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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 231 (March 10, 2009)

Wednesday, March 4: Arrived in Frankfurt at 8 am local time after a pleasant Lufthansa flight in Business Class. Before take-off a glass of Jacquart Mosaique Brut and with dinner Winzergenossenschaft Durbach Durbacher Plauelrain Kingelberger Spätlese Trocken 2007. Took less time to drink it than to pronounce it. With the beef dish, Château Liversan 2005 and a post-prandial cognac, Lhéraud VSOP, to wash down a melatonin tablet to get to sleep. Had a six-hour lay-over before the flight on Aegean Airlines to Thessaloniki. Spent the time in the Admiral's Club lounge, showered there and tried to catch up on some sleep but couldn't, so I read David Wroblewski's beautifully written novel, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (about a family who raises dogs in northern Wisconsin – which made me miss Pinot). On the two-and-a-half hour flight I had a meal of chicken with a split of Semeli Aghiorghitiko 2007.

Arrived in Thessaloniki at 4:45 pm local time and was met by Claudia Papayianni, who has her eponymous 25-hectare winery in Arnea, Chalkidiki. Claudia dropped me at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Our group will be visiting her winery tomorrow along with Domaine Porto Carras. I was meant to be in the lobby for 8 pm to join the group on the bus to Ayoli restaurant in the Electra Hotel for dinner, but I had not put my watch forward one hour for the time change between Frankfurt and Thessaloniki. So I had to take a twenty-minute cab ride downtown. The Greeks smoke during dinner, which makes tasting difficult. The dinner is being sponsored by Boutari so we are tasting all Boutari wines.

The whites: Moschofilero 2008, Fallisti 2007, Domaine Matsoc Malagouzia 2008 (the best of the whites – fragrant, spicy). The reds: Boutari Grande Reserve Naoussa 2003 (Xynomavro), Naoussa 2006 (fresh and fruity), Skalani 2007 from Crete (60% Kotsitali, 40% Syrah). We finish with Santorini Vin Santo 2004.

Thursday, March 5: Breakfast with my friend Nico Manessis and talk about Retsina. He tells me the best Retsinas are Gaia Ritinitis Nobilis and Kechri Dakri Tou Pefkou. He will get some for me to taste. On the bus for the hour drive to Domaine Porto Carras – only it takes two hours. I must get used to Greek time. Porto Carras has the largest vineyard surface in Greece (475 hectares). The vineyards (22 varieties of which 13 are indigenous varieties) are farmed organically. The vineyards, planted in 1967, are terraced. The oldest varieties are Assyrtiko and Cabernet Sauvignon. We take the bus up to the vineyard before returning to the winery for the tasting:

  • Porto Carras Melissanthi 2008 (50% Athiri, 35% Assyrtiko, 5% Rhoditis) – minerally, stony, lemon peel flavours.
  • Porto Carras Limnio 2006 – light ruby; spicy, cedar, raspberry and bay leaf nose; light, fresh, fruity.
  • Porto Carras Syrah 2003 – a nose of strawberry, dried herbs; light-bodied, fresh for its age; soft tannins.

Domaine Porto Carras's Assyrtiko vineyard

A quick visit to the villa on top of the hill before lunching at the Porto Carras Hotel and Casino – one of two buildings that look like stranded ocean liners. Together they have two thousand beds. Lunch menu:

  • Arugula and spinach salad with Parmesan, served with Domaine Porto Carras Melissanthi 2008
  • Shrimps with fresh tomato sauce and feta cheese
  • Filet of veal with mushrooms, with Château Carras Red 2003 (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Limnio) – showing its age
Claudia Papaiyianni in her cellar  

We continue on the bus to Domaine Claudia Papaiyianni in Arnea. Claudia shows us around the modern facility, built for a capacity of 1 million bottles although in 2008 she bottled 100,000 bottles. She points out the special tank used to ferment Xynomavro, a notoriously tannic variety. It has a cone at the bottom to collect the pits and stalks to cut down the extraction of tannin. She tells us that the investment is 6 million euros. We taste in the cellar from bottles set out on a table.

  • Domaine Claudia Papaiyianni Malagouzia 2008 – spicy, orange blossom, dry and elegant with a fine spine of acidity.
  • Domaine Claudia Papaiyianni Viognier Assyrtiko 2008 – light, aromatic but not a lot of extract.
  • Domaine Claudia Papaiyianni Rosé 2009 (Grenache, Syrah) – raspberry and rose petal nose; well extracted, candied raspberry finish. A lovely summer wine.
  • Domaine Claudia Papaiyianni White 2008 (a blend of Malagouzia, Assyrtiko, Chardonnay) – spicy mango and clove nose; well balanced, flavourful, medium-bodied, well oaked.
  • Domaine Claudia Papaiyianni Xynomavro Syrah 2008 – ruby, initial oak with red berry and a herbal note; tannic, well structured with a final floral note.
  • Domaine Claudia Papaiyianni Merlot 2008 – deep ruby; strawberry, pencil lead, firm and fruity; young vines evident.
  • Domaine Claudia Papaiyianni Xynomavro Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 – ruby, cedar, currants, medium-bodied, firmly structured and elegant with a clove finish.
  • Domaine Claudia Papaiyianni Syrah Xynomavro Merlot 2006 – geranium note.
  • Domaine Claudia Papaiyianni Merlot 2007 – a little green but nice redcurrant fruit.
  • Domaine Claudia Papaiyianni Syrah Xynomavro Merlot 2007 – elegant, red berry, light with a floral note; cherry and rose petal flavours with a firm finish.

The reds show promise and will improve with vine age.

Back at the hotel by 8:30. Invited to dinner by Stelios Samaras, Export Director of Boutari. Our table includes John Szabo and his fellow Master Sommelier from Boulder, Colorado, Wayne Belding, oenologist Sofia Perpera and George Soleas of the LCBO. Stelios has booked a table at Seven Seas, a popular fish restaurant in downtown Thessaloniki. We start with Boutari Moschofilero 2008 (leesy, peach and honey flavours, minerally with a dry finish) followed by Boutari Moschofilero Late Harvest 2007 (oxidative, baked apple and cinnamon flavours). The meal starts with oysters and then Seafood "Magerista" – a soup made from what Stelio said was "testicles" (what he meant was "‘intestines"). With this Boutari Malagouzia 2008. The restaurant is packed and every table around us is smoking. In June an EU regulation comes into effect banning smoking in restaurants. I should have come in June. Next course: sea bass salad made by marinating the raw fish in salt, seaweed and soy for three hours, then washing it with lemon juice and marinating in olive oil for 24 hours. Next wine, Boutari Santorini Assyrtiko 2008 (minerally, floral, white peach with good depth of flavour). Then Boutari Selladia 2008 (Athiri and Assertyko blend – rich, full on the palate, minerally, well balanced with good length); this accompanied a dish of steamed crayfish. The next course – deep-fried fish balls – was served with Boutari Nihteri 2007 followed by seafood risotto. At this point Stelio brings out four recent bottlings of Xynomavro aged for one year in Allier and Limousin. The first three are single-vineyard wines, two of which went into the final blend as Naoussa.

Friday, March 6: Seven of us are driven over to the Polis Convention Centre, where we will participate in a blind tasting of four Greek indigenous varieties – and a flight of sweet wines – to select wines that will be used as "ambassadors" for Greek wines. The PRC group, a marketing and branding organization, has come up with a scheme to reposition Greek wines in the international marketplace. We have 62 wines to taste, beginning with 7 Moschofilero. We have to identify which is the most characteristic in style, positive and negative elements, against what foreign varieties or appellations Moschofilero could be positioned and what kind of wine drinker it would appeal to. There are five types for chose from: Social Wine Drinker, Image-Oriented Wine Drinker, Ritual-Oriented Wine Drinker, Premium Wine Drinker and Basic Weekend Wine Drinker. Then we have to suggest a retail price, the most suitable market, rank the wines in order of preference. This formula is repeated for Assyrtiko (a flight of 12), Agiorgitiko (two flights, 10 and 9), Xynomavro (12) and Dessert wines (12, a range of Vin Santo, Muscat and Mavrodaphne).

John Szabo MS at the "ambassador varietals" tasting

Nico Manessis with his Greek Wine Guide  

Before lunch Nico Manessis had brought two bottles of what he considers to be Greece's best Retsina – Kechri The Pine's Tear 2008, made from cask-fermented Assyrtiko with Rhoditis and Savatiano – very delicate and grapey with resiny and clove notes. Then Kechri Xynomavro Rosé 2008, which is also delicious. Nico tells me that a popular drink here is called Toumbo Libre – a mix of Retsina and Coca Cola! Lunch: Pastry rolls with pastrami and Greek Manouri cheese. Traditional "Barduniotiko" chicken accompanied by pearl onions, carrots and celery and seasonal fruit salad marinated in sweet red wine, served with yoghurt, honey and nuts. The wine at lunch is Kanenas Mavroudi Syrah Rosé 2008. After lunch we deliver our findings on the morning's tasting to members of PRC, The Wines of Greece, and the Greek Wine Federation. This evening is the gala dinner at which the gold and silver medals from the annual wine competition are handed out. It's a huge event and the air is thick with cigarette smoke. The menu (which would subsequently give me food poisoning) is marinated grilled shrimp and lumpfish Caviar on spinach stuffed smoked salmon timbale served with fresh salad leaves and lime sauce; lime sorbet; pork filet and langoustine rolled in Evrytania prosciutto served with saffron risotto, sautéed vegetables and light Mediterranean sauce; sweet trilogy of espresso crème brulee, fresh strawberry bavaroise and orange panacota. The accompanying wines: Limnos Wines, Aroma Limnou Organic 2008 Tsantalis Kanenas Rosé Dry 2008, Boutari Skalani 2007, Boutari Grande Reserve 2003, Limnos Muscat of Limnos 2008 and Tsantalis Tsipouro 2008.

Bisso Atanasov from Moscow, Tony and Alexandros Kouris at the gala

Saturday, March 7: This morning our group attends a symposium for winemakers at which PRC are presenting their "ambassador wines" concept and we are to address the audience as foreign experts on our recommendations regarding the rebranding program. The meeting gets quite contentious, as the winemakers argue amongst themselves on the merits of the program. I'm beginning to feel unwell and at the end of the symposium around 5 pm we head for the wine expo to do some tasting. My heart isn't in it as we tour the hall tasting wines by Zafiraki, Dougos and Alpha before we head for dinner at Mandragonas. By this time I am feeling definitely queasy. The first course is tuna tartar, of which I have one mouthful but manage a glass of Hatzidaki Santorini 2007. On a serving table is a 6-litre bottle of Kir Yianni Ramnista Xynomavro 1997. I tell the group about my wedding bottle of champagne – a Balthazar (16 bottles) that was corked. I must have jinxed the Xynomavro because that too was badly corked.

Alexandros Kouris and Effie Lazaridou with a Methuselah of Kir Yianni Ramnista Xynomavro 1997 (corked!)

When the next course came, squid stuffed with smoked eggplant, I began to feel very ill. A bite of this was enough to send me to the washroom. The next course was a lamb dish, which I could not touch, as my stomach was churning; I was sweating and had a pain in my back. Our hosts suggested I take a taxi back to the hotel, stopping first at a drug store to pick up something to alleviate my discomfort. When the assistant pharmacist heard my symptoms she said that I should have my blood pressure taken. This really worried me but it didn't seem to worry her, as she went back to serving a woman who was buying some herbal teas. Eventually the head pharmacist came over and told me to sit down on a chair while he served two more customers. He eventually took my blood pressure which he said was fine. I asked him for something to sort of out my stomach. I think he gave me tablets for menstrual cramp. Arrived back at the hotel by 9 o'clock and packed. By this time I am feverish, my head aches, my back is sore and so is my neck and my stomach is churning like a cement mixer. I try to sleep but no position is comfortable and am convinced that I won't make it until the morning. Memories of Istanbul flash through my mind – when I was 21 I visited Istanbul on a trip through Europe by myself. I got food poisoning in a local restaurant and I thought I would die there. But I woke up the next morning just fine. Eventually I fell asleep at 5 am only to be awakened by my alarm call at 6 am.

Sunday, March 8:  The hotel bus takes John Szabo, Wayne Belding and me to the airport. All three of us have come down with food poisoning. John and I are flying to Munich, then to Frankfurt and on to Toronto. The Frankfurt-Toronto flight is delayed three and a half hours. Stomach still churning. This is the first flight in my adult life on which I have not accepted a glass of wine. Arrive back in Toronto at 9 pm having been travelling for 21 hours.




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