Spetses : Merlot Sunrise

🇬🇷 Cavino, Ionos Cabernet Sauvignon – Merlot
7/10 – Backpacker’s Choice

This wine is from the slopes of Egialia in the northern part of the Peloponnese, not far from where I was drinking it, in fact, on the island of Spetses. This was the first stop on my journey around the the Argo Saronics, the trail of islands that ripple south of Athens like the wake of a ferry.

Sunrise from Klimis Hotel, Spetses

About three hours from the Athens port of Piraeus by Flying Cat, Spetses is more exclusive than most of the islands served by the large Greek ferries, though as it is close to the mainland it is a popular weekend destination for Greeks who live on the Peloponnese.

The main town is dotted with luxury shops and classical old mansions, some in need of repair, making this a lovely, elegant island with a knowing nod to its wealthy past in the eighteenth century.

The mainly pebble beaches are lapped by water in glorious shades from turquoise to blue, like a summer fashion range. Spetses is not a barren island and the hills are dotted with cypress, palms and olive groves.

Vrelos beach is less than an hour’s walk from the town or 15 minutes by bus (€2 each way). The beach is reportedly packed and noisy during summer weekends but it was a quiet and pleasant spot for lunch during my stay in September.

Vrelos Beach

Zogeria Bay is another hour’s walk and is not served by a bus. It is a much larger stretch of coast popular with those whose only problem in life is where to moor their super yacht. The snorkling is good here with dozens of small coves and pebble beaches that you will have mostly to yourself. If you continue over the headland and you will find a sandy beach with a bar and restaurant and loungers, still mostly deserted midweek in mid September.

Zogeria Bay
Zogeria Beach

I wasn’t expecting much from this Cabernet/Merlot blend that I had found for less than €5 in a corner shop on Spetses. These are not classic Greek varieties and Spetses is not known for giving you a bargain. But the nose was not offensive so despite the low ABV and the diluted red in the glass I sipped it with higher expectations. It was a little sharp on the tongue at first but it was more than drinkable with a pleasant raspberry tang. After an hour or two it had softened to become a wine I would happily buy again, even if I were visiting on a super yacht rather than a budget.

Spetses €4.95 (£4.50, US$5.50)
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The Forgotten Kardashian

🇮🇹 Fattoria Laila, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi 2017
8/10 – Nothing Wrong with That

This wine is from the Marche region of Italy where Verdicchio is a common grape. Surrounded by Tuscany, Umbria and Abruzzo, the region is often overlooked. Like a Kardashian, I imagine, it is hard to compete with sisters like that.

It is a distant yellow in the glass, like a fading Autumn day, with a fresh and plentiful pineapple and floral nose. Slippery and sweet on the tongue, it is a lovely wine though not quite as exquisite as the tapered bottle. Or Kendall.

M&S £7.00 (US $9.00)

Worth Waiting For

🇮🇹 Messapi, Aglianico del Vulture 2016
8/10 – Nothing Wrong With That

This wine is from the Basilicata region of Southern Italy, that arch in the foot that is kicking Sicily into the sea. It is an area I have traversed rather than travelled over the years, as I have made my way between Italy and the Adriatic states. Coming or going to Greece I am sure that, like me, you have found yourself around the train stations and ports of Bari and Brindisi more than once. In fact, I think I have spent more time waiting in Southern Italy than any other place on Earth. And that includes Heathrow where delays are as regular as flights to Europe.

Polignano a Mare, Apulia, Southern Italy

Still, it is a nice enough area to be waylaid. And this is a nice enough wine to keep you company. From the Aglianico grape, the wine is a murky, dark red in the glass and has a lovely musty, cherry and chocolate nose like an old vintner eating dessert. There is a bit of sawdust on the tongue but that blows away after an hour to leave a dry, satisfying finish.

M&S £9.00 (US $11.50)

Love Life, Love Italy

🇮🇹 Ca’ di Ponti, Grillo 2017
8/10 – Nothing Wrong with That

I love Italy as I love life itself. There is beauty in everything in Italy: the buildings, the landscapes, the food, the art; I love it all. Even the language which I do not understand and the locals who I understand even less. There is chaos and corruption and rubbish but people in Italy just shrug or gesture wildly and continue enjoying life. The country works despite the government not because of it. I love that attitude: they are passionate. Be it a passion for food or wine or Ferrari.

Statues near Piazza Pretoria, Palermo, Sicily

Indeed, there are only two countries I continually return to: Greece and Italy. Perhaps it is my Greco-Roman nose that feels at home there.

This wine is from Sicily which was once better known for its crime bosses than its vintners. Sicily used to be like a can of condensed Italy: life there was even more visceral than the mainland. The passions were stronger and the gestures were wilder, and usually involved guns. In Milan they parked on the pavements; in Palermo that is where they buried you. But now Sicily is as lovable as the rest of the country and so are its wines.

Mural near Corleone, Sicily

This Grillo is the colour of hay and has a subtle farmyard smell to match. Fortunately peach and pineapple notes give it a pleasant rather than a peasant nose overall. It is suitably oily and smooth over the tongue like an Italian sommelier. And there is a juicy finish that makes you glad you stayed until the end.

From the 2018 Harrods Christmas hamper.

Harrods est. £7.00 (US $9.00)

There is a saying in Italy: Meglio aver poco che niente. Better to have little than nothing.

Oh, Canada

🇨🇦 Sandhill, Terroir Driven Pinot Gris 2017
9/10 – Gorgeous

My two nights in Vancouver had been a fitting, if somewhat fleeting, end to a wonderful Canadian trip. Toronto had been interesting, Lake Louise and Banff spectacular, and Calgary unexpectedly lovely. Vancouver had completed the set.

I love walking around cities and Vancouver makes that a joy, from English Bay in the West End around the stunning Stanley Park to the marina that double as an airport, with the clean, modern skyline and the harbour views around the Seawall Water Walk. From there you can join the office workers for a spot of lunch before continuing your circuit of the city.

Siwash Rock, Stanley Park, Vancouver

From the waterfront you can follow the flow of people southeast to Gastown, not a reference to Mad Max but rather the old centre of Vancouver where a stomping statue of bar owner “Gassy” Jack Deighton looks down with disdain on the tourists he has encouraged. Nearby a steam clock shows what happens when ingenuity exceeds common sense.

From Gastown you can walk southwest along Granville Street past beautiful Art Deco theatres towards Granville Island. The elevated bridge to the island gives expansive views and cuts across new apartment blocks like a line through a rejected planning application. To return to English Bay, head northwest up Davie Street where shops, bars and restaurants compete for the steady flow of happy pedestrians.

Granville Island, Vancouver

I loved walking around Vancouver as I loved walking around all of Canada and I particularly enjoyed the locals and the local wines I met along the way.

The last of the Canadian wines I tasted was this Pinot Grigio from Sandhill in the SkyTeam lounge at Vancouver airport. It is a lovely silky yellow in the glass. The nose doesn’t give much away, enticing you to take a sip. When you do you get a smooth caramel taste with sweet fruits, ripe and inviting. This is one of the best Pinot Gris I have ever tasted. My Dad loves Pinot Gris and he would say, in his understated way, there was nothing wrong with that. Indeed; this is gorgeous.

Average Price £11.50 (US $14.00)

Flying High

🇨🇦 Mission Hill Family Estate, Estate Series Cabernet – Merlot 2015
9/10 – High Flyer

As I was departing Canada I was lucky enough to happen upon the SkyTeam Lounge at Vancouver International airport. If you are a wine lover, as I am, then this lounge is your nirvana. The Vancouver airport is a lovely place to be even at the worst of times. Here, I can assure you, I had the best of times.

Bar at the SkyTeam lounge, Vancouver International Airport

There on display in the SkyTeam lounge, at a bar that would not have looked out of place in a Manhattan penthouse, were a selection of twelve wines. Most were local Canadian wines, though a Frenchman had snuck in with a bottle of rosé and some Champagne. And there was no barman. Yes, it was help yourself and I don’t mind if I do, thank you. After a couple of hours I was almost hoping my plane would be delayed. It would not have mattered: I was already flying high.

Seaplane landing in Vancouver harbour

Of the red wines on offer this one from Mission Hill Family Estate was the best. It was a reassuring deep reddish brown in the glass; that colour you get from experience, like grey whiskers on an oracle. It had a subtle trifle nose, as much a smell of Merlot as Cabernet, and it was smooth and well balanced on the tongue. This is a great food wine.

Average Price £36.00 (US $45.00)

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