A Variety of Wines Review - Up and Down the Price Ladder

“When,” my friend demanded “was the last time you tasted a $280 Cabernet? That query reminded me of a question posed to the late British wine authority, Harry Waugh, who was asked “when was the last time, you mistook a Burgundy for a Bordeaux? Waugh turned to a companion for his answer:” James, how long has it been since we had lunch?”

Wine country


Waugh was joking, of course. I wish I could have delivered an equally quotable response, although our circumstances were different. My friend and I were returning from a wine event at which we sampled a $285 red, the 2012 Ovid from a small Napa Valley winery on Pritchard Hill, one of the choicest bits of Napa real estate. If it had been from a comparable Bordeaux chateau, it might have cost four or five times that figure. Ovid is almost impossible to find on retail shelves and getting your name on the winery’s mailing list is only a first step toward falling in line for its limited production.


The 2012 Ovid, though quite drinkable, is still a baby and I would enjoy sampling it eight or so years from now when it should fulfill its promise. The wine is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, buttressed by Merlot, the classic Bordeaux formula. The Cabernet provides structure, exuding cherry and boysenberry flavors, and a strong dose of anise, and the Merlot softens the package, creating a silky texture behind its rich red fruit.


Ovid experiments frequently with varying grapes. We   tasted Experiment R8.3, the name for a blend roughly two-thirds Cabernet Sauvignon and one-third Cabernet Franc, with a splotch of Petit Verdot to heighten color. It should be classified as a successful venture. Winemaker August Pierson has produced a robust, yet elegant, red laden with flavors of black cherries, boysenberry, cocoa and sandalwood. At $130, when you can find it, this intensely fruity big red rewards the search.


Ovid, I am sure you know, was a Roman poet who wrote about ancient Greek myths, so it seems fitting to bring in a few Greek wines.  They are hardly myths, though they’ve been slow to gain recognition on American wine lists. Best of all, they retail for a fraction of the Ovid line.


Map of Macedonia

Assyrtiko is the basic white grape of Greece. It originated on the wind-racked island of Santorini and, fittingly, is a perfect match with all sorts of seafood, from lobsters to clams and octopus. You won’t find orderly rows of grapes on Santorini. Here, in sandy soil which preserved native grapes while the vineyards of Europe were being devastated by a root bug called phylloxera. Grapes grow close to the ground in umbrella fashion so that the   leaves and vines protect them from the harsh sun and salt-laden winds. The vines grow for a century or so until the yield drops too low for farmers to make a profit. Non-producing vines are cut off at ground level and the roots soon produce a new vine. The sandy soil means Santorini offers no breeding ground for philoxera, so the roots have never been replanted.


Argyros-Reviving ancient grapes

Battling the winds to survive


Assyrtiko realizes its potential in Gerovassiliou White 2011, 50% Malagousia, 50% Assyrtiko, $22.00.  This blend is a perfect example of value in Greek wines. It is rich and round, with strong flavors of pineapple and kiwi. It is the winery’s best-selling blend in Greece.


Malagousia stands alone in another offering from Gerovassiliou.  This grape, happily, was revived from years of neglect and delivers the feel of a walk in a rose garden. It is floral and peachy with scents of honey, citrusy and totally tropical. $23.


Argyros, which specializes in Assyrtiko-based wines, has been battling those high winds of Santorini for nearly two centuries. Its basic Assyrtiko is a lively, sharp wine with succulent texture and briny, mineral flavors. $20.  The 2013 Atlantis ($15), is 90% Assyrtiko, with about 10% Aidani and Athiri, grapes seldom seen outside of Greece. The blend is similar to the basic wine, its best seller, but is somewhat simpler, though equally savory.

Domaine Santorini white is a pleasing blend of 75% Assyrtiko and 25% Athiri. ($25) It is earthy and briny, reflecting the salty air in which it flourishes.



Way up north in a more mountainous region, reds predominate and the principal red grape is Xinomavro.  Alpha Estate Hedgehog Vineyard red is a lush marriage of Syrah and Xinomavro. It is a dynamite value at around $23. Moving upscale, the Alpha Estate Xinomavro, at $32, is regarded as one of the country’s best reds.  Some tasters have called Xinomavro-based wines “the poor man’s Barbaresco,” since the wines are very Nebbiolo in character.  



Malagousia is one of the many indigenous Greek wines cultivated by Vangelis Gerovassiliou, in Greek Macedonia. It is near the nation’s second largest city Thessaloniki. about 325 miles north of Athens.   It is a rich white, with a pleasing mix of melon, peach and pear flavors, a surprisingly elegant wine which promises to hold up well through 2019. It retails at about $24. Gerovassiliou has been credited with saving Malagousia from extinction.


Blended with 50% Assyrtiko, Gerovassiliou White is lush and round, with pineapple and kiwi flavors. It is the winery’s best-selling label in Greece and has had a good showing on American wine lists. (About $22)


Domaine Katsaros is   a family run winery sitting on the slopes of Mount Olympus in northern Greece. It produces the standard European wines—Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay, but its standout wine, Valos, comes from indigenous Xinomavro, whose flavors resemble Nebbiolo-based wines from the Piedmont in Italy. The Domaine Katsaros Valos is ominously dark purple, with a floral nose showing rose, cherry, plum and sweet spice flavors. Like a good Barolo, it has firm tannins and offsetting acidity, and should improve over the next half decade.  




From the moutains of Washington


I’ve always enjoyed the wines of   Mercer Estates from the fancifully named Horse Heaven Hills in Washington. The newest Malbec, a wine you can drink early, is vintage 2014, and it’s loaded with spicy blackberry and plum and mint and hints of baking spices( $12). Mercer’s Sharp Sisters ($25) named for Mabel Sharp Mercer and her sisters, is a blend of Merlot and Syrah and 26% other grapes. They come together in a supple, voluptuous marriage with a nose of blackberry preserves and plums. Sharp Sisters is a ripe, full and powerful yet elegant wine.

Nautical views from California

Adopting the sailing theme


Dry Creek Vineyard was chosen as the official winery for the Americas Cup races in New York. Only fitting, Dry Creek’s founder David Stare was a sailing fan and labeled his wines with nautical views for more than a quarter of a century. The Sonoma winery makes several good Cabernets and Zinfandels, but my favorite has always been crisp, lemony Chenin Blanc, $12.


The 2014, does not disappoint. It is just wonderfully satisfying and mates well with seafood as well as lighter meats such as chicken. Chenin Blanc has been a neglected grape in this country and Dry Creek is one of the few wineries that cultivate the grape, it sets a high standard.


Petit Chablis


Not to neglect some inexpensive French wines

Albert Bichot is one of the better producers of Chablis and his 2014, flowery with a hint of almonds is worth a search, particularly when sold for about $20 .At an even lower tab, about $17 retail, the Domaine Vincent Dampt Petit Chablis is an agreeable aperitif or sipping wine and is certainly a good deal for a fine Chablis. Domaine Vincent Dampt is a highly rated producer in Burgundy.


Now about that $280 Ovid and its $130 sibling. They are fine in their exalted category, but there are plenty of pleasing wines at much lower prices for everyday drinking and for special occasions. Those I’ve listed are available at most good retail stores. Prices may differ depending on the retailer and location.

Pouring wine



 Photos: Courtesy  of the wine producers


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