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A subtle dislocation of the norm

A Subtle Dislocation of the Norm? Three wines

Below are three wines, two whites and a red. Each one shows individuality, a great beverage in its unique way, combining people, place, and culture. However, there is also something even rarer about them, as they are unconventional creations. They offer a subtle dislocation of the norm.


Tetramythos, Retsina Amphorae, Traditional Designation, Peloponnese, Greece, NV. 12.5%
Tetramythos Retsina Amphorae

Tetramythos Retsina Amphorae

Twenty-five years ago, you wouldn’t have caught me ever writing about Retsina! Such was the appalling level of quality to which this ancient tradition had fallen. Arguably Greece’s most famous wine, Retsina, is a white wine with pine resin, a preserving practice that dates back to antiquity. Unfortunately, in modern times, huge amounts (5-7.5%) of inferior-quality resin masked truly bad white wine. This left a predominantly turpentine flavour seared into the minds of returning holidaymakers. Even today, the image of Greek wine still suffers, and some critics still peddle the idea that Retsina is wrong. They need to get over themselves.

Fortunately, several high-quality wineries like Tetramythos have pushed the reset button. They are based in the northern Peloponnese, overlooking the Gulf of Corinth. Dedicated to natural wines, they make this fabulous example of Retsina.  They are certified organic and biodynamic, with fermentation using wild yeasts in clay Amphorae (they were the first Greek winery to do so in modern times).  Retsina can use several grape varieties. Here it’s Roditis, an ancient native of this area. These days, the wine laws restrict the amount of pine resin to a much lower 0.15-1%, added to the fermentation rather than the finished wine. Tetramythos use only top-quality resin from their Aleppo Pine trees that grow in the same vineyard as the grapes. Several subtle dislocations!

Tasting notes and food suggestions

The wine is dry and subtle in aroma and flavour. Wood smoke comes to mind. The fruit is predominantly waxy pears over a citrus base, with a long nutty finish and enough acidity to add balance and refreshment. There’s surprisingly little difference stylistically to wood influences. Hence if you’ve ever enjoyed an oak-aged wine, it’s easy to like this.

The resin makes this a food-friendly wine that stands up to the strong flavours of Greek Meze and other eastern-med cuisines. It’s quite brilliant, while Retsina’s less-than-stellar reputation means great value too. UK: Booth’s, £10.00. The Wine Society, £10.95

Viñátigo, Marmajuelo, Vino de Calidad, DO Tenerife, VC Islas Canarias, Spain, 2020. 13%
Viñátigo Marmajuelo

Viñátigo Marmajuelo

This was my favourite white wine at the annual Wines of Spain Exhibition 2023. Here is bottle number 5552/9333. During 1402-1496, the Spanish Conquistadores invaded and settled the Canary Islands, far closer to the Sahara than Spain. They brought Spanish grape varieties to make wine, especially for trade and replenishing ships. The subtle dislocation is that many of these varieties now only exist on the Canaries, having died out on the Spanish mainland.

And so it is with Marmajuelo, once all but extinct. It now has 25 hectares, scattered across tiny plots at up to 1,400 metres altitude, exposed to the Trade Winds on the slopes of volcanic Pico del Teide in western Tenerife. That there was never Phylloxera here is probably why Marmajuelo survived, and the vines are ungrafted. Where this variety originated in Spain is unknown. DNA suggests a linkage to Malvasia, but that doesn’t narrow things down. The small amounts available also mean that Marmajuelo is often blended. However, this is a 100% Marmajuelo, showing how good it can be. This sustainable, no-sulphur wine uses wild yeasts, stainless steel, concrete eggs, and lees ageing.

Tasting notes and food suggestions

Distinctive aromas feature exotic fruits such as passionfruit, fig and mango. These are reprised on the palate, all laced with a saline minerality and precision acidity. It’s dry, long, fresh, and has a smooth opulent texture and an impeccable balance. Seafood-based Tapas is a natural partner, with salt cod and fresh anchovies at the top of the list. The local Mojo de Cilantro (coriander) sauce is also terrific. UK availability is surprisingly good, with several stockists. Try Wine Republic, £19.46

Coste del Vivo, Rosso No.1, Toscana Rosso IGP, Italy, NV. 14%
Coste del Vivo Rosso No. 1

Coste del Vivo Rosso No.1

Coste del Vivo is a small wine company in Tuscany owned and run by Scotsman Toby Owen. Rosso No. 1 was his first wine to be released (in 2018) and is now in a range comprising two whites and four reds. He has just 2.5 hectares of old vines spread over five plots in Seggiano, in the small valley of the river Vivo (a tributary of the Orcia) on the slopes of Monte Amiata, a long-dormant volcano. Seggiano is not well known compared to Montalcino (some 40 minutes north). However, wine has been made here for centuries, and the local microclimate suits Sangiovese, joined by natives Pugnitello and Ciliegiolo and internationals Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

Indeed, this terroir is admirably reflected in the wine, which is more than just Sangiovese – too dark, too rounded, and with additional aromas and flavours – though the exact blend is unknown. Most unusually, this wine is NV, a blend from 2016, 2017 and 2018. 16 was near perfect, 17 was hot and dry, and 18 cooler. This subtle dislocation combines nuances and complexity in a way that a single year can never match, so I’d like to see more Tuscan NV blends.

Tasting notes and food suggestions

There is Sangiovese’s tell-tale violet and bergamot aromas and sour cherry fruit. But there’s more here, adding roundness and complementary tones and flavours—hints of orange peel, grilled meat, forest floor and smoke. A pencil note suggests Cab Franc, while maybe the caressingly smooth texture is Merlot talking. There’s a graceful poise and a floating lightness of touch.  It’s drinking perfectly now, and there’s no need for further ageing. As for food, Italian sausage featuring fennel is hard to beat. Lamb cutlets too. UK: St. Andrews Wine Company, £19.95

And finally

At first glance, these three wines appear dissimilar; in style, history and provenance. But look closer; a clear theme runs through them: individuality, small artisanal production, love and care, and sustainable production. Furthermore, each wine offers a subtle dislocation of the norm. No wonder I’ve bought plenty of all three!

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