white wine

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Crab Shack in Chicago

A crab shack in Chicago might seem an unlikely place to find a happy hour special of Greek wine named Moschofilero, pronounced “mow-sko-FEEL-err-oh.”

As far as places where Greek wine would appear on the menu, Chicago though is about as good a bet in the US as one could make.  Chicago has a strong history of Greek immigration dating back to the 1840s and was the US principal destination for Greek migrants until NYC took over that crown after WWII.  Even today, Chicago ranks as one of the top Greek cities in the world – opa! 

Impressive Greek Madame

If there is one person to thank for that Greek wine appearing on the menu, however, it is Madame Stavroula Kourakou-Dragona (b. 1928).  She has dedicated her long life to the categorization, study and veneration of Greek wines, and her bio is ridiculously impressive.  PhD in Chemistry, Director of the Wine Institute at the Ministry of Agriculture in Greece, President of many multinational organizations dedicated to the expansion and improvement of vines and grapes, and architect of the Appellation of Origin system that first begin in Greece in the 1970s and now includes a structured system of PDO, PGI and IDO wine classifications.

Living a Full Life

Most impressive of all is her outlook and dedication, which I quote from an interview when she was in her late 80s: “I simply feel like a person who deserves to live, who hasn’t led a wasted life… I was fortunate and happy to see the birth in this country, from scratch, of an entire field of research, application, science, industry, commerce and international relations. If I could be born again, I would wish to live the same life all over again – even its difficult times. This full life, which was dedicated to the service of the wine sector.”

Taste

  • To quote the impressive Madame Stavroula Kourakou-Dragona, this is a wine “to break the boredom of the monotony of aromas and flavors from the immoderate prevalence of some, few globalized cultivars.” 
  • Very light color – almost translucent but then light yellow and light green come through
  • Floral and lemony with a Torrontes-like nose
  • Softer sauvignon blanc taste with more citrus taste of lemon, lime and orange with quite a long zesty finish

Detail up!

2018 Moschofilero by Skouras – made with 100% Moschofilero grapes into a 12% ABV white wine from Arcadia Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) in Peloponnese, Greece

Random Googles:

  • Opa! and its accompanying flaming sagnaki dish ubiquitous in Chicago’s Greektown restaurants was invented in Chicago in the 1960s and has expanded from there
  • Stavroula Kourakou-Dragona was the first woman in Europe to hold a oenologist degree in Europe and prefers the title “Lady of the Vines,” inspired by a poem (or collection of poems) written by fascinating Greek poet Yannis Ritsos
  • Greeks in Melbourne, Australia tell me that Melbourne has the most Greeks of any city in the world outside of Athens.  That seems almost accurate from a review of the diaspora information – perhaps after Thessaloniki too.

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Fleur du Rhone 2010 13.5%, Valais petite arvine

Swiss Wine Region #1
Switzerland’s largest wine region is the Valais, basically producing 50% of all Swiss wine. Truth be known, that’s not a lot of wine volume compared to all of Switzerland’s neighbors but in relative terms, Valais is clearly the wino-spot of the Swiss slopes.

Swiss Grapes Aplenty
Which grape then would you try if you were into trying grapes? There are a few you could locate in Switzerland without too much trouble – your Chasselas (never heard of it), your Pinot Noir (thanks Sideways for making it unaffordable), Gamay, Petite Arvine, Syrah, Cornalin (also a new one), Humagne Rouge and quite a few more. But Petite Arvine appears to the favorite of the Swiss press, people of Valais and even the wine experts.

Wine Gurus on Petite Arvine
Wine gurus really ignore Switzerland for the most part and one can see why when you’re looking at dozens of regions and hundreds of grapes – it’s just a lot to put into a book. Take Karen MacNeil, for example. She wrote 901 page book called “The Wine Bible” that you’ll see fairly often in wine bars and it has a great introduction to the wine regions of the world. There is exactly 1 page dedicated to Switzerland, and Petite Arvine receives accolades such as – “intensely floral, exotically fruity” – and is even noted as “far more interesting” than certain other Swiss varieties. Pretty decent phrase when you’re considering that all of Switzerland fits on one page, and in fact, it’s the highest praise for a Swiss grape in the book.

Proud of the Petite
Jancis Robinson (my personal favorite and secret crush – pun now intended) barely notes the grape in her encyclopedic “Vines, Grapes and Wines,” including it on a list with other Swiss grapes, and Oz Clarke of much fame heaps praise on the grape (“high quality”, elegance, finesse, “unusual minerality” are some of the words he chooses) and noting that he has a bottle of 1969 Petite Arvine in his cellar. Perhaps a bit of showing of his cellar of course, but clearly he’s proud of this bottle and this grape.

Taste
Tastes like green. Green apples, some green lime and NZ Sauvignon Blanc. Tastes a little rounder with slight pear, peach and quince. Not much of a finish – some green apple but finish ends quickly.

Detail Up!
Fleur du Rhone 2010 Petite Arvine with 13.5% alcohol from Valais, Switzerland – never before reviewed on the internets

Random Googles:
* Petite Arvine received its name because there used to be a grape called Gross Arvine. Marketing people can tell you which grape has survived… even though Gross Arvine is still in grape stock libraries, just not in bottles. Nowadays, Petite Arvine is being positioned as just Arvine by the (surprisingly in-existence) Swiss Wine pushers.
* Petite Arvine might be the most frequently grown grape of the Valais but Chasselas is king when it comes to acreage planted in Switzerland. Being a sucker for pie charts (and pie!), have a look at the dominant 8.36% position that Chasselas has compared to the puny #4 position position that Petite Arvine has at 6.46% – it sets one’s heart aflutter. If only that pesky 56.65% of “Other Wines” could be eliminated from the pie chart, this would truly be an impressive display.
* The other place in the world where Petite Arvine grows is Valle d’Aosta in Italy, which is basically where you land when you step across the border from Valais in Switzerland. No doubt there is a Hemingway novel about this very trek.

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grecanico 2010 sicily di giovannaOde to Motorino
Una pizza napoloteana was an epic pizza place on east 12th street in the east village, until its owner moved cross-country to san francisco and left a whole in the hearts of quite a few pizza-lovers. Rumors abounded about a new pizza place taking over their storefront, and that the new owners might have even bought the oven from the emigrating owners. Years have now passed since that transaction took place and the new store in town is a well-seasoned restaurant with a deserved following. Excellent pies, good wine list and a few subtle surprises make it a go-to restaurant on bustling east 12th.

Anchovy Pizza
The build-it-yourself delivery pizza isn’t exactly a favorite of mine since it involves making your food – exactly the activity you are trying to avoid when ordering delivery… In the case of the white anchovy pizza however, there is an exception to be made.

Cristom vs. Cristom
Earlier that evening was a tasting of some red wine from two different years (2009 and 2002, I believe) that we had bought in Oregon and saved to share with friends who would also geek out about trying the same wine, from the same plot, from two quite distant years. Surprisingly enough, it was pretty easy to tell the difference (even if nobody was really going for a scientific, blind tasting). Fruity and colorful, versus dusty and subdued. Might have been reading too many wine books but it certainly seemed to match what people have said about how wines age.

Clutch Pour by Selenho
Anyway, once the white anchovy pizza arrived, it seemed like some white acidic wines were in the offering, and Selenho happened to have a bottle open and chilling. This is what constitutes a great friend – not the years of knowing each other and shared memories, experiences and folly, or the ability to dig into novels, sports and shared interests – it’s the ability to pull a fantastic, open, chilled bottle of wine from the fridge that matches the impromptu pizza you just purchased. And so it was…

Taste:
Lots of acidity to punch back at the white anchovies draped across the top of the pie and long long finish to keep you remembering how to spell the word “salinity.” Light, crispy, acidic white wine. Not much nose. Lemon and green apple. Surprisingly long finish. Excellent with white anchovies.

Detail Up!
Di Giovanna Grecanico 2010 with 13% alc. from Sicily, Italy

Random Googles:
* Sicilians call it “Grecanico” while the rest of Italy calls it “Garganega”
* Grecanico forms the base of Soave, from the northeast of Italy, in Veneto
* Element 34 is Selenium. Yes, it’s entirely unrelated to the rest of this post.

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Image from WHWC

Vin Gris
Gray wine – least appealing way to market a wine and yet, it’s a pretty cool process. So most of the time red wine comes from red grapes, and white wine comes from white grapes – not always, but it’s close enough for grenade range. Vin Gris though, is a white wine that comes from red grapes. You take the red grapes, smash them and then move the liquid quickly before the skins of the grapes have time to start staining the wine red. Theoretically it would seem possible to make it from any red grapes, although wine makers stay away from that and stick to a very limited number of grapes: Moschofilero, a rare Gamay and Champagne made from Pinot Noir.

Old and Greek and Gray all over
Moschofilero is really the true vin gris, both because that’s really what people do with it and because it’s indigenous to Greece who have been making wine arguably longer than anyone in Europe. They didn’t invent wine though – that’s probably the Armenians. Strangely enough though, Moschofilero has gray grapes, rather than red that Vin Gris usually relies on – not entirely sure how this categorization works but apparently it still qualifies as Vin Gris.

Taste
Acidic lime and lemon, long finish like vinho verde. Slightly rounder body. Great for summer

Detail Up!
2010 Moschofilero with 12% alc. by Ktima Tselepos from the Mantinia area in Arcadia, Peloponnese, Greece

Random Googles
* Tselepos, the winery responsible for this Moschofilero citric stud, won 2012 Winery of the Year honors
* Moschofilero – not related to Muscat at all. Pretty opposite in taste from the sweeter Muscats too.
* Greece is confusing, Greek wine moreso – have a look at this overview of grapes with a cool map too

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Piquepoul from Languedoc – not famous or spell-able
Piquepoul is the grape, but Picpoul de Pinet is the wine made from the grape if made exclusively from Piquepoul grapes. At least, that’s the rule in the really southern and untrendy part of France known as Languedoc. But then again, Piquepoul has a long history in the region, dating back to before there were monks and chateaus.

Minor Napoleon Love
Napoleon III loved this wine, but that was way back in the 19th century, and nobody is quite sure what Napoleon III did other than inherit a name. P.S. Was there even a Napoleon II? Ok, thanks wikiworld – there was a Napoleon II, who died of tuberculous at the legal age of 21 after calling his mother “kind but weak” so he doesn’t feature in the Piquepoul tale. Sorry little dude.


Taste:
Round full body – long clean finish. Some acidity but supporting cast. Fennel smell says bartender. Perfect for barbeques says the well-known importer Kermith Lynch.

Detail Up!
Picpoul de Pinet 2010, imported by Kermit Lynch from Chateau Saint Martin de la Garrigue in Langedouc, France

Random Googles:
* Picardan, a historical sweet wine from the 17th and 18th centuries, was from Languedoc and Piquepoul was one of the grapes used to blend that sweet, extinct wine.
* Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the expensive wine from the Rhone, has Piquepoul on the list of 13 permitted blending wines. The last time anyone counted, in 2004, about 0.15% of the region planted Piquepoul.
* “Lip-stinger” is the original translation of the grape, referring to the high acidity of the grape in the Mediterranean.

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