On the 4th and Final Day of Unit 6 of the Intensive Sommelier Training at the International Culinary Center we studied Greece and Eastern Europe. Unit 7 covers Beer, Sake & Spirits, Unit 8 covers Program Management and Unit 9 covers Food & Wine Pairing. After Unit 9 we will have one meet for Review and then we will take the Certified Sommelier Exam on March 26th which will entail a written exam, a blind tasting of 2 wines (red and white) and a service exam in a mock restaurant in which we will have to serve either a table wine, decant a wine or do a sparkling wine service while answering questions about aperitifs, food and wine pairing, cocktails and so forth.
Since this blog focuses on the exploration of wine around the world and not the subjects of these other unit this will be the final review on the Intensive Sommelier Training at the International Culinary Center. However, I will continue to post review of wines from around the world and after March 26th I’ll post an overall review on the experience of going through the Intensive Sommelier Training and taking the Certified Sommelier Exam.
In the review I’ll cover the basics of Greece and Eastern Europe, the class learning objectives and then provide a review of the wines we tasted in class.
Our word for the study of winemaking “enology” comes from two Greek words οἶνος (oinos) and λόγος (logos). The alternative word, viniculture, is from the Latin. Greece is one of the oldest wine growing countries in the world, some estimate over 6,000 years old, though not one of the most prominent today. The ancient Greeks spread winemaking throughout Europe including Italy, Portugal and southern France. Greek wines, especially the sweet wines, were the some of the most valued during the time of the Roman Empire all the way through the Middle Ages.
However, when Europe began to modernize their winemaking in the 1800s Greece lagged behind as they continued to produce lesser quality, oxidized wines that the locals had become accustomed to without keeping in mind the vales of the global market. However a new generation of winemakers is striving to redefine Greek wine.
Greek Grape Varieties
Greece has over 300 indigenous grape varietals. Some of the most important white grape varieties are as follows:
Assyrtiko (pronounced A seer' tee ko) was first cultivated on the island of Santorini and is one of Greece’s most important multi-purpose white grape varieties. It has the ability to maintain its acidity as it ripens and it yields a bone-dry white wine with citrus aromas mixed with an earthy, minerality. It is also blended with the aromatic Aidani and Athiri grapes for the production of the unique, naturally sweet wines called Vinsanto, which should not be confused with the Italian straw-wine by the same name.
Moschofilero (pronounced Mos ko fee' le ro) is a distinct aromatic grape within the AOC region of Mantinia, in the Peloponnese. Moschofilero grapes have a gray colored skin (like Pinot Gris) and produce a wine that is a blanc de gris. It has floral aroma of roses, violets and spices with a natural high acidity.
Rhoditis (pronounced Ro dee' tees) is a rosé colored grape with light fragrant aromas that is very popular in Attica, Macedonia, Thessaly and Peloponnese where it is cultivated for the production of AOC Patra wines. It produces the best results when cultivated with low yields on mountainous slopes.
Savatino (pronounced Sa va tya no') is the predominant grape in the region of Attica where is it is well-suited to dry summer weather. It produces elegant, well-balanced white wines with an aroma of citrus fruits and flowers.
Athiri (pronounced Ah ee tha' nee) is a white wine variety primarily found in the Cyclades Islands. It produces wines aromatic white wines with medium alcoholic content and acidity and is often blended with grapes having a high alcoholic content and acidity such as Assyrtiko.
Some of the most important Greek red grape varieties are as follows:
Agiorginko (pronounced Ah yor yee' ti ko) means “St. George’s” and is one of the most noble of the Greek red grapes. It is primarily grown in the Nemea AOC region in the Peloponnese. It produces wines with soft tannins and balanced acidity and can be used in a various of styles different styles of wine including aromatic rosé wines, fresh aromatic reds to extraordinary aged reds.
Xinomavro (pronounced Ksee no' ma vro) means “acid-black” and is the predominant grape variety in Macedonia. They are known being highly structured wines with excellent aging potential and in many ways they are Nebbiolo-like.
Mandilaria (pronounced Mahn dee lar ya') is also known as Amorgiano and is primarily found on the islands of Rhodes and Crete. Mandelaria is often blended with other grapes such as Monemvassia in Paros, Kotsifali in Crete or as a single variety on the island of Rhodes.
One of the most well-known (and enjoyed by locals) ancient wines in Greece is Retsina (Ρετσίνα), which has been made for at least 2000 years. It has a flavor that is reminiscent to pine scented furniture polish. This style of wine was developed due to a necessary means of preserving the wine from becoming oxidized in amphorae, before the invention of impermeable glass bottles. In ancient times they sealed the wine vessels with Aleppo Pine resin that helped keep air out, while at the same time infusing the wine with resin aroma. The Romans began to use barrels in the 3rd century AD, removing any oenological necessity for resin, but the Greeks had become accustomed to the pine flavor in their wine.
Today, the white wine Retsina is still produced from Savatiano grapes. Although modern barrels have eliminated the necessity of pine resin as a sealant, the Greek culture has become accustom to the flavor so they add it to the wine. Retsina is a Traditional Appellation protected by the EU (as a PGI), and is rarely encountered outside of Greece and it cannot be labeled with a vintage designation.
Although we did not taste Retsina in class, I have tasted it twice and the only way I can imagine that it might be somewhat palatable to a non-Greek is if you drank it while simultaneously eating Greek olives and goat cheese.
Greek Wine Laws
In 1969 – 1971 Greece implemented wine laws and established most of the country’s appellations. Then in the 1980s they were refined and modeled after the French AOC system as overseen by the Greek Wine Institute in order to conform to EU standards.
There are two levels of PDO (“Protected Designation of Origin”) quality wine:
Greek Wine Quality Designations
In Descending Order
Appellation of Superior Quality
Οίνοι Ονομασίας Προελεύσεως Ανωτέρας Ποιότητος
Controlled Appellation of Origin (AOC/OPE)
Οίνοι Ονομασίας Προελεύσεως Eλεγχόμενης
Traditional sweet wines
PGI (“Protected Geographical Indication”)
Includes the Traditional Appellations (Ονομασία κατά Παράδοση) of Retsina and Verdea, an oxidative white wine produced on the island of Zakynthos in the Ionian Sea, and integrates the wines of Greece’s former “vin de pays” category, Topikos Inos (Τοπικοί Οίνοι.)
Wines that carry a vintage and variety on the label.
Cannot carry a vintage and variety on the label
While “Reserve” in California has no legal status, Greece also has two additional label designations with specific requirements for ageing:
Reserve PDO Wines of Greece
Minimum 1 year of aging for white wines, with at least 6 months in barrel and 3 months in bottle. Minimum 2 years of aging for red wines, with at least 1 year in barrel and 6 months in bottle.
Minimum 2 year aging period for white wines, including at least 1 year in barrel and 6 months in bottle, and a minimum 4 year aging period for red wines, including at least 18 months in barrel and 18 months in bottle.
The PGI zones are divided into regional, district, and area levels: PGI regions are equivalent to the major regions of Greece, such as Peloponnese and Crete, whereas PGI areas are so small they may only include a single estate. PGI districts correspond to the peripheral units of Greece, a form of political state that replaced prefectures during administrative reform in 2010.
Greece also has a wine designated as “Cava” which is a table wine and should not be confused with the sparkling wine of Spain. “Cava” is a Greek term that was used to refer to “high end” table wine. The requirements are as follows:
White and Rosé Cava
6 months in oak prior to bottling
At least 1 year in barrel
Palaiomenos se vareli
Indicates Cava, Reserve, or Grand Reserve oak aging beyond the required minimums.
Greek Wine Regions
The Greek wine producing regions are scattered throughout the Mediterranean between the mainland regions and shores of Turkey on the seemingly countless islands. In general, Greece experiences a Mediterranean climate. The mainland includes the regions of Macedonia, Epirus, Peloponnese, Thessalia, Thrace, and Central Greece (Sterea Ellada). Macedonia (sometimes spelled Makedonia) is warmer as it experiences a continental climate and it is one of the oldest which makes up the northern Greek mainland while central Greece covers the southern portion. Peloponnese is a large peninsula that extends out form the mainland into the Mediterranean and it includes the important wine regions of Nemea PDO (red wines from Agiortiko), Mantinia PDO (dry white wines from Moschofilero), Patras PDO (dry white wines from Roditis) and Mavodaphne PDO (sweet red Vin Doux Naturel from Mavrodaphne and Korinthiaki grapes).
The Greek islands are broadly categorized into the Aegean and Ionian Islands and include important regions such as Rhodes (whites wines from Athiri and red wines from Mandilaria), Santorini (white wines from Assyrtiko, plus Aidani and Athiri ) and Muscat of Samos PDO (sweet whites from Moschato Aspro also known as Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains). Crete is the largest Greek island and accounts for roughly 20% of Greece’s wine production. It includes important appellations as the Dafnes PDO (Red wines from Liatiko), the Archanes PDO (dry reds from Kotsifali and Mandilaria) the Peza PDO (dry white wines from Vilana and red wines from Kotsifali and Mandilaria) and the Sitia PDO (red wines from Liatiko and white wines from Vilana).
The major focus of Day 4 of Unit 6 was on Greece and we more-or-less did a “fly over” of Eastern Europe but we skipped some countries that are discussed in our text books such as Russia, Cyprus, and Croatia. Currently, the following nations are not major players in the Word of Wine so I won’t go into great detail on any of them.
Slovenia is the wealthiest part of former Yugoslavia. It joined EU in 2004 and although not widely known around the world it is among the top in quality of wine producing Balkan countries. It borders Friuli in Italy to the west, Austria to the north, and Croatia to the south. There are three wine regions located in the country, the best is Primorska, followed by Podravje and Posavje. Slovenia is mostly known for dessert wines similar to those found in Austria.
Bulgaria has a history of winemaking that dates back more than 3,000 years. However, wine production went into decline due Turkish control and implementation of Muslim law until the late 19th century. Beginning in the 1970’s, a strong export market was established and for a period of time they became 4th largest exporter of wine. However, in 1985 anti-alcohol reforms were launched. Then in 1990 the Communist regime fell and wine production began to change faced with new challenges.
Bulgaria is located between Romania to the north and Greece and Turkey to the south. The climate of the region is warm and dry influenced by the Black Sea to the east and the Aegean to the south. This provides long ripening periods for creating full bodied fruity red wines throughout the country. There are 5 wine regions in Bulgaria - Danubian Plain, Thracian Lowlands (which are recognized by the EU), Black Sea Region, and Struma River Valley.
Bulgaria has 2 quality Levels of wine: The DGO (Declared Geographic Origin / Vino ot Deklariran Geografski) and Controliran, a Controlled appellation within a DGO area, considered superior quality level.
Much of the wine production in Bulgaria is focused on international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. Native red grapes include Gamza (Kadarka), Mavrud and Melnik. Indigenous white grapes such as Rkatsiteli and Dimiat, but they have been steadily losing plantings in favor of more marketable varieties.
Romania is the 5th largest wine producing European country. It had a significant planting program in the 1960’s under communist rule then after the fall of communism in 1989 it saw a rise in hybrid plantings in the early 1990’s. But with minimal foreign investment it has struggled to find success in the export market.
Romania has a Continental Climate with the Carpathian Mountains in center of country, the Black Sea to the south-east and the Danube River to the south. It has 7 wine regions: Moldova, Muntenia-Oltenia, Banat, Crişana-Maramureş, Dobrogea, Danube Terraces, and Transylvania. There are 4 DOC regions of note:
Murfatlar DOC – Located within Dobrogea.
Cotnari DOC – Known for its sweet wines, located within Moldova.
Dealu Mare DOC – This region has potential for Pinot Noir within Muntenia-Oltenia.
Tarnave DOC – Located within Transylvania, it is one of the coolest regions.
Romania has a high number of indigenous grape varieties. The red grapes include Feteascâ Neagrâ, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir. But plantings of white grape varieties exceed red grapes; the leading are Feteascâ Albâ, Feteascâ Regalâ, Riesling Italico (Welschriesling) and Chardonnay.
Lebanon has a history of over 6,000 years of grape cultivation. In fact, some theorize that it was the source of the vitis vinifera for Egypt, Italy and Greece. After the departure from Turkish Ottoman Empire (which lasted from the late 13th century to 1923) wine production was revived and France had a major influence on its wine industry. They then suffered a 15-year Civil War that ended in 1990. Today there are 2 wine producers of note, Gaston Hochar and Chateau Musar, and over 37,000 acres (15,000 hectares) under vine all located within one wine district: the Bekaa Valley. The vineyards are planted to both French and indigenous varieties. The red grapes varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cinsault, and Carignan. White grapes include Obaideh, Merwah and Chardonnay.
Israel has an ancient history of winemaking that dates back at least to around 1400 BC. Although it’s a relatively small country (about 5% of the size of California), its north-to-south configuration offers a variety of altitudes and topographic changes, resulting in numerous microclimates and subzones. Although winemaking and viticultural practices were modernized in the late 19th century, with Carmel Winery pioneering dry table wine style in the 1960s, Kosher wines dominated the market until the 1980s. Then in the 1990s Israeli winemakers were winners in an International wine competition that brought recognition to the potential of the Israeli wine industry. Today there are over 140 wineries in operation. The majority of them are kosher, but there are numerous non-kosher selections, produced primarily by smaller boutique, or garagiste, wineries. However, most of these non-kosher selections have limited availability or are not currently imported into the United States.
Israel has a Mediterranean climate with hot, humid summers and cold rainy winters. Most of the vineyards have limestone and marl based soils. There are 5 major wine regions - Galilee (north), the Judean Hills (which surrounds Jerusalem), and the Negev (southern area, desert), Shimshon (or Samson) and Shomron (Samaria). Sadly most if not all of the indigenous varieties were removed during Islamist rule prior to 1948, so today French and other international varieties dominate plantings.
What Makes a Wine Kosher?
There are few differences between a kosher and non-kosher wine. The techniques used during production are almost identical but there are just some guidelines to be observed in order to achieve kosher status. The most significant difference is that a kosher wine can only be handled by Sabbath observant Jews at all points of the winemaking process, from harvesting the grapes through fermentation and bottling. However, it’s not necessary for a head winemaker at a kosher winery to be Jewish. Many are not, and they rely on their staff to handle the materials and equipment. All ingredients must be certified kosher. Most wine ingredients are already kosher, but certain items, like unauthorized yeasts and animal-based fining additives such as gelatin or isinglass are prohibited. Kosher tools and storage facilities must be observed, meaning that no designated kosher equipment may be used for the production of non-kosher wine. All production must also be overseen by a mashgiach, who supervises the kosher status of the winery. If a kosher wine is handled by a non-Jew, the wine will lose its kosher status unless it is also mevushal. The term, literally translated as “cooked” or “boiled,” refers to a kosher wine that has been heated to a high temperature to preserve its kosher status, even if handled by a nonobservant Jew. But even for these “cooked” wines, recent innovations in flash pasteurization have greatly reduced the damage that the heating process traditionally inflicted on the sensory profile of these wines. This means that the raisiny, rubbery or stewed fruit flavors that may have been previously encountered in mevushal selections are far less common today.
Learning Objectives of Unit 6 – Day 4: Greece and Eastern Europe
At the beginning of class lectures a list of learning objectives is provided to the students. By the end of the class, the students should have a certain degree of understanding from their own reading and the lectures and be able to provide the answers to a list of questions. The Learning Objectives for Unit 6 - Day 4 along with the answers are as follows.
By the end of class, students should be able to answer the following questions:
(1) Name 2 important red PDOs, the grapes of that region and location in Greece
Answer: Xinomavro, Agiortkio
(2) Name 1 important white PDO, the grapes of that region and location in Greece
(3) Which Italian region borders Primorska in Slovenia
(4) Identify the country of origin for wines produced from the Danubian Plain region
(5) Name the indigenous red grape of Romania showing potential in the world market
(6) Name the country where Chateau Musar is producing wines
(7) Describe the attributes of any wines tasted today
Answer: See below
On the 4th day of Unit 6, we tasted the following wine from Greece and Lebanon:
1. 2012 Domaine Skouras, Moscofilero, Greece
This is a clear white wine, pale straw in color with moderate rim variation and low viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate and youthful aromas of mandarin orange, ripe white grapefruit, melon rind, Myer lemon, lime and a floral bouquet of rose water. On the palate it has flavors of grapefruit, very sharp and tart lemon and a salty minerality. It is dry with crisp medium+ acidity, it has medium alcohol and body and a medium + length finish. This wine sells for about $16 per bottle.
2. 2011 Boutari, Assyrtiko, Santorini, Greece
This is a clear white wine, star-bright, brass in color at the core with low concentration to a watery rim with medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with subtle and youthful but somewhat oxidative with aromas of bruised apple, apple cider, apricot preserves, caramelized pear and a hint of honey. On the palate it has additional flavors of bitter almonds, chalk and a lingering nuttiness. It is dry with crisp medium+ acidity, it has medium alcohol and body and a medium length finish. This wine sells for about $22 per bottle.
3. 2011 Tselepos, Moscofilero, Mantinia, Greece
This is a clear white wine, star-bright, straw in color at the core with low concentration to a watery rim with low viscosity. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of lemons, peach, dried apricots, lemon blossoms and a hint of tarragon. On the palate it is tart and very sharp with flavors of apricots and peach with a chalky minerality and a touch of sea salt. It is dry with HIGH acidity, it has medium alcohol and body and a medium+ length finish. This wine sells for about $17 per bottle.
4. 2004 Chateau Musar Blanc, Bekka Valley, Lebanon
This is a clear white wine, day-bright, brass-gold in color at the core with low concentration to a watery rim with medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate aromas of bubble gum from a pack of baseball trading cards, brown bananas, hints of tropical fruit, custard and just a touch of rose bush. It has flavors of cotton candy, cinnamon and all spice with a touch of cinnamon and clove. It is dry with medium+ acidity, it has medium alcohol and body and a long finish. This wine sells for about $21 per bottle.
5. 2009 Tselepos, Agiorgitiko, Nemea, Greece
This is an opaque red wine, day-bright, ruby in color at the core to pink with moderate concentration to a touch of orange at rim with medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of dried cherries, cranberry, roses, a hint of black pepper, mushrooms and decaying soil. It has flavors of dried blackberries, cranberries, and black pepper. It is dry with medium+ tannins, medium+ acidity, it has medium+ alcohol and body and a moderately complex, medium length finish. This wine sells for about $22 per bottle.
6. 2010 Domaine Karydas Xinomavro, Naoussa, Greece
This is a clear red wine, day-bright, ruby in color at the core to garnet at rim with medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of medicinal cherries, dried cherries, violets, green stems, sage, tarragon, dried red flowers, dense tart and mushrooms. It has flavors of sour cherries, tar, hints of black pepper and chalk. It is dry with HIGH tannins, medium+ acidity, it has medium+ alcohol and body and a moderately complex, medium length finish. This wine is very Nebbiolo-like. This wine sells for about $26 per bottle.
7. 2009 Kir-Yianni, Xinomavro, Ramnista, Naoussa, Greece
This is a clear red wine, day-bright, ruby in color at the core to garnet at rim with medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of cherries, stewed and dried plums, cola, dense tar and mushrooms. It has flavors of dried cherries, tar, hints of black pepper and chalk. It is dry with HIGH tannins, medium+ acidity, it has medium+ alcohol and body and a moderately complex, medium length finish. This wine is also very Nebbiolo-like but with more ripe fruit. This wine sells for about $22 per bottle.
8. 2004 Chateau Musar, Bekka Valley, Lebanon
This is a clear red wine, day-bright, ruby in color at the core to garnet at rim with a touch of orange and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of cassis, cherry liqueur, dark chocolate, blackberries and a hint of raisins. It has flavors of dried cherries, leather, tobacco, dried leaves, and a hint of chalk. It is dry with medium+ tannins, medium acidity, it has medium+ alcohol and medium body, it is moderately complex with medium length finish. This wine sells for about $37 per bottle.
9. 2001 Chateau Musar, Bekka Valley, Lebanon
This is a clear red wine, day-bright, garnet in color at the core to orange and brown at rim, day bright, with medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is “clean” with moderate aromas of poopy-diapers (Brettanomyces), stewed plums, tobacco, burnt toffee, black licorice, roasted peppers, leather, roasted nuts, dried leaves, dried meat and paprika. It has flavors of dried cherries, leather, tobacco, dried leaves, and a hint of chalk. It is dry with medium+ tannins, medium acidity, it has medium+ alcohol and medium body, it is highly complex with medium length finish. This wine sells for about $38 per bottle.