The Eastern Mediterranean is a gold mine for wine, which is finally beginning to see its well-deserved place on the UK wine shelf. The region is home to some of the oldest wine producing countries and it really shows as the wines are so pure. Many of the wines are often produced from one of the hundreds of indigenous grape varieties grown in the area. The below are top picks from the UK Eastern Mediterranean wine pioneer, Steve Daniel.
“Amazing, fresh, intense and mineral Cretan grape. Like standing on a hillside overlooking the Aegean, you can almost smell the salty sea air and the mountain herbs and it’s great value. Crank up the BBQ stick on the seabream or seabass, and away you go.”
“The island of Brač is one of the most popular of the Croatian islands and a short hop from Split. Wonderful white wine from precipitous white stone slopes overlooking the town of Bol and the Adriatic Sea. A unique blend of Pošip (intense and mineral) and Vugava (exotic like
Viognier) with a splash of Chardonnay. The famous white stone from the island has been quarried for centuries and the white stone even built the White House.”
“An amazing rare wine from a grape now only found in the Canaries, which was discovered and brought back from the brink by Doctor Grape: Juan Jesus Mendez.
“This is an enormously rich, intense and aromatic white wine
fermented in a blend of stainless steel and concrete egg fermenter. Tiny amounts are produced every year, and most of it is guzzled by the locals and discerning tourists. We manage to get an allocation every year.”
“A rich and intense spicy red made from the local Manto Negro red grape with the addition of Syrah and Cabernet. A great substitute for wherever you would use the best Malbec you can get your hands on. The perfect alfresco BBQ wine.”
“A great value Assyrtiko, and Lebanon’s first and only one! Assyrtiko may well have been taken to Santorini by the Phoenicians, so this might be a case of the grape going back to its original home. A brilliant partner to grilled seafood and all sorts of other Lebanese delights.”
Following a vertical tasting of the indigenous and international varieties of Turkey’s Kayra Wines, which specialises in the production of premium wines from the country’s Anatolia region, it was one statement that stood out more than the rest; “tasting old versus new vintages, it is not the wines that have evolved, but the winemaking and viniculture.”
Daniel O’Donnell, consult winemaker at Kayra, is one of the characters of the winemaking world that make you stand up and listen. Napa Valley trained, he apologizes profusely for the styles of Chardonnay coming out of the region in the 1990s before presenting the first bottle for tasting – an oaked Chardonnay. Not quite as oaked as its California counterparts a few decades earlier, the Vintage Chardonnay shows far more elegance, tropical fruits and a vibrant finish.
Next up – Narince. Going off-piste, this wine did not have a vertical counterpart because, as Daniel puts it; “they are yet to find an example that ages well”. Fresh, lively acidity, subtle orange blossom and a smattering of tropical fruit. In some regions of the country the leaves of the Narince vine are worth as much as the grapes, so it is not uncommon to pitch-up at the vineyard in the morning to be greeted by bald vines.
Turkey is the fifth largest grape growing country in the world and of that, 95 percent of wine sales are domestic. That’s a lot of wine being sold in Turkey! And out of the thousands of indigenous grapes grown in Turkey, it is Öküzgözü that is the most popular. Even with current economic conditions in the country, of which the winery has had to overcome many, the wine industry is still strong.
Then into the reds – Buzbağ. Buzbağ is the name in for a blend of two Turkish indigenous varietals – Öküzgözü and Boğazkere – grown in Eastern Anatolia and dates back to 1944 when two French oenologists looked at ways to revive the winemaking history.
The 2006 Buzbağ Reserv, which was the first vintage Daniel was involved with, is still showing very well. Nebbiolo in style, rustic, refined tannins and a touch of creamy vanilla from the oak. In comparison to the current vintage, 2016, which is showing fresh, plump fruit. The oak influence gives it a nose comparable to blackcurrant ice cream (if that exists). Hallgarten is currently selling the 2015 vintage, which is fortunate as the wine is still slightly young.
Öküzgözü (which translates to ‘bulls-eye’) was the focus of the next set of wines – a nightmare to grow, but when tamed, an exceedingly good pairing with rich stews and grilled red meat. The 100% Öküzgözü ‘Imperial’ and ‘Vintage’ range of wines from Kayra are made from a combination of owned and managed, whereas the premium ‘Versus’ is made solely from Kayra–owned vineyards – all under the watchful eye of Daniel and Turkish winemaker Ozge Karmein.
‘Versus’ 2014 is a fruit bomb of wine, combining rich cassis, with baked black fruits and a touch of vanilla and hazelnut.
What did we learn from this vertical tasting? Kayra’s wines do age very well, but not as well as the winemaking team is, and the wines are heading in the direction of interest and refinement. The next vertical tasting in 10 years will be very interesting indeed.
At the start of June we went on a tour of the UK with the unique flavours of many indigenous varietals from countries on the shores of the Med – the South of France, the Maremma, Southern Italy and the islands of Sardinia and Sicily including wines from the more marginal Mount Etna. From the more exotic and adventurous Eastern Mediterranean, we will showcase wines from Croatia, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey and Lebanon, countries which have emerged on to the UK wine scene over the last decade.
The Roadshow stopped off in Bristol, London, Birmingham and finally Edinburgh.
Justin Keay, writing for The Buyer visited us in London to taste through the range of wines and below is what he thought…
Under the direction of its head of buying, Steve Daniel, has been steadily building up its Mediterranean wine portfolio collecting together wineries from the Lebanon, Occitanie, Italy, Turkey, Cyprus and Croatia. But it was the wines from Greece that Justin Keay was particularly enamoured with.
UK wine supplier, Hallgarten, thinks small is beautiful, and they’re right. When it comes to the Mediterranean, the smaller wineries in its portfolio are producing world class wines that also deliver outstanding value for money.
Last September, Hallgarten took its South African wines and winemakers out on the road, hosting a series of tastings that showed how far the Rainbow Nation’s wine industry has come in recent years. Recently it’s been the turn of Hallgarten’s impressive Mediterranean portfolio – four tastings, four days, but made worthwhile by the sheer quality of what was on show.
Less can be more, I said to myself, noting that in just 95 wines and 11 tables Hallgarten had wrapped up much of what is currently interesting in winemaking in the Mediterranean.
So what were the stand-out wines?
Starting with the eastern Mediterranean, Lebanon’s Château Ksara – located in the Bekaa Valley, adjacent to Syria – was showing 10 wines, all pretty good by any standard. The reds, for those who like their Bordeaux blends, are well made and quite serious although it was the Cuvée 3eme Millenaire 2013, (a blend of 40% Petit Verdot, 30% Syrah and 30% Cabernet Franc) that really impressed. This was full-on cassis fruit intensity, good balanced oak (14 months in barrel), and still very much in its youth.
The stars here, though, were the whites, specifically the Chardonnay 2014and the fresh, fruity Blanc de Blanc 2016, a blend of 55% Sauvignon, Semillon and Chardonnay. This last wine, which spends several months in French barrique has a wonderful, light oak mouth feel. Very moreish.
At the next table, Turkey’s Kayra Wines showed its continuing renaissance under chief winemaker, Californian Daniel O’Donnell. His high end reds Buzbag Reserve 2013 and Versus Okuzgozu 2014, are both excellent, with the latter a full-bodied, rich wine that could still do with a few more years until it reaches its best.
The entry level white, however, Buzbag Emir-Narince 2015proved that O’Donnell’s work has truly permeated through even the lower end of the Kayra range. Refreshing, just 12% ABV, but lovely fruit on the palate.
Hallgarten had also pulled out its excellent Gerard Bertrand range, some wonderful Italian wines, two wines from Croatia’s Kozlović winery (including a distinctive, quite bitter Teran from the variety that makes the ultimate ‘Marmite wine’), and from Cyprus Kyperounda‘sPetritis 2016 a wonderful 100% Xynesteri that has understandably become a bestseller on that eastern Mediterranean island.
The Greek wines were the centrepiece
However, for me it was the three tables featuring the crop of Hallgarten’s Greek range that were the centrepiece of this tasting, and especially the whites, which were almost uniformally highly accessible, despite most being made from indigenous varieties of which I’d never heard. Most were also lowish in alcohol, being typically around 12.5%.
“These wines have been really well received even in parts of the country you wouldn’t necessarily expect, because they are approachable and work well with and without food. We had one restaurateur who put a Gaia white as one of his house wines and he’s amazed how well its selling, even better than his Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc,” says Steve Daniel, Hallgarten’s head of buying, who says the growing interest in a healthy Mediterranean diet has also boosted interest.
First off were three whites from the Idaia Winery in Crete, which produces some 240,000 bottles a year mostly from local varieties. On offer here was the Idaia Gi Vilana 2016 (£10.75); the Vidiano 2016 (£11.57) and the Ocean Thrapshathiri(£11.24), all made 100% from their respective grapes. All interesting, for me the clear winner here was the Thrapshathiri, a delicate, fresh wine with lovely herbal aromas, and a clear crisp finish.
From the Peloponnese, a winery that is a virtual shrine to near extinct grapes, the wines of the beautiful Monemvasia Estate – which produces less than 200,000 bottles a year – were at the other end of the scale taste-wise, and no less interesting for that.
The 100% Kidonitsa White PGI Laconia 2015 is made from one of the grapes used in making Greek Malmsey, which originally hailed from Monemvasia and was first made here by monks back in the Middle Ages. This had a wonderful quince taste on the middle palate but a fresh finish, and was quite unlike the more full-bodied Asproudi White PGI Peloponnese 2015, which has benefited from barrel ageing and time on the lees. My favourite of this batch.
Moving swiftly on, to northern Greece and Macedonia, the wines from Ktima Gerovassiliou were quite exceptional. All of them. This winery – founded by Vangelis Gerovassiliou – is best known as having almost single handedly revived the Malagousia variety which almost disappeared in the 1970s – which generally produces well-rounded and aromatic wines that age well but are also very fresh and accessible when drunk young.
The best example here was the Malagousia PGI Epanomi 2016 (£13.55) a full and generous wine that has benefited from being part (20%) fermented in oak. Yet Ktima Gerovassiliou – which now produces 400,000 bottles with plans to increase up to 500,000 – is no one trick pony; its award-winning single varietal range were all pretty good (including a Sauvignon Blanc that spent six months in oak, and a Chardonnay, seven months) but the award-winning Viognier PGI Epanomi 2016 (£14.45) was quite exceptional – lightly oaked, with lots of peach and apricot on the palate, and of generous body. The reds are also good but needed more time, especially the still overly acidic Avaton PGI Epanomi 2013, an interesting blend of Limnio, Mavrotragano and Mavrudi.
And of course, Gaia, whose wines have long been favourites of mine. Yiannis Paraskevopoulos, chief winemaker of this pioneering producer (which makes wines on Santorini and in Nemea in the Peloponnese) was modest when I asked what makes them so special.
“When you have such fantastic raw materials – old vines, rich soil, wonderful weather – it is not so difficult to make such distinctive wines,” says Yiannis.
He’s being far too modest, of course, as one sip of his Thalassitis Assyrtiko PDO Santorini 2016 (£17.26) confirms. Made from very old vines, this is an amazingly full and saline wine, unsurprising because the vines are apparently regularly sprayed with sea salt, but also zesty and fruit forward. This is a superb wine with a remarkable sense of place, as is the Wild Ferment Assyrtiko 2016(£19.36) made from grapes grown at higher elevation and partly fermented in oak casks.
Of the reds, the Gaia S. Agiorgitko Syrah PDO Nemea 2015 (£17.15) was the most memorable, fermented and aged in oak for 14 months, and checking in at 15%, though this is already so well-balanced that you really don’t notice it.
To finish? Gaia’s remarkable Vin Santo 2005 was the most moreish wine of the tasting, a deliciously irresistible blend of Assyrtiko, Aidani and Athiri from Santorini. Nectar of the Gods indeed.
A delicate pale pink colour is mirrored in the strawberry, cherry flavours of this of dry and refreshing wine.
The grapes from the Denizli region were harvested at optimal ripeness and those from the first part of the harvest were used to make this pale pink wine. It is a blanc de noir produced from the indigenous red variety, Kalecik Karası, which is pronounced as “kahle-djic-cah-ah-ser”. Only the free run juice from the initial pressing was used, the must was then fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, preserving the freshness and aromatics.
Pale pink in colour with delightful notes of citrus, orange flower, pink grapefruit and ripe red fruits, which follow through to a palate of wild strawberry, raspberry, a hint of ginger and a lively acidity on the finish.
Try it with:
Serve at 6 to 8°C with salads, fresh shellfish and sushi, or serve as an apéritif.
Kayra is producing premium wines from the Anatolia region-considered to be the birth place of wine-and is at the cutting edge of winemaking in this diverse nation. The wines are made from unique and intriguing local varieties. These indigenous varieties, whilst being ancient to Turkey are now being vinified using modern techniques and are producing award winning results. Anatolian grapes, along with international varieties, are planted in the best sites following the philosophy of terroir. The vineyards and wineries have been significantly invested in.
The Elziğ winery, located in Eastern Anatolia was established in 1942 and is dedicated entirely to the production of red wines. The Şarköy Winery in Thrace was built in 1996 and embraces a cellar for 1,200 barrels, reserved for the ageing of special cuvées. Under the guidance of consultant winemaker Daniel O’Donnell, it is Kayra’s aim to reveal the true potential of Turkey and to bring their rich history and generous spirit to lovers of fine wine.
2016 has without a doubt been the year for sparkling wines in the wine industry. A trend that we have seen growing and growing, with the UK seeing a huge 80% rise in sparkling wine sales over the past five years – according to HMRC figures.
Italian sparkling wine has become the dominant force in this arena; recent Mintel figures reveal that 28% of all consumers have purchased Prosecco in the past six months, compared to just 18% that had bought Champagne and 18% that had bought Cava.
We predict this demand for Italian sparkling wine continuing well into 2017 with Prosecco being joined as the market leader by its co-patriots; Lambrusco and Pignoletto (pronounced peen-yo-let-o).
Originating from North-East Italy, Lambrusco, a red sparkling wine, is the name for both the grape and the designated growing areas in which it is produced. The wine’s bright acidity, subtle fizz and dark tannic fruit lends itself perfectly to foods synonymous to Italy, such as fatty charcuterie and hearty pasta sauces.
Pignoletto, is an ancient grape variety originally grown in the hills outside Bologna in Emilia-Romagna, North-East Italy, not far from where Prosecco is produced. Like Prosecco, Pignoletto is made using the charmat method (second fermentation in steel tanks) which produces a crisp, refreshing and fruity wine – a great alternative to Prosecco!
Natural, organic, biodynamic and sustainability:
Natural, organic, biodynamic and sustainability are the current buzz words in the wine industry and are set to become front of mind for the customer in 2017. These styles have become commonplace on wine lists and the shelves of independent retailers in recent months, with consumers keen to explore wines which have greener credentials and have been produced with minimal intervention or impact on the environment.
In 2017 the popularity of wines from emerging regions will continue as customers are keen to try more exotic and interesting varietals. Two Eastern Mediterranean nations in particular are set to take off – Turkey and Greece. Not only has the quality of Turkish wines improved dramatically over the last 5 years, but Turkish influenced restaurants have also become increasingly popular thanks to the rise in eastern Mediterranean cuisine and the Mangal theme (think new openings such as Neil Rankin’s Temper and Yosma).
Also set to grow is the demand of Greek wine. The whites in particular stand out from the crowd with their striking elegance and finesse, and aromatic qualities that offer the consumer an excellent and cheaper alternative to old world favourites, as well as providing the opportunity to taste something different and exciting.
The trend of quality over quantity is one we will see develop further in 2017 as consumers are becoming more likely to opt for a more premium wine that is memorable. This is partly due to an increase in wine knowledge with today’s consumer becoming more discerning, and party due to overall a decline in overall alcohol consumption.
Whatever 2017 holds, we are sure to see both the on and off trade branch out and experiment with new and interesting wines to feed their customers imaginations.
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