Before I launch into the subject matter of this post I think I should clarify the multiple reference (before I hastily edited it) in my last post to Mr. SF. This was met with an arched eyebrow from Mrs. SF and a quizzical ” Who is Mr. SF? Is there something you want to tell me?” It was of course down to my general incompetence in terms of typing and my rubbish proof reader (who I would sack, if it weren’t me) rather than any major lifestyle change statement. Anyhow I digress, how very unlike me I hear my regular reader(s) say.
On to the subject at hand. Contrary to Marks & Spencers’ reputation for being a bit staid ( probably undeserved, although this coming from me may not help the cause I fear as I am hardly renown for my cutting edge fashion statements), recently I have been noticing some very interesting wines (from places off the beaten track wine wise) appearing on the shelves of the bigger Marks & Spencer stores. These include wines from Israel, Macedonia, Slovenia, Turkey, Croatia and Georgia, as well as perhaps a bit more mainstream Greece.
Greece suited my plans as my big sister was cooking a Greek style roast leg of lamb dish for my Mother for Mothers Day. The deal was she would cook the lamb and I would bring the wine and Home smoked salmon with blinis. I hasten to add that reference to big is big as in older (marginally), before I am beaten to death with said leg of lamb ( this blogging lark really is a minefield).
Now I haven’t drunk much Greek wine (never having been there on holiday) and trawling through my memories can only recalled drinking (when a mate and I were totally skint back in the early 90s – it was all we could afford wine wise to drown our sorrows) some dirt cheap retsina, I think, that had the aroma of toilet duck (and possibly the taste but I can’t say for sure, never having actually drunk toilet duck!).
Putting this fairly awful memory to the furthest recesses of my mind, locking it up, throwing away the key and bricking up the entrance, I bought a couple of the Greek reds and a white from M&S.
Now Greek wines don’t as a rule operate on the basis of any of the well know international varieties, so we are looking at wines based on quite unique national grapes which most people will have never heard of.
I love trying new wines and grape varieties (there is so much out there to try) so the use of Assytrtiko, Agiorgitiko and xinomavro (don’t trip off the tongue do they – but am thinking these are going to make me unbeatable at scrabble) grapes in the three bottles positively excited me. Would I fall in love with these new (to me) grape varieties and would I ever get remotely close to pronouncing them correctly if someone asks me about them?
Wine 1 -Atlantis 2012 – £10.49
This wine is from Santorini, a picture postcard island, born of a volcanic eruption of biblical proportions , which has resulted, in conjunction with its arid climate, in a quite uniquely structured soil.
The grape in the making of this wine is Assytrtiko (way too many consonants) which is billed here as being bone dry (although the grape is also used elsewhere in Greece to make sweet wine). On Santorini, the vines are uniquely grown by training them in to a basket shape to protect them from the winds.
On pouring the colour was very light, a subtle straw if anything. On the nose it had an nice aroma of gooseberries (but not the gooseberry punch on the nose that some NZ Sauvignon blancs can deliver), with a pleasant back note of citrus. First impression were we are on to a winner here.
On tasting it was indeed bone dry and there was a delicious lemon and lime combination of flavours with good length in terms of the time this remained on the palate. There was also a pleasant minerality to this wine, with some nice restrained floral notes. Mrs.SF loved this wine (a result, as she is very picky with whites) and as in most things (me excepted) her taste is usually pretty impeccable.
This is a very nice wine. Great on its own, but with enough structure and weight to handle food with some spice. It went well with a chicken stir fry which was heady with lemon grass, garlic and ginger. As I was enjoying this wine I was taunting my mother (was doing son duties for Mothers day weekend) , who has given up booze for lent (mad women), as to how good it was. She was not giving me maternal looks as she sipped on her tonic water!
This wine is a great alternative to sauvignon blanc and, whilst at £10.49 it is not cheap, it more than holds its own as against New Zealand sauvignon blancs at a similar price point. I personally think it has a bit more subtlety to it than most NZ sauvignon blancs. Drinking it made me happy, happy that it was so unexpectedly good and happy that I had found a great new grape.
This dry red wine is made from the xinomavro grape in the North West of Greece. The vines produce a tough skinned berry and can be tricky to make wine with.
The colour on pouring was very light and bright (akin to a pinot noir) and the initial aroma was a pleasant blackcurrant, which intensified after the wine was given a good swirl. First impressions were good.
Taste wise there was blackcurrant, but it was more restrained on the palate, with some nice warming spice coming to the fore as the wine lingering in the mouth. The wine initially had some fairly pronounced tannins (the thing that draws your lips back over your teeth and gums and dries out the month a bit), but these softened considerably once the wine had sat in the glass for a bit.
The wine drank well on its own and also with a leg of lamb, with bucket loads of garlic and lemon. It may, however, be more suited to slightly less robust flavours in my view.
This is a lovely wine – quite delicate (I was really surprised it was 14’° alcohol), with a lot of poise. Whilst not cheap at £10.49, you get a lot of wine for your money. I would definitely buy this again.
Wine 3 – Red on Black Nemea 2012 – £8.99
This wine utilises the Agiorgitiko grape, which is one of the most commonly planted grapes in Greece. It again comes mainly from the North regions of Greece.
The colour was quite dark (think plum) in marked contrast to the lighter Thymiopoulos.
The initial taste continued with the plum theme, but the wine didn’t really deliver any further in the glass from that initial plummy hit. It also felt quite alcohol heavy, but was 13.5° as opposed to the 14° of the Thymiopoulos. Despite being lower in alcohol, the Thymiopoulos felt fresher and more vibrant with the alcohol better integrated.
Don’t get me wrong this is a nice wine, but it was a bit unsubtle compared to the Thymiopoulos and it really benefited from being drunk with food, It was a bit cheaper, but I would say that on a price to quality ratio basis the Thymiopoulos was the winner. Interestingly Mrs. SF and my sister prefer the Red on Black with the lamb. It did go well with the lamb and handled the strong garlic and lemon flavours in that dish, but without food as a foil its lack of sophistication found it wanting a wee bit.
Three very interesting and good wines from M&S. My personal favourite was the white Atlantis, which really is a cracking wine and a really good alternative to the ubiquitous sauvignon blanc. Both reds were good, but for me the clear winner of the two was the Thymiopoulos.
M&S should give themselves a pat on the back for stocking these wine, all of which make for a very interesting glass of vino.
I would encourage people to be adventurous and try these wines. Serving one of these wines at a dinner party (or taking it to one) will certainly get people talking.
Would I buy these again? Most definitely, especially the Atlantis and the Thymiopoulos.