The Wine Show: Episode 12
Matthew Goode and Matthew Rhys star in this series about the stories behind some of the world’s most fascinating wines. From their villa HQ in the Italian hills they head to Venice to meet Francesco da Mosta and find out about the Venetian love of the ‘aperitivo’, the opening drink of the evening. Joe Fattorini heads to the beautiful island of Santorini to visit an underwater wine cellar in one of the world’s oldest winemaking regions. 2 Michelin Star Chef Michael Caines shares his love of English bubbles and creates a dish to match it in the heart of the Devon countryside. And Amelia Singer heads to Adelaide and the Vineyard of the Future to see the cutting edge technology being used to help winemakers counter the effects of climate change, before going to Tasmania to see how one winemaker decided to expand his business into the most southern point in Australia.
Davy Jones’ Cellar
Yiannis Paraskevopoulos has a naughty sense of humour. He may be one of Greece’s leading winery owners and a Professor of Oenology. But he jokes around putting on his wet suit, bobging about in his boat in the Mediterranean. He goes through all the formal diving protocols and splashes into the sea. Fifteen minutes his arm appears clutching a bottle of wine. Like Nimue, the Lady of the Lake presenting the sword to King Arthur, we grasp the bottle from his theatrical clutch.
Later over lunch, Yiannis gives me a second bottle to open with Matt and Matt. “When you open this one” he says “get them to sniff the outside of the bottle first”. I ask why, sniffing our bottle which has an attractive, iodine and oyster tang. “It won’t smell so nice in a few days” he laughs.
So why does Yiannis leave over a hundred bottles a year of his Assyrtiko wine at the bottom of a bay in the Mediterranean off Santorini? It’s an experiment. And a fascinating one. Because it turns out the sea is a pretty perfect environment for ageing wines. It’s dark (light is a great enemy of wine). It’s cool. The temperature is constant. And there’s absolutely no oxygen whatsoever. That is the really important part. We try Yiannis’s wines aged both above and below the sea. Assyrtiko ages well, its characteristic, bracing acidity mellowing with time and allowing a warm, lemon fruit to evolve. In the land-aged wines (if you can call them such a thing) there’s a nuttiness. It tastes old. But in the sea-aged wines, the mellow character comes with a brightness and clarity in the fruit. The wine tastes old and new at the same time.
And it’s that sense of old and new living side-by- side that embodies the wine business of Santorini. The island’s vineyards have some of the oldest vines on the planet. We walk through the vineyards at Estate Argyros seeing vines planted during the reign of George III. “That one was planted around the time of London’s Great Plague”. The fruit all carries the hallmark acidity of volcanic soils, and those soils date from The Minoan eruption of Thera. This was one of the biggest eruptions on earth in recorded history, and devastated the island in the second millennium BCE. It also buried, and preserved, the town of Akrotiri. Complete with three-storied houses, advanced urban planning and… wine. The large amphorae sitting where they would have done around 3600 years ago.
Santorini is a holiday paradise. The calm waters in the volcano’s caldera are some of the prettiest swimming in the Mediterranean. The food, the houses, the churches. But it’s also one of the most fascinating wine regions in the world. Too warm for most grapes, but able to produce zingy whites and sublime sticky Vinsanto through a combination of unique soils, unique grapes and generations of unique producers. Every wine lover should try these wines. None will ever regret it.
Ktima Alpha Axia White Malagousia/ Sauvignon PGI Floriana
There’s a wonderful spirit of experimentation among Greek producers, like matching the familiar zest of Sauvignon with adventurous aromatic and heady aromas of Malagousia. This is a richly textured wine, a foodie not a drinkie. Herby roast chicken or fish stew are perfect combinations.
Climate Change – An opportunity for wine and technology to join forces
I may be the world’s least technologically apt person. (I wrote my dissertation out by hand). However, even I can appreciate the seriousness of climate change to wine production and our dependence on technology to overcome it.
Spending time with Ross Brown in his Tasmanian vineyard was reassuring in some ways. In this cool climate, Australia can produce some elegant sparkling wine as well as aromatic grape varieties like Pinot Noir and Riesling. Sadly, this is only a short- term solution to the problem.
There are already grape shortages on Tasmania and 70% of mainland Australia is expected to become less suitable for growing grapes by 2050. Once Australian producers have used up the cool climate wine regions, which are moderated by nearby water supplies or sufficient altitude, where else is there to go? Australia is 75% arid or semi arid and therefore unable to support agriculture or large communities. In a couple of decades, will Australian Shiraz and Cabernet be a thing of the past?
Hopefully not, thanks to professors like Steven Tyernan, who has developed the Vineyard of the Future at Adelaide University. Although spectrometers and vine canopy apps are slightly outside of my non-techie comfort zone, they were surprisingly easy to use and comprehend – (at least on a basic level)! From the data collected at this, innovative starting point, new technological features could soon be provided for vineyards that are low cost, time efficient and precise in responding to climatic and disease pressures. Although technology is being increasingly used in the vineyard as well as the winery, it has never before been so important.
Hopefully these technologies could be appreciated by wine regions suffering from climate change worldwide. And hopefully, Australian Barossa Shiraz will still be appreciated for many more generations to come. Time will tell.
Balfour Brut Rose
Hush Heath definitely contends as England’s finest rose fizz producer and for much of its life, that was all they did. The rich aromas of strawberries and currants are complemented by wild flowers and spice. The character of Pinot Noir shines through, from one of Kent’s most famous vineyards. I love this with food. I even had it once (deliciously) with a traditional pork pie.
THE WINE SHOW CASE – Challenge TWELVE
It was the American writer Henry James who said that ‘though there are some disagreeable things in Venice, there is nothing so disagreeable as the visitors’. And with that in mind, in this last original episode of season one of The Wine Show, Joe Fattorini decides to send the city our most agreeable two presenters – The Matthews.
They are tasked with finding two wines that capture the spirit of this most mystical of Italian cities. Built on a lagoon so that its earliest inhabitants might have some hope of avoiding regular attacks by the Huns, Goths and Barbarians that had plagued them on Veneto’s Adriatic Coast, it has become a city drenched in history, beauty and stories. To introduce Matt and Matt to the city, Joe arranges for one of its most famous sons, Francesco Da Mosto, to escort our two travellers on their quest. The Da Mosto family have been at the heart of Venetian life since records began and, most appropriately, the family’s earliest roots lie in wine.
Francesco’s little blue speed boat takes them across the lagoon from their base on the Isola delle Rose, passing St Mark’s Square and down the Grand Canal to Venice’s historic centre – The Rialto. Built as a bridge in 1591 it marks the area of Venice known for its markets and was once the first port of call for goods entering the city. Everything from silks, to spices, precious stones and of course wine would have been assessed and taxed here at the city’s merchant bank. Appropriately now it is a wine bar, and it’s where Sarah Cossiga is waiting to explain about what makes the perfect ‘aperitivo’.
The aperitivo is literally the ‘opening’ drink of the evening. Traditionally taken in early evening as the Venetians take a stroll known as the passeggiata. Of course, as a city with few cars, walking is the way most people get around if they’re not on water. So this tradition is particularly loved by the Venetians who love to parade and people-watch as the sun goes down.
Sarah explains that the Veneto is Italy’s most productive wine area. And its most famous wine is known the world over as prosecco. Often drunk alone, it is also a wonderful base for a cocktail. And arguably the most famous cocktail is The Bellini. Invented at the renowned Harry’s Bar in Venice, it’s a mix of peach juice and prosecco. She then moves onto the Aperol Spritz. Aperol is similar to Campari but with a less bitter flavour of oranges and rhubarb and a vibrant almost luminous orange colour. Mixed with prosecco and soda it’s a very refreshing drink that’s becoming increasingly popular all over Europe. Last, Sarah introduces us to one of the few wines made near the lagoon; Orto di Venezia is produced on the island of San Erasmo. It is made from old Italian grape varieties, and the vines are cultivated with traditional and “earth-friendly” methods by the Thoulouze family who have adopted ancient methods of drainage using the natural tides of the lagoon. There have been vines planted here as long ago as 1700, and it’s said to have been greatly appreciated by the Doges who ruled over Venice and is even mentioned as being a favourite of the fictional lothario Casanova.
The day is rounded off in the Arco bar as our boys socialise with the locals as very agreeable visitors, and even having a beer with a gondolier. It’s been a great place to round off their quest as they take back the Orto and a Bisol Prosecco back to Joe. Which will he think best captures the spirit of Venice? Wait and see.
Bisol Cartizze Prosecco
High in the hills above Venice is a line of vineyards that make Prosecco. At their heart is the fabled ridge of Cartizze. The Bisol family are the biggest owners (it’s one of the most expensive vineyards in the world) making Prosecco like you’ve never tried before. The characteristic pear and peach soft fruit, but here with complex wild flowers and sweet almond spice. Truly one of the world’s greatest aperitif wine.