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One of my favorite things about wine is how it so often interacts with culture, art, politics, history. In addition to the beautiful spread of mezze and interesting wines, these topics were at the forefront of a wine dinner at Agora I attended with Vinkara wines.
Wine consumption in Turkey is small, averaging just one liter per person a year. In fact, 80 percent of Turks do not drink alcohol at all and advertising within the country is currently forbidden, making the export business critically important to the success of wineries. However, the grapes are often ancient indigenous varieties which can be difficult for foreigners to pronounce. To say that winemakers are up against some particularly tough odds is an understatement.
It is a tumultuous time in Turkey, particularly for the nation’s wine industry. Current laws and custom stand in stark contrast to an ancient history of viticulture. Anatolia is said to be the birthplace of winemaking- scientific studies note the existence of winemaking in the region for 15,000 years. The vines have remained through millennia of turmoil and good fortune, war and peace.
It is often said that the best wines come from vines that struggle. In many parts of the world vines are partially deprived of water so that they seek deeper soil, adding strength and character to the plant and its prodigy. Just as vines that have grown more complex and resilient through struggle, the wines produced in Turkey are wonderfully complex, in spite of, and perhaps because of, the very struggles that they face.
The good news is, Vinkara has an incredibly passionate winemaker, Ardiç Gürsel, who is focused on revitalizing many of Turkey’s indigenous grapes with an eye on producing quality wines. She makes beautiful and complex wines at accessible price points- just $18 to $40.
Below, a few of my favorite wines from the beautiful mezze dinner with pairing suggestions. The overall quality was outstanding for the price, and while the names of these wines don’t exactly roll off the tongue, they are a pleasure to consume.
If you’re new to Turkish wine, here’s where I recommend you start! Kalecik Karasi is an ancient variety that is related to pinot noir. It’s all gorgeous red fruit, herbes de provence, and earthy minerality. Light bodied, immensely approachable, and a great pairing with a variety of foods. Average Price: $21.
This wine has a slightly more intense body style. I got a lot of raspberry, cherry notes, coffee, and baking spices. Medium tannin, medium acidity. Pair with meat or heavier pasta dishes. Average Price: $18.
This reserve wine was the most full bodied of the night, with brooding tannins. Chocolate, dark fruit, and licorice on the palate. It deserved some time to decant and open properly to reveal beautifully integrated fruit and a voluptuous body. Pair with rich stews and red meat. Average Price: $24
Have you ever tried Turkish Wine?
I would be remiss to not address my absence from writing. Several years ago I went to wine school and switched my hobby and my career- wine for politics. Like many, I have had a hard time writing about wine and lifestyle during a time when things seem dire. I’ve even considered dusting off my political resumé and getting back in the game to work on issues I care most about. Living in the middle of the nation’s capital can be both exciting and exhausting when tensions are this high. Dear friends and family members are estranged by ideologies in a way that I’ve never seen before.
Many wine and lifestyle writers are wondering if our duties perhaps lie elsewhere. And for some, they may. However, I have been reminded many times that the world needs all sorts, particularly during times of great stress. Our society and our lives would be rather bleak indeed without art, music, travel, the joy of sharing a great meal and great conversation.
And let’s be honest, more than a few of us have been reaching for wine bottles to soothe frayed nerves, regardless of how we feel about world affairs or where one lies on the political spectrum.
I was reminded recently of a lesson I learned over a decade ago in Greece while studying political philosophy and conflict resolution with The Fund for American Studies. I’ve written briefly about my time there. It wasn’t in air conditioned classrooms where I learned the most, but rather over hearty debates with a glass of local wine in under grape vined trellises, on breathtaking beaches over frosty glasses of Mythos, and on terraces watching the sun rise over Chania after staying out all night. There were myriad religions represented that summer. 19 countries. Countless opinions. At first glance there was far more to divide us than unite us- and yet, that’s what happened. I am reminded once again what we were taught that summer. The questions unite us and the answers divide us, which has perhaps never rung truer.
During a recent social media debate over a political issue things got rather heated, as they are wont to do. At long last, once the parties had agreed to disagree, I made a wine recommendation based on something I knew the other person would love. And then the strangest thing happened; I received an apology for something that had offended me in the dialogue. No Greek island required.
And I realized anew that perhaps it’s not just the questions that can unite us, but a shared bottle of a 2012 Brunello. Or a 2008 Champagne. Or a beautiful vintage tawny port.
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The storm clouds in DC have finally given us a break and many people are planning outdoor entertaining for Memorial Day Weekend. What you may not know is that today is also #LanguedocDay.
Wine “days” seem to be a dime a dozen these days, but what I love about this particular one is that it breaks people out of wine ruts and raises awareness about an unsung region in the Southwest of France that offers incredible quality at affordable prices.
When Wines of Languedoc approached me about reviewing some of their wines, I was excited- mainly because I happen to love them, but also because they were focused on quality, with only AOP (Appelation d’origine contrôlée) designated wines. Though the region is often known for its bulk wine production, only 10% of wine from the region receives AOP designation, meaning stricter sourcing and production guidelines, but also higher quality wines.
It also gave me an opportunity to invite some friends over to chime in with their own opinions! We took advantage of a gorgeous DC day and threw a garden party.
Wines from the Languedoc lend themselves exceptionally well to entertaining. They’re accessible wines in both flavor profile and price- 2 things that make them prime candidates for any party wine!
The bar was set up for guests to easily serve themselves and sample all of the wines. Sparkling water and a carafe of cucumber lemon water kept guests hydrated!
On the menu:
- Homemade pimento cheese with ritz crackers- a must for any southern garden party!
- Crudité platter with hummus
- Orzo pasta salad
- Fruit platter
- Assorted olives, nuts, charcuterie and artisanal cheeses
- To hydrate: I like to serve cucumber lemon water and sparkling water.
- The bugs: These pretty citronella candles give off a gorgeous glow while keeping the bugs at bay.
These citronella candles not only give off a gorgeous glow, they keep pesky bugs at bay!
All of these, with the exception of the Crémant, are available at Weygandt Wines
. They’ve been kind enough to offer readers 15% off if you mention this post! Stop by to stock up for any weekend entertaining you might be planning.
Montfin Corbieres $13.99
This wine offers lovely red fruit with some earthy undertones. I noticed plum, red pepper and leather notes with medium tannin and acidity.
Montfin Rosé $13.99
This easy going rosé was a crowd favorite on such a gorgeous day! Dry, with notes of white peach and raspberrry.
Arbalète Coquelicots $17.99
This wine showed best after it cooled off a bit. Red fruit, a hint of baking spice and lovely earthy qualities.
Picpoul de Pinet $11.99
Crisp and light with notes of apple, pear and citrus. This is a warm weather no brainer!
Saint-Hilaire Crémant de Limoux $15
This crémant was both festive and accessible at a fraction of the cost of champagne! Crisp with notes of pear and soft floral notes.
Have you tried Languedoc wines? If not, this weekend is a great opportunity to do so. To learn even more check out L’Aventure Languedoc, a celebration of Languedoc AOP wines throughout June, coming to Seattle and Washington DC. Click here for more information!
I always end my blog posts with “Cheers,” and so I thought it only appropriate to share this anecdote from Mallorca.
As round after round of wine was served, we clinked glasses and toasted to the island, the nearly lost boat from an excursion earlier that day, to our hosts, really to anything on what had turned into a magical evening.
“But do you know why we clink glasses?” asked one of my dining companions?
If you research this question on the internet you’ll likely come across various theories relating to scaring off spirits, or even more nefarious Game of Thrones-esque theories- to ensure the wine wasn’t poisoned!
Bennesár, once again, came through with a simple, yet profound, answer.
“Wine is to be experienced with all five senses: We can see, smell, taste, even feel the wine on our tongues, but this is so we might hear it.”
Whatever the reason, this is the one I like best, and so I’m stickin’ to it!
As I depart for my 2nd Wine Bloggers Conference, I’m sure there will be many occasions to toast, and his words will surely be echoing in my ears.
A few quick tips for offering a toast:
- Always meet everyone in the eye! It is considered quite rude in many cultures not to do so.
- It is considered bad luck to drink water during a toast, although it’s perfectly acceptable to raise your glass.
- When a toast is offered in your honor, be sure to raise your glass, but it is not proper etiquette to drink to yourself!
- Sincerity is key, but so is brevity! Keep it short and witty, and be sure to end on a positive note, no matter the occasion.
And so to all of my readers, my incredible hosts in Mallorca, and my wine friends I’ll be seeing in a few short hours:
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After spending an amazing summer studying in Greece and returning there for travel over the years, I’ve developed quite an affinity for Greek wines. The food and wine are such a tremendous part of the rich culture. I adore cooking and serving Greek food and wine for clients and friends alike!
Many are skeptics, having had a bad bout with the notorious pine resin-y retsina, but most leave converts.
I was so pleased to be invited to a blind tasting recently by two Greek brothers who run a wine import and distribution business here in DC. We blind tasted 22 Xinomavros and enjoyed a generous spread of authentic Greek food at Mourayo in DuPont Circle.
Jason and Nasos Papanikolao. “You captured us perfectly! He is always out front and I am always in the background drinking wine!” – Jason
The hard to pronounce varietal is an oft over-looked, but a delicious and bold red wine perfect for pairing with lamb and summertime grilling season! It has deep, dark fruit flavor profiles and a nice earthy balance. This wine is often best decanted before service. If you like big, tannic, full bodied red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah, give this Greek stand out a try for a fraction of the cost!
One of my favorite things about Greek wine- and Xinomavro in particular- is the outstanding value. Below is one of my favorite wines for the money. It showed well at the tasting against pricier bottles, but is delicious at around $20/bottle! For a big, bold wine to pair with red meats, that’s a steal!
This bottle is a go to when enjoying lamb and delicious homemade tzaziki.
Do you ever enjoy Greek Wines?