2017 was a year of discovery and learning

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Wine columnist Chuck Byers was impressed by the quality wines he discovered last year.

2017 turned out to be one adventurous wine year. My travels to the Azores, Switzerland, Italy and Cyprus brought about a wealth of new experiences and tastes.

The Azores were and still are a relatively undiscovered jewel in the world of wine. While their output is small, the quality is unique.

In the community of Fenais da Luz on the Azores Island of Sao Miguel, the small but utterly charming 300-year-old orange orchard turned winery (1989) of Quinta da Jardinete revealed exciting wines both from traditional varieties and Portuguese blends. Mario Rebelo’s Chardonnay and Merlot/Aragonês (a.k.a. Tempranillo or Tinto Roriz) blends were/are superb.

Swiss wines are not very common in Canada. Shame. The wines I tasted in Switzerland had the distinction of being world-class. The white Chasselas (a.k.a. Fendant) and Pinot Noir are considered the dominant Swiss grapes, while Merlot rules the roost in the Swiss region of Ticino. There are literally well over a hundred of Indigenous varieties in this landlocked country.

While attending the VINEA Wine Fair in the city of Sierre, I encountered a fabulous Valais Pinot Noir called Ambassador by Domaines Adrian Mathier (Valais). The wine was a revelation of having both old-world charm and new-world power. The other wine that stood out was a Ticino Tenuta Agricola Luigina Viognier 2015. This white wine was nothing short of amazing with elegance, style and depth. There are hundreds of wine stories from Switzerland — mine was just one of them.

My second visit to Cyprus wine country was as enlightening as my first. Cyprus has ancient “wine roots” that go back thousands of years, and it is to each winery's credit that ancient and almost extinct varieties have been “revived.” The late, great Alexis Zambartes rediscovered some 20 species and wineries such as Vouni Panaya dedicate their full energy to the Indigenous species of Cyprus. While in Cyprus, I tasted some exceptional wine made from the Yiannoudi (red) variety, though I still favour the Maratheftiko (red) wine. Fikardos winery makes a super Maratheftiko.

However, while visiting the Tsiakkis winery in the village of Pelendri, I tasted a single vineyard Merlot that was outstanding in elegance and concentration.

Throughout my wine visits this year, I have discovered how much there is out there to learn. Whether the wine was a Sagrantino from Umbria, a Gellewza from Malta or a Gorgollasa from Mallorca, the learning never ceases.



About the author

Chuck Byers is a wine writer and consultant with over 35 years of experience in the wine industry, and is a member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada.