Coincidence? I think not.
Studying for the Court of Master Sommelier Certified exams can be daunting. It takes a lot of time, patience, and focus. So much to learn and so little guidelines on what specifically to focus on. Yes, there are prep courses out there to help, but none were located near me (not to mention they are very expensive), so I opted to study independently of the prep courses. You have no idea what questions may come up on the theory portion, so in order to be successful you end up learning a lot of information from regions all over the world. It only takes a couple of wrong answers to fail the test, yet it can be a couple of those very random things you focused on that can save you. In my case I believe it was the later that helped me pass my theory exam.
During my studies I tried to have fun and try new wines as I learned about that specific region, which allowed me to try many new wines as I was learning about their qualities and history. It helped me to understand the theory portion along with training my palate. I had a fairly difficult time understanding quite a few regions of the world (Italy being one of them… which I still don’t fully “get”). Another region that both stumped me, yet fascinated me was Greece.
Greek wine regions
The phrase “it’s all Greek to me” truly applies to Greek wines. There are so many indigenous grapes to Greece that it can be very intimidating for a consumer to know what the heck is inside the bottle, yet something about that fascinated and challenged me to want to learn more. The more I studied Greek wines the more I became interested in one region in particular, Macedonia in Northern Greece.
Greece produces mostly white wines (accounting for approximately 70% of the total production), however it is in Northern Greece where much of the red wines are made. Within Macedonia is the smaller region of Naoussa producing wine primarily from Xinomavro grapes known to produce earthy, spicy and sometimes powerful red wines. Something also to note about Greek wines is that they can be labeled by appellation (like many regions throughout Europe, think a wine labeled Bordeaux), by varietal (think one labeled Cabernet Sauvignon), or by proprietary name (like Opus One). So a wine bottled with Naoussa on the label, for example, you will know it is primarily comprised of Xinomavro grapes (which I will describe shortly, bare with me).
So, months before my exam I was wondering around a local wine shop and stumbled across the 2005 Boutari Naoussa and bought it. That bottle of wine sat in my dining room everyday until my exam. For some reason I did not drink it right away, but instead just left it there waiting. It stared at me each time I walked through my dining room, begging to be consumed, until I had its label memorized. Among the many fascinating things I had learned about Greek wines, I always associated Naoussa with Xinomavro, and of course the country of Greece. How could I not, I saw the bottle every single day.
Fast forward to test time: So on my written exam, there were many difficult questions which I felt prepared for, especially one specific question regarding Naoussa. I don’t remember the exact question but I do know I had to present a short answer describing Naoussa, where in the world it is located, and what it entails. Hot dam! That wine was staring at me everyday for a reason! Nailed that question. When the test was over many students gathered anxiously in the lobby awaiting the final portion of the test (the service exam), and of course, like all nervous students we talked about the test and the questions that stumped us. One of the first outbursts from another student was “WTF was that question about Naoussa or whatever it was?” (I’m not kidding, that’s exactly what he shouted). This question apparently stumped many others, as there was a rather lengthy discussion about it. Me, I felt very safe in knowing the correct answer and smiled. Like I said, you never know what random bits of information that you learn will actually save you come test time!
And of course, what did I FINALLY drink when I returned home after passing my test… bubbles! Oh yeah, followed by the Naoussa.
So here it is:
The Boutari’s have a long and rich history, dating back to 1879, and play an important part in the Greek wine industry. They were the first to bottle wine in Naoussa; which is still considered a benchmark for premium red wines in Greece. Boutari produces wine from all over Greece, but are best known for their wines from Naoussa.
Many describe this wine as powerful, but for me I found it silky, mild, and balanced.
On the nose it was earthy, leathery, and perfumed along with notes of bright red cherry, raspberry, sweet tomatoes, and cedar. In the mouth it had more cherry, vanilla bean, and spice with medium tannins. The wine had strong acidity and tannic balance with spice that lingered on the tongue.
If I had to compare this wine to anything it would be a medium bodied Pinot Noir. The earthy, cherry, and vanilla characteristics along with its mild body was reminiscent of an everyday Burgundy for me. It didn’t blow my socks off, but it is indeed a lovely everyday red.
So if you like Pinot Noir and are looking to expand into something new, or if you just like trying new things (like me) then I would really recommend trying this wine. It is one of the more famous wines from Greece and is widely available. It's a great everyday drinking wine and, in fact, I still keep the empty bottle in my office on display (along with some of my other memorable bottles) as a reminder of my the many grueling hours I spent studying for my Sommelier exams as well as a reminder to always keep learning random bits of information because you never know when they may come in handy.
Region: Naoussa, sub-region within Macedonia, Northern Greece
Retail: approx $17
As seen locally at New Seasons, Hollywood Fred Meyer, among others
Food pairing: I drank this wine again last weekend when I made the Pizza Margherita from my previous post. It actually paired quite well with the concentrated tomato flavors of the sauce and sweet basil. I think it would be great wine for any pizza night.