Southern Europe – stay local or go global?

Decanter recently held a themed tasting of Southern European wines – from Greece, Italy and Bulgaria. Most of the wineries represented were Italian, unsurprisingly, since they’re the world’s largest importer of wine. But I was interested in what the Greek and Bulgarian producers had to show – I came away only half satisfied. Firstly, there were only three Bulgarian wineries at the event, as opposed to twelve Italians.  Secondly, they only brought red wines with them, and most of these were neither well made nor interesting in other ways. Well at least I got to know a couple of local varieties.

The Greek wines were a more interesting mix, and there were quite a few on the Italian stands that made the trip worthwhile. Not all the usual Sangiovese and Pinot Grigio, but several barely known indigenous varieties from small appellations, and some even organic.

While quite a few wines are made from international varieties, the Italians, and especially the Greek, seem to be comfortable working with their local ancient grapes, and I believe they have a much better chance of surviving on the international market if they promote what is unique about them – the local grapes, the local traditions – especially when we’re talking about small and barely known appellations, wine regions. I’d much sooner taste a red or white Mavrud from Bulgaria than a Merlot or Syrah produced there, because it will probably resonate better with local soil and climate, and wine-making traditions will have evolved around these indigenous grapes. While a Centesimino from Ravenna is likely to always remain a niche product, it will have preserved something unique and original, a piece in the global wine-making puzzle that is just as worthy of attention as the global superstars.

BULGARIA

The region represented was Plovdiv/Trakia. The wines, alas, all red, except one rose but I’d rather skip that altogether. In general I found that the wines were not ready to drink: too many grainy tannins, roughness, and the fruit was either overripe or too green (ageing won’t help that…). The best I tasted were blends, one made of the local variety called Mavrud with Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, the other all international varieties. I would have loved to see more well-made indigenous wines, whites too! Hopefully next time?

Semela Premium Reserve 2006

Mavrud 50%, Syrah 25%, Cab Sauv 25%

A smooth and ripe wine with bright ruby colour, black fruit and quite a bit of oak influence (vanilla and spicy flavours). Good acidity, some green leafiness. The finish is not particularly long and all in all the wine is quite simple but it’s well made and pleasant to drink.

Enira Reserva 2008

A really yummy blend of Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Luckily, they even managed to keep the alcohol level down, at a rather unusual (in today’s world) 13%. The wine is ready and together, the tannins are smooth and the ripe fruit is complemented by lots of spice: coffee, vanilla and cloves.

GREECE

Of course, again, what interested me most were indigenous varieties, and I had a feast! I tasted the aromatic and grapey Moschofilero, a white varietal; the well-known Greek red Aghiorghitiko, another white called Vilana, and even some varietals unique to Crete and the Aegean Islands: Kotsifal, Vidiano, Athiri… but the loveliest of them all was a Malagouzia.

AXIA Malagouzia 2013

This wine was made in the region of Amynteo, in the middle of continental Greece, from the white Malagouzia grapes, grown on a sandy/limestone plateau. The nose has the vegetal, green, almost pungent character of a Sauvignon Blanc, with that unique prickly gooseberry aroma. And the palate it is smooth with nicely integrated acidity and fairly subdued flavours – until you come to the finish! Suddenly there is a totally unexpected burst of the most beautiful floral notes. A memorable and delightful wine, to be drunk young, while its floral charm lasts.

Assyrtiko 2013

A white wine from Crete, from the grape variety of the same name. Its beauty lies not in intensity but in its elegance. A pleasant, savoury white with high acidity, unintrusive, youthful fruit flavours, a touch of lees influence and some savouriness. The wine comes from the island of Crete.

ITALY

The Italian wines all came from the northern-ish region of Emilia-Romagna. I was astonished by the number of local grape varieties I had never heard of (e.g. Pignoletto, Albana, Centesimino). But some of the well-known grapes also produced unusual and lovely wines. For example, a Pinot Grigio from near Piacenza…

Campo Bianco Pinot Grigio, DOC Colli Piacentini 2013 – organic

A fairly intense, youthful, cheerful nose. Pretty aromas of fresh fruit and honey. What makes the otherwise pleasant and fruity palate really interesting is a touch of smokiness, but the dominant flavour is still honey. A very enjoyable, mineral and fruity wine – and the person saying this is not generally a fan of Pinot Grigio!

Fondatori, Albana Secco, DOCG Romagna 2012

A characterful white produced by the Merlotta winery. After a pretty, floral, fruity, honeyed nose, the palate surprises with intense oat/grain flavours – from lees ageing – and smokiness, combined with peach and pear fruit. Full-ish body and high acidity with well-integrated alcohol. Lovely!

Arcolaio Centesimino, IGT Ravenna Rosso, 2009

A very well-made red wine from unique variety with the most charming name. Centesimino, the winemakers tell me, is a weird and ancient variety unique to the Ravenna area. It produces extremely floral, aromatic wines, which is quite unusual for a red. The Centesiminos I taste have a distinctly muscat-like aroma. This one by the Leone Conti winery also presents warm, rich, smooth, juicy flavours, red fruit, and a touch of muscat on the palate as well. A medium-bodied wine with very warm alcohol. Interesting, unusual.

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