Tag Archives: Greece

Discovering fine Greek wine

A visit to Tinos island and T-Oinos winery

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A classic Greek scene

Greek wine is exciting. I have been saying this for a while. This has been reaffirmed to me by a recent visit to T-Oinos winery on Tinos island, organised by my fellow MW and Greek wine ambassador Yiannis Karakasis.

 

Tinos is a moderately-sized island (194 square kilometres) in the Aegean Sea and part of the Cyclades group of islands. This group includes the famous Santorini and neighbouring party capital Mykonos. Like many Greek islands, Tinos is a bit of a geological wonder. It is home to a Unesco World Heritage site – hills covered in huge granite boulders, according to mythology they were cast down by the Titans. As all wine geeks know, granitic soils are great for vine growing. So far, so easy. Except not. Tinos is a beautiful island alright, sprinkled with those charming white-washed little houses and over 700 churches and chapels. As lovely as it looks bathed in the sunshine, Tinos is also a very windy, dry and desolate place and this is hard terrain for viticulture. It doesn’t quite rain enough and there isn’t enough water for irrigation. In fact, T-Oinos only just manage to collect enough water for one irrigation run a year, reserved for their youngest vines.

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Tinos has as many chapels as you can shake a stick at

T-Oinos winemaking consultant Thanos Fakorelis explains that when the vineyards of Clos Stegasta were first planted in 2000, high density of 11,500 plants/ha seemed the best option. Less canopy means less water requirement as well as less bunches per vine. Being so close together also helps protect the vines from the harsh Northern winds that sweep through this open plateau, which sits at 450m altitude.

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Clos Stegasta vineyard

Walking through the Clos Stegasta vineyard made me wonder how the vineyard workers manage. The sandy soils (on granite bedrock) on a blustery day, the granite boulders in the summer heat. It isn’t easy, else everyone would be doing it. This is unique terrain, like that of another planet and for such hardship you can expect an equivalent price tag.

 

T-Oinos farm 11ha of vineyards, planted to Malagousia, Assyrtiko, Mavrotragano and Avgoustiatis. The first commercially released vintage was 2008. I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised by the wines. They have elegance and poise, a clearly defined line of saline ‘minerality’ runs through all the wines, white and red.

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The three quality levels

Their Malagousia is a far cry from the overtly aromatic and a little simple whites that you will find elsewhere in Greece. The winemaker deliberately picks this grape at below 13% potential alcohol in order to avoid excessive aromatics, which are found above this percentage. Here, we’re looking at 11-12% abv. The wine has a restrained, tight nose which focuses on stony, grapefruit and lime aromas and a saline, oyster shell expression on the palate. It’s a delicious wine.

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Rassonas vineyard

Where Malagousia is the ‘entry level’ white (though about £20-25 on the shelf), the top white Clos Stegasta focuses exclusively on Greece’s best white variety – Assyrtiko. We were lucky enough to be treated to a vertical tasting of this fabulous wine, vintages 2011 – 2015. The style varies as Tinos offers vintage variation much like any other place. The amount of oak used also varies, it can be a vintage decision or a purely practical one – in 2012 the volumes were so small (1000l only) that it neatly fit into two 500l French barrels. This vintage was not my favourite as I felt the oak was somewhat dominant here, hiding the character of the grape. Both 2011 and 2014 are vintages that clearly show Assyrtiko’s varietal character. This is not dissimilar to Hunter Semillon with its waxy lemon and citrus oil notes. Both wines saw a small amount of oak (10%) and I think this benefits Assyrtiko by adding a layer of texture without obscuring the grape. Saying that, I absolutely loved the 2013 Clos Stegasta white. One of my fellow MWs refers to it as the ‘Greek Coche-Dury’ and I would not disagree with that. The 2013 was fermented 70% in wood and 30% in steel and shows an outstandingly well-managed oak character – that cornmeal reduction and creamy spice really tempers Assyrtiko’s stand-out acidity. Granted, this may not be a typical Greek white, in fact given blind I would go straight to Meursault or a high quality Aussie Chardonnay, but there is no denying that this is a world class wine. I think quite a few people would be surprised to learn this wine comes from an island in the Aegean!

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Fermentation is now done partially in amphorae

Now onto the reds, focused on Mavrotragano. This is an indigenous variety to the Cyclades and most famously planted in Santorini, where it fetches higher prices per kilo than Assyrtiko. Mavrotragano is a highly tannic and rustic variety and not easy to temper. In fact, some people in Greece are of the belief that it does not at all work in the volcanic soils of Santorini. Here at T-Oinos it seems to thrive on the granitic soils and produces wines with rounder tannins. T-Oinos produce two reds based on this variety – Mavro and Clos Stegasta. The latter is a single vineyard wine from the amphitheatre-like Rassonas vineyard. At 400m altitude it is a slightly warmer, more sheltered spot from the main Clos Stegasta site. Standing there, I was reminded of the terraced vineyards of Priorat. My favourite from this tasting was the 2013 Clos Stegasta Reserve red. It has a very seductive nose, showing wild herbs and lavender, plush morello cherry and almost a hint of orange. The tannins are tempered if still chewy and pencilly but have this with food and they disappear. At 14.5% abv, this may not look like a slight wine, but it is so balanced by that fresh, saline acidity, that you don’t even notice it.

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Bottles in the vineyard

T-Oinos is doing a great job bringing attention to Tinos island whilst equally making some of the most exciting wines in Greece. They are available to buy in France and the U.K. (Via Wimbledon Wine Cellar and Handford’s). They may not be cheap but there is no doubt they are fine.

 

LENKA

 


Greece is the word

Greek wine is the next big thing. Perhaps this is a strong statement but I have thought this for some time now. At the very least it should be the next big thing. If you look at the styles of wines that are currently popular among us in the wine trade and wine lovers, Greek wines fit the bill. Whether it is the quest for freshness and acidity or focus on old vines, indigenous varieties or low intervention, Greece has it all. For a country that is known for its incredibly reliable sunny skies and hot summers, its wines are often blessed with freshness and a lightness of touch so perfect for such weather. In fact, Greek wines often remind me of their Italian counterparts. Greece is also lucky to have grape varieties naturally high in acidity and its wines are incredibly versatile and food-friendly.

I was yet again reminded of this last month, when I visited the Oenorama wine fair in Athens (one of my favourite cities in Europe, as it were).  I got to try some wines I already knew quite well and many new wines that truly surprised and amazed me. I was also lucky enough to be invited to judge a blind tasting, organised by Greek producer La Tour Melas. The purpose of the tasting was to pit La Tour Melas (a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot) against three Right Bank properties (Ch. Lafleur, Ch. La Violette and Canon La Gaffeliere) and assess its potential to compete with Bordeaux at that level. It was certainly interesting and La Tour Melas stood up very well, beating Bordeaux in round 1 (2011 vintage) and coming second in round 2 (2012 vintage). Perhaps it was a relatively easy win in 2011, where La Tour Melas’s perfumed, plush and seductive style shone against the more leafy, restrained and tannic Right Bank examples. But in 2012, it was also my favourite wine, it showed promise for the future but was also lovely young. La Tour Melas works according to biodynamic principles and that biodynamic clarity really shows in the wine despite the use of 90% new French oak. This oak is clearly very good and well-integrated and does not detract from the fruit. All in all a very interesting tasting and I look forward to seeing the evolution and development of La Tour Melas in the future.

The Oenorama fair provided an excellent snapshot of modern Greek wines. From the usual suspects such as wines from Santorini, Nemea or Naoussa, there were also wines from lesser known regions and islands like Kefalonia and many an example of Savvatiano – a grape more commonly associated with Retsina but slowly trying to make a name for itself as a quality grape on its own. And, of course, I got to try grape varieties I’d never heard of, always a given in a country like Greece.

The wines that impressed me at Oenorama were a very diverse bunch. Here, I will pick my favourites. Some of these wines are available in the UK and some are not (yet, anyway!).

White

2014 Assyrtiko, Estate Argyros (Santorini)
Argyros is, in my humble opinion, the best producer in Santorini. Or it is certainly my preferred style of Assyrtiko. Very clearly mineral and saline, it has that trademark lemon balm note and precise, linear acidity. Not as reductive as some other producers but focusing more on precision and fruit expression. In 2015, Assyrtiko yielded grapes with thick skins so the wines will have a bit more phenolic grip.Available from Philglas & Swiggot.

2010 Thalassitis Assyrtiko Submerged, Gaia (Santorini)
Thalassitis Submerged Assyrtiko is aged for 5 years under the sea and sealed under Nomacork. This was an experiment to see how the wine would evolve. Gaia believes that ageing the wine under the sea means it gets zero OTR (oxygen transmission rate). They have found a lot of bottle variation among the submerged wines but don’t yet know why. The wine was tasted against the cellar aged version. Both wines have the same amount of SO2 yet show quite different characteristics. The submerged wine itself is very nutty with a waxy texture, herbal tones and lemon oil. Very interesting and on the reductive side though clearly varietally expressive.

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2012 Nychteri, Sigalas (Santorini)
This is a very different style of Assyrtiko. As the name might suggest, traditionally the grapes were picked at night. The wines were often made from overripe grapes, too, and fermented and aged in barrels without topping up.  Stylistically, Nychteri therefore tends to be a richer, bigger expressions of Assyrtiko (which has to form at least 75% of the blend) at around 15% alcohol and a profile that goes more towards the oxidative spectrum of flavours; in this case with nuts and praline, spice and with a burnt sugar note on the finish.

2014 Vidiano Aspros Lagos, Douloufakis (Crete)
Aspros Lagos means ‘white rabbit’ and a little white bunny does indeed feature on the label. Vidiano is the most promising white grape of Crete, thanks to producers like Douloufakis who have helped resurrect it. This wine shows real complexity, a profile somewhere between Aussie Semillon (with its waxy lemon and tight acidity) and Roussanne (with its fragrant camomile note). It is textured but joyful to drink.

Vidiano

Rosé

2015 Idylle d’Achínos Rose, La Tour Melas (Achínos)
A blend of Grenache, Syrah and Agiorgitiko. Whilst I am not a regular rosé drinker, I would happily drink this on warm sunny days. There are several things I like about this wine. Firstly it’s the smart packaging. It would look great on the shelf and you could be forgiven to think it is a rosé from Provence. The colour is very pale, too, and the wine is made in the Provençale style with sweet red fruit and a rosy perfume. But what sets it apart is its acidity. I am someone who truly loves high acid wines and this rosé has bags more acidity than its French counterparts. A real thirst-quencher. Available from Bottle Apostle and Wimbledon Wine Cellar.

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Red

2013 Daemon Grande Reserve, Ieropoulos (Nemea)
Ieropoulos is a winery that was founded in 2008. The vines are located at 600m altitude and planted on calcareous soils. Daemon is made from Agiorgitiko, the flagship variety of the Nemea region, and is the grown-up wine of this property. It is made according to Burgundian principes and aged in oak. Daemon shows real purity of fruit, spice, plums and fine, almost chocolaty tannins. It may be glossy and very well assembled but shows future promise, too.

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2013 Rossiu di Munte Vlachiko, Katogi Averoff (Metsovo)
Rossiu di Munte means ‘red of the mountains’. Vlachiko is indigenous to mountainous Ioannina in mainland Greece. This one comes from the village of Metsovo at 1100m altitude, these are some of the highest vineyards in Greece. This is a variety I had not encountered before but was very pleasantly surprised about. It is a very elegant and light variety and this wine shows restrained and perfumed red fruit, peppery tones, stunning acidity and sandy, almost lavender-like tannins. This wine is not about ripeness, it’s about freshness and delicacy. A feminine wine and very much a style I love. More like this, please.

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2011 Rossiu di Munte Cabernet Sauvignon, Katogi Averoff (Metsovo)
THIS WINE blew my mind. All the more amazing because it’s a Cabernet, a variety I am not known to be a huge fan of. This is a very different style of Cabernet, mind. It is packaged in a Burgundy bottle and it is clearly evident why – this is an elegant, fresh expression of Cab. Rather than showing cedar and spice and all things nice, this is a feminine, perfumed and pretty wine. Margaux more than Pauillac, if you will. Perhaps it is the fact that this is Greece’s oldest Cabernet vineyard. It was planted in 1958 with cuttings brought from Château Margaux, as it were. I would love to see wines from this producer in the UK!

2014 ΠΑΛΙΕΣ ΡΙΖΕΣ (Palies Pizes, meaning ‘old roots’), La Tour Melas (Achínos)
Made from pre-phylloxera Agiorgitiko vines with an average age of 108 years. Again, this is very much my style of wine. Aside from a great label (perhaps a touch similar to ‘Psi’ from Pingus and that could make it confusing) it shows perfume, plum and cherry yogurt notes but a really savoury finish and structural complexity. Available from Wimbledon Wine Cellar.

pre-phylloxera

2010 Xinomavro, Elinos (Naoussa)
Xinomavro is the Nebbiolo of Greece. It shows a similar profile – high acidity, lots of dry tannins and that red cherry fruit. This wine was one of my favourite new discoveries from Naoussa (N.B.my favourite producer is Thymiopoulos and their Earth and Sky Xinomavro, which is simply stunning), it is quite ferric and ‘bloody’ but also showing leather and truffle and a gorgeous tannic structure.

Greece has plenty for everyone to choose from and I really hope the wines properly take off in the years to come.

Lenka


Make mine a drum of wine

Fresh out of the grueling master of wine exams I fled straight to the beautiful Ionian island of Kefalonia to let my aching brain recuperate under the burning Mediterranean sun.  The air was heavy with the scent of wild herbs, the air alive with the music of goat bells and crickets, and not a house or a human to spoil the view down the rugged hillside to the turquoise ocean.

There was only one thing to perfect this beautiful solitude and that was obviously a glass of wine (no, I am not yet sick of the taste of wine).  Upon opening the fridge I was mildly horrified to find a 5 liter plastic drum of yellow ‘white’ wine.  Driven by the desperation of a late morning thirst I poured myself a glass. Don’t judge me, watches are forbidden on holiday and therefore I am not bound by ‘acceptable’ drinking hours.

Now let me state my case before you call me a snob.  I am a huge advocate of Greek wine; there is a roll call of stellar producers spread throughout the mainland and islands including Gaia, Alpha Estate, Biblia Chora, Sigalis and Harry Hatzidakis which I can’t recommend highly enough.   I am also an advocate of alternative packaging for greatly improving its carbon footprint.  However this particular beauty could have been mistaken for olive oil, and at less than euro 10 for 5 liters my expectations weren’t high.

Despite my nose being screwed up in anticipation of disappointment, I was in for a very pleasant surprise.  It had a certain easy going charm and a round fruited freshness that perfectly suited my sun lounger and my mood.  It didn’t demand my attention, allowing me to alternately submerge myself in Wilber Smith and the view.  It was the perfect accompaniment rather than the main focus, and was all the better for it.

As the sun dropped my mind rose from its torpor, and so too did my desire for something more challenging, more complex and more thrilling.  A stunning Assyrtiko/Sauvignon Blanc from Ktima Biblia Chora hit that spot perfectly, and matched the intellectual banter around the table.  Ok, well maybe I’m over estimating the conversation, but certainly not the wine!

The beauty of wine is just that; it can be simple, clean and refreshing or it can be complex, intense and lingering, it is simply a case of finding the right moment in time to do that wine justice.

– Alex