Wine Review

I sat with my friend Catherine, who is a wine supplier to the restaurant Inotheke (606 Broadway) as she quickly went down the list, calling out wines she would recommend. She was almost at the reds when I stopped her. “Wait, go back to the sparkling wines!” I hadn’t heard anything she’d said about the whites. I was thinking about the way she had described a particular sparkling wine, “ …it comes in 500 milliliter bottles, kind of an orange wine, any beer drinker or someone that likes cider would really like this wine.” As if on cue, owner Carolos Tomazos arrives at our table. We explain that I am on a mission to find a great wine to review for the Santa Monica Daily Press. “What did you decide?” he asked. I looked at Catherine. “The sparkling,” I say. “Are you sure?” they both ask me. “That’s a kinda’ ‘out-there’ wine for your first article.” “Yes, I want the Domaine Glinavos Plaeokirisio Ioannina,” I say, stumbling through the Greek pronunciation. It may have seemed too risky to them and, somewhere in the back of my mind, I also worried that it was too esoteric, too much a wine that only a sommelier would like and something that would be rejected out of hand for not being easily categorized. I also worried that it would be overly oxidized as some orange wines can be. Oxidation occurs when air comes in contact with the wine, causing chemical changes and deterioration. Oxidized wine will often smell like sherry and lack flavor. It is not generally a desirable characteristic. True orange wines are made by fermenting the skin and seeds of white grapes in an earthenware vessel, such as ceramic or terra cotta. Unfortunately, the market has also named poorly made, oxidized wines as ‘orange’, thus tarnishing the reputation of wines that are meant to have a slightly oxidative quality.

We often think of Greece in terms of the hundreds of islands it encompasses but Domaine Glinavos is at the northwest corner of the peninsula, in the Department of Epirius, in the prefecture of Ioannina. The PDO (Protected Designation of Origin, the protected area for wine growing.) is the Zitsa zone. There are high mountain ranges, with a continental climate of cool summers and cold winters. The wine is a mixture of 97% Debina grapes, a white grape that is indigenous to Epirius, and 3 % of the dark berried varietal,Vlachiko, also a local grape. These local grapes are typically blended together in this area and most commonly with sparkling wines. The twelve-year-old vines have been cultivated using sustainable methods by owner and oenologist Lefteris Glinavos who established the 48 acre Boutique Winery in 1978 after returning from Bordeaux oenology school.

The wine gets its bubbles and slight oxidative characteristics from a secondary fermentation in the spring. The crushed grapes are macerated, (which aids in the extraction of phenolic compounds) for 12 days with the skins still in contact with the flesh of the grapes. It is fermented in oak casks until fermentation stops in the winter and then brought to a secondary fermentation in tanks. It is common for the sparkling wines of the Zitsa zone to be made in this style.

Our selection arrived in a squat 500ml bottle with a crown cap, or a beer cap closure. It had the perlage (roughly translated as quality of bubbles) of a beer, with a tiny-foamy head, that throughout the lunch dissipated, eventually looking more like a still wine. I was expecting a golden-orange color but the wine had more of an amber-orange hue. It had a crème brulee nose, but not in the same way a dessert wine with high sugar and high alcohol would smell. This was more of a cooked sugar smell, without the cloyingly sweet note, like a kitchen the day after baking a pie.

For our meal, we ordered the grilled octopus with herb salad, shallot and capers and the eggplant-tahini salad with shallots, cherry tomato and parsley. The wine paired beautifully with the herb, shallot and caper flavors, the bit of tannins from the Vlachico grape supported the sea protein of the octopus. The wine really began to sing when we paired it with the lamb and orzo. The dish is prepared with a tomato emulsion and Parmesan cheese, the tender and lean pieces of lamb nestled in a bed of orzo. At a very reasonable 10.5% alcohol level, we finished the bottle and nearly all of Carolos’ wonderful food. The Domaine Glinavos Plaeokirisio Ioannina is listed by the bottle at Inotheke for $38 and is also available at Lincoln Fine Wines.