Tasting Recap: The Ides of March
I recently led a tasting at Jet Wine Bar that combined two of my favorite things: History and Wine. The Ides of March provide the perfect time for a tasting centered on wine lands that were in the Late Republic at the time of Caesar’s death!
While the “Ides” were merely the 15th day of each month, it was a fateful Ides of March, 44 BC, that Julius Caesar was assassinated. How apt that the tragedy of Caesar should unfold in the shadow of the Theatre of Pompey; it was its benefactor, Pompey the Great (Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus), with whom Caesar once ruled and later vanquished. The lives, battles, and deaths of these two men were critical for the end of the Late Republic, and the subsequent rise of Empire. The wines chosen for this tasting come from lands of significance to that history.
Why wines? Well, look at the map! The Romans annexed and amassed land in some of the finest wine regions in the world. Certainly wine production in the Mediterranean pre-dates the Roman Republic. Early production in the Caucuses (particularly modern Georgia, Armenia, Iran) spread westward, reaching the further shores of the Mediterranean with the aid of sea-faring Phoenicians and Greeks. Etruscans, with their base in Tuscany, certainly knew a thing or two about wine and planted many vineyards. The acquisition of fine lands and vineyards by wealthy Romans – and the labor to work them – resulted in large-scale production and consumption of wine. Moreover, the confluence of so many lands and traditions resulted in the dissemination and the collection of techniques and skills from all over the known world, many of which were collated by Cato and Pliny. Some of these are still in use today.
The Region: Macedonia
Macedonia comprised what is now northern Greece (including Macedonia and Thrace) and much of modern Albania and Macedonia. It was always an important buffer between the Greeks and attacking European tribes – of which Rome became one following the city-states support of Mithridates in 88 BC. Control of Macedonia by the Romans made it a conduit through which they could better tax and watch the Greeks. It also has great significance in the life of Caesar, as it was in Macedonia that Pompey suffered his defeat to Caesar’s allies in 48 BC, at the Battle of Pharsalus. The wine selected is from the Pelopennese, which was technically Greek.
The Wine: Nasiakos Moschofilero 2013, Greece
Owned by Leonidas Nasiakos, this small winery produces 6500 cases of Moschofilero. Mr. Nasiakos is recognized for his Moshofilero production, and serves as the only consultant for that grape to the Greek Wine Federation. The grape is indigenous to the Pelopennese, grown especially in Mantinia. At the heart of Mantinia is Arcadia, where the winery is located. This is a bucolic, mountainous region and the winery’s grapes are grown at 2000 ft above sea level.
This is a lovely wine. The nose is lightly floral and spicy, with orange blossoms and a hint of white pepper. The mouth is minerally and dry, with flavors of apricots and other mountain fruits, and brine from the sea air. It has a medium body and relatively long finish – though it sits mostly in the back of the palate. This was the favorite of our tasters, with 6 or 17 votes!
The Region: Gaul
Gallia Transalpine was a province of Rome that included the French wine regions now known as Provence and the Rhone. It was one of Rome’s earliest provinces, which led it to initially be called Nostra Provincia, or just Provincia. This name survives in the modern French name, Provence. Along with Gallia Cisapline and modern Languedoc-Roussillon, the province became known as Gallia Narbonensis, with its capital at Narbonne. It was upon returning from his governorship in Gaul in 49 BC that Caesar cast the proverbial die and crossed the Rubicon into Italy proper at the head of one of his legions, in clear contravention of Roman law. This act led to Pompey’s retreat from Rome and the beginning of Caesar’s Civil War and pursuit of Pompey across the Roman world.
The Wine: Domaine Rimauresq Rosé 2013, France
Domaine Rimauresq is a cru-class estate of the cotes du Provence sub-region. The winery was established in 1882, following the Phylloxera epidemic, and was already winning awards by 1885. The vineyard lands have multiple soil types and terroirs in small plots, resulting in great complexity. Their vineyards contain 9 different types of grapes, of which three are made into this rose: Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah. This rose is make through cold-maceration on the skins for several hours. The wines are left on the lees for a time, filtered, and bottled.
The nose is subtle, clean, and full of minerals. It has nice, light acid and a firm mouth. Fruits are very subdued, with paler fruits like melon. Very nice wine. As usual, there was much shock at how enjoyable is a good, dry rosé! Nearly all of our tasters like this wine, but felt it was the most “neutral” to the palate.
The Region: Asia
Asia first consisted of lands in western Turkey bordering the Aegean. Romans spread through Asia Minor through both purchase and usurpation of land. While the lands were not directly controlled by Rome, they were exploited for taxation, people, and produce. Pompey added greatly to Roman lands in Asia, with the annexation of Bithynia and Pontus along the Black Sea and, importantly, Cilicia along the Mediterranean Coast. From there, Pompey had a land bridge through western Turkey as an important step in the annexation of the province of Syria, accomplished by Pompey in 64 BC.
Guney Kalecik Karasi 2011, Turkey
The winery was established in 1942 in the coastal city of Izmir, bordering the Aegean. The winery now has vineyards in this Mediterranean micro-climate, as well as grapes from the higher-altitude Güney plateau, which has a continental climate. Kalacik Karasi is one of several hundreds of indigenous grapes of Turkey – indicative of its place near to the domestication of the Vitis vinifera wine grape. The grape is named for the Kalacik region near Ankara. The grapes for this wine are from Sevilen’s Güney vineyards.
This is a lighter bodied wine with higher acid – in the same vein as a gamay or pinot noir. The nose has a little bit of earth and funk, and a touch of celery and prune. Fruits are ripe (think California Pinot Noir), and prune continues in the mouth. After some “breathing”, the prune turns to cherry on the nose and in the mouth. This wine was enjoyed by most of our tasters, though some thought it was a bit “monotone” in character.
The Region: Hispania
In the late Republic, Hispania consisted of H. Citerior and H. Ulterior – which together only covered a portion of Iberia. As with many of the provinces, its import lay as communication routes to important places and ports, and as access to as-yet-unconquered lands. Hispania, in particular, provided buffer between North Africa (and Carthage) and Rome. Hispania Citerior was also significant for Caesar as another place in which his armies bested those of Pompey, specifically in the battle at Ilerida in 49 BC. The near constant fighting in Hispania (and elsewhere with the general Pax Romana) ceased following Augustus’ reorganization of the Provinces ca 13 BC. At that time, Hispania Citerior was subsumed by Hispania Tarraconensis, with its capital at Tarragona.
The Wine: Abadia de la Oliva Garnacha 2012, Spain
The winery is located in the Basque region of Navarra, in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Its lands are strongly connected to Cistercian monks who once lived in Burgundy, before being recalled to Navarra. With this Cistercian past, the Abadia domain is the longest, continually operating winery in Spain, in operation for almost 900 years. Cistercians periodically made wine on these lands until 2009, at which time the land was leased to Abadia. The hot, dry climate is perfect for garnacha, from which this wine is made.
This is a bigger, fuller-bodied wine. The nose has both tart- and black- cherries, and some wet clay and funk. The mouth is rich with ripe, wild strawberries and raspberries; there is a lot of fruit. Acid and tannin are noticeable, but it is a little soft on structure. This was the second-favorite red of the evening. Our tasters enjoyed its richness, but a few found it to be “too simple”.
The Region: Syria
Much like its Asian province, Romans exploited Syria for resources. Syria provided soldiers for protection of the eastern frontier, important as a buffer to the Parthians. Syria, in general, and the Bekaa Valley, in particular, served as a “bread basket” for Rome. Grains and all sorts of other goods were shipped out of ports on the eastern Mediterranean. Lebanon, proper, became more integrated into the Empire than it had been in the Republic. This is visible in its modern ruins, like temples for Jupiter and Bacchus, many of which are attributable to Augustus – Caesar’s adopted son, Octavian.
The Wine: Chateau Heritage Plaisir du Vin 2006 Lebanon
Wine making has occurred in the Bekaa Valley for millennia. The lands of Chateau Heritage have a modern history dating to 1888, when the Touma family established a winery and Arak distillery. Following on their heels, Chateau Heritage was established and released its first modern wines – with international grapes – in 1997. The Plaisir is made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Cinsault, aged 6 months in oak.
This wine is much older than the others we tasted (2006 vintage) and that was noticeable in the notes of prune. These mixed with date and fig to give the wine a rich, deep, funky nose. These same flavors are in the mouth, along with some black olive and black cherry. Balanced tannin and acid, persistent finish. This was the favorite red amongst our tasters and the second-favorite wine of the evening.