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|| |
In another life, one of the features was a profile of Santorini’s unique vineyard in The Greek Wine Guide, 1996 Edition. This jewel of an island vineyard was then promising, yet unknown to foreign markets. It was obvious that these penetrating, before c...
Aegean Islands | White | Assyrtiko
In another life, one of the features was a profile of Santorini’s unique vineyard in The Greek Wine Guide, 1996 Edition. This jewel of an island vineyard was then promising, yet unknown to foreign markets. It was obvious that these penetrating, before chilling chambers, angular, bone-dry wines would create a cult following, spearheading modern Greek wine out of relative anonymity. Such an improbable, windswept vineyard was too much of a good story not to become a darling by switched-on merchants and sommeliers looking for something different.
It seems like yesterday (summer 1995) that the late George Venetsanos took me to his winery, perched on the caldera’s rim, to discuss details of how master builder Tzorzis Saliveros and he set out in 1947, and completed in 1949, this one-of-a-kind gravity-fed winery. One still marvels at the inclined floor so water would self-drain. At the Venetian-era know-how steps where transported goods, solid or liquid, would remain shoulder horizontal. In the winery’s belly, the two giant pear-shaped water cisterns are awe-inspiring to look down into and marvel at their craftsmanship. Once they were vital, as the long-standing joke on the island was that wine is more plentiful than water. This lovingly restored piece of vintage industrial design is a labour of love by brothers Nikos and Vangelis Zorzos, successors to the Venetsanos Bros. Oenologist Ioanna Vamvakouri has been entrusted with spearheading this exciting revival. She has recently been joined by colleague Katerina Mitzelou, who also has previous experience on the island. Endowed with ten hectares, this is a true estate, located in highly thought-of Pyrgos and Megalochori. Four labels are being launched in the splendid 2014 vintage: a bone-dry Santorini, the previewed Nykteri, a modern take of red Mandelari with a twist and a 2007 Vinsanto inherited from the cellar.
Venetsanos Bros’ visionary canava is a landmark, adding needed momentum in favour of the diminishing vineyards threatened by urban development. Arguments for comprehensive land-zoning review are growing. It is imperative for building checks to be put in place sooner, as later is not really an option. Meanwhile, at the newly opened rooftop wine bar on this historic site overlooking the caldera cliffs and the Nea Kammeni lava islet, the view is as breathtaking as it was on my first visit to the island, 23 years ago. A few days before the official opening, I sat there in contemplation, in a rare moment of windless calm, ‘chewing’ nature’s precious gift: Assyrtiko’s genial, mineral-charged, tannic backbone reaching deeper. There is a glow. It is a nice place to be.
Ai Giorgis single vineyard, upper-mid slope, below the village of Pyrgos. Perfectly judged picking window for this style of wine, checking in at ABV 14%. Elegantly built. Crystalline fruit on the entry, with a linear presence throughout. Seamless oak. Blossoming into a stony, saline finish of compact minerality. Nicely textured. Still tight, it will age beautifully, rewarding patience. Imperative to carafe. Best 2016–2028.
09 May 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 18/20
|Venetsanos Winery Santorini Nykteri|
|Area: Aegean Islands|| |
At a time when white wines used to be flat and oily, a small clutch of boutique wineries were bottling as nature made them: refreshingly crisp. South African oenologist André Van Wyk at Gentilini was one of them. It is a different world, and Greek wine h...
Ionian Islands | Red | Mavrodaphne
At a time when white wines used to be flat and oily, a small clutch of boutique wineries were bottling as nature made them: refreshingly crisp. South African oenologist André Van Wyk at Gentilini was one of them. It is a different world, and Greek wine has moved into the 21st century. Petros Markantonatos is the driving force of Gentilini’s vineyards and winery. A natural communicator driven by a protestant-like work ethic, he steered this proactive address to its current admirable position. In an ideal world, he should be spearheading Greek-wine promotional campaigns in the Anglo-Saxon markets. In his broad-minded professional manner, he has done much to help, on merit, other up-and-coming worthy addresses in the export arena, such as today’s Naoussa star, Thymiopoulos Vineyards.
Though the actual Cephalonia Robola acreage is small, its considerable qualities have not gone unnoticed. It is more digest than Santorini Assyrtiko. Both are all about minerality, though they could not be more different expressions. The other gem on this limestone/clay island in the Ionian Sea is Mavrodaphne, a red grape. Cephalonia is its historical home. It took years to replant virus-free vines with tailored rootstock to each soil type. To map and think out the right single-vineyard blends. To change winemaking approach so as to unlock the potential of this charmer grape. This complete rethink has paid off handsomely. Today, Gentilini has a premium red soulmate to match their excellent Robolas. The Greek oenologist Alexandros Doukas’ arrival in spring 2015 heralds a new era for this open-minded, cosmopolitan address.
Three single vineyards planted to the smaller-berried Tsingelo: lower-lying plots at the Gentilini Minies estate, Thinia and the Antzoulatos Ianou vineyard in Omala (650m). Brilliant purple. Exotic spice. Hint of coconut from American oak. Mouth-watering, juicy fruit. Supple, savoury tannins. Energising mint lift on the dry, exotic finish. Brighter, focused, purer nuances than previous efforts. Super. Galaxies away from my first encounter with this grape from vines above the shoreline of Thinia (Thiniatiko) a.k.a. Mavrodaphne. Best 2015–2025.
01 May 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 17.5/20
|Area: Ionian Islands|| |
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|| |
Kitros, Pieria. Preliminary research showed that I was to see mussel farms, salt pans, a protected wetland, rich in rare bird species, and the snow-capped Mount Olympus. It turned out differently: I was greeted by low cloud and mist. Neatly farmed rolling...
Macedonia | Red | Xinomavro
Kitros, Pieria. Preliminary research showed that I was to see mussel farms, salt pans, a protected wetland, rich in rare bird species, and the snow-capped Mount Olympus. It turned out differently: I was greeted by low cloud and mist. Neatly farmed rolling hills. Odd-looking, high-pergola vines. A puff of snow on the ground. Or so I thought. There is nothing like putting on my beloved hiking boots and heading out over wet sandy clay to see first-hand all these half-obscured sightings. These were no vines bearing grapes. They were kiwis. The puff of snow: leftover cotton buds. Worst of all, no sight of Mount Olympus, which, on a clear day, is of magnificent presence. Nikos and Helias Chrisostomou are amongst the most open-minded, progressive farmers I have met. Their career path is a lovely story: “We farmed kiwis; knew nothing of wine. Our father made a little red wine for his pleasure,” said Nikos. “Great volatile acidity,” quips Helias. “We were in our twenties, so we enrolled to Thessaloniki-based Maria Netsika's tutored tastings. We discovered a new world.” Fifteen years later, they had planted vines and built with their own hands their underground cellar. We went out to see their vineyards. A few sunrays breaking through, still no sight of the tall mountain. Their farming principles are a case study of how to manage each variety appropriately. They are learning each year of the demanding re-discovered Limniona. Consulting oenologist Angeliki Biba, collecting samples, joined us. “Limniona is vigorous; it needs stony soil to reduce cluster size. Smaller-sized berries are more aromatic. The florality tends towards sweet-smelling flowers, such as magnolia.” This reminds me of the superiority of the female sense of smell. It is more subtle than boys’. As we age, their sense of smell lasts longer, too. Back in the cellar, there were no false notes in tasting from numerous casks. The two brothers first planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, then in vogue. They are exemplary. Great for the home market. Ripe and tasty. Marked by freshness. They reminded me of southern France. From a homogeneous line-up, it was the Xinomavro-Limniona blend, Mousaios, that stole the show. It is on the vanguard of this up-and-coming region. Bold and brave, it breaks through into new territory. It illustrates these humble, pragmatic stewards of the soil, their fresh perspective into wine. As the mist got denser, I saw nothing of my action-list. The next visit is already planned. One never knows: in spring it may snow.
Floral. Peppery dark fruit. Complex and appealing firm structure. Refreshing tannic bite. Integrated older-oak support. Savoury, meaty notes. Voluptuous texture. Tobacco leaf on the attractive, earthy finish. Stylistically, it bridges modern Naoussa Xinomavro with new-wave Tyrnavos Limniona. The most exciting, energized all-Greek blend in ages. Indicates the potential of a little-known terroir.
14 Feb 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 17/20
|Chrisostomou Estate Mousaios|
|Area: Macedonia|| |
|Variety: Xinomavro / Limniona|
Having decided to study medicine in Italy, Stergios Thymiopoulos was about to board his flight. Yet, he could not bear the fact that his family would sell land to finance his studies. He turned around and headed home to Trilofos, Naoussa. There, his famil...
Macedonia | Red | Xinomavro
Having decided to study medicine in Italy, Stergios Thymiopoulos was about to board his flight. Yet, he could not bear the fact that his family would sell land to finance his studies. He turned around and headed home to Trilofos, Naoussa. There, his family had been growing plums, peaches and vines for three generations. A chance meeting with Mrs Kourakou-Dragona, then President of the Wine Institute in Athens, who had instigated Greece's first appellations in 1971, had positive ramifications. She was adamant that the way forward in replanting Naoussa was Xinomavro. He heeded her advice. Grapes were sold to large négociants; a little wine and tsipouro was made. He was an enlightened farmer. Open-minded, intuitive, well-read, hardworking, and a visionary. Our talks about the birth of the Modern Greek state were memorable. He was also a man on a mission, buying hillside land on the axis of Trilofos and Fitia. He understood, better than most, nature and grape farming. In order for his vines to fully ripen on these cooler hillsides, his yields were low. He was also right on vineyard orientation and many other key quality factors such as canopy management. For all this non-greedy, common-sense approach, he endured being the butt of jokes by colleagues and friends. “One day, all this will pay off,” was his reply. It was his son, Apostolos, who studied oenology. Upon paying a visit to retired Mrs Kourakou-Dragona, she thundered, “So, you are the son of Naoussa’s best farmer! You have a tough act to follow.” The first vintage was 2003. Climate-change messages did not go unnoticed. As of 2009, he started to source grapes at higher altitudes. There is little high Naoussa where vineyards reach 500 m. Most are in this Trilofos-Fitia Naoussa PDO southernmost axis. Trilofos is at 200 m. There is a clue of the intricate geological complexity of these vineyards – just look at the travertine, quartz, and schist now enclosing the house courtyard. These were quarried from their more-recently planted vineyards. Apostolos is a risk taker: he harvests up to three weeks later than his colleagues do. A few other estates have now followed suit. He farms organically, with increasing elements of biodynamics. When locusts arrived one summer morning, he responded by releasing his flock of guinea fowl to “clean up”. A TV channel that was on hand interviewing him was able to capture this on film. It received traction on social media. His flagship Earth & Sky (Uranos in the US) is all about terroir. It shines like a beacon on a perilous foggy coastline. There is more to come: research on single-vineyard wines is redefining what Xinomavro sense-of-place snapshots can offer. For starters: there are different altitudes, old clones, and ungrafted micro-cuvées. Stergios died aged 55. Not long after, his other son, Theodore (28) died tragically in a tractor accident. Yet, Stergios’s legacy lives on. Under Apostolos’s stewardship, this estate has become Naoussa's game changer.
Indigenous yeast. Bottled unfiltered. Tasted several times in monthly intervals. Different each time. Lucent ruby. Vibrant colour on the outer rim. Strawberry-scented. Melt-in-your-mouth tannins, meshed with a high-acid, suave tannic backbone. Seamless oak. Layers of flavour. Insistent cherries on the long, mineral finish. Silky finesse. Great purity. Ethereal. An acrobatic act in a rather difficult discipline. Magnums would be an ideal companion for this tannin-management tour de force. A landmark. Best 2016–2036.
31 Jan 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 19/20
|Thymiopoulos Vineyards Earth & Sky|
|Area: Macedonia|| |
In a financial crisis, opportunities arise to explore offbeat alternatives. Recent success stories in agricultural investment include spirulina and sea buckthorn. After a lull, interest in wine has risen again. The level of investment in Amyndeon, now ...
Macedonia | Red | Xinomavro
In a financial crisis, opportunities arise to explore offbeat alternatives. Recent success stories in agricultural investment include spirulina and sea buckthorn. After a lull, interest in wine has risen again. The level of investment in Amyndeon, now matches Santorini’s recent fervour. Three all-new ventures are slated to break ground in 2015. Abandoned Xinomavro bush vines at Xino Nero are being replanted. On a recent visit to this landlocked, cooler-climate plateau (600–750 m), a positive mood was evident. “All local wine should be bottled,” quipped Chef Nikos Kontosoros. At the Vegoritis winery, veteran Christos Boskos has increasingly being doing that. His hardworking ethic is admirable. He has been at the forefront of the rising wine fortunes of this once no-man land. Few other addresses produce such high-standard bag-in-box blends. They put to shame scores of uninteresting bottled efforts out there. Hanging in his office, a detailed map of these unknown vineyards is a revelation. It reminds me of the complicated unique Burgundy patchwork. As we discuss what works best where, he pours some of the reviewed wine. One mouth-coating taste, and my memory bank is open for business. Though the expression is new to me, the obvious sense of place is not. As the wine aerates, the Theo Angelopoulos filmmaking technique, slow-moving, meaning-filled frames, springs to mind. Unfolding in such a fashion over dinner, it went on for quite a while. After service, Kontosoros joined me, taking a sip, rolling it around, not saying anything. It is times like these when a glance says so much: his eyes were on fire. Xinomavro magic does happen.
A blend of 17–25 y.o. vines in Bella Toumba and higher-altitude (above the rail tracks) Soskia place names. Sensuous and perfumed. Juicy, ripe tannins. Fleshy damson prune, with a touch of oak. Excellent texture. Emphatic varietal character. Light-on-its-feet high-acid. Allspice on the compact finish. Through a cold soak, a nod to modern winemaking without erasing its terroir of origin. Amyndeon should perhaps consider more this micro-parcel route. Best 2015–2022.
27 Jan 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 16.5/20
|Vegoritis Amyndeon Xinomavro|
|Area: Macedonia|| |
My first trips in search of sweet wines in Siatista were the single greatest disappointment of all my travels. Was it a romantic’s futile quest? It did cross my mind. Inevitably, I would be ushered into the basement of some furrier's house to taste “w...
Macedonia | Sweet | Moschomavro
My first trips in search of sweet wines in Siatista were the single greatest disappointment of all my travels. Was it a romantic’s futile quest? It did cross my mind. Inevitably, I would be ushered into the basement of some furrier's house to taste “wine served in Tsarist Russia” and many other, all true, historical footnotes stretching back 230 years. There was a slight issue: they smelled of glue. The culprit was high volatile acidity. It was a nightmare, like being imprisoned in a dungeon of vinous hell. These small, cask-filled, dusty cellars frozen in time left me bewildered. They contained old-fashioned, decaying wines of a once great and famous region. Was my curiosity to go unanswered? As years went by, somehow, the odd half-bottle with a handwritten label would end up in my hands. “The nightmare continues,” read some of my notes. Yet, one fights on, never giving up. I was in subdued mood when entering Dimitris Diamantis’ tasting room. All very tidy, clean smelling. Nice glasses. Enclosed wood fireplace. No show-off gadgets. It was a too-good-to-be-true feeling all over again. As he poured, the mind focused on the lovely colour and gently evolving aroma. One sip and a whole new world lit up. Persistence was finally rewarded. This was going to be an interesting visit. Another flag to pin on the 132,000 square km that my beat spans. I cannot convey what a pleasant surprise this recent venture had in store. Next time you drive by, en route to Kastoria, Metsovo, or Igoumenitsa, you may want to give this forgotten wine town of 5,000 souls a second thought. The best was yet to come from this visit. When I returned home, there was a lesson to be learned. While entertaining, my guests showed little interest in dessert. Though most of my friends swear “I do not do sugar”, they were passing around the reviewed wine with admirable teamwork efficiency. With a wry smile, I now know that proof is not always in the pudding.
Bottled in 2013. Blend of 75% Moschomavro, 15% Xinomavro. Magoutes vineyard. Planted in 1931. Altitude 845 m – 860 m. Grapes are air-cured on racks, not unlike the appassimento method of Amarone. Pale amber, ruby. Rose water, quince-jelly aroma. Walnut balsam. No perceptible volatile acidity. Residual sugars nudging 100 gr/L. Tension from Xinomavro. Texture of less-sweet acacia honey. Great poise and precision. Lip-smacking good. Digest. Cerebral. A great vintage, which is not often the case in this thin sliver of hillside vines. Showcasing cooler-climate Greece, a fascinating terroir with proper cellar management. Best 2015–2025.
05 Jan 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 18/20
|Diamantis Siatista Liastos|
|Area: Macedonia|| |
|Variety: Moschomavro / Xinomavro|
Melina Tassou's first wine making experience was as an Erasmus exchange student in the Loire, working with Grolleau in Angers. Much has happened since then. A cosmopolitan 30-something, with professional forays in Australia and Burgundy, she and her famil...
Thrace | White | Chardonnay
Melina Tassou's first wine making experience was as an Erasmus exchange student in the Loire, working with Grolleau in Angers. Much has happened since then. A cosmopolitan 30-something, with professional forays in Australia and Burgundy, she and her family has done much for putting Greek Thrace on the quality-wine map. The vineyards were planted by her father Apostolos, a pioneer of modern viticulture on this northern-Aegean shoreline. Their wines are elegant, polished, capable to morph into unusual complexity with ageing. A mix of rare indigenous grapes like Limnio is the class leader of this, demanding to farm, ancient variety. Of the incomer grapes, their Chardonnay and Syrah are standouts. Maronia is not known for wine today unless you are a classical scholar. For today's Greeks, this easternmost region near the Turkish border is a no man’s land. Tucked into this corner, they, until recently, avoided the fickle home market out of survival instincts. Not unlike the new generation of leading names, such as Thymiopopoulos in Naoussa, recognition has come from investing time and effort in exports. The U.S., Belgium, Germany have been relatively quick to embrace their efforts. “Mother crisis has opened the Athens market,” quips Melina. On the 10th anniversary, they have to muster allocations. “Nice problems to have,” muses her brother, Vassilis, who manages vineyards and social media. Using one vertical shoot pruning, strict grape selection, whole-berry fermentation, pigeage, with a good dose of finicky attention to detail, has much to do with the distinctive character found in this rising star address’s seven labels. “There are no plans to grow in acreage. There is much more to come from this, unknown to all of us, terroir,” adds Vassilis. There is a saying in wine: from conception of an idea to implementation, it takes ten years. This venture is on track.
Floral, slowly evolving to white flowers. Ginger, pit stone on the middle palate. Smokey flint on the expansive honeycomb, leesy, dry finish. Textured and sappy, elegant and focused. Chameleon-like changes, surprising, multifaceted twists and turns. One would have to spend a small fortune to get this level of head-turning Chardonnay elsewhere. Accessible if decanted. Satisfying now, though will reward the patient. Best 2015-2027.
23 Dec 2014 © Nico Manessis | Score: 18/20
|Area: Thrace|| |
Siatista is the fifth Xinomavro region. Also the least known. Tucked-in between the Pindos mountain range (a sister mountain of the Alps) and Mt Velia, lies this sleeper Xinomavro terroir. Wine regions prosper thanks to transport. Until the arrival of the...
Macedonia | Red | Xinomavro
Siatista is the fifth Xinomavro region. Also the least known. Tucked-in between the Pindos mountain range (a sister mountain of the Alps) and Mt Velia, lies this sleeper Xinomavro terroir. Wine regions prosper thanks to transport. Until the arrival of the Egnatia motorway, this essentially isolated mountain pass may well have been consigned to history books. In the 1990s, vine acreage reached 150 hectares. It now stands at 3.5 hectares. It is not all Xinomavro, however. The microclimate goes one better than Florina's cooler-climate Amyndeon. This landlocked clay-limestone slope inches closer to a full-fledged continental climate. Actually, it is the single coldest wine region that I know. With climate change, this frontier may well surpass all its currently better-known sister vineyards. While walking the vineyards of this discovery and tasting the 2011, the region’s contrasted weather vagaries become illuminating. Vintage variation is marked. The 2009 and 2014 were rain-plagued – diplomatic language for a wash-out. It reminded me of the 1990s vintage chart of Goumenissa. Wash-out vintages were peppered with good, and occasionally brilliant, conditions to coax the high-tannic Xinomavro grape into ripening. Goumenissa has Negoska to pad out Xinomavro. The subtly fragrant red Moschomavro steps up for the more famous sweet Siatista. The fortunes of this promising patch are linked to the rise and fall of a far more lucrative profession. Nearby Kastoria and Siatista are famous for the furriers, who were allowed the privilege to wear fur hats as a social distinction during the Byzantine times. Thanks to Dimitri Diamantis the winds of change are blowing again. Autumn is a lovely time to visit this off-the-beaten-path region. Standing at the Agios Panteleimon mountain shelter overlooking the majestic, fir-covered Mt Bourinos (1866 m.), this little-known alpine Greece comes into focus. Our reward (we drove up this time) was a mushroom stew of freshly foraged orange terracotta hedgehogs (Hydnum rufescens – the word is derived from (h)udnon/ύδνον, an Ancient Greek word for truffle according to the Wikipedia) and stone milkcaps (Lactarius salmonicolor, named for its colour). Enjoying this emerging address was another unique mountain experience. With no glassware available, we made spontaneous use of alloy cups. The air was bracing and the temperature plummeting as we seized the last sunrays. There are rare moments on my quest for such discoveries when it just Does.Not.Get.Any.Better.Than.This. Fingers crossed, Siatista bags a stellar vintage sooner, rather than later. That would be worth taking a hike up any mountain in this part of the world.
A blend of trellised six-year-old vineyards and 70-80 year-old bush vines. Altitude: 830 m. A mixture of clones. Harvest: mid-October. ABV: 13.1%. Unfiltered. Initially reductive. Unusual, cold-climate hint of red fruit. After aerating, it moves into higher gear. Linear and elegant. A cornucopia of crushed dark-berry fruit. Mouth-watering acidity. Insistent, layered finish of great purity, laden with graphite minerality. A never previously encountered, singular expression unparalleled in the other four Xinomavro regions. And all this in a mediocre vintage. The perfect ringer for a blind tasting amongst the likes of Mitteleuropa Terodelgo and Lagrein. Best 2015–2025.
16 Dec 2014 © Nico Manessis | Score: 16.5/20
|Xinomavro Siatista PGI Diamantis|
|Area: Macedonia|| |
Haridimos Hatzidakis has completed 23 harvests. He is one of the most thoughtful oenologists on this high-profile yet fragile vineyard. His six Assyrtiko labels, one Aidani and three dessert wines are clear-cut ideas, sourced with insight from Santorini's...
Aegean Islands | White | Assyrtiko
Haridimos Hatzidakis has completed 23 harvests. He is one of the most thoughtful oenologists on this high-profile yet fragile vineyard. His six Assyrtiko labels, one Aidani and three dessert wines are clear-cut ideas, sourced with insight from Santorini's little-known terroir. He is a risk-taker and early advocate of organic farming. Yet, can organic truly bring something to these wines from a wind-swept, sunny, maritime climate? Tasting through his numerous small vats shows it can: The fresh wines from organically farmed grapes offer more precision. Here lurks another bold decision: For most of his characterful wines he chose to follow the difficult and risky slow-fermentation option, not adding cultured wine yeast. One concession to a full natural-wine manifesto is the minimal use of sulphur after fermentations and at bottling. The effort he puts into these, diverse in character Assyrtikos reminds me of the painstaking discipline of archaeologists on their digs: Brushing away carefully; measuring a day’s work in centimetres; keeping arduous logs, pictures, mapping, GPS coordinates. When Haridimos stumbled upon this single vineyard, it was quasi-abandoned and in terrible shape. It lies 220 m. high, with a southern exposure in the Louros sub-region on the Pyrgos slope. The vines are believed to be over 150 years old. Organic viticulture and ploughing with mules was the only way forward. This gentle approach, a homeopathy of sorts, needs patience. Three years later, it responded with the mosaic-like profile of this name place coming into focus. Each vintage imprint is different – terroir driven would be an understatement. As of the 2011 vintage, Mylos is coming into its own. In tasting through 2011, 2012 and 2013, the aura of this old-vine wisdom on a special plot is tangible. Underneath Hatzidakis’s quiet and modest demeanour lies determination. Not a whiff of vintners’ tales, but proof of deed in his credo: ''Ongoing quest of new challenges''. As I left, he dropped sketchy details of his tinkering with another single vineyard nearby, but that is another story.
At this stage, not yet reductive. Pink-hued brass, pale yellow. Very pure earth-and-fruit aroma. Floral, summer dried-herb notes of thyme. Unfolds to pit stone. An incisively chiselled mineral attack jolts your senses. Saline acidity, with a bone-dry, continuously persistent mineral finish. The palate-twitching crystalline acidity keeps the tasty tannic bite honest. Do not rush this, as 20 minutes later it becomes full of vigour, electrifyingly terse. Impressive harmony from this blockbuster, take-no-prisoners, not-for-everyone style of wine. An intense, lasting impression lingers as the mouth eventually regains its composure. With bottle aging, it will need decanting. A monument in the making. Best 2015-2026
06 Sep 2014 © Nico Manessis | Score: 18.5/20
|Hatzidakis Assyrtiko de Mylos Vieilles Vignes|
|Area: Aegean Islands|| |