South of France or all the way to Greece, great wines are to be found everywhere!
We recently attended a Rhone Valley Tasting which was part of the French Institute Alliance Francaise (FIAF) Wine Tour de France 2018 series’ Wines of Paul Bocuse’s Rhone Valley. Earlier in the month, we headed all the way to the Southeastern corner of Europe to the Wines of Greece Grand Tasting. It was very exciting to be able to report on the Agiorgitiko varietal.
The Rhone Valley tasting was sponsored by the wine and spirits importer, Baron Francois, as well as Millesima, one of New York’s top wine stores, President cheeses and Maison Kayser boulangerie. The event was led by Benjamin Raphanel, from Millesima and Ilya Smolensky from Skurnik Imports and Mike Duffy from Martin Scott wines.
This consumer-centric event featured 6 Rhone Valley wines paired with President cheeses and a variety of breads and charcuterie from Maison Kayser.
Reveling In Rhone Wines:
The Rhone Valley is France’s second largest wine region after Bordeaux. It consists of two distinct areas: One is the Northern Rhone focused on Syrah varietals and white wines using Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier grapes. The southern Rhone produces a broad array of wines using numerous varietals, the most important of which is probably Grenache.
The Rhone consists of 18 distinct appellations and about a dozen named villages. The most famous of these are Hermitage where some of the most expensive wines in the world are bottled and France’s first appellation Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Tasting Rhone Wines
We sampled an array of wines from across the region. Starting with the Southern Rhone they were:
Domaine Louis Cheze, Ro-Ree Blanc, Saint Joseph (2016: $35) Made from 60 percent Marsanne and 40 percent Roussanne, this white wine spends 8 to 10 months in oak. Light gold in color, with honey, pear and apple on the nose, the palate provides Asian pear, peach and a fresh floral finish. There is good minerality to this wine and it will pear well with seafoods, fish, and summer salads.
Domaine Louis Cheze, Pagus Luminis, Condrieu (2015: $47): Very light gold in color with some coppery glints, the wine had violets and celery notes on the nose. On the palate the wine featured florals and stone fruits predominately apricot. There was good minerality to the wine which was a 100 percent Viognier varietal. Viognier is our go to turkey wine.
Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aine, Domaine De Saint Pierre, Cornas (2015: $55): This 100 percent Syrah (the only red grape allowed in Northern Rhone wines) was dark red with ruby edges. On the nose was the distinct Syrah laundry room note, though this got rather smoky over time. Black fruits, with nice berry notes, this wine has huge structure and could age for 8 to 10 years. In fact, the presenters said that 2015 was a generational vintage for the Northern Rhone and these are excellent wines to cellar for a very long time. For now, pair this wine with President cheeses.
Domaine Francois Villard, Le Gallet Blanc, Cote Rotie (2015: $47): The Cote Rotie is the current darling of the Rhone among wine aficionados. Located at the top of the Rhone Valley region, the vineyards of the Côte-Rôtie are plated on very steep hillsides generally on terraces. About 100 winemakers are located in the region and get their grapes from 60 vineyards. This particular wine was dark red in color and had a huge cocoa nose, not at all what we would expect from a Syrah. On the palate the wine had a lot of red fruit and cherry notes, with some herbal and celery notes on the finish. There were huge tannins on this wine and it will age well so its not a wine that should be used for food now, but if so go heavy. Roast beef, steak, or ribs would work best.
Heading south, we sampled two additional wines. These were:
Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aine, Les Cypres, Vacqueyras (2015: $29): This wine is 75 percent Grenache, 20 percent Syrah and 5 percent Mourvedre. Produced in the Vacqueryas appellation which along with Gigondas is considered by some a close substitute for the more expensive Chateauneuf du Pape region, the wine was garnet in color with some coppery glints. On the nose there were red berries and strawberry along with some eucalyptus notes. The wine has nice fruit up front dominated by the Grenache strawberry notes. There is a god structure to this wine and it could hold some age. Drink this wine with stews, roast pork and duck.
Domaine de La Solitude, Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge (2015: $24): The new house of the popes produces some of the Rhone Valley’s finest wines. All blends, to be labeled with the papal emblem these wines must be at least 50 percent Grenache. This wine is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Mourvedre. Light clear red in color, the wine had light herbal aromas on the nose. On the palate there was a lot of maraschino cherry notes, kind of like a kid’s Shirley Temple cocktail. There were some cocoa notes on the finish. Have this with duck for sure.
For More Information
For more information on the French Institute Alliance Francaise visit: www.fiaf.org
To learn more about the wines of the Rhone Valley go to: http://www.rhone-wines.com
Wines of Greece Grand Tasting
We headed all the way to the Southeastern corner of Europe to the Wines of Greece Grand Tasting. Despite crowds and muggy weather, we were excited to be able to report on the Agiorgitiko varietal.
We love Greek wines, and have been historically fond of Xinomavro wines (great with steak) and a rival of Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. At this tasting; however, we focused on the most widely planted red varietal in Greece, Agiorgitiko (Ah-yor-YEE-te-ko). Also known as St. George (which is the English translation) the varietal can be found throughout the mainland but is traditionally from the Peloponnese.
All about Greek Agiorgitiko
Agiorgitiko tends to produce small clusters of small, thick-skinned berries. It is densely planted in poor vineyard soils and can withstand heat well. The grapes tend to be deep red or purple, but the taste varies considerably depending on the soil and elevation of the vineyards, Those grown on high slopes have higher acidity and strong spicy notes, while those from warmer areas tend to be jammy and more zinfandel like. This gives winemakers a lot of leeway in producing everything from light fruity roses to heavy highly tannic wines.
Note that Nemea labeling must be 100 percent Agiorgitiko.
Some of the wines that we tried were:
Parparoussis Winery, Nemea Reserve (2013: $24) Lighter garnet in color, the wine had a plum nose with plum and spice on the palate. Good acidity means that this wine will also pair well with meats, mushrooms, and other heavy foods.
Papaioannou Estate, Old Vines Nemea (2010: $23). The wine is made with 25-year-old Agiorgitiko, Purple in color, there are cherry, anise and cocoa aromas. Still holding onto its tannins the wine had blackfruits and a peppery finish.
Papaioannou Microclima, Nemea (2006: $130). This difficult to find wine is still well structured. Lighter garnet with a nose of cherry and plums, followed by vanilla notes. This is a dense wine with medium acidity and a lot of pepper on the finish. It is what a Nemea will do after a few years in the bottle.
Gaia Estate, Nemea, (2015:$23). This is an excellent wine. Dark red in color with excellent structure. Nice plum notes and a peppery finish.
Pairing With Food:
This is a difficult varietal for which to recommend pairings as it can vary a lot. In general, we see this as a wine that should pair similarly to Pinot Noir, meaning that it would work well across a number of meat dishes – particularly duck or pork or lamb. It is always good to pair wines with foods from a region, so kabobs, gyro, and oily fish would all work well with Agiorgitiko.
For more on the Wines of Greece, visit: www.winesofgreece.org
Thank you to our wine and spirits columnist, John Dunham for this report