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Malbec is a special grape to me.  It is the grape that opened up the world of wine, the differences of vineyards and brands and lands of grapes.  We lived in Argentina at the time that I tried Malbec and it was so superior to any kind of wine, mixed drink or anything else that I had tried up to that point.  It was also everywhere in Buenos Aires and most came from one place – Mendoza.

On multiple weekends, I made trips from Buenos Aires to Mendoza on overnight buses, spent all weekend biking around the city and province, and then taking an overnight bus back before Monday began.  It was exhausting and glorious, and Mendoza presented itself as a location backdropped with mountains and tons of sun, yet was populated by many warm people who had little of the arrogance and Louis XIV heliocentricity more common in large cities with the national capital coexisting on top.

Over the years, Argentina Malbec has been a mainstay at our home, particularly when grilling and when carb-loading on pastas.  No grape has appeared more often in this wino’s glass than Malbec.  No grape has been so recommended and treasured and re-shared by friends and family members.  No grape is so prevalent in the boxes stuffed around our basement.

These two Malbecs are two of my favorites, and both are similar and elegant.  Both are also relatively affordable and up to the task for Wednesday Wine Night and for gifts to those that you really enjoy and who enjoy a great bottle of wine without the bravado.

  1. El Enemigo is the recent tour de force that shows up big in alcohol and taste, pulls back before its bigness becomes alcohol aggressive, and lingers all afternoon in relaxed longevity.  Hagrid, knocking on the door of the Dursley’s shack and making himself comfortable on the couch for the evening.
  2. Catena Malbec is the classic.  It’s the standard to compare all Malbecs by – and it envelopes you in violet and velvet, letting you know there’s alcohol but pulling you true-center toward fruit and ultimately, balance.  A classic toy gyroscope, when spinning beautifully and smoothly on its axis, permanent in its precision and present in that finite moment.

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Detail Up!

Random Googles:

  • Malbec – in France, it’s grown mostly in Cahors in SW France and is often used in blends
  • Malbec’s one of the 6 grapes permitted in red Bordeaux – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Carmenere are the other five.
  • El Enemigo Malbec is from a joint venture between Adrianna Catena (daughter of Nicolas Catena) and Alejandro Virgil, noted passionate winemaker

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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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Ancient
Georgia has a solid claim to be the birthplace of wine, a birthright dating back at least 8,000 years. Chkhaveri is one of those Georgian grapes that is described as ancient and indigenous, among other quite positive descriptions. It also makes wine in the white, red and rose varieties, depending on the producer and the region.

Fragile yet worth it
The grape tends to fall flat when faced with fungal diseases and phylloxera so it was quite at risk until recent decades when it now appears to be making something of a comeback even if true Georgian wine converts still have a hard time finding it regularly in the Tbilisi supermarkets.

Taste
Watercolor wine in a style resminiscent of the Monet, Cezanne era. Hard to pin down exact color (is it light red, light orange, aperol?), hard to pin down the exact taste (is that light strawberry, rose on the lips, maybe a smell of a raspberry?) but the lightness and length of the wine shimmer on for a long time and the combination is lovely for a hot afternoon heading into evening.  Ripe for sunsets in hot climes.

Detail up!
Lukasi 2017 Rose 11% wine of the versatile Chkhaveri grape from the mountainous region of Adjara in the west of Georgia
Random Googles
* Chkhaveri is the English writing of the Georgian grape – ჩხავერი – which gives a sense of how different the languages and scripts are from each other.
* Georgian script (all 3 of them to be specific) is one of the three UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritages. The other two are wine (from the clay amphora known as qvevri) and polyphonic Georgian singing. All 3 well deserved.
* Government of Georgia provides here a fascinating amount of detail on the origins of Chkhaveri, cultivation, history and future of the grape

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Buy glass here here

Personalized Olaf Glass here

Island of One
Callet, Mantonegro and Fogoneu – none of the wines seems to inspire much in the way of awe when made on their own. Words like rustic, simple, local, pale color, light-skinned/dark-skinned describe the single grape wines (hint: if people are talking about how thick/thin the skin of a GRAPE is in their description of WINE, it probably means they don’t like it or there isn’t much known about it; happens pretty often with obscure wines, often for good reason).

Beauty of Blend
But the beauty of these three wines is that their differences blend together really well. And for someone as profligate as your author, blending is beautiful. A bit of a light-skinned light wine here, add in a bit of that dark-skinned wine there, combine with something that has tannins heavy enough to sahara the windpipe, and voila — balance.

WWOD — What Would Olaf Drink?
Certainly there must be more to it than that, but the magic of dancing elixirs and spoonfuls of sugar that we people with kids watch on a daily basis has likely convinced us that all that is required for a truly beautiful blend of wine is the right melody and the right loveable dancing companion.

Taste:Fruity, slightly sweet, smooth — like a Mallorcan Merlot
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Detail Up!* AN/2 – Anima Negre 2012, 200855 (bottle number?) from Mallorca, Spain
* 65% Callet, 20% Mantonegro-Fogoneu and 15% Syrah

Random Googles:
* Mallorca — the Galapagos of Grapes — features these 3 indigenous grapes and many others
* Pliny the Elder — the original encyclopedia man whose work all subsequent encyclopedias were based — praised the wines of Mallorcan as some of the finest during the decades after Jesus was born.
* Selenho, frequent profilee in this blog, gets credit for pulling out two bottles of this AN/2 at Boqueria years ago… and on numerous subsequent occasions. Sommeliers like him are amazing. Friends like him are rarer than Fogoneu.

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00mbx2i1br5bs_375x5008 years a Life
Think of the difference of 8 years of life – what you were doing 8 years ago, how old everyone was in their professional 20s when you were a teenager, how a toddler imagines the 9 year cruising around the neighborhood on their bicycle without training wheels or fear. Try and construct that gap in the adult world and you’ll arrive at a loss – octogenarians and those in their 30s have more in common. Careers, language, shared memories and locations – nothing that you can bridge between a newborn and an 8 year old.

Ocho – the latin answer to Ohio
It is with great pleasure that I am happy to report that the gap is bridgeable, that 8 years is not sufficient to keep the toddler off the bike. Eight times this year, I will be visiting the crossroads of America – the part of the country that is Southern and Northern, East reaching to West, the part that spectacularly shoots the arch with imaginary planes and daytime fireflies. It’s a year that I relish and savor and anticipate – the year of the horse and the auspicious numero ocho, a sign of good luck, of fortune foretold, a year of the vine and the wonders unknown.

Ellipsis
But on to the details, the excuse to go blog. Lidia, oh Lidia.

Groucho Wine
The Lidia we know from excessive refrain and hyperactive eyebrows apparently originates from Moldova, one of the least appealing country names on earth. Little is known of the country apart from three critical facts:
1. Romanians dislike it and tend to view it like the New Jersey of Europe, as if Romania were somehow the Park Avenue of Europe, a doubtful conjecture
2. The Russian bear laps up its wine like an intoxicated infant, an unimaginable supposition for a country beset with alcoholism rates that bend the life expectancy toward countries with perpetual anarchy.
3. Moldovan wine is very sweet.

Moldova and the Bear
Lidia is a grape that Moldovans grow, principally for Russian extract (85% of total wine exports from Moldova go to Russia) but occasionally for smuggling to other parts of the world that appreciate it less and consume it a LOT less. Moldova happens to be the poorest country in Europe and wine is an enormously disproportionate percentage of the country’s livelihood, where some say that wine exports are Moldova’s most lucrative export outside of its less viniferous expat community.

Taste
Sweet smell, plums and strawberry taste starts sugary and then turns dental quickly. Very metallic and bloody – truly a trip to the orthodontic chair where you receive a raisin at the end for surviving the procedure. Different and worth trying.

imageDetail Up!
Lidia, Four Seasons Collection – Dionysos-Mereni Estate Bottled, year and ABV unknown even though definitely a dessert wine, from Moldova

Random Googles

* Lidia grapes are only grown in Moldova, although even the entity created to publicize the virtues of Moldovan wine (Moldovan Wine Guild) have not deemed Lidia significant enough to include on their list of Moldovan Grape Varieties
* Lidia wine can also be encountered in large-ish containers similar to the Carlo Rossi containers you may have found in your local wine haunt
* Dig into Moldovan history just an inch deep and be prepared to be amazed. Transnistria, for example – where one quote should whet the curiosity bug sufficiently for further exploration —- “Transnistria’s economy is frequently described as dependent on contraband and gunrunning, with some labelling it a mafia state. These allegations are denied by the Transnistrian government, and sometimes downplayed by the officials of Russia and Ukraine.”

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