'Agios Chronos' 2013
This is rain on a hot tin roof. This is an oil painting with dashed shapes of burnt umber and streaks of orange and reds turned to rust. This is rum and raisin chocolate bars. This is wild-berry game birds fed fat and fit to burst. This is feathers splashed with mud. This is wine that tastes as though it has been dusted in powdered euphoria. (lucky you!) (or lucky me, rather).
In ‘Agios Chronos’ Greek winemaker, Apostolos Mountrichas, has married two non-native varietals and called the seemingly unholy union of red juice mixed with white: ‘Holy Time’. And there is certainly something saintly about the swimming liquid behind this heavy-bottomed green glass bottle. A mimicry blend of 92% Syrah and 8% Viognier the wine tells the story of the French tourist, the uncommon nomad, a stranger thriving in fresh lands. The Rhone-inspired replica is like the Golden Oriole, a migrating bird having journeyed far beyond his native home, cross-bred with the Lyre, exercising an extraordinary ability to mimic, to mirror and imitate his neighbours. He does this as proclamation of territory, of plumage and as a means of survival.
But forget all the faff (for now). In the Northern Rhone they make big, rich and peppery reds from the Syrah grape. In some parts, like Saint Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage, the Syrah’s are blended with white juice from Marsanne and Roussanne. In Cote-Rotie, and from where the 'Agios Chronos’ takes its inspiration, Syrah is rounded off with white juice from Viognier (with an allowance of 20%), poised to give the dominant Syrah a deeper colour, silkier texture and to release Syrah’s subtle floral components that might otherwise be overshadowed by her muscle. The grapes Syrah and Viognier are strangers to the lands of Greece. They are borrowed brothers in arms, crossing hills and mountains, crossing long roads to land in a land at first mysterious and one day to call home.
And this mimicry by Mountrichas is understandable. The wines of the Northen Rhone, more particularly of Cote-Rotie, are at times beyond delicious. They are beyond beauty. So why not try to make them? To re-make them? They work. They are bangin’ and they are some of the best bruisers out there. This is imitation as art, as a gesture of respect, as a remark of love. This is wine rendered remarkable, the result of an holy union, a marriage mirrored; that between spice and silk, that between the Golden Oriole and the Lyrebird, the migrant and the mimic, Syrah & Viognier.
The wine is that bloodied ruby turning slightly brown at the edges. It has a powerful nose, at first hot and pungent, peppered white and black. There’s cocoa, sure, and filter coffee; the cheap kind you get in chipped ceramic. The mouth is generous, powderey, fine-grained with a voluptuous fruit profile, strawberries, bruised or blackened from a rough journey to the green grocers. The tannins are chewy and the mouth made dry, like gnawing a plush velvet curtain. And it goes for days. The flavour, the fruit, the funk, the fun of it all. All of it super ripe, or on the cusp of being under.
It whispers of the sacrosanct, with all the sweetness and light of a routine church visit and the bitter damnation of guilt and regret on reflection of ones sins. This is the cold slated tiles of a Greek country house; chiselled into odd shapes and stacked in ramshackle rows that gather around a smoking chimney pointed proud to the heavens. It tastes like the clean rain that through a long winter still only rarely splashes across those tiles, rolling lustfully into the gutters and filling buckets stacked under the kitchen window… And thru that window, if you pass by at just the right time, you can just catch a glimpse of a limb roasting oven-side, the leg or shoulder of a goat that last summer grazed the wide gardens but now serves to feed and keep sated the extended families that gather indoors when a hard winter raps down the hillside to the heart of the village.
Eventually it smells like brightly coloured hard-boiled sweets made from bleached sugar, dusted savoury like the green and embittered ‘adult’ Turkish delight, that wind-moved mist that spits off snowflakes, that fine grain sand that gets in the crevices on a beach holiday and is still surprising you in the sheets months later. It tastes old, like an Uncles cardigan worn at the elbows that he always wore when he would sneak out to the shed for cigarettes thinking his wife couldn’t see the flash of light from the match through the small study window or smell the lick of smoke in his hair when he would lean down to her and plant kisses below her ear. Then there’s a little sweet squid ink, on account of the rich, coating mouth feel of Viognier coupled with an obvious, un-heavy malolactic fermentation. It might even smell like liquorice and even a fresher kind of crushed fennel, maybe someone has thrown kohlrabi in with the rest of the roasting root vegetables and the aroma kicks, tickling at the nostrils. With seven years of bottle age at the time of this tasting the marks of maturity are starting show, when we witness the pillars of colour and acid and fruit turn to something decidedly more ornate.
It really made me think of pork & fennel sausage. It really made me think of boiling tomato stew. It really made me think of stealing fruit with my brother from the neighbours trees; long summer nights when the crickets would scream and shout and the earth would finally start to cool with its first glimpse of the rising moon, berries squished in my little fists, spitting juice against my favourite electric blue t-shirt.
It made me wonder about migrating birds. It made me wonder how so many of us survive and thrive far from our native homes, strangers in strange lands. It made me wonder about the romance between memory and time and the slow decay to which we all succumb, the union between our bodies and our spirits tempered finite; at times unjust, cruel and yet occasionally touching the sacred. At times almost holy.
But, of course, wine does lead one to wonder.
tasted March 2021