Greek wine is unique, fascinating and currently fast evolving. The new bastions of Greek winemaking and viticulture are students and beneficiaries of a global wine community. Those who are keen to share their knowledge and those too who are looking … Continued
Greek wine is unique, fascinating and currently fast evolving. The new bastions of Greek winemaking and viticulture are students and beneficiaries of a global wine community. Those who are keen to share their knowledge and those too who are looking to make wines that are both technically correct and tantalising to drink. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Plenty have worked abroad mastering the “international” lexicon of grapes from Chardonnay to Sangiovese of which local renditions are being consumed with zeal by Greek wine connoisseurs. However it is Greece’s wealth of native varietals which gives them their competitive edge globally. Grapes which have individual character, thousands of years of history and many of which are drought and heat resistant. The latter speaking towards the growing concern of global warming in our modern world. Refreshingly, the best Greek winemakers admit that they are still learning the depth and adaptability of these local varieties, taking note with each vintage and each of their successes and failures. I believe it’s this curiosity and self effacing nature that is what is driving the quality of these wines up so quickly.
To generalise, Greek wines made from native grape varietals tend to be lower in alcohol, have bright acidity and don’t shy away from an touch of phenolic or tannic grip, making them a great accompaniment with food. This is not a coincidence. Traditionally wine was always consumed with a meal and a meal would consist of many small dishes of different weight and flavour profiles. The wines served needed to compliment a variety of dishes and cleanse the palate to make way for more delicious morsels. So varieties and wines favoured were those which would easily match the Greek style of eating and over time they have been romantically and historically linked to the “Mediterranean diet”.
But what is the Mediterranean diet? It has been argued that it is largely based on the sort of daily diet you’d find on the island of Crete, including lots of small meals with a dominance of vegetables, grains and olive oil. Crete is the largest and most southerly of the Greek islands. It has vast array of terrain in such a small space, home to three Mountain Ranges, some of which are capped with snow throughout the year. These peaks fall into gorges, valleys, lakes and rivers tumbling down to the warm waters of the Aegean. It is a land rich in flora and fauna from alpine wild greens, to tropical bananas and you can find wheat, snails, goat, pig and seafood all being prepared in Cretan kitchens. One of the more extreme statistics is that Cretans consumed three times as much olive oil per capita than the rest of Greece.
On the other end of the Greece’s geographical limits, you will find the continental plateaus and mountains sharing land borders with five countries; Albania, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria & Turkey. As with the rest of Europe, the modern day borders are relatively recent, having settled after thousands of years of political & religious shift often accented violently by war. Here you will find forests where mushrooms grow in abundance and bears once roamed the hills. These mountain are also dotted with wild growing herbs impacting on cuisine and beliefs. There are few areas with enough grazing land for cattle seeing the preferred meats being pork, goat, and lamb. The fertilised plains allow for crops such as wheat again impacting on the cuisine. You will find vegetables like pumpkins, leeks and cabbages, in fact you could also find Dolmades wrapped in cabbage leaves and made of pork rather than the vine leaf as used further south. Meals were generally heartier in the cooler regions where the practice of roasting whole beasts was more common and also the practise of conserving produce of the summer in order to keep up supply through the winter.
The local wine grapes found in Greece are as diverse as the islands and landscape, totalling a few hundred unique varieties which have adapted to their patch of land over time and are generally perfect foils to the local delicacies. One of the side effects of having a culture which has used wine more of an everyday item, a conduit to a meal rather than the luxury item it has become in other cultures is that many didn’t realise the true heights Greek wine could attain. The adaptability it has across many cultures cuisines. Sure the way the Greeks cooked and ate had an effect on the wines they consumed, but it is the new wave of Greek wine which takes these grapes and applies modern techniques and international palates to the process. Resulting in finely tuned wines which can perfectly matched to fine dining dishes, bounce off the chilli kick of a thai larb and bring out the best in sushi.
In Australia, you can find good Greek wine in a plethora of establishments from Thai (Cookie, Melbourne), Chinese (China Doll, Sydney), fine dining (Vue de Monde & Attica, Melbourne. Sepia & Rockpool 1989, Sydney) to many of the countries best wine bars (Lallah Rookh, Perth. Love Tilly Devine & Wine Library, Sydney. To Persillade & City Wine Shop in Melbourne).
Over the coming months I aim to highlight the versatility of Greek wine so please stay tuned…….
Dear Wine Lovers, Welcome to 2014! This year marks the 63rd year since Douglas Lamb (my grandfather) took the bold step of starting his own business as a vintner, after some years of study of the wine industry … Continued
Dear Wine Lovers,
Welcome to 2014! This year marks the 63rd year since Douglas Lamb (my grandfather) took the bold step of starting his own business as a vintner, after some years of study of the wine industry both here and abroad. Plenty has happened since then. With the evolution of the wine industry, a vastly different landscape presents itself today. Whilst some doors may have closed, there are opportunities now which never existed before, and the revolution in communications has brought the global wine community together in a way that could not be imagined back in 1951. One thing is clear though: there was good wine back then and there is good wine around now. To that end, our core values haven’t changed at all since Douglas first branched out on his own. Value, authenticity and quality, without the pomp, are the driving motivators for our family and will continue to push the business on, I hope, for at least another 63 years.
2013 was an interesting year as I was given the opportunity to take on the Douglas Lamb Wines mantle, evolve the name and revise the business. This year Douglas Lamb Wines will redefine its portfolio, gain some new agencies, and continue to nurture the relationships we have had with great wine makers for several generations.
Louis Sipp of Alsace was the first producer Douglas ever represented and remains as part of our portfolio today. Subsequently he introduced the wines of Lucien Crochet, Roumieu Lacoste and Domaine de Durban to the Australian palate. In 1997, my father, John Lamb, took the reins and expanded the imports, most notably in 2006, by introducing quality Greek wines from world class wineries like GAIA, Kir Yianni and Domaine Gerovassiliou. More recently he added China’s Chateau Hansen to the portfolio. Hansen is an organic winery located in Inner Mongolia and is one of the top quality wineries poised to lead the Chinese wine industry into the global market. I joined the business in November 2003, for the most part as a key sales person. However, my palate was indulged, and we began relationships with new producers like Foradori (Italy), Thymiopoulos (Greece), Karanika (Greece) and Andre & Michel Quenard (France).
What does all this really mean?
- There are going to be some bargains to be had over the next few weeks.
- A new slender portfolio will be launched
- Then, we get to go shopping!
There will be renewed focus, with some exciting new producers coming to complement the existing ones we have proudly grown over a lifetime in the industry.
We’re certainly excited by the prospect of good food, great wine and breaking new ground with you over the next 12 months.
So, the last seven days have flown by. Two days in Naoussa, one in Thessaloniki/Epanomi followed by three in Santorini. A few impressions thus far: Naoussa; Xinomavro is truly a noble Greek grape. Those who farm their own vineyards well … Continued
So, the last seven days have flown by. Two days in Naoussa, one in Thessaloniki/Epanomi followed by three in Santorini.
A few impressions thus far:
Naoussa; Xinomavro is truly a noble Greek grape. Those who farm their own vineyards well or have access to good fruit should play with wild ferments. Some already do and some are trialling, both with excellent results. 2011 is an excellent vintage. ie; if you can’t make good wine in a vintage like this, you should probably think about changing your occupation. 2012 could potentially be the shoulder vintage that people overlook.
Santorini; amazingly, this place is more intoxicating than the post cards suggest. 70% of the vines hug the ground on the South West of the island, under the watchful gaze of the village of Pyrgos. The best dry wines are made from Assyrtiko, however the few straight Aidani’s being produced are impressive wines. Santorini does produce reds from Mandilaria & Mavrotragano to varying degrees of success, but you generally pay handsomely for the good ones.
A few vinous highlights:
2010 Karanika Brut, Blanc de noir Xinomavro. Excellent.
2011 Kir Yianni Paranga, Xinmavro blend. An entry level red from Amyndeon, superb value. In fact all the 11′s are looking great, just waiting to see the final blends.
2012 Gerovassiliou Estate White, Malagousia & Assyrtiko. A fun wine, the best vintage I’ve tried of it.
2008 Dalamara Negoska*. My first time tasting Negoska and it was impressive!
2012 Thymiopoulos Xinomavro Nature. BD, No added sulphur and immensely drinkable.
2011 Hatzidakis Aidani*. Bright, interesting wine.
2012 Gaia Wild Ferment Assyrtiko. Great fruit with excellent mouthfeel.
Vinsanto’s from Argyros, I tried three from this estate. All excellent.
*both Dalamara & Hatzidakis are imported into Australia through Andrew Phillpot of the Press Club.
Day one on the road in Greece we found ourselves making the 2 hour drive west of Thesssaloniki to Amyndeon. A region which is growing with renewed ambitions. At altitudes between 500 & 750 metres, it is the country’s coolest … Continued
Day one on the road in Greece we found ourselves making the 2 hour drive west of Thesssaloniki to Amyndeon. A region which is growing with renewed ambitions. At altitudes between 500 & 750 metres, it is the country’s coolest wine growing region: a sandy alluvial plain flanked by mountains and home to four lakes which help temper the climate. There are plenty of old vine Xinomavro vineyards in the area with some as old as 100 years, which means they are pre-phyloxera and planted during Turkish rule.
I visited Laurens Hartman & his wife wife Annette van Kampen at Domaine Karanika. Over the past 7 years they have cobbled together a patchwork of small vineyards and gone about farming organically (certified) with strong bio-dynamic principles (un-certified). The winery is small, designed by Lauren’s himself to operate using gravity at all stages of the winemaking process. He is a true minimalist, preferring not to fine or filter. His sulphur regime started at zero and has crept up to almost non existent over the past couple of years. The wines are all living wines and the quality is very good and getting better and better. I think this is an estate to watch closely, as their passion is matched by intellect and determination.
Read more about Laurens & Annette at www.karanika.com
“… follow me, the white rabbit, down the rabbit hole …”
I was excited. Nay, extremely excited when I heard Jancis Robinson was heading south to host tastings at this years Melbourne Food & Wine Festival. This quickly turned into unbridled wine nerd bliss when the I discovered that one of these tastings would focus on the more esoteric wine grapes.
Two tickets were quickly secured and I settled back down, content. Which was roughly the moment I realised that I was double booked. My long term colleague & friend at Douglas Lamb Wines was getting married on the same day. With two tickets spare I gave them to another friend whom I thought would be equally excited. His thoughts form the real bones of this post, so I thank Aidan from Melbourne’s Europa Cellars for his generous contribution.
“… follow me, the white rabbit, down the rabbit hole …”
Such a fitting opening from mediator Max Allen at the Wines of Wonderland tasting (as a part of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival 2013), for this was to be an afternoon of tasting the more obscure grapes of the world and it would turn out to be a tasting I felt was truly important and one which every wine lover in Australia should have attended.
On face value the tasting could appear to be a shameless plug for Jancis Robinson’s new book Wine Grapes or the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show or merely a chance for sommeliers to geek out over Koshu from Yamanashi or Prieto Picudo from Tierra de Leon. But what unfolded was a discussion on the way we drink and perhaps indeed the way we should be drinking.
10 years ago, due mainly to a lack of availability and interest, it was enough to know the 6 ‘major’ grape varieties (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon & Pinot Noir), but today we currently grow more than 150 grape varieties here in Australia and thanks to a constantly growing population of importers the wine landscape in Australia will never be the same.
We tasted through 5 whites; a delicate and ballerina poised Koshu from Yamanashi, a ripe stone fruit and bruised pear Petite Arvine from Valle d’Aosta, a minerally and saline Assyrtiko from Santorini, an unfortified sherry from Jerez (an ode to the wines of the past and a joint venture between Dirk Niepoort and Jesus Barquin of Navazos) and finally a truly knock out Savagnin from the “Pope of Arbois” – Jacques Puffeney.
The first bracket of 4 red wines exploded with my wine of the day; a single vineyard Mencia from vines of approximately 100 years of age from Descendientes de J Palacios, which was a truly special way to begin the reds. To follow; a sweet fruited and voluminously rich Prieto Picudo from Tierra de Leon, a bracken, twiggy and brambly fruited Teroldego from Trentino and a herbal, amaro bitter Blaufränkisch from Burgenland.
The final 3 red wines upped the structure ante with a beautiful black tea and rosehip scented Nerello Mascalese/Nerello Cappuccio blend from the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily, the next wine; an Aglianico from Puglia, wasn’t in the best of conditions with the wine tasting baked and flat and we finished with a Bobal from Valencia which was truly bizarre offering up aromas of lavender, tomato vine and cherry yoghurt.
“The terms noble or great need to be thrown out, just be open minded and enjoy.”
“Good wines do not necessarily need flavour to be enjoyable, digestible or great.”
Tasting aside, it was these two quotes for me that summed up the vibe of the tasting, they made sense not only in the context of the tasting, but also in the way in which we should view wine in the future. You need not sweat the small stuff and try to search for 20 flavour descriptors to help understand what is in your glass, or attempt to compare the grape with another of which you are more familiar. What is important is to seek an emotional resonance between the wine in front of you and the winemaker’s devotion to it or the cultural heritage from where it originates or just with the person with whom you are sharing it.
And so it was, a Sunday afternoon descent into the wonderland of vinous treats currently being imported into Australia by those that seek to drink outside the box.
Come and join us, one and all.
2009 Grace, Hishiyama Koshu, Japan
2011 Ottin, Petite Arvine, Italy
2011 Sigalas, Santorini Assyrtiko, Greece
2010 Niepoort Navazos, Vino Blanco Palomino Fino, Spain
2007 Puffeney, Arbois Savagnin, France
2008 Descendientes de J Palacios, Moncerbal Mencia, Spain
2008 Pardevalles, Gamonal Prieto Picudo, Spain
2009 Foradori, Teroldego, Italy
2008 Moric, Reserve Blaufränkisch, Austria
2008 Biondi, Outis Etna Rosso, Italy
2008 Antica Enotria, Aglianico, Italy
2010 Mustiguillo, Mestis Bobal, Spain