A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Weird Blend Wednesday - Tsaoussi, Robola & Sauvignon Blanc - Cephalonia, Greece

Hello friends and neighbors, and welcome to another installment of my erratic Weird Blend Wednesday feature!  Today we're going to take a look at a blended white wine from the Greek island of Cephalonia that is composed of 40% Tsaoussi, 30% Robola and 30% Sauvignon Blanc.  I think.  See, the winery's website says that the wine is made from Tsaoussi and Muscat grapes, but the American importer's fact sheet on the wine gives the breakdown above.  After sampling the wine, I don't see any way that there's any muscat in it at all, so I'm choosing to believe the importer's breakdown.

We've talked a bit about the Robola grape before, but I think it's worth a quick revisit.  I mentioned in my previous post that there seemed to be some evidence that the Robola from Greece was distinct from the Ribolla of Italy.  Konstantinos Lazarakis brought this up in his excellent The Wines of Greece, but when I wrote the original post, I wasn't able to track down the specific studies that he was (loosely) referencing.  I still haven't been able to read the original papers, but it's because the main one is actually the UC Davis Master's Thesis of Mihalis Boutaris, and I'm not entirely sure how one goes about obtaining something like that.  It must be possible, though, because the site greekwinemakers.com have clearly read it, and give a good summary of the relevant content.

In short, what Boutaris found was that when he analyzed two different samples of Robola, one from California and one from Greece, the two samples turned out to be genetically distinct from one another.  Furthermore, it turned out that each Robola sample matched another Greek grape.  The California sample matched a grape called Thiako, while the sample from a collection in Athens matched something called Goustolidi.  This result leads Boutaris to question whether perhaps Robola isn't the name of a grape at all, but rather of a wine made from a variety of different grapes.  Over time, the name of the wine could have become confused with the name of the grapes, and people just started calling the grapes that went into the wine Robola.  That's certainly a possibility, but there needs to be more research done in order to verify it.  The Greek wine makers site also goes on to say that "no Greek Robola sample yet tested has displayed a close genetic relationship to the Italian Ribolla," but I haven't been able to find any studies at all that attempted to compare the DNA of the two grapes.  The VIVC database does list Robola as a separate entry from Ribolla, but neither it nor the Greek Vitis database has any microsatellite data on file for Robola, so it's hard to say what the relationship between the two grapes might be.

Fortunately, Tsaoussi (or Tsaoúsi) is a little bit easier to sort out.  There is some disagreement about its origins, with some sources indicating that it was transplanted from Egypt, others indicating that it arrived from Macedonia and others still claiming that it is indigenous to the island of Cephalonia, but this is really the only point of contention about the grape that I could find.  The vine produces large bunches of large grapes that are often used as table grapes in addition to being used in the winery.  It yields fairly generously, but can suffer from low acidity and is often blended with higher acid grapes in order to cover up this defect.  Tsaoussi is found almost exclusively on the island of Cephalonia off the western coast of Greece, though there is a small amount on the nearby island of Corfu and also some scattered plantings in northern Greece called Tsaousi which may or may not be the same grape.

I was able to pick up a bottle of the 2007 Gentilini Aspro Classic bottling for about $14 from my friends at the Spirited Gourmet.  Aspro means "white" in Greek, but it is also one of the few synonyms listed for the Tsaoussi grape.  In the glass the wine was a fairly deep lemon gold color.  The nose was mild and reserved with pear, baked apple and pastry dough aromas.  In the glass the wine was medium bodied with medium acidity.  There were flavors of baked apple, pie dough, toasted nuts and honey.  This wine needed a bit of time to open up, but when it did the honey notes really started to come on strong even though this is definitely a dry wine.  This was almost certainly past its prime, but it was still holding on and drinking decently.  As mentioned above, this wine is only about 40% Tsaoussi and I'm not aware of any commercially available 100% Tsaoussi wines, but Markus over at Elloinos has a nice video up featuring a special 100% Tsaoussi that the owner of Gentilini sent for him to try.

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