Santorini’s climate is classified as desert, and so is the nearby island of Anafi. Perched on the caldera ridge, the western-lying remaining vineyards of Santorini share marine humidity and incoming fog. This usually occurs when the south-western winds ...
Aegean Islands | White | Assyrtiko
Santorini’s climate is classified as desert, and so is the nearby island of Anafi. Perched on the caldera ridge, the western-lying remaining vineyards of Santorini share marine humidity and incoming fog. This usually occurs when the south-western winds are blowing. Streaks of mist and sometimes thick fog bounce off the caldera and continue their trajectory reaching the first half of the island. The burn-off imparts precious moisture. This natural cooling also slows down grape development, with harvest starting in the first week of August. Pyrgos, which reaches 300m, is usually one of the last to be harvested, up to two weeks later. Though the fog varies, what does not is the proximity and the humid and cooling effect of the sea below the caldera cliffs. Veteran farmer Nikos Pelekanos laments that the finest grapes were those of Imerovigli 280m. They now lie under luxury boutique hotels, albeit with breathtaking views.
What happens on the eastern side of the island, in the lower-altitude vineyards? Vourvoulos is one of the first to harvest. Ditto for neighbouring Exo Gialos. The reviewed single vineyard, all of 1.4 hectares, is planted to Assyrtiko. Yorgos Koutsoyannopoulos is hands-down the most unassuming man of the island’s current producers. Open-minded, measured, succinct in his comments, a pragmatist. During a visit, he illuminated: “The actual vineyard lies in the sub-zone of Aspra Homata at Exo Gialos. It is fully ripe by end of July, at times nudging in to the first days of August. It lacks moisture. Yields are low –even by Santorini averages.” He credits his U.S. importer, Dionysi Grevenitis, with the idea of separately vinifying this plot of 70–100-year-old-vines.
To varying degrees, Santorini’s bone-dry wines share a marine element. This single vineyard reaches further. More than any other Greek wine, Santorini is liquid geography. It reaches beyond coordinates, altitude and deep-rooted, ungrafted vines on a windswept volcanic moonscape. Swirl it in a decanter. Let it breathe. When did you last experience the Aegean cobalt blue in your glass?
Less oxidative than the 2013. Skin contact. Tank-fermented, no oak. Wet stones, salinity. No angularities, followed by a smooth, linear, very long finish. Returning wave of intense minerality and palate-awakening bright acidity. Intricately flavoured varietal punch. Satisfying and convincing. Another piece revealed of this one-of-kind vinous jigsaw puzzle. Worth watching. Best 2015–2025.
19 Jun 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 18/20
|Koutsoyannopoulos Santorini Ksera Homata|
|Area: Aegean Islands|| |
Some twelve boutique addresses have emerged in the past decade on Crete. For several reasons, some more obvious than others, they continue to fly under the radar. If they are close to a tourist zone, they sell directly. Export is a large slice of their sm...
Crete | White | Vidiano
Some twelve boutique addresses have emerged in the past decade on Crete. For several reasons, some more obvious than others, they continue to fly under the radar. If they are close to a tourist zone, they sell directly. Export is a large slice of their small production. Online sales are not yet in their daily action list. Others languish in a rather long ‘under construction’ period. Most farm their own vineyards or buy grapes from quality sources. My umbrella-term for these otherwise worthy efforts is hidden cellars. Finding them demands a whole new approach in research.
Brothers Manolis and Antonis Maragakis were top of my growing to-visit list. Indeed, they were the very prototype, as they tick all of the above boxes. Though farmers to the bone, their winery was financed thanks to their gas station. They also realized that some of the best vineyards are in the clay-limestone ridge at Stavrakia (430m), where they planted rising-star white grape Vidiano. This is one of the promising rediscoveries of the Cretan vineyard, which is now going through much soul-searching, with a raft of changes and pragmatism sweeping across the once sleeper region.
Manolis is succinct with the public image of Cretan wine in Greece. ‘It is only after 2000 that we started delivering our potential. We came late to the party; it was impossible to break into the Athens market. Since the fiscal crisis we concentrate on exports.’ Their white wines are a runaway success. Interest has now focused on a recent Kotsifali-Syrah blend from Belgium, Holland and Germany. The gas station now having been leased, they do what they like best as full-time farmers selling their wine. Their no-nonsense attitude and humility is exemplary. Greek wine needs more of these egoless efforts. Thankfully, the wine routes of Crete now sport such addresses beckoning discovery. The unique to Crete grapes offer more than a sense of place. Missing out on the Athens bubble, now burst, was not such a bad thing – it may have saved them.
10-year-old vines. Place name: Xerolia, 430m. Exuberant, fruity, with apricot aroma. Fleshy. Persistent. More stone fruit – peaches. No oak. Lees contact adding roundness. Good fruit acid balance. Vibrant with verve. Textured grapey delicacy. Useful at 12.6% ABV and more balanced than the over-the-top 2013. Distinctively different to the other local white specialty, Vilana. Taste-wise, nothing else comes near to this unusual-looking, screw-shaped grape berries. No wonder there is a renewed planting spree on these picturesque limestone-rich hillsides up to Agios Thomas, 750m. Best 2015–2018.
02 Jun 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 16.5/20
|Maragakis Winery 8th Art Vidiano|
|Area: Crete|| |
Rarely is vine age mentioned on the 15 Santorini producers’ labels. The average is 60-plus-years-old and can climb to 100 and above. According to the veteran farmer Nikos Pelekanos, production drops off at 250 years old, hence they saw off the above-gro...
Aegean Islands | White | Assyrtiko
Rarely is vine age mentioned on the 15 Santorini producers’ labels. The average is 60-plus-years-old and can climb to 100 and above. According to the veteran farmer Nikos Pelekanos, production drops off at 250 years old, hence they saw off the above-ground basket-shaped vine and continue ‘weaving’ with the old roots. How precious is this? One can only appreciate the depth these roots can reach when a powerline pole goes down. According to Nikos, they reach 9-11 metres deep. This perhaps explains how they can survive on so little, (330ml) annual, rainfall. In essence, one can only guestimate through oral accounts the age of the vines. There are 150- and 200-year-old ones scattered on the island. Soil specialists Claude and Lydia Bourgignon, who have researched on the island, claim that these are Europe's oldest vines, dating back 400 years. The recent arrival of more wineries has pushed grape prices up, renewing interest in replanting older or abandoned plots. This is a positive development in this under threat from building, much-diminished in size, unique vineyard.
One can argue Santo Wines (Union of Cooperatives) politics ad nauseam. What one cannot deny, is the incremental improvement of their wines. Chief oenologist Nikos Barbarigos continues to surprise. This new departure is not a marketing gimmick. It is a newly planted (4-5 years old), organically farmed, single-vineyard Assyrtiko in Episkopi. Towering above it is Profitis Ilias, the island’s limestone mountain (535m), which dates back some 45 million years. The topsoil of most of the current vineyards is ‘recent’, in geological terms, dating from the 1613 BC volcanic-eruption ashes covering most of today’s crescent-shaped island and a portion of the nearby island of Anafi.
With the ongoing boom of wine bars in Greece, the taste trends of the increasing number of wine lovers are changing. The search is on for discovering and enjoying wines of character. Who would have thought that sleeper Avgoustiatis from Zakynthos would have made such a splash? Xinomavro was an unlikely name to be mentioned, yet it now has supporters as passionate as Santorini Assyrtiko does. There is a small minority who find it hard to swallow the phenolic bite and sulphur character of these mineral-laden bone-dry wines. The gentler profile, without losing its tell-tale sense of place, of the wine under review here may be of interest. It is a fascinating glimpse, as vines do not have the deep-reaching roots discussed above. To my understanding, nothing comes close to this grapey, approachable, polished expression. Looking for some edutainment? ‘Relativity’ is a game that wine geeks love to play. Try the delicately perfumed Santo Wines Santorini 2014 and then the Organic reviewed here. Go back to your reference marker: Bingo! Even new-to-wine friends will get in on this tasting-is-believing exercise.
Synthetic closure. Smoky salinity, with lime qualities. Soft and lush, broad strokes of clean grapefruit, smooth, full-bodied, round mid-palate. Chalky notes with that bone-dry, mineral hallmark signature. Fleshy and luxurious. Citrus-toned, medium-long aftertaste. Gentle. Young vine playfulness. Best 2015–2019.
22 May 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 17/20
|Santo Wines Santorini Organic Wine Assyrtiko|
|Area: Aegean Islands|| |
The setting: the Venetian Grand Arsenal overlooking the port of Chania. A beautifully restored 15th-century dockyard, it is possibly the finest venue for a wine tasting in Greece. The 8th Oinotika was a well-organized, enlightening show. Large, airy room,...
The setting: the Venetian Grand Arsenal overlooking the port of Chania. A beautifully restored 15th-century dockyard, it is possibly the finest venue for a wine tasting in Greece. The 8th Oinotika was a well-organized, enlightening show. Large, airy room, cool temperature. A civilized flow of tasters that allowed wine scribes to do our business. Genuine engagement, good questions. Generous bonhomie and humour, encouraging the high amount of 30somethings attending. This was also an opportunity to meet the most obscure addresses, especially from the far-flung western reaches of this continent of an island.
On a west to east axis, highlights that stood out include:
Pnevmatikaki Kritopelagitis 2014 White: An intriguing blend of Vilana and Romeiko, with fruity earthiness.
Manousakis Mourvedre 2012: Perfumed, civilized, smooth tannins.
Dourakis Euphoria: A dessert wine from sun-dried Romeiko, orange wine minus all the funky stuff. Bergamot scented, silky.
Alexakis Athiri Dandelion: Textured, vineyard-driven minerality.
Maragakis 8th Art Vidiano 2014: One of the show’s brightest stars. White flowers bursting with pit stone fruit.
Douloufakis Dafnios Liatiko 2013 : Boldly scented, thought provoking.
Lyrarakis Mandilari 2012 Plakoura Vineyard: Spice, vinosity, class-leading ripe, tasty tannins.
Digenakis Marisini 2011 Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Liatiko. Clever blend where the terroir imprint dominates the (mostly) cosmopolitan grapes.
Diamantakis Vidiano-Assyrtiko 2014: Apricot fruit in a pungent, mineral cocktail.
Nikos Gavalas Fragospito 2014: Malvazia and Spinas Muscat organically farmed at 400 m. Sensual aromatics with a sense of place.
Stilianou Winery Kotsifali: Sun-dried-citrus-rind-infused nectar.
Idaia Gi 2010 Kotsifali-Mandilari: Brimming with old vine concentration.
Silva Daskalaki Enstikto 2010: Remarkable Syrah from 22 year-old vines from a high, well-draining plateau.
Strataridakis, the southernmost winery of Europe: A candidate for the finest Spinas Muscat on the isle. Focused, unusual depth, refined. Re-taste the dry one after daydreaming on the dessert version.
Beyond the show, getting around is another matter. Wine-tourism development is a no-go without a safe, modern road network. At best, roads date from the 1950s. Blind corners, potholes, destabilizing heaving, falling rocks. Simply dangerous. To paraphrase those famous lines from Zorba the Greek, the smashing film hit of the 1960s, ‘the complete catastrophy’. One has to adapt, slow down, escape from the main routes to Venetian-era built and restored villages, such as Kastelos. Or simply walk the numerous well-mapped gorges. Get lost in the maquis: home to marine fossils covered with rare herbs or miniature prinos oak. Watch rare birds on thermals readying the plunge attack. Climb, with guides, one of the island’s four majestic mountains, such as the Lefka Ori (2,400 m).
In discovering new to me addresses, I managed safely to do a nerve-wracking coast-to-coast run from Chania to Sitia. But I did not manage to run into a handful of addresses with faulty wines. Cellar hygiene issues, such as reductiveness or bret. These can be relatively easy to fix. There is also a break-away group which is over-delivering. Thanks to the rich diversity of their soil types, unique grape mix, altitude, north-facing vines cooled by the Aegean winds, the best of Crete are compelling wines. Much to report here.
One can easily fall into the trap of thinking that the life of a wine communicator is an endless parade of hedonic experiences, in the fine settings of winery tasting rooms, with unfolding views of neat rows of vines, or snow-capped mountain ranges. Nice ...
One can easily fall into the trap of thinking that the life of a wine communicator is an endless parade of hedonic experiences, in the fine settings of winery tasting rooms, with unfolding views of neat rows of vines, or snow-capped mountain ranges. Nice restaurants, even. The occasional pick nick with vineyard workers. Well, it does not always come like that. Being on the move, one has to strive to accommodate the workload of a host of other professionals, in what ends up being rather long days.
On a recent update with ampelographer Kostas Bakasietas, the best he could do to accommodate my flying visit in Nemea was 8:30 in the evening for a supper tasting. Translated into Greek time, this means sitting down at 9:15 – hardly the ideal time to taste. Thankfully, the Argitiki grill house has proper wine tasting glasses. The crowds had not arrived, and it was a smoke-free environment. Bakasietas brought to the table a portion of his 12-year-long clonal research from diverse regions. These were micro-vinifications of the 2014 harvest from a bevy of clones he had planted in his vineyards in Nemea. He kicked off with two Cretan specialties: a floral, spicy Vilana, followed by a vibrant Plyto. Both hitting typicity and a notch above in character. What followed was six clones of Moschofilero. This was like opening a new window. They were all different, and all offered more gravitas. It got my second wind going, making me really focused. Aromatics were varied. What stood out was structure and interesting tannins offering a spine we do not see in the current wines coming from the Arcadian plateau. It makes one sit up and think that there is a whole new world out there.
Virus-free, healthy planting material is invaluable. Yet, nothing gave away what was about to happen. Another Cretan specialty, red this time, a Kotsifali. Pale-coloured. The aromatics and soft seductive tannins, followed by a haunting aromatic complexity on the palate, were simply beyond words. I sat there speechless. This was a whole-body experience, such as when first tasting a Mazis Chambertin. Epiphany. Kostas is serious, hard working and modest. His face was glowing with satisfaction. Eventually, I collected myself and landed back or terra firma – well, almost. On my recent time on Crete, there was no hesitation in keeping Kotsifali on my dark-horse shortlist of red grapes. That gut-driven feeling that there is something going on here. Just taste recent vintages by Douloufakis and Lyrarakis. Yet, nothing in 23 years of covering Greek wine had prepared me for this moment. If planted in the right place and farmed, as it should be, according to the modern know-how, this is the next great international grape. Above Assyrtiko. That good.
1890 AD. A poor road network had most Xinomavro regions in relative isolation. Human and goods transport was limited. Vines were ungrafted. Then an American visitor arrived outside Thessaloniki and unleashed havoc: Phylloxera vastatrix. By the 1860s it h...
1890 AD. A poor road network had most Xinomavro regions in relative isolation. Human and goods transport was limited. Vines were ungrafted. Then an American visitor arrived outside Thessaloniki and unleashed havoc: Phylloxera vastatrix. By the 1860s it had devastated the French vineyards. For a short-term fix, inky-black Paros Mantilaria was shipped in cask to Marseilles to boost the thin and anaemic vin ordinaires. The pest eventually arrived in Greece, in 1890.
Varietal wines as we know them today were unknown at the time. Farmers had other priorities, foremost survival. The field blend in Naoussa included a hotchpotch Cinsault, ''Gallika''. Negoska was a solid partner to Goumenissa Xinomavro. Over the Mount Vermion, in the cooler-climate, isolated Amyndeo, newly arrived Pontic Greeks (1922) and nursery specialists from Anatoliki Romelia (today's southern Bulgaria) expanded Xinomavro planting by sourcing cuttings from old vines. The ever-resourceful Romelians, who were not allowed to practise cheese-making in Bulgaria, knew a thing or two about vine propagation. The furriers in Kastoria, and especially Siatista, kept another bank of rare Xinomavro clones in their marked continental climate. Here, vines struggled to mature; they therefore resorted to air-drying their grapes under cover inside their stone-built houses. Further south, on Rapsani hillsides, Xinomavro thrived alongside other unique local grapes. All this unfolded with the speed of a slow-framed Theo Angelopoulos' film until Phylloxera arrived. Then things went haywire.
This inherited Xinomavro panorama still remains today, however. It is as clear as mud. What happened next has had long-lasting ramifications, most of which we taste today in our glasses. Are there any old Naoussa clones about? One such wine is the cuvée nature made by Thymiopoulos Vineyards. It is hauntingly different. None of the tomato vine aromatics. Dense mulberry with spice. It is out of this world, yet so different from the allspice of old vines in Amyndeo. A few vineyards were perhaps replanted with the old Naoussa clone(s). Now, though, they end up blended in with the newer arrivals from Amyndeo, from where most of the Naoussa replanting material was sourced. Taste-wise, they are very different from the Amyndeo stock used in restoring the Naoussa vineyard in the 1970s. There is another factor to consider, though. Naoussa is a warmer site than Amyndeo. Until recently, Xinomavro from inland, isolated Velvendo came to prominence, with the discovery of different clones to all of the aforementioned. The Velvendo clones have now also been tried in Naoussa.
These are some of the points that have surfaced while I was trying to make sense of this delightful puzzle as I prepare a Xinomavro Master Class for my students in Switzerland. If there is a hidden gem in all this, it comes from an unsuspecting corner, and it is not my technician friends. The feedback from advanced-level students of the École du Vin is invaluable. They simply "look" at the tasting panorama of mesoclimates and sites as we enjoy the great wines of the Piemonte. We receive by giving.
Originally published in Monopol