From our Hang Time tasting on Thursday, August 6, 2015…
Today we’ll taste wines from the two major peninsulas in the Mediterranean, Greece and Italy. Both countries boast complex and varied cuisines, and in both cases, local wines are great partners for local foods.
Greece has a long history of winemaking. The earliest evidence comes from tombs in Crete dating to 3000 BC containing grape seeds, sets of wine cups, and paintings of wine presses. By the Mycenaean period (1600-1100 BC), the wine trade was sophisticated and well organized. By the eighth century BC, Greece had introduced grapes to her colonies, and by the Golden Age, trade had expanded into northern Europe and the Black Sea. It continued to flourish in the Roman and Byzantine eras, but declined seriously during 400 years of Ottoman rule. Some of the islands escaped the Turkish military and cultural presence, continuing their wine traditions until Greece declared independence in 1821. The return to the vine was halted by 20th century wars, resulting in both destruction and emigration. Only in the 1960s did the Greek industry start to recover. The first modern laws were passed in 1971; since then, quality and quantity have improved. Greece has over 300 known varieties of indigenous grapes.
About 75% of Greek wine is white and a fine example is Mercouri Estate Foloi, an aromatic blend of Roditis and Viognier. Roditis is a late ripening grape that keeps its acidity well. Pair with cheese and fruit or seafood. Thymiopoulos Vineyards Xinomavro Young Vines 2013 comes from Náoussa in Macedonia. This up-and-coming winery specializes in Xinomavro (“dark bitter”) and farms biodynamically. Deeply colored, with notable acidity and tannin, this is a good partner for grilled lamb.
The history of wine in Italy is long and varied. We’ll visit the south, the Piedmont, and Tuscany. Calabria is home to Librandi; the Critone 2013 is a modern wine made from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, dry and refreshing. Pair with grilled vegetables, salads, and seafood pastas. While the northwest is best known for Barolo and Barbaresco, the “other reds” are major players and are for more immediate consumption. Mauro Molino Dolcetto d’Alba 2013 comes from a small family winery. The grape is known for higher tannin (usually kept in check) and lower acidity, light, bright, and unpretentious, able to pair with many “white wine” dishes as well as rustic fare. Pair with gnocchi in a tomato and cream sauce, lasagna, or lighter meats.
No tasting of Italian wines would be complete without some form of Sangiovese, preferably from Tuscany. Poggio Anima Belial Sangiovese 2012 is just the ticket, with its label depicting one of the four princes of Hell. The wine is a project of a Brunello winemaker and a US importer, and it strikes all the right notes with its floral nuances, red fruit, sweet tobacco, and herbs. Sangiovese’s relatively high acidity and balanced tannin make it a good partner for rich, slow braises of all sorts, as well as tomato-based pasta and pizza, mushroom, risotto, even meatloaf.