Get me to the Greek, Xinomavro from Naoussa

As my friend Laurie continues to work towards her WSET diploma, we, her friends, get treated to wine tasting dinners with some good quality stuff, anything to help a friend study, self-sacrifice and all… Case in point, last week, our tasting line-up included:

–          Sogrape, Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde 2013. 

A vinho verde from Portugal with a majority of Loureiro grapes. Slightly sparkling with complex, layered aromas (citrus, white flowers, tropical fruit).

Quinta VV

–          Babich, Malborough Pinot Noir 2010.

A Pinot Noir from New Zealand, very jammy, lots of cooked or jammy fruit notes (prunes, plums, cherries). I’m not a fan of this overripe style of Pinot. It must be my (cold and calculating) Burgundian side and ancestry protesting this use of OUR grape.

–          Robert Talbott, Logan Sleepy Hollow Pinot Noir 2011.

Another Pinot Noir, this time for California. Surprisingly more subdued than the NZ example above. The fruit notes were still ripe but not cooked. A well-made wine.


–          Boutari, Naoussa Grande Reserve 2007

Now this last wine deserves a proper write up. Even though the label is in French “Grande Reserve” this is actually Greek wine.

Naoussa Boutari

Now, I get that Greece is not necessarily considered a major wine producing nation, when people thing of European wine countries it usually goes: France, Italy, Germany, Spain.  Greece has both a past and a future in wine-making though. The past part is obvious, most of European culture emerged from Greek civilization and its later appropriation by the Romans, which includes wine-making. Now for the future part, Greek wines have started to be recognized by critics lately and they are now considered quality products.

Boutari is one of the main, if not the main Greek wine producer. The Naoussa appellation is located in Northern Greece, in the region of Macedonia. Not the country Macedonia, but the Macedonia region of Greece, because, of course let’s try not to confuse people. The appellation includes 9 villages, including Naoussa which gives its name to the whole appellation.

Naoussa is a single variety appellation with only xinomavro vines being planted. Xinomavro or Ξινόμαυρο (I couldn’t resist putting it in Greek, I’m a language nerd), it’s a native Greek variety that is often compared to Pinot Noir (light color, tendency to become brownish with age, high acidity) or Nebbiolo (strong tannins, angular structure, ageing potential). You’ll have to admit, there are worse comparisons.

The thing is, those comparisons are what they are and surely they can point you in the right directions if you’ve never had xinomavro before, but, in my opinion, xinomavro is very much its own thing. I had two different wines from Naoussa and both were among the most unique wines I ever tasted. They have all they need in terms of body, structure and tannins, but they tend to be on the funkier side in terms of aromas: caramel, liquorice, herbs and olives…

If you can get your hands on some, and I think Boutari wines are fairly well distributed in the US, I definitely recommend going for it. They are well made wines with ageing potential and they will broaden your horizons. At the very least, you’ll remember tasting them, there is nothing quite like it.


A Rhone away from Rhone, Treana Marsanne Viognier

Treana Marsanne Viognier 2010

Region: Central Coast, California, USA

Grape: 50% Marsanne, 50% Viognier

Price: around $23

I’m an expat, which means I am from one place, but, presented with the opportunity of living someplace else, I chose to go for it and make a new home. There is another word to describe a person like me, a transplant. Easy transition from my boring little life into the wine blogging part of this wine blog, you can also transplant vines.

I’ve always been curious to see how some varieties, or blends that are typical of an old world region turn out in a different setting. In a way they are like me, expats, transplants, refugees, exiles, except that I actually decided to move, nobody just grabbed me and uprooted me to a strange place. In the case of today’s wine, Marsanne and Viognier are a traditional blend from the Rhone Valley region of France (sometimes involving another variety called Roussanne). Viognier is the aromatic part of the blend with Marsanne providing body, staying power, color and ageing potential. They are used to produce some of the most respected whites from the Rhone Valley, like the Hermitage appellation in the Northern part of the Rhone.

Treana is the name of a range of wines from Hope Family Wines out of Paso Robles, California. The vineyards are located in the Central Coast, a region that is known for the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean on its climate which should help make the climate more similar to the windy northern Rhone Valley.

Treana glass

Eye: Clear, Deep gold, Marsanne is known for giving wines a lot of color

Nose: Clean, medium plus intensity, stone fruits (yellow peach, apricot), tropical fruit (passion fruit), white flowers, candied orange peel

Palate: dry, medium-plus body, medium minus acidity, long finish. Notes of yellow peach and apricot along with cloves and a slight mineral quality. Nutty notes from oak on the finish.

This wine has a lot of aromas; it’s very fruity but also has spicy, flowery, mineral and oaky elements which give it a lot of complexity. It’s a wine that makes me think of summer whenever I take a sip, not a lazy summer day but rather a full, busy, fun summer day. Ripe fruits, a rich style, nice body, long finish, there are a lot of things going on.

Food pairings: White meat, shellfish and spicy foods sound like potential matches.

Overall opinion: Complex and rich with a lot of aromas, a good fuller bodied white wine that remains fruity. The wine also has potential to age for a few more years. I think it’s a winner.

Grade : 7/10

Value for money : Hahn Winery Pinot Noir

Hahn Winery Pinot Noir 2011

Region: Central Coast, California, USA

Grape: 100% Pinot Noir

Price: around $12 online

I went to a friend’s new apartment last weekend and we had some wine while touring the new place. A California Pinot was one of the options, and considering I’ve been writing a lot zbout Burgundy recently, I thought it would be a good opportunity to compare Burgundian Pinot Noirs to their surfer-dudes cousins. On theory alone, I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea of growing Pinot in California. In my mind Pinot comes from miserable, rainy weather (i.e. Burgundy). Nothing says Burgundy in the wintertime better than frozen mud. New Zealand? Sure, it rains, there are clouds, it makes sense. The Pacific Northwest? No problem, it rains all the time, Twilight takes place there, it’s miserable all right. Sunny, warm, easy-going California? That makes less sense, let’s investigate.


Eye: clear, surprisingly intense for a young Pinot Noir but still light to medium ruby with a hint of garnet at the rim

Nose: Clean, medium intensity, aromas of dark berries, riper and darker than a young Pinot from Burgundy would give you. The nose gets a little heavier after a while with some “fall” aromas, a mix of spices and light smoke, very entertaining.

Palate: dry, medium to high acidity, bordering on the high, light tannins, light to medium body, medium finish

Pinot Noirs from California have a reputation for straightforward fruitiness (in a good way), especially when compared to the Burgundy red my early wine education relied so much on. This wine is a good illustration of that stereotype, lots of fruits, mostly dark cherries, very ripe, very fruity and also, very smooth. I didn’t get any hints of the “heavier” aromas I got on the nose, what I called the “Fall” notes which are to me a staple of Pinot Noir. It is straightforward and fruity but it’s also very, very smooth. I was surprised by the ripeness of the fruit; it was like the wine was happy to see me! It’s something you rarely get from Old World Pinots Noir and it was refreshing! I didn’t mind the wine getting a little familiar and California like with me. Had it called me “brah” I would have drawn a line but the inherent classiness of the Pinot gave it that much restraint at least.

Food pairings: I had this wine without any food, a conversation wine if you will. It served that purpose well. It would go well with lighter meats like veal of chicken, nothing too spicy. I think the good acidity would help it deal with sauces though.

Overall opinion: Go back to the top of the page, check the price, then come back down, I’m not going anywhere. Good? You’re back? Great. $12 for a more than decent, smooth Pinot Noir, I call that great value for money. It’s an unpretentious wine that works on its own and could accommodate a wide range of dishes, I’d stock up on it a little bit.

The wine & food pairing challenge

A colleague of mine (at my normal, pay the bills job) recently learned that I was taking wine tasting classes and asked me for wine recommendations. I decided to make a game out of it and told her to send me a list of dishes and I would come up with a wine for each entry. The idea was to limit myself to wines I’ve tasted recently (and for some of them, wrote about). Here are the results. I’ll try to get feedback on how it worked out. What do you think? Also, feel free to give me some more dishes to match, it’s one area I’m trying to get better !

Veal MarsalaCostamolino Vermentino di Sargegna, Sardinia, Italy

Eggplant parmesan (red sauce) : Vignole Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy

Chicken Broccoli Ziti (white sauce) : Pewsey Vale, Eden Valley Dry Riesling, Barossa Valley, Australia

Baked/broiled Salmon (with veggies)Raats Family Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Roasted Chicken : Nicky Pinot Noir, Hahn winery, Central Coast, California

Baked TurkeyPine Ridge Dijon Clones Chardonnay, Carneros, California

Curried/Thai Chicken : Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc & Viognier, Napa Valley, California

Beef Stew : Gnarly Dudes Barossa Valley Shiraz

Steak & mashed potatoesRib Shack Red, Western Cape, South Africa

Lamb chops : St Supery Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California

Tasting Notes : Terra d’Oro Deaver 2009

Terra D’Oro Deaver 2009

Region : California, Amador

Grape : 100% Zinfandel

Price : around $25 online


This wine is kind of a double unknown for me. Not only do I have limited knowledge of US wines, I also have no knowledge of Zinfandel whatsoever. Unlike Pinot or Chardonnay, Zinfandel is not cultivated in France. It is in Italy though, under the name Primitivo, but I don’t think I ever saw it in a French wine shop. All I know about Zinfandel comes from my classes so I opened this bottle with an open mind. Actually, that’s not true, I opened it with a corkscrew. It’s really hard to open a bottle with your mind, empty or not, it doesn’t matter. Trust me on this one, use a corkscrew, it will go faster.

. One thing of note is that this wine is made with grapes from old vines, 125 years old vines to be precise. It’s usually a sign of quality as older vines have smaller yields and better grapes.

Eye: clear, medium to intense ruby color with hints of purple

Nose:  clean, medium to pronounced intensity. Red fruit notes like cherry or red plum and spice notes like cloves

Palate: low to medium acidity, medium tannins, light to medium body

In terms of flavor I feel the spices notes are more obvious than the fruit ones. The clove notes are especially present and it’s a flavor I really like for some reason. Fruit is more subdued than expected; it’s more plum than cherry in my opinion.

I have a hard time finding anything to say about this wine, nothing stands out, it, honestly, feels a little weak to me which is strange because the tannins are present and “soft” but the wine lacks a bite. I would say it’s subdued but almost too much.

Zinfandels have a reputation as “fruit bombs” but in that case, the really old vines are probably the reason the flavors are a lot more subtle with more spice box notes than orchard ones.

Food pairings: steak, any red meat really

Overall opinion: I can’t point anything wrong with it but I can’t say I’m wowed by it. I wish I had something even remotely interesting to say about this wine. All that I have is that it is really easy drinking because of the present but subdued spice notes. I’ve been drinking it as I write down these notes  with a Red Sox World series game broadcast in the background and the experience is nothing but pleasant.

Tasting Notes : Pine Ridge Pinot Clones 2011

Pine Ridge Dijon Clones 2011

Region: California, Napa Valley, Carneros

Grape: 100% Chardonnay

Price: around $30 retail

Pine Ridge DC

My Parisian boss was around last week so we went for a very French 3 hours lunch at Hillstone near Government Center. I had the Pine Ridge Chenin-Blanc/Viognier blend a while ago and I liked it so I decided to try the “Dijon Clones” Chardonnay from the same winery.

The Carneros region is famous for producing “Burgundy-like” chardonnays, its climate benefits from cooling breezes from the San Francisco Bay and summer fogs are common. This particular wine is named “Dijon Clones”; Dijon is the historic and administrative capital of Burgundy. “Dijon clones” is the name of a specific clone of Chardonnay, a specific strand of the variety that was developed in Dijon and imported to the US in the eighties.

Eye: medium intensity gold, clear

Nose: clean, medium intensity, strong aromas of stone fruit (mostly white peach I would say)

Palate: medium-high acidity, medium-high body, medium length

The wine has a strong “fat” feel, with buttery notes that gives it a pretty strong body for a white wine. In this particular case it comes from the six months the wine spent “sur lie” (with residual yeast). I felt like it went a little overboard with it and that took the spotlight away from the primary aromas of the wine. On the plus side, it gives a very rich, lush body to the wine.

The same aromas from the nose are there; especially the white peach and coconut notes from the oak can be tasted. Once again, they are a little overpowered by the buttery feel of the wine.

Food pairing: I had a seared tuna sashimi with it which worked really well. I would try to pair this wine with sushi or very lean dishes to cut the slightly excessive buttery feel of the wine.

Overall opinion: Worked really well with a fish meal, it’s a pleasant wine for a not excessive price, I feel it would be a little too overwhelming to drink by itself.