Hellenic wine: “Ἐν οἴνῳ ἀλήθεια" (in wine [there is the] truth)…

Monday evening a friend invited me to be a part of a Greek wine and food pairing at a restaurant in the West Side.

The invitation served as a great opportunity to expand my horizons in Hellenic wine culture given that my palate only remembered being exposed to a type of wine called Retsina , a wine emanating flavors of pine trees and turpentine. The Retsina flavor originates in ancient Greece where amphoras were sealed using Pine resin to preserve the wine from being oxidized. As technology advanced and barrels, corks, and bottles were implemented, the need for pine resin was no longer needed; however, the flavor became a part of the cultural identity, loved by many, and thus the Retsina wine retained its pine characteristic which is now acquired by fermenting the wine using an Aleppo Pine resin. Monday night however was not a night of pine aromas and flavors; instead, it was a night of enjoyable and interesting wines originating from grape varieties whose names are difficult to  remember but that have left an impression.

First Paring:
Warm squid salad with fava beans, frisee, oregano & lemon accompanied by a 2010 Domaine Sigalas, assyrtiko-athiri. The Domaine Sigalas is a wine originating from the volcanic island of Santorini. The assyrtiko-athiri label denotes the wine is made from a blend of 2 indigenous white grapes: Assyrtiko and Athiri, a type of grape used to make Retsina.

Visually the wine displayed a golden color typical of an aging wine or a wine aged in oak barrel.  The color was reminiscing of the color found in a California Chardonnay. Swirling the wine around the glass illustrated a medium plus viscosity, an indication of high alcohol content or some residual sugar in the wine.

On the nose the wine was a combination of smells, primarily the wine was rich in tropical smells: pineapple and minor notes of banana. The primary aromas were followed by a secondary layer of citrus smells and a third layer of mineral aromas. The wine also was warm on the nose, hinting that the viscosity of the wine was a result of high alcohol content.

On the palate the wine was a dry wine displaying low to medium acidity, medium plus body (high alcohol content), moderate flavor intensity, and a medium finish. The Domaine Sigalas followed the nose, primarily tropical flavors of pineapple and pear complemented by a small and delicate citrus and mineral quality. The wine was an enjoyable paring with the warm squid salad although the light spices in the salad were intensified by the alcohol content in the Domaine Sigalas which resulted in a warm mouthfeel.

Bottle Cost: $15 + tax. 

Second Paring:

Spanakopita with spinach & feta paired with a 2009 Skouras, Moschofilero. The moschofilero label denoted the wine was made primarily of the indigenous grape moschofilero which is typically grown in the Peloponnese peninsula.

Visually the wine was not very exciting in color; the glass of wine displayed a pale yellow color with a dull hue. Furthermore the wine was somewhat cloudy as a result of small diameter crystals floating in the wine. The crystals were tartrates, particles that precipitate out of solution in some wines when the wine is stored under below optimal cold temperatures. 

On the nose the wine became more interesting, emanating floral and crisp citrus notes of lemon and green apple. On the palate the wine was a dry wine displaying medium acidity, light medium body (moderate alcohol content), a moderate flavor intensity, and a short finish. The notes of citrus and green apple persisted in the palate although the short finish made the Skouras a thin wine

In my opinion the lack of structure in the wine could have been as a result of the cold serving temperature , which negatively affected the quality of the wine thus making it thin. During my research about the Skouras wine I came across positive feedback about it crisp quality which I will have to experiment again. One of the things I enjoy about wine is that like art, it leads you back to re-experience and reinterpret over and over again.

Bottle Cost: $15 + tax. 

Third Paring:

Muhammara with walnuts, throubes olives & ricotta salata paired with a 2007 Skouras, Megas Oenos, from the Peloponnese Peninsula.

The Mega Oenos is a blend of one indigenous grape Agiorghitiko and the worldly Cabernet Sauvignon, 80% to 20% ratio respectively.

 Visually the wine displayed brilliance and deep intense purple color. The wine displayed fruit aromas of blueberries, red cherries, and blackberries intertwined with bouquet of truffle, smoke, and leather. The palate showed a well balanced wine with medium plus acidity, medium plus tannins, and medium plus alcohol. The delicious aromas also persisted in the palate and the wine provided a velvety medium palate reminiscing of a “typical” right-bank Bordeaux wine making this a very inviting wine. The high level of fruitiness offered by the wine was probably offered by the Agiorghitiko grape while the structure and most of its tannins might have come from the Cabernet Sauvignon. All in all, Megas Oenos presented a delicious wine and a great company for food.

Bottle Cost: $27 + tax.  

Fourth Paring:

Lamb kabab with tzatziki, watercress, & flatbread paired with a 2007 Domaine Karydas, Xinomavro, from Macedonia, the largest and second most populous region of Greece. The grape variety used in the wine is Xinomavro.

Visually the wine displayed a light ruby red color and low opacity. On the nose it presented mainly aromas of red cherry accompanied by gently by tomatoes, olives, and an herbaceous quality. The palate demonstrated a wine with medium plus acidity, medium body, and medium tannins. A perfect wine for tomatoes based dishes. The wine had a quality similar to a young Nebiolo, abundant amounts of acidity and velvety tannins followed by a mid palate showcasing dried fruit, spices, herbs, red cherry, and a gentle chalky mouthfeel. 

Bottle Cost: $27 + tax. 


The exposure to the new wines changed my limited perspective about Hellenic wine and I look forward to experiencing more of Greece’s terroir through its oino (wine).

Asado & Shiraz (Wolf Blass “Gold Label”, 2008 Shiraz)

Brand Name:  Wolf Blass “Gold Label”
Vineyard: Wolf Blass
Vintage:    2008
ABV%:      15%
Varietal:    Shiraz
Appellation:   Barossa Valley, South Australia, Australia
Price:        $25 + tax 

The week of April 23rd was very busy with work related items: shop drawings, writing material specifications, and preparing documents to request bids for materials needed for a building I have helped design. The weekend finally arrived and a friend of mine  decided Saturday would be a good day to enjoy a few libations, wine, and BBQ; a great way to relax after an active week at the office.

Saturday afternoon arrived and in my mind there were 7 things I needed for what I consider to be a proper BBQ:

1. Good tunes, this time provided by provided by Sam John Hopkins better known as Lightnin’ Hopkins:

2. Some of my favorite meat cuts and charcuterie: Morcilla, Chorizo, Tira de Asado, and Vacio or Entraña

The meal (Fernet, Meat, & Wine)
3. Some vegetables and/or Olivier salad to accompany the meat.

4. Coarse salt: I have always been a believer that in a BBQ the flavor of the meat should only be complemented by the flavor profile of the any wood used for the fire and the flavor provided by a good rub of coarse salt. I prefer coarse salt as fine salt penetrates deeply into the meat making it less juicy while the coarse salt mostly stays on the surface of the meat, leaving the meat juicier and adding a light crunchy texture on the surface.

5. A few baguettes, these will mostly be used along with the chorizo and the morcilla.

6. One of my good friends: Adrian, Esteban, or Juanpi . One of them tends to finish the BBQ for me as I have the tendency to get distracted talking to people and enjoying the wine.

7. And the one ingredient which cannot be missing in a proper BBQ: A good wine to accompany the meal.

The selected wine for the occasion was a Wolf Blass “Gold Label”, 2008 Shiraz. Shiraz is the adopted name for the Syrah grape in Australian and South African wineries (with a few exceptions). In European wines, where varietal labeling is practiced, the grape is designated as Syrah while in other countries such as the US, Argentina, or Chile the grape is labeled either Syrah or Shiraz. A Shiraz was selected as the paring for the occasion for two reasons:

  • I wanted to pair a BBQ with a “new” wine: I don’t remember pairing a BBQ with something else other than a Malbec.
  • I thought the “typical” flavor profile an Australian Shiraz: firm tannins, ripe fruit, a peppery and smoky quality, and medium to full body would be a good compliment to the BBQ.

The label of the Shiraz indicated that the wine was from the Geographical Indication (GI) of Barossa, a sub-region of the Australian wine zone of South Australia. GI is the designation used in Australia for regional classification of wine producing areas, a designation synonymous to American Viticultural Area (AVA) in the US or Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) in France. In Australia, the GI name requires the wine to comply with the 85% rule, i.e. the information shown in the label about vintage, grape variety or region, must be at least 85% of the what is indicated. The information on the label denoted the following:

  • The Barossa indication meant that the wine came from the Barossa Valley, one of the oldest wine regions of Australia characterized by hot continental climate where irrigation is typically needed during the growing season to supplement the region’s low rainfall supply. 
  • The wine had a minimum 85% Shiraz, a dark skinned grape originating from the Rhone region in South France characterized for providing medium plus to high tannins.

Knowing the information about the region and the grape implied the wine would likely have the flavor profile of a full bodied wine with ripe fruit, good tannins, and a fleshy fruit mid-palate; a good match for grilled juicy meat lightly coated with coarse salt.

Visually, the Wolf Blass Shiraz displayed a deep purple color with a light discoloration around the meniscus indicative of a young wine. On the nose the wine was fruit driven: notes of raspberry and dark cherry, accompanied by light notes of clove, leather, and a mild spicy quality created by some white pepper notes.

On the palate the wine first created and impression of warmth and a chewy/grippy texture. As the wine evolved in the palate the flavor profile, similar to the nose, was discerned: notes of raspberry, dark cherry, light hints of leather and smoke indicative of oak fermentation, and a peppery quality; furthermore, the tannins became more velvety with time. The evolution of the tannins and the peppery flavor, yet fruit driven quality, provided a long finish to the wine.

The Shiraz provided a great pairing to the meats. The leathery and peppery quality provided a good complement to the quality of the meats and the ripe
blackberry flavors provided another level of complexity to the meal while accompanying the juiciness of the meat cuts. I will say the best paring for the Wolf Blass was the morcipan, a bite size sandwich made with a type of sausage called morcilla and a piece of bagette. 
The pudding-like texture and earthy/herbaceous flavor of the morcilla surrounded in the moist and slightly chewy with a full, almost nutty flavor of the baguette provided the best match for the flavor profile Wolf Blass “Gold Label”, 2008 Shiraz.