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 Kotsifali 2012 : 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.
Moschofilero is a pink-skinned grape of many biotypes. From the dozens of indigenous grapes used in today's Greek wines, it stands apart. It is not savoury. Its aromatic, high-acid, grapey profile place it stylistically between Argentina's Torrontes and S...
Peloponnese | White | Moschofilero
Moschofilero is a pink-skinned grape of many biotypes. From the dozens of indigenous grapes used in today's Greek wines, it stands apart. It is not savoury. Its aromatic, high-acid, grapey profile place it stylistically between Argentina's Torrontes and Spain's Albarinho. Recent clonal research is offering a new lease of life to this ageing vineyard. Thanks to the relentless work of VNB Nurseries ampelographer Kostas Bakasietas, after a 12-year research period, the recently tasted 6 clones all offer gravitas: namely structure and definition.
Three names have made their mark on the Mantinia plateau in central Peloponnesos. Andreas Cambas’s genius for selecting – in the 1900s – this cooler climate to make “Champagne”. If you are ever visiting this later-ripening region, do pay a visit to what initially is a nondescript cement-vat winery. The significance of this, so advanced in its time, industrial piece of wine history still leaves one marvelling at the vision of this entrepreneur who built a drinks empire from a distillery on today's chic Rigilis Street. His grape source? The now mostly urban hillsides of Kaisiariani.
The late Konstantinos Antonopoulos was a scion of important raisin merchants who, in 1922, bought in auction the historic Achaia-Clauss in the foothills of Patra. His daring, for 1993, Antonopoulos Vineyards Orina Ktimata was the first modern Moschofilero. Bone-dry and crisp, it helped change then-current drinking habits from oxidised-oily to fresh tasting and vivacious. Its meteoric, from zero to hero commercial success was a game changer and put still, dry Mantinia on the map.
Greek-Cypriot Yiannis Tselepos has taken over the mantle. He has committed much of his energies to exploring the potential of this region and its fragrant grape. There is another approach which Tselepos has instigated: that of naturally enriching the wine by allowing it on its natural fine sediment. There is a lot of goodness in there and it fits the floral spicy character of Moschofilero like a glove. Though his regular Mantinia is enjoyed in its youth, this lees-enriched blanc de gris takes some time to come into its own. If there is an issue with this now smarter label and Mosel-like bottle, it is that it is made in a limited quantity. There are lengthy periods when it is not available. But it is worth the wait.
'Grey' hued. Rose petal-lychee fragrance. Intense complex structure. Seamless oak support leading to distinctive creamy apricot aftertaste. Emphatic statement. Full bodied. Not for casual enjoyment. Be adventurous: chillies, garlick, cilantro & lemongrass would be a great place to start. Best 2015 -2018.
01 Apr 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 17/20
|Ktima Tselepou Blanc de Gris|
|Area: Peloponnese|| |
Sauvignon Blanc is ubiquitous. Though it does not scale the heights of Riesling, Chenin Blanc, or Assyrtiko, it scores high in awakening one's senses. Brilliantly matches oysters and other metallic- iodine-tasting shellfish. Passes the goat-cheese salad t...
Macedonia | White | Sauvignon blanc
Sauvignon Blanc is ubiquitous. Though it does not scale the heights of Riesling, Chenin Blanc, or Assyrtiko, it scores high in awakening one's senses. Brilliantly matches oysters and other metallic- iodine-tasting shellfish. Passes the goat-cheese salad test. Pungently aromatic and crisp, with rare exceptions it fails to deliver the middle part of the story, though. Yet, its popularity grows by the mouthful. It has the knack to remind you of its presence. An actor delivering fireworks in the first act but lacking the firing power and stamina to enthrall his audience through to the end.
Old vines carry wisdom. They go a long way in covering up imperfections. In fewer words, they say more. I recently advocated in these pages that the way forward for Amyndeon is the micro-parcel route. Thanks to its sandy-clay topsoil lying on limestone bedrock, there are nuances to explore. Droumo was planted in 1990. It is one of the earliest of its kind. Moreover, it is in the right microclimate. With no maritime influence from the Ionian or Aegean, this 550-700 m. landlocked plateau has the diurnal temperature difference to protect and enhance the attractive aspects of SB profile. 2014 was not an easy vintage. Cloud cover and harvest rains left their mark. Yet, in certain instances, it lent a helping hand. Such as this reviewed wine. Chief oenologist Antonis Kiosseoglou has brought stability to Kir Yianni. He now understands its numerous vineyard sites, how to blend them, or not. Droumo is the first; others may follow. This applies to Amyndeon and Naoussa. So, if you are in the mood for a SB on the Burgundy axis, look no further than this maiden release.
Perfumed, cool-climate blackcurrant allure. Crunchy, concentrated fruity acidity, padded out with yeasty complexity. Bone-dry flintiness. Notable depth. Whetstone. Persistent zesty frame. Single-vineyard signature. Class-leading Sauvignon Blanc. Best 2015–2019.
18 Mar 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 18/20
|Kir Yianni Droumo Sauvignon Blanc|
|Area: Macedonia|| |
|Variety: Sauvignon blanc|
Wine made from ungrafted vines is rare. Examples include Charles Jogue's Cabernet franc in Chinon, Chateau Barejat in Madiran, topped by the ethereal Domaine Gramenon in the Rhone. In broad terms, ungrafted vines give introspective, less showy wines. Inv...
Peloponnese | Red | Agiorgitiko
Wine made from ungrafted vines is rare. Examples include Charles Jogue's Cabernet franc in Chinon, Chateau Barejat in Madiran, topped by the ethereal Domaine Gramenon in the Rhone.
In broad terms, ungrafted vines give introspective, less showy wines. Invariably, they echo the wines produced from the same grape variety using phylloxera-resistant rootstock. One such recent example on my travels was the Domaine Karanika Amyndeo Xinomavro Palea Klimata.
The current discovery has been consulting oenologist Panos Zoumboulis’s long-held dream. His experience with Nemea spans 25 years. This is no ordinary Agiorgitiko. LTM Palies Rizes is relevant to our lifespan. One-off gems like Flora Damigou's memorable 1895 Santorini Vinsanto, shared in London with Jancis Robinson, Maggie McNie, and Steven Spurrier, will outlive us. When 70-year-olds speak, one listens carefully. It is a form of sharing the essence of life-long learning and experience.
Now living in Greece, French-born and -educated vineyardist-oenologist Elsa Picard shared her insights in this first effort. She has been instrumental, under Zoumboulis’s guidance, in developing the ambitious La Tour Melas Estate in Achinos, Fthiotida. When one is lucky enough to find such a rarity in Nemea, nobody quite knows how it will turn out. Zoumboulis illuminates: “We have no idea how old it is – 100, 110, 120? Moreover, there is a further, characteristically Greek, twist: It is sitting on ancient ruins. If it is grubbed up, it cannot be replanted. The old boy who farmed it died. A friend of his continues to take care of it.” This wonderful story is of a prisoner of sorts, trapped by antiquities legislature. There are 1.800 bottles of this reviewed wine. How often do you come across an enjoyable wine from vines of an age we are unlikely to reach?
Purple-blue rimmed. Dark, for this variety. Whiff of crushed peppercorn. Restrained aroma of black cherries. Followed by intensely fruited, concentrated vinous roundness. Silky texture. Impressive long finish, with repeat cherries on the viscous aftertaste. A modern, well-made take from very old vines. A fascinating glimpse of Agiorgitiko’s multifaceted aroma and suave tannin profile. Complex and refined. Singular. Best 2015–23.
03 Mar 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 17.5/20
|La Tour Melas Palies Rizes|
|Area: Peloponnese|| |
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