By George Kassianos
It was by accident that I discovered Enoteca Italiana hidden in Ayios Pavlos Street in the capital. Living in Paphos it is not easy to follow closely what is happening in Nicosia. I read of wine bars and shops opening and realise that wine and by extension wine bars, is now an antidote to the crisis. The same is happening everywhere.
By accident then, thanks to social media, I got in touch with Maria Teresa Murgia, a former lawyer from Bologna married to vet Nikos Charalambous. After many years in Bologna they moved to Cyprus a few years ago after which Maria Teresa decided it was about time to show the connoisseurs of wine in Cyprus her taste for Italian wine with Enoteca Italiana.
Some of the best wines I have ever drunk were Italian. Unfortunately, so were some of the worst. Because of this, trying to get to grips with Italian wines can leave one frustrated. A sip of silky-smooth Vino Nobile di Montepulciano can be heaven; raw, acidic Pinot Grigio can be hell. Italy is confusing too with more than 300 different grape varieties. Even well-known wines such as Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano can be baffling: the one named after Montepulciano the grape, the other after Montepulciano the town. Why take the risk with an unfamiliar Agricola Punica Samas, say, when you can play safe with a more recognisable Australian Chardonnay?
“But that, in a way, is the joy of Italy,” says Maria Teresa. With so many different grape types grown in such wildly diverse regions, from the mountains of the Alto Adige in the north to sun-baked Sicily in the south, there’s a wine for everyone.
Yes, Cabernet Sauvignon has reared its head – spectacularly so in Tuscany – but the real fun is in discovering a wine that is unique to a given part of Italy and speaks of the land it is from.
As reported in the Telegraph by Jonathan Ray Gambero Rosso, publisher of the definitive annual Italian Wine Guide recently held its inaugural Top Italian Wines Road Show in London featuring more than 200 wines from a diverse group of some 50 producers. The aim was to show how far Italian wines have come over the past decade and how exciting they now are.
And it worked. If you take the trouble to look and are prepared for the odd disappointment, this beguiling country still merits the name Enotria Tellus – ‘Land of Wine’. And this is the exact message that Maria Teresa and Nikos like to pass to their guests and partners.
Maria Teresa will always welcome you with a glass of Limoncello di Sardine Rau. Splendid sun shines in Sardinia, just like Cyprus, for a large proportion of the year. A syrupy slug of limoncello is a fine, fine way to welcome guests. The fragrant, just-acidic-enough lemon peel is the secret to limoncello, the sunny liqueur that arrives in frosty glasses. The aroma smells very fresh, like when you first cut into the lemon peel and the oils are released into the air. It has a dense yellow colour as well, so much that it’s essentially opaque. The flavour delivers on the promise of the aroma, fresh lemon abounds. This is a well-constructed and well-balanced limoncello. It’s sweet and smooth, making it a good choice for crowd pleasing as it will fit many palates. The mouth feel is on the heavy side, which I like.
After a tour and a look at the picture gallery on the mezzanine floor a glass of Castelveder Franciacorta Brut, Abv 13% (€25). This is the only Italian sparkling wine appellation that must be made by ‘méthode champenoise’. Franciacorta also happens to be the only compact wine area producing world class sparkling wine in Italy. Pale brassy yellow with fine perlage, the bouquet is fairly rich with bright, slightly vegetal acidity that has some minerality and bitterness with savoury overtones. On the palate it’s full and dry, with considerable granitic minerality supported by deft mineral acidity and some peppery notes that flow into a clean, spicy, mineral finish. Pleasing in a distinctly mineral key, and will be nice either as an aperitif or with foods. It grew on me.
This was followed by one of the best Vermentino based grapes I have ever tasted. 2013 Santadi, Villa Solais, Vermentino di Sardinia D.O.C. Abv 13% (€7.15). Some wineries make world-class elixirs and this is one of them, and so good with the salami and Pecorino cheese that Nikos was cutting on the table. With a percentage of Nuragus grapes, another of Sardinia’s famous white wine varieties, it has a pale, straw yellow colour with delicate and subtle but persistent aromas of citrus and white fruit. Fine-spun pear, green apple and lemon-infused flavours glide across the tongue backed up by Vermentino’s signature acidity. There are no rough edges here, just ripe fruit and juicy acidity. The finish is long and clean with a pleasantly bitter note. Thus is a delightful wine for summer sipping or for any time of year for that matter.
And now we try some reds starting with 2012 Agricola Punica Montesu Isola dei Nuraghi I.G.T. Sardinia, Abv 14% (€16.80). A blend of about 60% Carignan the rest Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, it is full-bodied, remarkably rich and complex. The aromas are a little hesitant but a gentle swishing of the wine in a glass releases intense aromas and mouth-coating black fruit flavours that have touches of cedar and kitchen spices. It is a delicious wine at a very agreeable price.
2011 Agricola Pala di Mario Pala, Cannonau di Sardegna, D.O.C. Riseva, Abv 14% (€15.15) was next. This is 100% varietal specific from 25-year-old vines. It has a ruby red appearance and floral aromas mingled with minerality. In the mouth lush, red berries cover the palate with wild herbs, a hint of spice, and a hint of salinity. A very good value wine.
And finally 2007 Trabucchi d’ Illasi, Valpolicella Superiore, Terra del Cereolo, Abv 13.5% (€30). This is still surprisingly fresh considering the age of this wine. It is made primarily with Corvina and other interesting varietals that include Rondinella, reminiscent of cherries, and Croatina that bestows a floral and fruity bouquet. It’s simple and enjoyable, with purple highlights, mouthwatering cherry flavours layered with mint and white pepper accent. The scent recalls dried rose petals, followed by hints of plums, wild cherries and candied fruit.
63 Ayios Pavlos Street (opposite of MAS Supermarket), Tel: 97 713394, [email protected]