Politics and Wine: Greece’s legacy to the world and me
It was 10 years ago this summer that I first visited Crete. It’s a place with incredible history, culture and soul- a place that imprints a part of itself onto you.
I was there for an intensive study on political philosophy and conflict resolution, but it was a summer I’ll never forget for other reasons. Crete was the place I first learned that a drink in a beautiful location can bring the most divergent people together with a sense of camaraderie that simply can’t be forged around conference tables in air conditioned rooms.
It was late night conversations under trellised grape vines on cobblestone streets, at beach bars, and on breakfast terraces that I learned the most that summer. When these political friends ask about my career transition to wine I explain that I now practice diplomacy through wine; they all nod knowingly.
Vessels used to hold wine at the Minoan Ruin, Knossos.
The wines of Crete are in some ways products of political conflict and resolution themselves. As an island along key trading routes, it has been under Minoan, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Venetian and Greek rule. Home to the earliest recorded civilization in Europe, it is no surprise that the Minoan diet on Crete included wine.
Throughout its long and storied history, Crete has maintained its own distinct identity- absorbing bits from each conquerer affecting the island’s culture, religion, politics, and even wine making.
Today, as they have for centuries, Crete produces outstanding wines that reflect the island’s diverse topography and terroir. Wines of Crete guest speaker, Joe Roberts, of www.1WineDude.com, reintroduced us to the oft-overlooked wines from this storied island and its unique native varietals.
I enjoyed two stand out wines during the guided tasting, and was pleased to learn they were made from 2 of Crete’s 11 indigenous varietals.
Alexakis Vidiano was outstanding. It boasted a beautiful bouquet of white peach, stone fruit and jasmine, but I was pleasantly surprised by a creamy mouth feel balanced by refreshing acidity on the palette. This wine would be outstanding with a meaty white fish like Swordfish (I’ll take mine with tzatziki, if you please!) or Grouper.
Boutari Skalani was a full bodied blend of Syrah and the indigenous Kostifali grape- described as the workhorse of red Cretan wine varieties. Incredibly well balanced the red cherry fruit was tempered by just the right amount of earth and a kick of spice from the Syrah. I could imagine it pairing beautifully with roasted lamb or Barbeque.
Enjoying the Boutari Skalini
After the formal tasting released, we retreated outside to enjoy lunch, more tasting, and conversation under trellised grapevines at The Iron Gate– just like I did a decade ago in Chania, Crete.
Tasting wine with Joe after the seminar
I enjoyed an easy drinking rosé from Ano- aromatic with strawberry on the nose and a bone dry finish with my plate of Greek tapa during the expanded tasting. It was perfect for the warm summer afternoon and alfresco dining.
As wine seminars goes, this one got one thing right that others often miss- that wine is at least as much about culture and camaraderie as what’s in your glass.
Yamas! (Greek for Cheers!)
Have you tried Greek wine?
No matter how busy Sona is, there has never been a time when owners Conan & Genevieve O’Sullivan don’t stop to greet me with a smile.
The Capitol Hill outpost has just celebrated 100 days of being open to the public and has already cultivated a devoted group of regulars.
Happy hour lasts from 4:00 PM – 7:00 PM every day, featuring generous $6 pours of bubbly, white, rosé, and red wines.
My favorites are the Chardonnay from Macon- crisp with apple and pear notes, and refreshing minerality- and the recent addition of a French rosé- aromatic with red fruit and a classic, Provençal blend perfect for spring sipping.
These two Pacific Northwesterners made the cross country move to be closer to family, finding DC to be nothing but “kind, open, and welcoming,” words that aren’t generally used to describe this town.
When Conan used those words to describe their DC initiation I was surprised, because they’re the exact words I would use to describe Sona and it’s affable proprietors.
“This is our dream,” said Gen, of opening Sona.
They’ve put together a team that works seamlessly, “dividing and conquering” the crowds that come in for a bite to eat or a glass of wine. Even though they seem to have come as a package deal, the managerial team is actually just a fortuitous conglomeration- and it’s one that clearly works. “These are people I would want to hang out with,” says Gen.
Chef Frank D. Paris, III churns out impeccable small plates to accompany the wine list. Here he shows off his affinity for swine, which makes frequent appearances on the outstanding menu.
Originally from Virginia, this Mid-Atlantic native has spent plenty of time in the real south (no, VA doesn’t count, Chef!). These Dixie culinary influences are consistent throughout the menu, most notably (and deliciously) in the Pig Ear and Pimento Cheese Crostini- a dish I have trouble not ordering each time I come in. The Fried Chicken, Mac & Cheese and Turkey Burger are other menu standouts, although I haven’t tried anything that I didn’t enjoy immensely.
Pig Ear and Pimento Cheese Crostini. Trust me, just try it.
DC’s best Turkey Burger. Available at lunch until 5:00 PM.
In approximately 2 weeks, diners and sippers can enjoy patio seating, and more wine dinners are in initial planning stages. While the wine list currently focuses on by the glass selections, there are plans to introduce a reserve bottle list- the result of careful listening to what their patrons want.
After the recent loss of Cowgirl Creamery’s DC outpost, Sona will be the only creamery in Washington, DC. It’s a process that has taken years of planning, permitting, engineering, and consulting with veteran cheese makers from France, Canada, Holland and across the States.
Cheese making vat
For now, they are working on the last step- the boiler installation process; no small feat that involves engineers, permits, and precise science. Once it has been installed they’ll start the cheese making process immediately. Some cheeses, like Chevre, take a mere 24 hours, while aged Goudas can take anywhere from 3 months to 3 years to produce.
For now the temperature and humidity controlled cheese cave houses wine.
When I asked, “Why cheese?”, Chef Frank was quick to quip “because you can’t raise a pig in a vat.” Conan, laughed, adding, “we fell in love with the process….It’s 80% process and 20% magic.”
Just a small selection of Sona’s cheese offerings.
When they’re not dividing and conquering, you can see the team laughing and joking together in rare down time like old friends.
It’s a place I like to do the same, taking friends and family members to enjoy what has quickly become a neighborhood favorite.
Have you tried Sona yet? If you’re on the hill, be sure to stop by in honor of National Small Business Week- you won’t regret it!
Tasting in the Barrel room
One of the first things that strikes me at North Gate Vineyard is the sense of hospitality and warmth- something this Georgia girl often misses dearly in a time when the little things seem to mean less.
This hospitality (or lack thereof!) is the first quality I notice when scouting potential wineries for custom excursions for Bon Vivant DC clients- even before tasting the wine.
I first experienced North Gate at the intimate rehearsal dinner of some dear friends in 2012, and was delighted to experience it again as a guest on a recent tasting visit. The tasting room manager, Dave, puts everyone at ease and is quick with a smile, a story, or even an original recipe to go along with your tasting.
Dave is quick with an anecdote, or even an original recipe to go along with his favorite wines!
A case of locally sourced chocolate truffles greets you at the door- available for purchase as gifts, or a custom pairing with your wine tasting for an additional $5.
Viognier with white truffle pairing
North Gate has an overwhelming commitment to operating a “green” winery. The Leed Certified property produces all of the energy they consume, thanks to careful planning and solar panels. The materials used to build the winery are green too, right down to the beautiful bar imbedded with recycled wine bottles (pictured above).
The owners, Mark and Vicki Fedor, are at the forefront of the “green” wine making movement, stating on their website, “From the tasting room to the wine production to the vineyard, we strive to be the most environmentally friendly winery on the planet.”
Vicki told me that it’s important for she and Mark to “live off the land, to sustain us, to be respectful of the land.” They are also in touch with viticulture specialists at Cornell University who have produced the first hybrid grape varietal with the ability to be grown organically in Virginia’s notoriously difficult climate.
North Gate produces reasonably priced and quality wine- their 2011 Meritage landed a coveted spot in the Governor’s case this year at $22/bottle! This Bordeaux blend is well-balanced and easy drinking, despite being a notoriously difficult vintage for Virginia wine. I enjoyed it so much, a bottle came home with me!
2013 Governor’s Case Cup Winner
It’s the little things that go a long way at this small winery in Loudoun County- their commitment to sustainability, hospitality, sourcing local products, and even supporting community charity.
$1 from the sale of each bottle of Apple Wine goes to the local Greyhound Rescue Organization, where they adopted their own dog, Josie. Crisp and refreshing, the Apple Wine is quite similar to a hard cider, produced from locally sourced fruit. At $14 a bottle it’s a “taste good, do good” treat for animal and wine lovers, alike!
Mark and Vicki’s rescue greyhound”Josie” running through the vineyard. Photo Courtesy of Vicki Fedor.
North Gate is open Thursday through Monday, from 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Their tasting fee is $7/person.
Have you visited North Gate yet? What was your favorite wine?
With spring weather (finally!) here, I’ve been enjoying some of my favorite warm weather wines recently.
One of my very favorite spring sippers is a Spanish wine that’s quite similar to the more widely known Portuguese Vinho Verde. Txakoli (pronounced Chacoli) is produced in the coastal Basque region of Spain.
Although most Txakoli is white, last week I tasted a rosé version at DC’s Estadio, paired with a skewer of manchengo, chorizo and pistachio that was just right for the spring day.
Made from the hondurrabi zurri grape, this hard to pronounce wine goes down easy! It is bone dry, high in acid, with a touch of salinity. The hint of effervescence gives this light wine an added spritz and reminds me of summer days at the beach and warm nights on the porch with friends.
Another of my favorite producers is Ganeta- the new vintage is currently on it’s way to the DC area, just in time for Spring. This is a tried and true at our house, and I can’t wait to try the newest vintage!
Next time you’re in the mood to try something different, give this Basque wine gem a try! It’s delightful with seafood or enjoying al fresco with friends!
What are your go to spring wines?
So many bubbles…
I was lucky enough to recently attend Drink What you Like‘s 5th annual Virginia Sparkling Wine Blind Tasting. A line up of 11 sparklers was presented to the tasting panel of 10 local winos at the very hospitable Tarara Winery in Leesburg, Virginia.
And if you were wondering, yes, there are worse ways to spend an afternoon!
The event was straightforward- all dry blanc de blanc (chardonnay!), all bubbly, with a Virginia focus and a straightforward ranking system.
The rankings might be surprising to bubbly drinkers and champagne lovers, alike.
If you had told me several years ago that my focus would be so heavily focused on Virginia wines I would’ve dismissed the notion. However, even this Francophile was astonished when the ranking lineup was revealed! Virginia offers some outstanding sparklers and surprising value.
Although the wines were primarily from Virginia, there were also examples of sparkling chardonnays from New York, California and France, as well.
The winning wines, ranked from left to right:
Virginia took the top 4 spots!
1. Trump Blanc de Blanc (VA)
2. Green Hill Blanc de Blancs (VA)
3. Stone Tower 2009 Wild Boar (VA)
4. Boneyard Blanc de Blanc (VA)
5. Flat Rock Cellars, * (Niagara, NY)
5. Roederer Hermitate 2004 * (California)
7. Trump Reserve (VA)
8. Thibaut-Janisson Blanc de Blanc (VA)
9. FIZZ (VA)
10. Piper-Hidseck (Champagne, France)
11. Louis de Sasy Champagne (Champagne, France)
Sparkling wine against the backdrop of Tarara Winery
I was partial to the Trump sparklers, as well as the Roederer Hermitage- and when I refer back to my notes what really pushed these wines to the top for me was their more feminine, elegant and well-balanced qualities.
Most of the tasting panel was surprised at Trump’s placing so highly over the esteemed Thibaut-Jannisson, a self-professed favorite for most. However, the esteemed French winemakers take cues from Champagne, marrying the gold standard of bubbly production with the unique Virginia terroir.
As is true in most cases, much of the voting likely had to do with the day- a perfect 70 degrees with a light breeze. Although I usually love the toasty, yeastiness of a true Champagne (the wine geek term for this quality is “Autolytic”), the first notes of spring had me craving something lighter.
The number one ranked wine is a superb value, ringing in at just $24, far less than the Piper-Hidsek, which typically runs between $40 and $50. All this goes to show that even trained palettes don’t always pick the priciest bottle when drinking blind, and the day’s circumstances really can influence even the most ingrained preferences.
Do you drink Virginia Sparkling Wine? What’s your favorite?