on your wine-loving friends as a change of pace. They’re certainly worth getting to know, especially in restaurants, where their relative anonymity will keep the markup to a minimum. Give them a go.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Naked Vine One-Hitter: Voga Italia, at Home Amidst the Product

I took a look at wines that try to win your heart with interesting bottle designs before. A new entry to this category is the Voga Italia 2015 Pinot Grigio Della Venezie.

Rather than the slenderly-tapered container into which most Pinot Grigio goes, the Voga comes to you in a clear cylindrical bottle topped with a black screw cap that would look at home amidst the Sweet Partner in Crime’s collection of Aveda products. (As a male, I am genetically incapable of understanding what many of those products do, but that’s another story.) The screw top actually hides a cork underneath, so if you bring this wine on a picnic, make sure you pack an opener.

Italian PG has a reputation for being ultra-light, acidic, and largely forgettable. The Voga has a little more meat on its bones. Pale straw yellow in color, the nose is more fragrant than many of its Italian brethren. The weight to the body was, to me, more along the lines of many Sauvignon Blanc. The pear and apple-driven sensation of both the nose and body is pleasant enough, and there’s a little zippy acidity towards the finish -- longer lasting than many PG’s.

All in all, it’s a pretty solid summertime wine at $11. I’d have this either on its own, or with some sort of light fish preparation. We had some of it with some uncomplicated grocery store sushi, and it worked well enough.