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Columns – Panos Kakaviatos

Heady Times, Heady Wines: Climate Change and the Enduring Appeal of Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Panos Kakaviatos
Jun 25, 2019

A joyful ceremony earlier this month to induct new ambassadors to the official fraternity of Châteauneuf-du-Pape -- the Eschansonnerie des Papes -- ended with soulful singing in the local Occitan dialect. Participants gathered in a restored cellar section of the ancient Châteauneuf-du-Pape castle to enjoy opulent reds from the famous southern Rhône wine region, served Middle Age-style from amphorae. Regarding that opulence, the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape have become stronger in terms of richness and alcohol in recent years, partly due to climate change, which is raising some concerns among vintners about the need to preserve balancing freshness as climate change progresses. Alcohol labels, as indicated on labels, are sometimes seen at 16% in recent years. And that is just the official indication…not necessarily the actual percentage.

2018 Bordeaux: Should We be Concerned Over High Alcohol and Low Acidity?
Panos Kakaviatos
Apr 30, 2019

In trying to understand 2018 in Bordeaux, some have been focusing on the balance between acidity and alcohol. You could say that about any vintage, but in 2018, the superlatives over barrel samples mirror bigger alcohol: 'Did you taste Château Montrose?' one eager American buyer asked me. 'It's tremendous'! Château Montrose clocks in at 14.8% alcohol with low acidity. A Bordeaux-based wine trader marveled at how 'enthralled' the wine trade is with Château Calon Ségur, which clocks in at 14.9% alcohol… and rather low acidity. It is worthy to note that 80% of the blend is Cabernet (Sauvignon and Franc combined). Alcohol levels have been creeping ever higher in Bordeaux, and for various reasons, including later harvesting and lower yields for more concentration and higher potential alcohol. Climate change has also been a factor.

Madeira: A Wine Time Machine That Works
Panos Kakaviatos
Mar 5, 2019

For under $40 off the volcanic island of Madeira, you can enjoy three hours cruising on a replica of Christopher Columbus's galleon 'Santa Maria.' Before he crossed the Atlantic on his legendary voyage back in 1492, Columbus lived for a few years in the Madeira archipelago, which had been discovered earlier that century by Portuguese sailors. Cruising over the waves, it is easy to imagine yourself in a bygone, swashbuckling, risk-taking era, especially considering how small the Santa María was: A single deck craft about 58 feet long with three small masts. The modern motor used for the replica on days with less wind brings you back to a more mundane present, but there is no denying the fabulous history of Madeira and its eponymous wine.

Discovering Montecucco
Panos Kakaviatos
Jan 8, 2019

A good way to confirm wine quality from a given region, after having been invited there on a press trip, is to test the wines by pouring them for assessment by people who had not attended the trip. That's precisely what I did following a tour of Montecucco, Tuscany this past September, to prove the point that Montecucco wines can achieve excellent price/quality ratios, especially for lovers of Sangiovese-based blends.

Getting Fresh in Saint Emilion
Panos Kakaviatos
Nov 13, 2018

In the grand history of winemaking, it was not that long ago when high octane and large scaled 'Garage Wines' were enjoying a heyday in Saint-Émilion, starting in the 1990s. In ensuing years, some voices -- including many sommeliers that favor freshness from Bordeaux -- began to criticize these wines as 'Parkerized.' In 2003, I interviewed Parker, who not only defended the movement, but also called it a 'revolution that is taking place and that will only grow.' In many ways, he has been proven correct. Star garage wine Château Valandraud was not only promoted in 2012 to a Grand Cru Classé B in Saint-Émilion, but is a top seller. Others, like Péby-Faugères, Rol Valentin and Gracia, also sell well. And yet in more recent years, more and more winemakers are talking about the importance of freshness in wine.

Santorini Assyrtiko: Terroir-Driven Whites Impress Even the French
Panos Kakaviatos
Sep 18, 2018

The high-speed ferry from Athens cuts the time it takes to get to the Cycladic island of Santorini by over half, faster than when I first visited the sun-drenched volcanic island 30 years ago. Boats now have WiFi, too. Another major difference from the past is that Santorini includes Greece's top white wines, which are sold increasingly in markets worldwide. And the star variety is Assyrtiko. In the late 1980s, I recall one or two wineries. Today, the island has a wine route for 18 estates, says George Skopelitis, who lives and works on Santorini for the Greek Agriculture Ministry. Just five years ago, there were only thirteen. Assyrtiko takes its roots from Santorini, encompassing well over half of its vineyard area. While the grape is planted in other parts of Greece -- and increasingly in wine regions outside the country -- the windswept island permits roots to dig deep into black ash-rich soil, lending distinctive wet stone aspects to the bone dry style which, at its best, is like fine white Burgundy.

Alsace: Indicate Dryness Levels Up Front
Panos Kakaviatos
Jul 24, 2018

Last month in Colmar, at the biennial "Millésimes d'Alsace" event, the Alsace Wine Council introduced a new logo and refurbished website (vinsalsace.com) including excellent information on all 51 grand crus from this famous French northeastern wine region. A stunning video to promote the new logo was also provided, one that matches the quality of a glitzy Champagne marketing campaign, complete with drone-shot HD images of gorgeous vineyard slopes, accentuating the region's many terroirs. Shortly after viewing the video, I joined a wine writer for lunch, where we enjoyed a Domaine Allimant-Laugner Alsace Grand Cru Praelatenberg 2014. You may have not yet heard of Praelatenberg -- and might wonder about its pronunciation -- but the new Vins Alsace website, translated into 10 languages, explains it nicely: 'The panoramic viewpoints from the majestic Haut-Koenigsbourg castle overlook the sharp slopes of Praelatenberg. This rich terroir produces generous and structured wines founded on a base of intense minerality.' That's very appealing, but still, any of us might wonder, how dry was the wine?

Pasos First
Panos Kakaviatos
Jul 17, 2018