'Vino di Sasso' 2019

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Venice, sure.  London, yeah.  But what of the canals of Suzhou or Delft?  What about Birmingham?  Bruges?  Fancy a winter-coated ride up the snaking waters of St Petersburg?  Or a margherita-charged jaunt down the ways of the Xochimilco?  Canals are like varicose veins on the legs of the land, that when cities are built around them, point to both arrival and escape, point to freedom.


It made me wish I had a boat, this wine.  Even just a little dinghy.  Something to paddle myself to freedom with from the tyranny of always having to get around on two legs and in heavy boots that tread the concreted boredom ways of the walking man.  That’s the elusive power of well-made juice.  That’s the instruction of rocky limestone slopes supporting old bush vines.  That’s the invitation of a wine made to move you, to electrify the senses.  That’s the joy of Robola, of Sclavos’ 2019 ‘Vino di Sasso’ Robola: a great Greek wine with an (unusually) Italian name (thanks to English commissioner Napier.)


This ‘Wine of the Stone’ sparks of that mirky water at the bottom of a tin of pineapple (chunks, rings, take your pick).  It speaks to those joyful weekday nights with the sliced and diced yellow chunks scattered over a hand-made Hawaiian pizza or a slow cooked coconut curry, and the idle can from which you might take a swig; the remnants sweet and salty and sticky and it disappears down your dry throat with ease and you think if only you’d had the foresight to throw a splash of bacardi white into the mix beforehand.  Oh well, you’ll be better in your next life, you’ll be ready for the next round.  The ‘Vino de Sasso’ takes me to that: the mineral-rich, almost metallic, hum of salt-roasted pineapples jumping out of pool-side mocktails.


It smells like Columbia Road Flower Market, an east London Sunday staple where suspiciously tanned cockneys with bouncing gold chains yell ‘Roses a fiver!  Roses a fiver!  Gardenias!  Petunias!  Get your gardenia—it’s all gone!’ and peddle all the plants and floral delights one can fill their over-priced flats with to make the damp-walled, paint-peeled and often windowless apartments of a heaving city seem more homely; or the over-sized private garden facing drawing rooms of four storey terraces, soon to become five or six as they dig further into the unstable earth because heritage buildings are forbidden from growing into the sky and if we’ve learnt anything it’s that greed always trumps necessity.


There’s pear and passionfruit dominating the nose.  Banana leaf.  Banana candy; those spongey, powdery sickly things you used to get in a party-mix bag.  Cashew nut, juicy wax lemons, and breakfast grapefruit with a sprinkling of sea salt.  (This is starting to sound like a fruit salad).  It also smells like pond water, like a dirty lake, but the kind of lake that it’s still safe to swim in.  It smells of wet earth and frog soup and has the essence of sun shower rain at the window.


A coating mouth feel, this side of pleasant, comes to the palate.  With lemon and lime marmalades and white pepper on the tertiary.  If you’re really paying attention you’ll get peach tart, yolk-brushed and sat on cushioned weaves of raw puff pastry, before it has hit the oven.  And if you’re not really listening you’ll still get a wine that quenches a thirst you didn’t even know you had, some deep buried dream in the recess of imagination, of lust; and now sated you can sit back in your banana lounge, in your inflatable swan, in your dinghy called ‘Kefalonia’ and enjoy the unadulterated buzz.  There might even be an electric current running the length of the palate, throwing static from my head and into the room.


Robola is primarily found on the Ionian island of Cephalonia, from where this banger originates, with some examples showing up in central Greece.  Preferring barren landscapes and needing her generous yield restricted on the vine, coupled with a heavy tendency toward oxidation and needing the stiff upbringing of stainless steel as opposed to more porous vessels of maturation, Robola has a hard road to make it to the glass with glory.  But make it, in the hands of the Sclavos crew, she does.


30 year old bush vines on their own roots.  Pressed under inert conditions (prone to oxidation, remember).  Steel tank ferment, ambient yeast, high extraction.  With Demeter (biodynamic) certification as of this vintage.


And after all that you can smell cactus and cat pee; not the kiwi table-wine sort from over-perfumed sauvage-non plonk producers of Marlborough and beyond, but (if it’s possible) a pleasant, well-hydrated house cat who does his business in the litter box and not on the expensive curtains.  There’s also a lick of green mango and flint, wild nettle and lemongrass.  White flowers wrapped in brown paper.  Mid-palate honeycomb, lemon and fennel pound cake, camomile tea.  It has purity or clarity I can’t decide which.  Either way the clouds have dispersed and a clear blue has hit the mainline.


I’m probably guilty of not ever talking (or writing) enough about what to pair wine with, because short of either solitudinous silence or decent jovial conversation with a good balance of politics (social/sexual) and piss-taking I don’t always lean on ‘have it with this’ and ‘have it with that’ preachery.  But, and this is a weighty but, have it with as simple a food as you can muster—have it with roasted vegetables dusted with olive oil and salt—have it with generous salads—have it with oysters, with sashimi—have it with something that has come from the sea.  Have at it.


It truly made me wish we all had boats; on which to sip Robola, in which to pass one another on canals and shout hellos and make plans to join for drinks and throwing frisbees on a quiet bank.  It made me wish there was more Robola to go around.  It made me wish that all roads were canals, and all cars boats and all water eventually turned wine.

tasted May 2021

Bradley Tomlinson