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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?
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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!
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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?
As DC braces for its first cold snap of the season, I’m reminiscing about July in Malibu!
Wine grapes growing in Malibu
In a region known more for surfing and celebrities than vino, I had the opportunity to have lunch with an outstanding winemaker, Elliot Dolin. He was kind enough to share his wine, chat his past life on the road with Willie Nelson, and the newly designated AVA in Malibu over lunch at V’s.
Dolin wasn’t always a winemaker, or even aficionado. In fact, in the mid 90’s he started out knowing “next to nothing about wine at the time other than the fact that wine was either red or white.” It was at a friend’s regular wine gatherings where he began learning more, collecting wine and taking classes at UCLA.
After purchasing a home in Malibu, Dolin realized he had land perfect for growing grapes, and so began his vineyard in 2006.
“Given our proximity to the coast, Chardonnay was the logical varietal choice. There was then no question that we would pursue the production of wine from these grapes,” said Dolin.
Elliot Dolin with his 2011 Chardonnay
Although the cost of production at small, family owned wineries can be prohibitive, Dolin had his eye on expansion from the very beginning.
“Effective with our 2012 vintage, we have dramatically expanded our production to include four distinct single vineyard Pinot Noir bottlings. In addition, for the 2012 vintage, we have produced a proprietary red wine made with grapes grown in a vineyard at a much higher elevation in Malibu. Thus, our 2012 production was close to 2000 cases, almost 10 times that of 2011.”
This is good news for wine lovers here on the East Coast!
“Given our higher, yet limited, production, we’re currently seeking distribution channels that will make our wines available throughout the United States.”
Currently, his Chardonnay is available to enjoy in DC at Oya. Drinkers can expect a well balanced wine with a rich, creamy mouth feel, tropical fruit notes and vanilla on the palette. It recently received 90 points from Wine Spectator.
2011 Chardonnay, which recently received 90 Points from Wine Spectator.
2013 was an odd year for California vintners. Harvest broke records in many areas with its early timing, but Dolin is optimistic.
“We are quite excited about the 2013 vintage. Our Estate chardonnay vineyard produced almost exactly the yield that we targeted. And the barrel samples that I have tasted reveal a very promising 2013 vintage for both our Estate Chardonnay and our single vineyard Pinot Noir grapes.”
There was quite a lot of hoopla over the designation of Malibu as its own distinct AVA. Dolin’s perspective on how this affects his own winemaking:
“The new Malibu Coast AVA allows us to label and identify our wines as being produced with grapes from a specific region, versus being limited to identifying them as originating from either “Los Angeles County ” or “California”. Aside from establishing this sense of place for our wines, we also benefit from the official government recognition that establishes the Malibu Coast as a legitimate wine growing region.”
Dolin was a professional musician for much of his life and has great stories of touring with music greats Ray Price, Willie Nelson, Johnny Paycheck, Faron Young, Ernest Tubb, and Merle Haggard. When he’s not making wine or music, Dolin is an avid classic car collector.
From Dolin’s days as a professional musician. Pictured: Ray Price and Willie Nelson. In Willie’s sunglass lens you can see a reflection of the legendary steel guitar player Buddy Emmons.
Have you tried wine from Malibu?
I recently attended a celebration of Tarara Vineyard‘s 25th anniversary, moderated by winemaker, Jordan Harris.
After a Leesburg lunch with Just the Bottle, we made our way to the winery to join something of a motley crew of Virginia wine bloggers and press.
There, we enjoyed a glass of their Boneyard Bubbly before exploring 5 flights of wine, including verticals and selections from the library. We sipped and chatted 25 years worth of wine-making in the tank room before taking in the last of 2014’s summer concert series on the late summer evening.
Despite the bevvy of Riedel crystal glassware and artisanal cheeses, the event was anything but pretentious. Harris set the tone early on with his assertion that a “winemaker is the most overplayed profession in America.”
I don’t know that I agree with him on that, but the evening offered a rare opportunity to lob questions at a winemaker in a small group setting.
As Virginia comes into its own as a respected wine producing state, it faces a serious marketing dilemma. Attempts to pigeon hole the diverse terroir have led people to make associations with the Loire Valley in France, asserting “Viognier THE Virginia Grape”, “Cab Franc THE Virginia red grape.”
One of the most popular discussions among Virginia wine makers and consumers lately has been that there doesn’t need to be a state anything and to let Virginia be Virgina. While marketing has its place, I’m a much bigger fan of letting the wines and terroir speak for themselves.
When Harris joined Tarara in 2007, the winery made some major changes. There was a distinct lack of focus that they decided to tackle head on.
“You’re only as strong as your weakest link,” said Harris. In this case- that meant wine. And so they got to work. He axed the top three sellers and replaced equipment. Harris is only willing to produce and do what he enjoys- with one major exception: Cab Franc.
If he were to have a Facebook relationship status with THE Virginia red grape, it would most certainly read, “It’s complicated,” but Tarara can’t seem to keep it on the shelves. Relationship status aside, Harris produces some outstanding Cab Francs (although we seem to have opposite preferences when it comes to vintages!)
Cab Franc is known as having some of the greatest variability between vintages of any variety. “I just don’t trust it,” said Harris.
Cab Franc flight
The 2012- to my palette- was outstanding. Well-balanced, earthy, with just a touch of funk and pepper I love to taste in Cab Francs. “Hedonistic,” was Harris’ assessment of the vintage, but I don’t expect Cab Francs to exhibit exceptional restraint. This wine was no shrinking violet, and that’s just how I like it!
Other stand outs from the tasting include the Tranquility Red 2010, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat. This wine showed incredible finesse. Slow to open up, I liken it to the introvert at the party that proves worth getting to know. The longer you gave it, the more it gave back with ripe dark fruit and earthy balance. This wine speaks quietly, but profoundly, if you care to listen.
The 2010 Syrah was another treat. No longer available for sale, this $100 gem (gasp! A $100 bottle from Virginia!?) was elegant with spicy ripe fruit, espresso, licorice and exquisite balance. This was an elegant wine with some serious staying power that will only get better with age.
With winemaker, Jordan Harris.
Thanks to the entire Tarara team and winemaker, Jordan Harris, for sharing some of your gems on this special evening- we may not agree on our favorite vintages, but it’s always refreshing to meet a winemaker willing to spill the secrets (and the juice!) behind one of Virginia’s most established wineries!
Tasting Room Hours of Operation
Monday – Thursday 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Friday – Sunday 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
For a special occasion, consider booking the private room for a reserve tasting!