As a steward of the land Nikos Douloufakis takes the long view. The conversion to organic viticulture is now in it's second decade. Rootstock, clonal selection, pruning methods are questioned and adapted to climate change challenges. Fermenting in small...
Crete | Sparkling | Vidiano
As a steward of the land Nikos Douloufakis takes the long view. The conversion to organic viticulture is now in it's second decade. Rootstock, clonal selection, pruning methods are questioned and adapted to climate change challenges. Fermenting in small tanks his vineyards apart is another dividend paying approach. This new departure was born from a dilemma. Situated on the cooler-site of Ayios Thomas 600m, a 20 year old Vidiano vineyard had one drawback. It did not fully ripen in every vintage. Quality was not an issue it is one of the top expressions of this star grape. What were the options? Rip it up, plant some early maturing grape. It was not an easy decision but one that had to be taken. Inspiration came from earlier in life experience. While studying oenology, he was intrigued by the methode traditionelle of the Champegnois. So, natures call, helped him formulate the way forward: spare the vines and start making sparkling Vidiano. This is a first. Others are bound to follow. Yet, again, Crete reaches deeper into it's impressive potential, by tapping into mountain landscapes and complex tapestry of soil types, in this instance limestone marls, and unique grapes. This effort is the latest game changer from the continent-island. What will they think of next?
Vivid golden yellow. Small beaded lively threads. Creamy pit stone notes. Toasted brioche from 24 months of autolysis. Persistent elegant mineral chalky freshness. Energy and precision. Bone dry. Classy. A whole new aromatic and flavour spectrum for this style of wine. Closest: a bold grower Champagne Chardonnay. More gravitas than Mantinia Moschofilero. A counterpoint to Amyndeo's Xinomavro and blends. Look beyond rich in iodine shellfish or savoury Greek dishes. Thai with its hot spice and lemon grass coriander leaf freshness are a great match – ditto for turmeric perfumed dishes. Drink 2016-2020.
07 Dec 2016 © Nico Manessis | Score: 18/20
|Douloufakis Sparkling Brut|
|Area: Crete|| |
Standing at a road side fruit stall. In the distance, a banana plantation. Behind me, a sandy beach leading to a dense palm forest like no other. I start eating a physalis. Continue with a small sized banana, lastly some papino. The tropics? Almost. It is...
Crete | Red | Liatiko
Standing at a road side fruit stall. In the distance, a banana plantation. Behind me, a sandy beach leading to a dense palm forest like no other. I start eating a physalis. Continue with a small sized banana, lastly some papino. The tropics? Almost. It is the sub-tropics. This is Vai, on Crete's north far-eastern tip. The fruit stall belongs to farmer Nikos Troulinos. He illuminates: the palm trees are a protected species first mentioned by writer Theophrastos (4BC). Not far, towards the town of Sitia, my destination: the Holy Monastery of Toplou.
As the road meanders, natures landscape shifts from sub-tropical to arid wind-swept rich in schist wine country. We stop to admire the restored foot press built in 1709 by Abbott Kallinikos. Closer to the Monastery, vines are planted at 195m-280m. There are 30 hectares of organically farmed Thrapsathiri, Vilana, Assyrtiko. Chardonnay. Red skinned grapes include Liatiko, Mandilari, Merlot, Syrah. Interestingly, there is a single vineyard of un-grafted Liatiko. What is a surreal sight is the wind farm on the ridge rim overlooking these vineyards.
Oenologist Manthos Gialitakis puts dark horse Liatiko in perspective. ''It comes into it's own after a year of bottle ageing. We had no reference point. We are getting a handle on it's dynamics, it does best with some new light toasted oak and mostly second fill casks''. Consulting oenologist, the cosmopolitan in experience and outlook, Manolis Stafilakis has been guiding the Monastery's revival. As we are tasting in the cellar Abbot Filotheos joins us. A commanding personality. Little changed, since our first meeting in 1997. After illuminating us on the monastery's WWII histories he recounted that as a novice, working in the Sitia hinterland, he came across: ''Liatiko, Voidomato, Plyto, Thrapsathiri, Moschato Spinas, Kotsifali, Lakidino and Mavri Robola''. He declined our sundowner tsikoudia(clear grape spirit)paired with picked from the garden wild-artichoke and took off to inspect olives in his rebuilt long wheelbase Land Rover.
In today's world, Sitia is famous as a source of premium olive oil. The Toplou monastery built in 2000, one of the most tasteful in architecture, state of the art, olive press. It has been a success in bolstering local economy and image making. During the Athens held 2004 summer Olympics a new winery was built. Island demand for tsikoudia plus a supply of first class pomace was followed by a distillery. The contrast of the dessert-like Sitia landscape to the 250kms due-west verdant Chania, which receives three times higher annual rainfall, is just one of Crete's trump cards. This, one of a kind wine, illustrates the islands lesser-known diversity.
2014 Liatiko 85% - Mandilari 15%. Luscent amber ruby. ''Sweet'' plumb fruit, red cherries. Earthy spicy notes. Tannic, high-acid Mandilari compliments pale coloured Liatiko and offers stability to blossom and age. Liatiko's brooding spice fragrance is captivating. A richer, warmer attractive expression, from the other cooler higher plateaus of Handràs and Ziros. Such, off the beaten path styles, are exactly what on the international circuit sommeliers are on the look out for. Best: 2017-2021.
28 Sep 2016 © Nico Manessis | Score: 17.5/20
|Liatiko - Mandilari, The Holy Monastery of Toplou|
|Area: Crete|| |
|Variety: Liatiko / Mandilari|
Stelios Alexakis has, for decades, been a towering, standard-setting figure in wine. Nationwide, colleagues hold him in high esteem for his long-lasting professionalism. If you are patient and live long enough, things come full-circle. A new dawn has spru...
Crete | White | Assyrtiko
Stelios Alexakis has, for decades, been a towering, standard-setting figure in wine. Nationwide, colleagues hold him in high esteem for his long-lasting professionalism. If you are patient and live long enough, things come full-circle. A new dawn has sprung in this historic winery, built on the Peridi Metohi, now a suburb of sprawling Heraklion. Concrete vats are back in demand. For good reason: tasting Kotsifali and Mandilari and their élevage makes it obvious why their shares are on the rise. Attention to detail in the renovated and updated 1960s winery, which features a rare layout, is a case study of industrial design. And a treasure-trove for energy-saving tips, such as a protective roof above the top vats, enabling them to be cooled by natural airflow – one of several clever ideas in this winery that’s ahead of its time.
Stelios Alexakis’s two sons, Lazaros and Apostolos, studied in Florence and Fresno State, California, respectively. Lazaros works with grape sourcing, sales and marketing. Apostolos heads wine-making and quality control. Their environmental-sensitivity holy grails: re-using grape pomace to local farmers, who are more than happy to collect free animal feed. They also donate their wastewater to the local municipality. A little-known fact: a boutique winery has been started within the winery. From it, a series of exciting blends from a patchwork of single vineyards above Heraklion are emerging. An experienced agronomist, Dimitris Tsoupeis, has joined them as vineyard manager. Recent investment includes vineyards in the highly thought of sub-regions of Agios Thomas and Venerato. “As we become commercially secure with the new wines, we will move out to the Agios Thomas estate,” Lazaros says. And Apostolos adds, “We are fortunate that we have our father’s life-long efforts in supporting the new venture.” All their wines offer a good quality price ratio. The all-Greek blends, Kariki, are a steal.
In the local dialect, Kariki is the fallow space in between vine rows. The fruit of this wine is sourced from Patira and Alagni (350–500m). Equal parts of Assyrtiko and Athiri (subject to vintage). More fragrant and gentler than any Santorini or any other known source of this pair of star grapes, packing a lot of character for a wine of only 12% alcohol by volume. Crammed with expressive fruit, polished mineral core. Insistent character from high-altitude, cooler-climate sites. A sense of place reflecting Crete’s Southern-Aegean expression. A find. Best 2016–2019.
24 May 2016 © Nico Manessis | Score: 16.5/20
|Alexakis Kariki (Assyrtiko-Athiri)|
|Area: Crete|| |
|Variety: Assyrtiko / Athiri|
Day 2: 1999–1969 Economou 1999 Sitia: 18.5/20 Pale-brick red. Very much on form. A virtual cross between old Burgundy and a Rinaldi aged Barolo. Though the blend is touted as Liatiko-Mandilari, there are other local Aegean age-old specialties like Vo...
Day 2: 1999–1969
Economou 1999 Sitia: 18.5/20
Pale-brick red. Very much on form. A virtual cross between old Burgundy and a Rinaldi aged Barolo.
Though the blend is touted as Liatiko-Mandilari, there are other local Aegean age-old specialties like Voudomato, not to mention 100-plus-year-old vines and the 500m Ziros plateau, which make all the difference. Nature’s wisdom in a bottle. Remarkable address from Europe’s easternmost-lying vineyard. Poured in New York’s Per Se restaurant by the glass for USD25.
Boutari 1999 Naoussa Grande Reserve: 16/20
Brown, balsamic. Gracefully fading. Not an easy vintage; in context, a top effort.
Gaia Estate 1998 Nemea: 17.5/20
Youthful. Tight. Not expressive. Holding together beautifully. Black-cherry essence. The first vintage where climate change was felt in this region, the largest in Greece.
Economou 1998 Sitia: 12/20
Dead as a dodo.
Chateau Carras 1997: 18/20
Shockingly fresh. Fine Cabernet cassis fragrance. Depth. Delicious smokey, mineral-laden
schist signature. Supple tannins. As exceptional as the superb 1993.
Kir-Yianni 1997 Ramnista Magnum: 17.5/20
Lively. ‘Sweet’ nose, wet-earth notes. A wet and cool vintage saved by a warm and dry late autumn.
Gaia Estate 1997 Nemea Magnum: 17/20
Maiden vintage of the wine that scooped the highest ever ratings from the jurors at the first Thessaloniki Wine Competition, in 1999. Dark, with no signs of brown on the rim. Initially reductive but opens up. Real energy throughout. Drying dusty tannins on the finish. A survivor.
Antonopoulos 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon: 17/20
Relatively young vines planted by the charismatic late Constantine Antonopoulos on the estate at Vassiliko – on the road from Patras to Kalavryta. Cassis vibrancy. Complexity. Focused tannins add class and structure. Real energy throughout. Constantine must be smiling down on us.
Ktima Foundi Naoussa 1996: 15/20
Tomato paste, tannic, lacks fruit. Old-fashioned.
Gerovassiliou 1996: 15/20
Meaty, mocha. Reductive, short.
Chateau Carras 1994: 16.5/20
Very ripe, spiced red fruits. Firm integrated tannins. Lean for this estate’s form at the time. A hot vintage. Something is lost in translation.
Chateau Carras 1993: 18.5/20
Vibrantly youthful colour. Juicy. Composed. Signature mineral tow from the silky tannin frame. Outstanding – a landmark. Who knows what it could achieve in magnum!
Gerovassiliou 1993: 14/20
Dusty notes, muted. On the way out.
Chateau Carras 1991 Magnum: 14/20
Drying on an unripe backbone. A wet harvest, and it shows.
Chateau Carras 1990: 14/20
Earthy, balsamic notes.
Boutari Naoussa 1990: 17/20
Then a widely available wine, with one of the best price-quality ratios in the market. Good length and intensity. A very pretty bottle. At its peak. Super stuff.
Cava Hatzimichali 1990: 14/20
Tired on the nose. Cabernet-Sauvignon firm tannins. Dull aftertaste. Past its best.
Chateau Carras 1987: 16/20
Now, this is a surprise. Tasted Burgundian, perhaps more so after identity was revealed. The magic in wine. Go figure! Have no experience with these vintages. Again and again, wine has the last word.
Chateau Carras 1985: 14/20
Amber-brown. Rusty flavoured.
Chateau Carras 1980: Corked
Chateau Clauss 1978: 14.5/20
Mavrodaphne, with some Cabernet Sauvignon? Just hanging in there. One of the least interesting older wines of the tasting. Expected more.
Chateau Clauss 1973: Corked
Boutari Naoussa 1969: 19/20
Tasted two bottles. The first one was like grand Burgundy: Chambolle Musigny with Greek gumption. Lightning-like presence flashing through all its expressions. The second bottle was even better. Fresher aromatics, if possible; more pep in the mid-palate. Have never experienced such rhythm in a wine. Beyond belief. Not spitting, but drinking here! On the second bottle, my notes include: ‘Voodoo juice – what fuelled this spaceship?’ Pale-brown Albeisa heavy glass. Original price tag: 4,5 Drachmas. Hands down the star of the tasting. A once-in-a-lifetime experience.
This was a history-in-the-making two-day celebration, held with impeccable service at the new-to-me W&F restaurant in fashionable Kolonaki. There were messages from the old guard as well as newer blood. Properly stored and patiently aged, Greek red wines evolve gracefully into eloquent bottles with a story to tell. If any of you are starting out down this route, you could safeguard your efforts and enjoyment by having corks changed every 15 years. We are all indebted to Yiannis Theodorou and his coterie of friends’ generous initiatives. It reaches beyond just a clutch of gastronomes’ passions. In sharing with neophytes and like-minded friends, at home and abroad, in a plethora of platforms, he is the stuff of legends. One could not dream of a better ambassador in flying the culinary and vinous flag.
Greek Academy of Gastronomy 40 Years of Red Wine: 2009–1969 I first met Yiannis Theodorou when we were both living in France. His profound knowledge in food and wine pairing made an impression. A true ‘garden-of-France’ man, who speaks French with...
Greek Academy of Gastronomy
40 Years of Red Wine: 2009–1969
I first met Yiannis Theodorou when we were both living in France. His profound knowledge in food and wine pairing made an impression. A true ‘garden-of-France’ man, who speaks French with gusto and pride. Upon returning to Athens, he embarked on a successful business career. Also, quietly, bought French, Hungarian, Austrian. Shrewdly, he focused on up-and-coming addresses. He championed Jura long before it became a world trend. Staying current and supporting true food artisans and off-piste insider restaurants is a lifelong pursuit. He also took a punt on the then unreported, obscure Greek wine scene. While Retsina fuelled popular tourism, he squirreled. Over three decades, he put together a unique collection.
Let’s step back in time. Greece joined what was then European Community in 1981. To my understanding, it was 1985 when structural funds started to flow in wine. By the time I researched and published my first The Greek Wine Guide (1994), the 34 featured boutique producers were signalling serious salvos to the four large-volume merchant houses. If memory serves me well, I had enjoyed at best ten red wines during my rare Greece visits during that gap from 1971–1992.
They were then more dependable than the unstable, oxidized whites. Today’s Greek wine involves as many as 900 wineries. As I boarded the Athens-bound flight my curiosity reached higher than the 31-thousand-feet cruising altitude. Wines prior to climate change. Lower yields. How did they age? My mind went into overdrive. Theodorou invested for pleasure, not to speculate, or trade. Storage was impeccable, with temperature 11–14° C. For a commentator, filling this gap was a priceless experience. All wines tasted blind. Identities revealed at the end of each flight.
Day 1: 2009–1999
Thymiopoulos 2009 Jeunes Vignes Magnum: 17.5/20
Dark for the variety, faint orange rim. Perfumed. Leather, gamey, juicy. Energetic. Naoussa? A vintage of cloud-cover. Full of life. Will age for another 5 years. At this standard-setting address, JV are 9-15 years old.
Zafeirakis 2009 Paleomylos Sangiovese-Syrah-Cabernet Franc Magnum: 17/20
Ruby ‘sweet nose’, smokey, pyritic. Earthiness. Many years ahead.
Agios Hronos 2009 Avantis Estate Syrah-Viognier Magnum: 17.5/20
Dark, focused. Modern. Good fruit, tar, mineral tow. Exciting. One of the more successful vintages of this Côte-Rotie-inspired effort.
Hatzidakis 2009 Mavrotragano: 16.5/20
Feral, drying tannins. Botanic notes. Spicy. Vinous. The first vintage where the stylistic shift towards a fruitier, more precise, ‘softer’ profile is obvious. This upward trend continues.
Sigalas 2009 Mavrotragano Magnum: 16/20
Dusty, dense, balsamic. Drying-out tannin. Closed. Give it time.
Avantis Estate 2009 Collection Syrah: 16.5/20
Purple. Spicy, savoury tones. Viscous. Pepper edge. Ripe and firm tannins.
Papagiannakos Kalogeri 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Magnum: 16/20
Dark ruby. Heat. Closed. Well-padded tannin backbone lends to further ageing.
Zafeirakis 2008 Limniona: 17.5/20
Floral. Perfumed, delicate. Pinot-noir-like class and finesse. Silky. Who would have thought from the Tyrnavos western fringes? In the past, it was famous for Retsina and cheap-and-cheerful, crown-capped Muscat of Hamburg. ‘It took me eight years to understand how to farm Limniona’ speaks volumes of this rising star.
Sylva Daskalaki 2008 Syrah-Kotsifali: 17/20
Very dark. Exotic aromatics. Fine-grained tannins. Allspice. Old vines showing breed, with depth and length. Signalling how well these two grapes feed off one another, creating a new flavour spectrum.
Sclavos 2008 Orgion Mavrodaphne: 16.5/20
Dark brick red. Tincture. Funky natural wine from centenary vines on clay topsoil in Paliki, south-western Cephalonia. Recent vintages are less funky.
Domaine Karanika 2008 Xinomavro: 17.5/20
Restrained florality. Fleshy on the palate, leading to a juicy fruit finish. Elegant. Balanced. Understated class. Made from ungrafted xinomavro planted in 1912, a piece of Amyndeo history. Bears little resemblance to today’s grafted XM. Achieves much, with lower ABV%.
Alpha Estate 2008 Xinomavro Reserve, vieilles vignes: 18/20
Bright, vibrant purple. Strawberry-scented. Electric charge. Highly strung. Arab thoroughbred galloping through Amyndeo sand dune. Serious. A modern rendition of an old block of vines.
Skouras 2007 Grande Cuvee: 17/20
Perfumed. Truffles and mushrooms, warm-fruited black cherries. Not short of character. Idiosyncratic. Always different, standing apart from other Nemeas. Sort of inside-out.
Mitravelas 2007 Estate: 17.5/20
Mid-red, vibrant freshness, youthful-looking. Melted tannins, with enough acidity to keep it going for several more years. Bush vines. Vineyard-driven Nemea. One of the tasting’s surprises.
Domaine Zafeirakis 2007 Paleomylos Sangiovese-Syrah: 17.5/20
Spicy, generous, gutsy. Black olives, botanical, camphor. A lot going on here. Singular character. In ten short years this estate grew from strength to strength thanks to precision farming and vision in the cellar. His large Austrian oak uprights are one of many changes.
Ktima Voyatzis 2007 Tsapournakos: 16.5/20
Orange rim. ‘Sweet’ nose. Tobacco-leaf notes. Drying. Needs aerating. From a Cabernet-franc clone planted locally in 1915 (?) by French soldiers, or railroad engineers laying tracks throughout Northern Greece. Not by accident that Cinsault, aka Gallika, is to be found not far from these lines in Greek Thrace all the way to the Turkish border.
Boutari Terroir 3 Naoussa 2007 Xinomavro: 17/20
In your face. Vinous. Tannic. Though an incomplete picture, it is compelling. Part of the worthy and tireless research Yiannis Voyatzis has been conducting for years now.
Boutari Terroir 1 Naoussa 2007 Xinomavro: 17/20
Stewed fruit, raisins. Shows heat and melted tannins. From a Trilofos single vineyard. Now the ‘1879’.
Domaine Dalamaras 2007 Triadikos: 16.5/20
So fresh for this hot, rainless vintage. Off-beat, experimental cuvée.
Domaine Dalamaras 2007 Paliokalias: 16.5/20
Intense perfume. Cinnamon. Issues with firm, drying tannins.
Alpha Estate 2007 Xinomavro, vieilles vignes Magnum: 16.5/20
Lean and wiry. Austere, with bouncy freshness. None of the excitement and gravitas of the 2008.
Alpha Estate 2007 Tannat: 17/20
Ticking all boxes in the varietal check list. Tannins and acidity aplenty. Drying streak on the finish. Angelos Iatridis pet project harking back to his time in Bordeaux.
Ekonomou 2006 Sitia: 17.5/20
Garnet. Gamey. Textured. ‘Sweet’. Bottle variation a factor, oscillating from sublime to indifferent.
Alpha Estate 2006 Syrah: 17/20
Dark. Textbook black-pepper aromatics. Shows why this sun-and-wind grape has adapted so well in cooler-climate Amyndeo. Aromatics are Northern-Rhone, with a Greek twist. Freshness keeps it interesting. Shows a lot better than when released.
Alpha Estate 2006 Xinomavro-Syrah-Merlot: 17.5/20
Fresh, vibrant. Complete. Very good. To age further. The first vintage of this ambitious estate, with complex floral aromatics and structure. Merlot bridging the spicy Syrah and vivacious Xinomavro.
Avantis Estate 2006 Syrah Collection: 18/20
Classy aromatics akin to fireworks. Textbook ripe fruit, with finely grained tannins. Silk. Near-perfect. Vineyard imprint is a joy. Has years ahead of it. A rare homogeneous vintage throughout Greece.
Oinopoiitiki Monemvasias 300 2005 Agiorgitiko-Mavroudi: 16.5/20
Healthy, fruity nose. Spicy, earthy edge on the long aftertaste. An elegant vintage. From the fringe of the easternmost leg of the Peloponnese. In the shadow of the medieval walled town of Monemvasia. Drink up.
Ktima Foundis 2005 Naoussa: 15/20
Spicy. Some heat. Drying. Short aftertaste. Rarely does this label top the same producers’ more approachable Naoussea, which outperformed the Ktima again in the splendid 2007.
Kir-Yianni 2005 Ramnista Magnum: 17/20
Beautiful, complex. Depth and ‘sweet’ throughout a sprinting finish. Second-best showing after the ethereal 2001 Ramnista.
Mitravelas Estate 2005 Nemea: 17/20
Oriental spice. Not the first time that Agiorgitiko apes a Côtes-de-Beaune. Not as impressive as the broader 2007. A surprise for its aliveness. One of the more consistent Nemea addresses.
Chateau Semeli 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon: 17/20
Sweet-fruited, almost lush. Vinous, velvety smooth. Difficult to pin this to the cooler, elevated Stamata, about an hour from central Athens. Would be a great blind-tasting ringer. What an elegant, whispering, not shouting vintage in all of Greece '05 was.
Avantis 2005 Collection: 17.5/20
Initially reductive. Opens up to a pretty bottle. Poised, complex. Highly polished. From a porous, well-draining, stoney vineyard in Boeotia. Aromatic, one of the finest, classiest varietal fireworks around.
Semeli 2004 Grande Reserve: 14.5/20
Soft, accessible, red-cherries hallmark. Drying, short.
Papaioannou 2004 Terroir: 15.5/20
Youthful-looking, dark colour. Unusual nose. One-dimensional palate. Not ageing well. Chunky, old-school. The world of Nemea has moved on.
Gerovassiliou 2004 Syrah: 17/20
Richly perfumed. Softly dry, with elegant tannins. Earthy character, with that cooler-fruited notes from a protracted vintage. In great shape.
Kir-Yianni 2001 Ramnista: 17.5/20
One of the finest expressions prior to the shift embracing modernism with the 2011. Uncompromising old school: aromatics to die for. Rose hips, leather, sous bois. Tea leaf on the textured, lively palate. Such an elegant pretty vintage following the heatwave-plagued, dry 2000.
Antonopoulos 2000 Gerontoklima Rematias Vertzami-Cabernet Franc Magnum: 18/20
One of two intriguing wines of the tasting. Not for everyone. Dusty notes, opening up to violets and tobacco leaf. Gravitas from two mega-character grapes. Ripe, gamey, smokey, mineral tow, edgy acid. Compact, long, angular bone-dry tannic bite. Savoury aftertaste. Challenging and intellectual. Satisfying.
The Mediterranean cultural diversity and its progressive human achievements are bewildering. The Cyprus copper route spurred new levels of sophistication on Rhodes and Santorini. Their refined pottery, frescoes and advanced city-state economy are simply b...
The Mediterranean cultural diversity and its progressive human achievements are bewildering. The Cyprus copper route spurred new levels of sophistication on Rhodes and Santorini. Their refined pottery, frescoes and advanced city-state economy are simply breathtaking. The ever enterprising Phoenicians were not only trading wine but became history’s first art dealers. On central Crete, the foot press of Vathypetro, in the limestone-rich hills above Heraklion, shows how valued wine was for these sophisticated societies. The commercial law-inscribed tablets and hallmarked amphorae in the museum of Thassos are as relevant today as they were in 350BC. Essentially, wine was tasted by a committee, and granting tax-paid appellation of origin gave birth to complex trading laws. Thassios oenos was a grand cru in its time, selling at up to four times the price of generic wines.
For centuries, these trading bases moved from east to west around this mid-earth pond. Astronomy and mathematics perfected marine navigation. The known world was never to be the same again. More recently, a little-known change of direction springing from Greece into the islands, shoreline and mountain slopes of the Eastern Mediterranean has been taking place. A clutch of technicians, viticulturists, nursery specialists and consulting oenologists are now bringing about change on Cyprus and a vineyard- and winery-investment frenzy in Lebanon and Israel.
A leading Cyprus figure, the late Akis Zambartas knew the way forward after the, frozen in time “Cyprus sherry” period. Heading a team of specialists, he drew a list of 14 completely unknown indigenous grape varieties. A visit with him to Mt Troodos villages is memorable. With great ease, he slipped into, incomprehensible to me archaic Greek. He was quizzing the ageing farmer on white Spourtiko and red Maratheftiko. Amongst others from this list, Yiannoudi (red) is now singled out as highly promising. Stephanos Koundouras, professor at the University of Thessaloniki, has been consulting on viticulture to numerous wineries over a decade. Ampelographer and nursery owner Kostas Bakassietas is presently helping in producing new, virus-free plants, as well as in how to select and match vines to older or newer place names. Climate change? Cypriots are planting higher, with red vines now up to 700m. The white Xinisteri can now be found up at 1500m. A single vineyard Xinisteri has just bagged the first Gold medal at the 2015 Decanter World Wine Awards. Cyprus has been energised by dozens of boutique estates. There are growing pains, though. Several terroir-driven wines are indications of changes afoot. Thanks to newly planted vineyards coupled with precise farming techniques, once sleeper Cyprus, beyond world-class commandaria, is on course to realising its potential.
Lebanon has a bonanza of new vineyards and wineries. If the better-known Beeka Valley lies at 1000m, investment is pouring into the clay-limestone plateaus of Barka and Ainata (1600–1950m). The French-influenced past focused on red blends. Bakassietas is supplying not only Bordeaux and Rhone specialties, but he has added Assyrtiko and Aghiorghitiko. With diurnal temperature variation, I am betting on some interesting wines coming on stream. Research is not limited to aforementioned imports. Very curious to see more of the under-revival rare indigenous white Obaideh, which bears resemblance to a hypothetical Monemvasia-Athiri-Xinisteri cross.
Israel has high-altitude vineyards, too. Early investment from the Rothchilds cast a red-centric culture. White-wine interest is now booming. Athens TEI professor and veteran winemaker Yiannis Paraskevopoulos is consulting to M.A.I.A. (Mediterranean Approach Israeli Art). One of the most progressive, open-minded ventures, which belongs to the Tulip winery. The development of a Mediterranean range has spurred identity searching, with a balance of white and red, including the brilliantly named Mare Nostrum. Bakassietas is also in Israel, consulting M.A.I.A., bringing not only his French-vine insight of what works how and best in hot climates, but also his expertise with the new generation of great Greek grapes, in another history-in-the-making moment.
Wine diplomacy is one of the most exciting positive developments to emerge from the crisis. However, unexplored dynamics and broader synergies beckon for further exploration. The Lebanese and Israelis are brilliant traders. Their powerful worldwide networks could be the first in modern times, when different cultures of so much history share mutually beneficial regional identity. Sommeliers love to explore off-the-beaten-path stuff. Just think of fascinating content under an Eastern-Mediterranean umbrella. There is another factor: modern-day tablets access another world, beyond what the 350BC Thassos prototype ever could.