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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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aphors loureiro 2011 lima vinho verde

As much as Loureiro and Vinho Verde are both worth a full description (probably way more than a blogpost in fact), I just read Harpo Speaks! And standing on one’s head is precisely the type of activity that Harpo advocated in word and in action, both for himself in Monaco casinos and for his children in his house rules. So, today there is no description of wine. Or Loureiro.

Today there is only mayhem related to topics other than wine. To families gathering and figuring out the best for ourselves as individuals and trying to find the best for ourselves as relatives together. To Fringe Wine – for writing 282 posts and bringing estoerica to the topics of the google search pages while fighting for what is far more important. To surrealists in whatever form, in whatever age. To nights on rooftops with clouds and rain. To books unread and un-reread. To nights and days and vespers best. To wandering and forests black, but most of all to sunflowers at dawn. To hostas and rose on the North Fork. To homemade chicken, rice and you. To what remains and what’s the same – an M. Wells dish and night of bliss. To family and friends remiss, to what we have at finger tips and what lies just beyond, where dreams insist.

Detail Up!
Loureiro, 2011 Aphros 12.0% abv, Vinho Verde from Lima River area in Galicia, Portugal

Taste
Acidic and crisp. Similar to Sauvignon Blanc but less of a finish. Little bit of lime but you have to look for it. Lemon is more present but still fairly subtle. Pairs really well with fish esp with lemon on top

Random Googles:
* Lima, one of my favorite words in any language, happens to be the river that flows through Galicia, the very northwestern areas of Portugal that produces Vinho Verde thanks to the many Celt ancestors that settled in this area… along with Ireland, Scotland and other crazy-beautiful parts of earth.
* Loueriro is a kissing cousin to Albarinho, the Portunhol grape that is loved and forgotten by many a good Spaniard
* Loureiro means “laurel” or “bay”, which is apparently based on the smell of the wine. I did not notice that but probably couldn’t identify either spice… unless the smell of Old Bay french fries is somehow related

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airenNoche con Zapatos
The Zapatos family texted with a last-minute invitation to dinner yesterday, and when you get an invitation from the Zapatos, you go! Always good food, provoking conversations and the memorable evenings that stick with you. But yes, first wine out of the fridge was this bottle above. Nobody paid much attention to the bottle as we were mostly talking about the week and eyeing the meatballs simmering on the stove, at least at first.

Unknown label
Once the table was set and the wine was in hand (and mouth) though, curiosity overcame social protocol, and we all had a quick look at the bottle. Airen? What IS that? Nope, had never heard of it but seemed to be a Spanish white and flipping to the back the bottle noted its location in La Mancha.

Classic Quixote
Now, La Mancha has a soft spot in my heart going back to college when Mr. Higuita and I collectively owned one CD, the original Broadway production of Man of La Mancha. Don Quixote is, no surprise to anyone familiar with college students, a favorite of idealists and latinophiles. That was me and still is in a lot of ways. Anyway, there may have been a short rendition of Man of La Mancha in the kitchen with the Zapatos when we learned about the heritage of this bottle.


View Castile-La Mancha, Spain in a larger map

Popular, in an unknown kind of way
And it turns out that this particular grape, Airen, is unbelievably popular. As in, more acreage is dedicated to Airen than to any other white grape… more popular than Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris, or any other white grape anywhere in the world (and almost every red grape too).

Sancho’s Flask Unveiled
This, despite being planted really only in Spain and predominantly in La Mancha. So you better believe that when Sancho Panza was haplessly following around Don Quixote in the bleak La Mancha landscapes, what he was secretly swigging from that flask behind Rocinante’s skinny tail was copious quantities of Airen.

Taste
Quite a bit of fruit on the nose (even with an already-opened bottle!) but the really attractive part was the mild acidic bite and the crisp, really clean taste. Refreshing and a pleasant discovery.

Detail Up!
Fuente del Ritmo Airén 2012 with 11.5% alc. from La Mancha, Spain

Random Googles
* 14 entrepreneurs came together in La Mancha to create the Allozo winery that makes this wine and quite a few others (and a cognac) – yes, they are interested in elevating La Mancha’s status and yes, they seem certain to do that… even if because the baseline is so low
* 30% of all grapes grown in Spain are Airen – crazy to think about how much wine never leaves Spain
* Read about Airen’s dark past to becoming so profligate and what Franco and Francia had to do with it becoming the most planted grape of any grape anywhere in the world for quite a long time

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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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Grape 68: Arneis

Biodiversity Beginnings
There’s something of a biodiversity movement starting, which might just be the most lasting legacy of foodies the world over. Interest in food, where it comes from, its historical and cultural narrative, is increasingly center stage in mainstream media, even as mainstream media has come to encompass far more than it meant even a decade ago and people spend more time discussing their food values, a concept that simply didn’t exist until recently (exception: Margaret Visser). Along with the food focus comes the desire for exploration, a very human trait that’s easy to identify in such code phrases as the Bering Strait, Magellan and Dr. Livingston I presume. Where once “a tomato” was enough to answer the question of “what’s that vegetable?”, it’s no longer such a simple task of identification. Vocabulary for food has proliferated into a thousand different directions and taken on a fractal life of its own.

Vocab Expansion
Free-range, organic, natural, pesticide-free all show up on the increasingly-lengthy fruit and veggie identification cards at supermarkets. Restaurants that want to signal their upscale classiness sport proper names and link their products to specific geographic sources (Bayley Hazen Blue Cheese from Greensboro, Vermont anyone?), and adjectives – actual adjectives! – now appear before the names of fruits and vegetables. Cherry tomato, beefsteak, cherokee purple, green zebra, black pear, oxacan jewel, purple russian and dozens of others, and that’s just for the tomato.

Smart Biologist Wilson
Really, it seems like a tiny drop in the struggle to preserve biodiversity as economic forces and globalization push to open new markets, exploit new resources and convert the global population into a very interlocked consumer/producer system. E.O. Wilson, a biologist who I had never heard of before last week, has all kinds of great quotes about the importance of biodiversity but the one that stuck with me is this:

The one process now going on that will take millions of years to correct is the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. This is the folly our descendants are least likely to forgive us.

Problem with Eons
Not sure exactly how you tackle that problem in one bite but I think he’s right that it’s not a problem that should be talked about in terms of generations, centuries or even tens of thousands of years. Millions of years is the right time frame to be thinking about the problem. And a group of foodies advocating greater choices in their diets won’t be the answer to solving a problem of that magnitude. But the values they advocate can be part of the solution or, probably better said, those values can be part of the turn away from the cause of the problem. More diversity of plants and more acknowledgement of and discussion about the food we eat will hopefully turn more people to find names like Margaret Visser and E.O. Wilson. Worked at least with one blogger.

Detail Up!
2009 Damilano Langhe from Piedmont, Italy

Taste
Full body bit of oil smell, little acidity, round, medium body, peach.

Generally though, Arneis is known for its pear and apricot flavors. Two other Arneis bottles are described here by noted oenologist Fringe Wine.

Random Googles:
* Arneis nearly went extinct in the 1970s after several hundred years of growing in Italy’s northwest Piedmont region, and only two producers (Vietti and Bruno Giacosa) still made anything with Arneis during that decade. Since then, it’s come back with limited productions in Australia, California and New Zealand. Really though, Piedmont in Italy is where it’s from and where it’s principally grown.
* Arneis means “little rascal” in Piemontese, an actual language from Italy’s Northwest. Why? Well, it’s really hard to grow apparently.
* Traditionally, Arneis was called “Barolo Bianco” (white barolo) since it was blended with red Nebbiolo grapes into that pricery Barolo wine. Once 100% Nebbiolo grapes became the norm, Arneis lost much of its popularity, which contributed to its near-extinction.

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