Category Archives: European Wines

European Wines

Delibori Lugana 2014

When I first started my adventures into wine here in Turkey I refused to buy imported wines like this Delibori Lugana. Because alcohol taxes here aren’t high enough; the Turkish Government also levies very high import taxes. So a wine that might cost five Euros in Europe will cost three-four times that here.

However my attitude towards imported wines has slowly changed. They’re still outrageously over priced; don’t get me wrong! But with the falling value of the Turkish Lira and given the high prices I pay for many Turkish wines I find that I’m more willing to buy imports these days.

This Delibori Lugana I found at the Metro shopping center. I had heard stories of this place which resembles an American Costco but had never been. Wine of course is not available at quite the bulk/discount that it would be at a Costco but the selection can at least be diverse.

Delibori Lugana

Lugana is not a grape but an area in Italy; specifically in the Veneto near Lake Garda. Lugana was registered as a DOC (denominazione di origne controllata) in 1967. According to the DOC production rules, a wine can be labelled Lugana if produced with at least 90% of Trebbiano di Lugana (Turbiana) grapes grown in the registered Lugana wine producing area. These are some of my favorite Italian white wines.

Delibori Lugana Tasting Notes:

The Delibori Lugana is a blend of the required Turbiana and Chardonnay. At 12% abv it also follows the Lugana DOC regulations that alcohol not be below 10.5%.

In the glass it is a medium, bright yellow. The nose is equally citrus and floral with white flowers and honeysuckle. On the palate the acid feels low giving the wine a silky feeling. The finish is sort but the wine is very flavorful with citrus (lemon and lemon peel), flowers (again honeysuckle), and mineral.

Badagoni Pirosmani White 2014

I don’t know why but there’s a fever among the expat population in Istanbul for all things Georgian. Both Pop-Up Istanbul and Popist Supper Club have held Georgian nights. I served as the tamada at the latter (but that’s a different story). I, like several friends, have two kilos of khinkhali in my freezer. And we’re mad for Georgian wine (although really who can blame us?). So when my friend K came home from London with a couple bottles of wine from Badagoni I was thrilled to share the Pirosmani White with her.

Badagoni is a fairly new winery in Georgia all things considered. While established in only 2002 it has quickly become one of Georgia’s largest wine producers. With help and support from well-respected enologist Donato Lanati, Badagoni wines have won awards both domestically and abroad.

Located in the Zemo Khodasheni village in Kakheti, the most famous of Georgian wine  regions, Badagoni produces wine in both the traditional Georgian and European styles. Their product line up is extensive. If you have time to visit Kakheti you can book a tour at Badagoni. However if you’re just breezing through Tbilisi their wines are widely available. I believe there’s even a Badagoni office/shop on Freedom Square.

Pirosmani White

Badagoni Pirosmani White 2014 Tasting Notes:

Named after arguably one of the greatest Georgian artists, Niko Pirosmani, the Pirosmani White (there’s also a red) is a semi-dry wine. It is a blend of Rkatsiteli, Kakhetian Mtsvane, and Kisi. In the glass it’s almost perfectly clear with barely a hint of discernible color. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was expecting from this wine. It was not however this lovely, light and delicate but still flavorful wine. Which despite its delicacy was still a rather surprising 12% abv.

The nose here was full of vanilla, cream, and white peaches. These were reflected on the palate with the addition of tropical/mango flavors. As a semi-dry wine K and I agreed that it was best served quite cold (around 5C) but the presence of strong acidic backbone kept the wine from sliding too far into the sweet category.

I would definitely go back to this one and can only hope to lay my hands on more wines from Badgoni in the future!

Celler del Roure Vermell 2014

This bottle of Celler del Roure from Valencia’s Vermell DO came to me by way of my friend K. She spent the new year in Valencia and this was her favorite find there.

My experience with Spanish wines is largely limited to Tempranillos from Rioja. I’d fall all over myself to get a good Garnacha from Priorat. Unfortunately in Turkey it’s largely Rioja or nothing. So I jumped at the opportunity to share this Celler del Roure with K. With a blend of Garnacha Tintorera with 15% Monastrell and 10% Mandó; it is quite outside what we usually have access to here.

Celler del Roure

Celler del Roure 2014 Tasting Notes:

Right from the off think the Celler del Roure is an interesting wine. Initially fermented in stainless steel – with indigenous yeasts no less! Then, rather than tank, oak, or extended bottle ageing it is matured in 2,600-liter amphorae for six months.

The nose is fruit-driven with slightly black fruit, some red berries, liquorice, and a hint of sweet tobacco. Slightly jammy on the palate with a smooth, medium body and hints of clove under a lot of fruit.

The Celler del Roure does not display any particular depth or complexity but it is a wine of subtle elegance that is easy to drink and can be enjoyed upon release.

Georgian Wine Tasting in Istanbul

Georgian wine has been gaining in popularity for several years now. Not even Istanbul can resist the charms of neighboring Georgia’s wine and cuisine. While we don’t get a huge variety of Georgian wine here we at least have a steady supply.

While the wine tastings I lead are usually Turkish wine-focused, several months ago we shelved the Turkish wine in favor of some of the Georgian wines available here. Apparently not even sharing a border with a country makes it easier to import alcohol. The selection here is limited to a few basic table wines from a couple of Georgia’s large, commercial producers; particularly Chateau Mukhrani and Telavi Wine Cellar.

Georgian wine

Chateau Mukrani is one of the largest wineries in Georgia. The winery was originally established towards the end of the nineteenth century by Prince Ivane Mukhranbatoni on the family’s Mukhrani estate. By 1896 winery production peaked with twelve wines and international awards and popularity. Unfortunately the chateau and vineyards suffered during the twentieth century. In 2002 an investment group formed to restore the chateau to its former glory. By 2007 they were producing wines from newly invigorated vineyards in the eastern Georgian village of Mukhrani.

In the middle of Alazani Valley, lies Kakheti’s largest city, Telavi. It is just outside the city where, in 1915, Telavi Wine Cellar was founded. Telavi Wien Cellar belnds innovation with a sense of history, keeping faithful to the noble traditions of Kakhetian winemaking, while adapting to modern methods to produce wines that would please the most refined, and discerning global palate.

Georgian food

Of course no Georgian wine tasting would be complete without some traditional Georgian food. I made several dishes including both Imeretian and Megruli khachapuri, a chicken salad, and my favorite Georgian starter: eggplant rolls with garlic walnut paste.

And now, the wines!

Chateau Mukhrani Goruli Mtsvane

Chateau Mukhrani Goruli Mtsvane 2014 Tasting Notes:

There are some dozen different grapes with the word Mtsvane in their names because in Georgian, Mtsvane just means “green.”  Many grapes are called Mtsvane Something, and typically the Something part of the name has to do with where the grape is from (or thought to be from).  Mtsvane Goruli (or Goruli Mtsvane) means “green from Gori,” which is a town in the Kartli region in the Caucasus mountains of south-central Georgia.  This and Mtsvane Kakhuri, which means “green from Kakheti” are the two most common varieties found.

We tasted the Chateau Mukhrani Goruli Mtsvane. Bright and fruity with white and yellow plums and citrus on the nose, the sur lie ageing add some depth of flavor while keeping the wine’s freshness and easy to drink nature.

Chateau Mukhrani Rkatsiteli

Chateau Mukhrani Rkatsiteli 2014 Tasting Notes:

Rkatsiteli is probably the most common white wine grape variety in Georgia; particularly in Kakheti. It is used to make everything from table wine to European-style wines, qvevri amber wines, and even fortified wines.

Like the Goruli Mtsvane above, the Chateau Mukhrani Rkatsiteli was also aged sur lie. Flavors of yellow and white plums, white mulberry, and citrus are highlighted by refreshing acidity. A warm finish hints at both the sur lie ageing and the depth of character of which this grape is capable.

Kondoli Rkatsiteli

Telavi Wine Cellar Kondoli Rkatsiteli 2011 Tasting Notes:

This Rkatsiteli from Telavi Wine Cellar was much more complex than the young and fresh version by Chateau Mukhrani. The wine was aged 70% in French barriques (35% new oak, 35% old oak) and 30% in stainless steel.  Fruity and aromatic, the nose is warm with the scents of apricots, white peach, melon, and toasted nut. Minerality balances the fruit on the palate keeping them fresh instead of saccharine and hints of hazelnuts and slight buttery finish from the oak give this Rkatsiteli some very interesting layers.

Telavuri Saperavi

Telavi Wine Cellar Telavuri Red Tasting Notes:

Unlike the other wines from the tasting, this wine from Telavi Wine Cellar is a non vintage blend from the winery’s Kakheti vineyards. Part of the winery’s table wine line, this dry red is a Saperavi-lead blend of local Georgian grape varieties. While not particularly complex its fruity aromas (largely black fruits like blackcurrants) and velvety texture make it perfectly quaffable.

Chateau Mukhrani Saperavi

Chateau Mukhrani Saperavi 2012 Tasting Notes:

The final wine of our tasting was the Chateau Mukhrani Saperavi 2012. More complex than the non vintage from Telavi Wine Celler, this Saperavi was aged 20% in French, American and Caucasian oak barrels after undergoing malolactic fermentation. A beguiling bouquet of black mulberry, blackberry and cherry tempt you to explore further while light florals, balsamic, and echoes of soft oak on the palate complete this wine’s seduction.

Tanini Qvevri Mtsvane 2014

Tanini was one of my favorite winery finds at Tbilisi’s New Wine Festival this year. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a bottle of their rose to bring home though. The Tanini Qvevri Mtsvane amber wine more than made up for any disappointment though!

Tanini is the brain child of Emzar Vasadze who makes traditional Georgian wines in Kakheti. Using only native grapes, he produces Saperavi, Tavkveri, Mtsvane, Rkatsiteli, Kisi, and Saperavi Rose wines; mostly in qvevri. Georgian wines, particularly qvevri wines, are knows for being pretty tannic and he took the name of his wine, Tanini, for that quality.

Tanini Qvevri Mtsvane

But wait, what are qvevri and amber wines? I am by no means an expert on Georgian wines and recommend checking out Exotic Wine Travel and Taste Georgia. In a nut shell though:

A qvevri (kve-vri) is an egg-shaped earthenware vessel used for making, ageing and storing the wine. They are made in all sizes with large wine producers using vessels large enough for a man to climb into. Usually they are buried in the ground. After pressing the grapes the juice, skins, stalks, and seeds are all poured into the qvevri which is sealed. In this style of wine making the cap is not punched down, nothing is stirred or messed around with. In a few months the seal is removed from the qvevri and the wine is siphoned out.

Amber wine, also known as orange wine, is kind of the reverse of a rose. Whereas rose wines are red wines made in the style of white wine; amber wines are white wines made like red wines. In short; they ferment for a time in contact with the grape skins (and seeds and sometimes stems). The more skin contact the wine has had, the darker amber (or orange) color the wine will achieve. While Georgia is possibly the most well-known for its amber wines; they are not the only ones who make them. You can find amber wines throughout the Balkans, north east Italy, and elsewhere.

Tanini Qvevri Mtsvane

Tanini Qvevri Mtsvane 2014 Tasting Notes:

You can see from the picture what a deep amber color this is. Mtsvane simply means “green” in Georgian and indeed the grapes are very green. So it takes some amount of skin contact to achieve this burnt orange color!

To me, qvevri amber wines always smell overwhelmingly of apple cider. Quite possibly because I grew up drinking fresh pressed, unpasteurized cider so that raw quality that Georgian amber wines have must prick a memory. The Tanini Qvevri Mtsvane had a lot of that aroma for me. I also detected peaches, peach skin, mineral, and a smokey something.

This is also an unfiltered wine meaning no finding took place to clarify the wine. While it’s got only 11% abv, the wine making style ensured that this still packs a big punch! It explodes in your mouth with massive, chewy tannins. Yeasty apple and peach flavors wrap around a solid acidic and mineral core. There’s not a lot of progression in this one; it’s a full attack from start to finish.

There’s a growing movement in the wine world, including Georgia, for “raw” wine. Raw wine takes organic wine making a step further. Basically the rule of thumb, as I understand it, is nothing extra in or out. It’s just the grape and what it brought with it. So no foreign yeasts to aid fermentation, only the yeast that lives naturally on the grape. No fining, no filtering, no manipulation of any sort is done. I believe that that Tanini followed that practice with this Mtsvane. However for me a better description of this particular wine would be not “raw” but “wild”.

 

Ktima Papaioannou Terroir Agiorgitiko 2004

Before E&M left Turkey they had a going a way party that really was just a ‘eat and drink whatever is still around’ party. Included in that were a few bottles of Greek wine they’d picked up while there visiting family.

This Terroir Agiorgitiko comes from Ktima Papaioannou. An organic vineyard, Ktima Papaioannou’s vineyards are located in the AO (Appellation of Origin) of Nemea. They grow a fairly wide variety of both native and international grapes including: Agiorgitiko, Cabernet Sauvignon, Roditis, Assyrtiko, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Merlot, Touriga, Roussanne, Sauvignon Blanc, and Petit Verdot.

Terroir Agiorgitiko

The Terroir Agiorgitiko is a limited edition wine with only 4,500 bottles produced. It spent two years in oak and another in the bottle before going on the market. A high quality wine, it can age for another 10 years beyond its release date (i.e. until 2017). So having drunk it at the tail end of 2016 we got to it just before it would (theoretically) start to decline.

Before I jump into the tasting notes…Agiorgitiko? Like Öküzgözü and Bogazkere weren’t difficult enough? You could and call it by its more pronounceable alternative name: St. George. But once you get the hang of it it’s not all that difficult. Agiorgitiko is one of GReece’s most ubiquitous red wine grapes so learning how to get your tongue around the name is a good place to start if you’re exploring the Greek wine industry:

Ah-yor-YEE-te-ko

Terroir Agiorgitiko

Ktima Papaioannou Terroir Agiorgitiko 2004 Tasting Notes:

The Terroir Agiorgitiki is an intense wine. Everything from the deep garnet red color to the alcohol level (14% abv) clamors for attention. The nose is a sensuous dance of cherry syrup, chocolate, and nutmeg with a depth of oak. Elegant and balanced with silky tannins and a long finish the flavors melt together like a chocolate covered cherry.

My very first trip to Greece did not leave me with an overly favorable impression of Greek wine. As in any country table wine is a world away from thoughtfully-made quality wine. After trying more and more of these I am quickly becoming a fan of Greek wine.

Villa Antonori Bianca 2015

I love Italian wine. Red or white. I don’t care. I love it all. And when you find a trusted producer, like Marchesi Antinori, you are guaranteed that even the lower end wines will be nice. Such is the case of the Villa Antinori Bianca 2015.

The Villa Antonori Bianca is a Tuscan wine. A white Tuscan wine! Surely not! Surely yes! Tuscany is not just about red wines. The red wines might be more well-known but there is no shortage of white wine in Tuscany.

Villa Antonori Bianca

Marchesi Antinori is the famed producer of Tignanello-the herald and (still) standard bearer of Super Tuscan wines. Antonori produces far more than Super Tuscans though; and they’ve been doing it for 26 generations. They have eight estates producing wine in both the Toscana and Umbria IGTs (Indicazione Geografica Tipica), three DOCs (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), and three DOCGs (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita).

Antinori produces many high-end wines and are lauded, rightfully, for their excellence. It’s so nice to know that the same sense of excellence and commitment to quality extends to all their wines. The Villa Antinori Bianca being included.

Villa Antonori Bianca

Villa Antonori Bianca 2015 Tasting Notes:

The Villa Antonori Bianca is a testament to a master blender. The wine is a blend of five grapes: Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc, Trebbiano, Malvasia Toscana, and Rhine Riesling. How a body is supposed to be able to pick out all those grapes is beyond my comprehension.

Straw yellow with faint green highlights the wine is full of light and life in the glass and the nose. The nose is aromatic; brimming with flowers and citrus. Flavors of lemon and grapefruit wrap around a highly acidic core. The acid was something of a surprise after the delicate nose but it was perfect for cutting through the saltiness of what we were eating.

It’s a lovely wine perfect for pairing or sipping on a hot day.

Pazo das Bruxas Albariño 2014

Spanish white wines are difficult to find in Istanbul; even in duty free. This Pazo das Bruxas Albariño was the only thing E&M could find the last time they came through. Considering how much I love Albariño though I was glad to have it!

The Pazo das Bruxas Albariño  is from Vino de la Familia Torres. For five generations the Torres family has been making wine in Spain. They have vineyards in eight DOs (Denominación de Origen) and two DOCa regions (Denominación de Origen Calificada).

Pazo das Bruxas Albariño

Sherlock photobomb!

Pazo das Bruxas is a wine that pays homages to the folklore and nature of Galicia, a land of immense forests inhabited by mystic and magical beings like the Galician witches. They lived in old country houses (pazos) where they conjured up spirits through magic and dance. And so the sap, the lifeblood, coursed through the vines, filling them with vitality. Just like the Albariño stock that gives life to Pazo das Bruxas.

E&M and I discussed the wine label possibly more than we did the wine (which was lovely). Put three Spanish speakers (one native) in a room with a Spanish bottle of wine and we all puzzled over the the label. E&M speak Colombian Spanish and I speak largely Mexican Spanish. Spain Spanish is a different animal but it was more than that. In the end we figured the label was written in either Galacian or Catalán. Galacian would make sense as the Rías Baixas DO, where the grapes were grown, is in Galacia. But the family seems to be Catalán (and the website is in Catalán).

Pazo das Bruxas Albariño

Pazo das Bruxas Albariño 2014 Tasting Notes:

A light weight wine in both alcohol (12% abv) and color (clear, pale straw yellow), this is a lively and lovely Albariño. It is so aromatic. Aromas of white flowers, citrus, minerals, and crushed gravel waft out of the glass  and wrap you in their perfume.

Very dry, balanced, with lovely acid and something of a short finish, the flavors are classic Rías Baixas Albariño.  Saline and minerals on the attack with the bright, happy flavors of grapefruit pith and citrus zest on the mid palate.

Delicate with a steel core I could almost believe that the witches of Galacia danced this wine into existence with their magic!

Domaine Skouras Dum Vinum Sperum 2009

On a recent trip to Athens to visit my friends E&M I had the chance to try a lot of Greek wine. Almost as soon as I dropped off my luggage at their apartment they whisked me off to their local wine shop. Faced with the somewhat overwhelming task of selecting wine; I braved an alphabet I only half understand and shelf upon shelf to pick out a few bottles. One that I could not resist was this Domaine Skouras Dum Vinum Sperum.

I knew it was a Chardonnay, which I usually shy away from, but I couldn’t resist it. And while the label was one of the most simple, stark examples we saw; it was powerful. “Dum Vinum Sperum” At first glance my assumption was that this was Latin for: “While there’s wine I hope.” But then I really looked at it and was confused. The Latin for “I hope” should be “spero” not “sperum”. However my Latin is pretty rudimentary and really only gets me through Mass so I called in the bug guns. I checked this with a cousin of mine who, as a Biblical scholar is well versed in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and a is all sorts of scary smart. “Sperum” isn’t a word in Latin.

I will continue to live under the assumption that they were going for “While there’s wine I hope” but if anyone knows what’s really going on I’d love to hear from you!

Dum Vinum Sperum

Domaine Skouras is the love child of George Skouras. In 1980 he went to Dijon to study agriculture but fell under the spell of Burgundian wines. He switched paths and, after graduating with a degree in oenology established his winery in 1986. Domaine Skouras is located in the Northeastern Peloponnese. The winery is situated within the Nemea zone, the largest Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) for red wines in Greece.

At Domaine Skouras the focus on purity, clarity of variety, tracing the region’s mesoclimate, and terroir drives the philosophy behind their wine making. The Dum Vinum Sperum 2009 is a perfect example. Grown in the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) Peloponnese (part of the PDO Nemea) this 100% Chardonnay is reflective of Domain Skouras’s philosophy.

Dum Vinum Sperum

Domaine Skouras Dum Vinum Sperum 2009 Tasting Notes:

I am shy around Chardonnay and the dark gold of this wine had me worried. The nose just about knocked us all down. Intense aromas of burnt sugar-like the top of a creme brulee-leapt out of the glass. We had nothing on hand that I could use as a decanter which is a shame*.  If ever a white wine needed some breathing room I think this one did. None of us got any hints of fruit but burrowing under that burnt sugar were hints of flowers and mineral.

If we thought the nose was a kick in the face we should have been better prepared for what would happen when we drank it. A powerful attack of burnt sugar and vanilla stunned us all at first. It wasn’t until a tentative second sip that we detected some of the more delicate flavors of honeysuckle in the finish.

We were split right down the middle on this. Em and I were not huge fans. I kept drinking out of fascination more than anything. E will drink just about anything you set in front of her but M really loved it.

This might not be the first wine to pop into my head the next time I want a Chardonnay; but I think Dum Vinum Spero is my new motto!

*Yes! White wines also benefit from decanting and breathing!

Todoroff Thracians Mystery

I bought this bottle of 2010 Thracians Mystery Cabernet Sauvignon when E and I were at Todoroff in Bulgaria. I could see E rolling her eyes at me when I bought a bottle for myself and another for M…but look at this bottle! How could I not buy something this ridiculously fabulous?! There’s a ‘medal’ glued onto it above a ‘gold’ (aka colored tin) label.

Thracian's Mystery

Honestly I opened this pretty hesitantly. Something that needs this much make up couldn’t possibly be very good, right?

Thracian's Mystery

Todoroff Thracians Mystery Tasting Notes:

This 2010 Thracians Mystery was a pretty hefty Cabernet Sauvignon with 14.5% abv. Aged in new oak, it’s a limited production from Todoroff. The winery made only 13,000 bottles of the 2010.

I was not expecting much from this but was pleasantly surprised. Although it turns out that E&M (who will drink almost anything) really did not like it. Such are the vagaries of individual tastes!

Dark inky purple in the glass, the wine looked as ‘mysterious’ shall we say and imposing as the ornate bottle. The nose was very typical of Cabernet Sauvignon with lots of red fruits, pepper, baking spices, vanilla, and cocoa. I found the palate to be balanced with smooth, round tannins, and a long finish. It was also more complex than I was expecting. Initial flavors of red fruits and baking spices gave way to caramel and smoke.