Note from the author: There are 1,368 varieties covered in Wine Grapes by MW Jancis Robinson, MW Julia Harding, and Dr. Jose Vouillamoz. Let's try them all.
I've been chatting lately about cellaring wine—with winemakers, importers, sommeliers, as well as regular non-industry folks. Most people on the consumer side don't cellar anything, ever. I cannot claim innocence; the majority of wine I buy has little chance of making it past the weekend.
But most producers can't cellar most of their wines, either, because as long as the wine is in their cellar, they can't make any money on it... which means, in the extremely low profit margin world of winemaking, that they don't have any money to make next year's wine.
In many cases, I suspect then that some wines are getting drunk too soon—or at least before they've hit their stride and are showing off their full potential. Case in point: 2009 Karydas Naoussa.
To be blunt, I should have never drunk this wine in the first place. It's not ready. Poor baby, sacrificed too soon. The first sip reminded me of my first taste of straight, unsweetened cranberry juice. Have you ever experienced straight, unsweetened cranberry juice? Are you a masochist? There's a reason most cranberry juice comes in "cocktail" form, souped up with sugar. Straight, it's a real doozy: wicked, wicked sour, mouth-drying and bracing.
The Karydas Naoussa boasted a similar, wicked acidic, dry and tannic structure along with a surprising flavor of cranberries. It was thrilling and, yes, a little masochistic. Much as I adore acid, tannins, and wines of steadfast structure, I am not sure most of us should be drinking this right now. I decanted (exposing a wine to oxygen can help open up aromatics and allow a bold structure to stretch out and loosen up). From there, I poured it into large, wide-bowled Burgundy classes (again striving for more oxygen exposure) and checked in on Wine Grapes' diagnosis of the grape: Xinomavro.
"Top-quality, widely planted but persnickety, high-acid Greek variety," it made the introduction. Xinomavro rules the Greek region of Naoussa, and its name literally translates to "acid black." Acid Black would make a great name for a metal band—indeed, drinking a young Xinomavro, as I discovered, can feel like listening to a metal band. Rousing.
Wine Grapes went on, "Tannins may be dry and even angular in youth but time in bottle can soften them and create complexity and elegance. In young wines the aromas are dominated by red fruits such as strawberry and plum but with age these change to more savory aromas of tomato, olive and dried fruit."
Interest piqued, I let my Xinomavro sit for a couple hours, checking in sip by sip, while I fiddled around in the kitchen, making homemade lasagna with porcini mushrooms. Ever so slowly, that promised complexity and elegance began to emerge where astringency and power had held firmly before. Woven tightly behind the cranberry flavors there were dried cherries, candied red apple skin, fresh mulch and a grippy yet wonderfully earthy red tea tone. Just as the lasagna came out of the oven, an enchanting minty menthol sensation took over the finish. Shame on me, I had been thirsty and the bottle was nearly half gone before she started to show off.
It's amazing to witness a bottle unfold like this, but the night's progression felt like the tip of the iceberg, the Karydas tightly holding onto secrets that would hopefully, eventually spill out over another five years. And this, a 2009, had already hung out and mellowed for four years! Look at your average wine store shelf right now, and plenty of much younger wines than that run the show...
I believe in Xinomavro, in its fortitude and tenacity, in what I think is the 2009 Karydas's big potential to be fascinating, richly aromatic and texturally compelling... but it needs some time. Those of us who "don't cellar anything, ever" should consider switching up our M.O. now and then to see how a bottle might reward us with a few extra years' time. Stash a bottle under the bed, or hide it in the basement, or make a cool dark cave in the back of your coat closet where it can hibernate... come next season, it'll be an even better surprise than finding a $20 bill in your pocket.
2009 Karydas Naoussa
The Grape: Xinomavro
The Region: Naoussa, Greece
The Importer: Diamond Wine Importers
Retail Price: $26
About the Author: Stevie Stacionis is a wine writer and Certified Sommelier based in San Francisco. She's currently drinking her way through the 1,368 varieties included in Wine Grapes. Follow her on Twitter @StevieStacionis and check out her snobbery-free wine videos at A Drinks With Friends TV.
Wine provided as sample for review consideration.
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