Text Charles W. Borden
The venue for this month’s tasting, ?, features a Mediterranean menu. Also, we were to be joined at this event by Henri Bernabe, director of a leading grape-vine producer and our host on France’s Mediterranean coast in Montpellier during the recent Knights of the Vine gathering. So Passport publisher John Ortega decided take our Russian Knights of the Vine on tour of Mediterranean wine country.
Broadly speaking, most wines from Italy, Spain, France, Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Tunisia, Malta and Morocco would qualify as Mediterranean. However, we decided to confine our selections to the coastal areas of several countries, vineyards where one can practically feel the sea breeze. Since the fashionable wines of Spain, France and Italy are mostly inland, this month’s selections were sure to open new vistas for the Knights of the Vine.
With more than the usual advance notice, we were able to fully prepare for this tasting. Normally, John and I cruise the wine boutiques on Kutuzovsky and he buys wines based upon shop recommendations. This time I was able to obtain the price lists from the importers that own the boutiques – DP Trade, Simple and Kauffman – and do some research. I first selected out the wines from coastal areas - wine regions that overlook the Mediterranean - Penedes, Priorat and Montsant of Spain; Provence and Languedoc of France; and Bolgheri, Sicily, Campania, Calabria of Italy. I next checked the Robert Parker and Wine Spectator rating of each, narrowed the selection down to about 20 wines, and highlighted my first choices. This served as a checklist for visits to Grand Cru and Kauffman. We also stopped at Kollection Wine, where John bought Greek wines, a white and a red.
The first wine from each flight (white and red) was a Greek wine. Although Greece stands at the ancient cradle of winemaking, it does not have much of a reputation for fine wines. However, like many other countries in recent years, modern winemakers have begun to make better use of local conditions with local grape varieties. The Greek white was Sigales Santorini from self-taught winemaker Paris Sigales on the island of Santorini. Trained in Math at the Sorbonne, and a teacher, playright, artist and philologist, Paris put his hand to winemaking. This wine, made from the Asyrtiko grape is dry, strong but very pleasing, and it beat out the whites from Italy and Spain.
Vincenzo Gugielmi, John Ortega
All of our whites were dominated by local grape varieties, starting with the Mastroberardino Radici Fiano di Avellino 2006, a straw-colored wine with heavy fruit and nut notes from the Fiano grape. Matroberardino is a legendary Campania winemaker, located at the foot of Pompeii on Italy’s west coast, which has conserved ancient varieties and created single-variety wines with them. The Librandi Efese 2004 hails from Calabria, at the sole and toe of Italy. This Parker 91 scoring wine is made from the Mantonico grape, which is normally used for dessert wines, but in this case, as a dry wine, makes a good partner for Mediterranean fish soup or grilled meats.
The last white, Gran Caus Can Rafols dels Caus 2003, is from the rugged terrain of the Garraf Massif in the Catalan coastal range. This wine is a blend of 50% of the local Xarel-lo with 30% Chardonnay and 20% Chenin Blanc. It was a pleasure to enjoy the local expressions of grape and terroir that these four white wines provided.
To start the reds, it was back to Greece, from Domaine Kokotos in northern Attica near Mount Penteli, the area where Dionysos, the god of wine, first gave vine cultivation and wine culture to Greece. Though Domaine Kokotos has a planted a number of foreign cultivars, their Semeli Nemea is made from 100% Agiorgitiko, which produces a deep cherry-colored wine. Our next stop was Sicily, where modern winemakers have begun to transform the island’s image from its Marsala heritage by producing a broader selection of good white and red wines. The predominant red grape of Sicily is Nero d’Avola, and the Tasca d’Almerita Rosso del Conte Contea Sclafani is an icon of this Sicilian grape, produced non-traditionally with French oak barrel ageing.
Peter Konunnikov with his wife Svetlana
We returned to Matroberardino in Campania for another history lesson, this time with the local Aglianico and Piedirosso grapes used in Irpinia Naturalis Historia 2000, an earthy yet slightly fruity and lively wine. This was our runner-up red, described by Wine Spectator as “Spicy and ripe with leather and berry character. Full-bodied, with firm tannins and a long finish. A bit rustic but good.”
Next stop Sardinia, just a short hop across the water, for a taste of Agricola Punica Barrua IGT 2003, a Wine Spectator ’92 wine that is a blend of Carignano with old bush vine Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, producing an intense, dark, yet fruity wine that scores well with the experts.
I had most anticipated the next wine, Montepeloso Eneo IGT 2001, and was not disappointed. This was the one wine on our list from a “fashionable” or even hot area, Bogheri on the Tuscan coast. The Eneo, which is mostly Sangiovese, with some Colorino and Merlot grapes, is Montepeloso’s basic red wine. This was a powerful, open and complex wine, ready to drink at this moment. The Wine Advocate described it as offering “a fine combination of black fruit, wild cherries and leather on the nose, along with a touch of incense and cedar. Ripe, soft, and textured, it is a remarkable effort for a regular bottling.”
Galina Likhacheva, John Ortega
Sammy Kotwani, John Ortega
Simon Connolly, Jonathan Tubb
Then we went back to the Spanish coast near Barcelona, for wines from Montsant, Priorat and Penedes. The Laurona 2002 Falset is a blend of 30% Garnarcha, 30% Carinena, 15% Syrah, 15% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. A co-owner of this estate is the well-respected Rene Barbier of Clos Mogador, the winery that provided our next selection and my personal favorite, Clos Mogodor 2001. With a Wine Spectator 95 and Parker 98, it turned out to be the top in this Passport rating as well. Wine Advocate described it as:
“Simply sensational, this inky/purple-colored 2001 boasts gorgeous blueberry and raspberry liqueur characteristics intertwined with crushed stone, lilac, and subtle background espresso/toasty new oak notes. Powerful, concentrated, and multi-layered, with tremendous purity and intensity, this prodigious effort is one of the candidates for wine of the vintage in Priorat.”
We finished with the most expensive, but certainly not highest scoring reds: Can Rafols dels Caus, Caus Lubis Merlot 1998 from Penedes and then Domaine Bunan Moulin des Costes Ñuvee Charriage 2000 from Provence. We again learned that there is no correlation between price and quality in the wine business.
Knights of the Vine:
John Ortega, General Director, International Apparel
Charles Borden, Director, Meridian Capital
Henri Bernabi, Richter Group, France
Sammy Kotwani, Proprietor, Imperial Tailoring
Andrey Davydov, Business Manager, Savant International
Stephan Andersson, Director, Vice President, IKEA
Galina Likhacheva, Deputy Editor, Magnum magazine
Bianka Tobinska, Real Estate Lawyer, Clifford Chance CIS Limited
Jonathan Tubb, Chief Financial Officer, Deloitte & Touche CIS
Peter Konunnikov, General Director, Alter Moda
Svetlana Konunnikov, Director, Alter Moda
George Voloshin, Managing Director, Passport Magazine
Viktoria Tkacheva, Logistics Director, International Apparel
Ortega Easy Rating System
|I love this wine!
|I really like this wine!
|This wine is good!
|This wine is not that good!
|I don’t really care for this wine!
||Sigales Santorini (Santorini, Greece)
||Mastroberardino Radici Fiano di Avellino DOC 2006 (Campania, Italy)
||Librandi Efeso IGT 2004 (Calabria, Italy)
||Gran Caus Can Rafols dels Caus 2003 (Penedes, Spain)
||Semeli Nemea 2004 (Attica, Greece)
||Tasca d’Almerita Rosso del Conte Contea Sclafani DOC 2003 (Sicily)
||Mastroberardino Irpinia Naturalis Historia 2000 (Campania, Italy)
||Agricola Punica Barrua IGT 2003 (Sardinia, Italy)
||Montepeloso Eneo IGT 2001 (Bolgheri, Italy)
||Laurona 2002 Falset (Montsant, Spain)
||Clos Mogodor 2001 (Priorat, Spain)
||Can Rafols dels Caus, Caus Lubis Merlot 1998 (Penedes, Spain)
||Domaine Bunan Moulin des Costes Ñuvee Charriage 2000 (Bandol, Provence)