One of the then dormant wine regions that helped convincing me to do my first books was Santorini, with its bone-dry wines. Back in the mid-1990s, camomile-yellow colour was de rigeur in oxidative, angular wines lacking polish. Yet, their character was as...
Aegean Islands | White | Assyrtiko
One of the then dormant wine regions that helped convincing me to do my first books was Santorini, with its bone-dry wines. Back in the mid-1990s, camomile-yellow colour was de rigeur in oxidative, angular wines lacking polish. Yet, their character was as singular as Islay's Laphroaig malt whisky. Even during this rustic period there were compelling wines. I have witnessed many changes from my front-row seat over the past 19 years. Boutaris arrived, ushering in an era of awakening. Soon, historic addresses like Argyros changed their ways. A host of new boutique wineries were founded, amongst them Sigalas, Gaia and Hatzidakis. There are 11 wineries now. If not for getting entangled in the post-Byzantine/Ottoman maze of contradictory legislature and red tape, the 12th winery would soon have been opening their cellar doors. Santo Wines is size-wise the single most important producer. It buys 60% of the island's current average production of 3,500 tonnes of grapes. They, too, have been through a sea of changes. Their sprawling winery has some location! There are other spots in the world graced with breathtaking backdrops of vine. South Africa's scenery springs to mind. The view of Santo's winery over the ever-changing theatre of light of the jagged cliffs of the Caldera simply has no equal, and is a candidate for any top-ten world site list in which Santorini seems to be a perennial favourite destination. Santo's wines were reliable but failed to grab attention. Their first signal of change was their Athiri 2009 eye-opener, which has been reviewed on this web site. Their Athiri 2012 is toothsome. Reminiscent in style to Crete's other rarity, Thrapsathiri (large-berried Athiri), found in Sitia. In this pretty vintage, Santo's oenologist Nikos Barbarigos managed to find that sit-up-and-take-notice factor. He sourced selected Assyrtiko from Pyrgos and Imerovigli. A striking combination of two premium sub-regions. It is good to see Santo joining the quality race, highlighting individuality on this ever-fascinating, little-known, one-of-a-kind terroir. Next time you reach for a drop of Laphroaig, think of smokey, briny, held together by Aegean sunlight, Santorini Assyrtiko. Their souls are a lot closer than their geographical coordinates would allow you to imagine.
Textbook aroma of Assyrtiko in a vibrant cocktail of sea-breeze freshness, with a touch of lime-lemon zestiness. Slightly honeyed. Bracing intense acidity full of flint-stone mineral smokiness. Bone-dry, mouth-watering, food-begging finish. This wine has a complete story to tell, with a great introduction, a fascinating plot, and a thrilling finish. A remarkable comeback.
17 Jul 2013 © Nico Manessis | Score: 17,5/20
|Assyrtiko Santo Wines|
|Area: Aegean Islands|| |
Lefkada: While boarding the ferry at Vassiliki, autumn rain set in. I felt at home, of sorts. As we motored due south for Cephalonia, the experience of my first ever taste of the late-ripening Vertzami at Lefkaditiki Gi Winery was vivid in my mind. Tight ...
Ionian Islands | White | Vostilidi
Lefkada: While boarding the ferry at Vassiliki, autumn rain set in. I felt at home, of sorts. As we motored due south for Cephalonia, the experience of my first ever taste of the late-ripening Vertzami at Lefkaditiki Gi Winery was vivid in my mind. Tight clusters, small-berried, thick-skinned, dark colour. This spurred me to focus on the state of affairs on the other Ionian islands that I first visited almost 20 years ago. The devastating 1953 earthquake, immigration and, ironically, the recent tourist boom, have all taken their toll on farming. Despite the past glories of the four centuries of Venetian rule and a rich wine-trading history, no other group of island vineyards has seen such a drop in vineyard acreage in the last 50 years. These mostly limestone-rich islands do have a terrific trump card: Their indigenous grapes are of the highest quality. Robola and Mavrodaphne are two that are on form at the moment. The aforementioned Vertzami, a red Lefkada specialty, and a dozen others, are all different than grapes of the Aegean islands or that continent-island, Crete. Their taste places them to the other end of the broad spectrum that is the mosaic of the modern Greek vineyard. The Ionian islands being geographically and culturally close to Southern Italy, one could easily assume that there is a genetic connection. Actually, Sicilian Catarato and the light-bodied Frappato bear little resemblance to the distinctive character of the key cultivars on the Ionian islands. Some, perhaps many, of these unusual, ever-surprising, even quirky flavours are likely to disappear. When was the last time you had a white or red Petrokoritho, once the staple grapes of my birthplace, Corfu? On which, large landowning estates stopped making wine in the early 1960s. Others that spring to mind include Ktima Velianiti at Pelekas (now a historic hotel), which supplied tavernas in the once flourishing Jewish quarter, or Ktima Lavrano in Chlomo, which shipped in cask. Of all the current addresses on Cephalonia, none is more individualistic than ardent natural-wine-movement practitioner Evriviadis Sclavos. This method of winemaking, which originated in Georgia some 8000 years ago, grew into a movement from its European epicenter in the Friuli, championed by the iconoclastic Josko Gravner. Sclavos's sense of "marketing" is either out of sync or a trend-setter. One has to be a classical scholar, or a lexicographer, to decipher the wonderful names, rich in metaphor, that he gives his wines. Metageitnion? The second month of the ancient Attic calendar. Today’s August. The setting of his tiny, cramped winery – a new, spacious extension with underground cellar is on the way – was as if frozen in time. The son of his Japanese importer, Racines, was one unexpected face to emerge behind a tank like a shipwrecked Samurai. Another was a genial, bearded, barefoot local, who looked as if he had stepped out of a Venetian galley trading Cephalonian wine up and down the Adriatic. Tasting the fizzy, cloudy 2012s out of the vats did not make any easier my effort to return to the 21st century. Eventually, I managed to pull out of Sclavos's world, asked for bottled samples and drove off into the afternoon to visit a foundation's library in nearby Lixouri. Who says there are no perks living on the wine routes? Next day, having recovered from this time-capsule experience, I had a chance to look at the wines under the shade of an almond tree. They smell and taste like nothing else on the Greek wine scene. It was the organically farmed 100-year-old ungrafted Vostilidi that stood out.. It was acceptable to my open minded approach: I happen to like the playful peek of this style of wines into winemaking history. More importantly, I actually enjoyed drinking it. I must add that this is treading on a very fine line, though. Sclavos's potentially great, velvety, dry Mavrodaphne Orgion was too weird for my liking.
As Metageitnion is made from a white grape in a red-wine extractive fashion, it is essential to carafe. Hazy. Marmalade-orange colour. On the brooding nose, faint smoky muscat. Tasty tannic bite that follows on to a phenolic backbone. "Watch" it unfold over several hours. Sip, while the kaleidoscopic "takes" of viscous chamomile evolve into a grapey, rich-in-umami aftertaste. Best 2013-18
25 May 2013 © Nico Manessis | Score: 17/20
|Area: Ionian Islands|| |
Greek-Swedish ventures in shipbuilding or pharmaceuticals are not unusual. In wine? This recently founded estate, with its own vineyards at Aghios Pavlos in Chalkidiki, is a labour of love by Lena Kapsali, the Sweden-based ex-policeman Jannis Sevastidis a...
Macedonia | White | Athiri
Greek-Swedish ventures in shipbuilding or pharmaceuticals are not unusual. In wine? This recently founded estate, with its own vineyards at Aghios Pavlos in Chalkidiki, is a labour of love by Lena Kapsali, the Sweden-based ex-policeman Jannis Sevastidis and psychiatrist Karl Erik Floven. Ampelou Chora’s guiding light, consulting agronomist-oenologist Spyros Katopodis has been known to me for years. I first met him, toiling in Ossa, north of Thessaloniki, at the cellar of the Zorba-like master distiller Anestis Babatzimopoulos. Spyros's good looks, boyish grin, and sense of humour cut a popular figure in the world of technicians. He belongs to a clutch of specialists who studied, not in France but in Italy. Torino crops up when discussing viticultural and winemaking approaches. To a non-technician, such as myself, the dynamics in grape blends can be endlessly fascinating. Even lesser-thought-of grapes seem somehow to morph into something that grabs one’s attention. This, new to me, Athiri and Muscat of Alexandria is anything but humdrum. Knowing when to pick each grape is crucial. Athiri’s broader issue continues, as it is nearly always picked overripe. Ampelographer Haroula Spinthiropoulou, who farms it in Naoussa, believes that when picked ABV11% it delivers its delicate and insistent character. On Rhodes, where this grape is ubiquitous, her point increasingly makes sense. A high for this medium-acidity white grape is that, around February, it smells of thyme. But I digress. In theory, Katopodis's choice of grapes, unusual though it be, does not spike one's curiosity at first. In tasting: it over-delivers. All this happens in the playground of Chalkidiki, which is better known for its picture-perfect landscape of pine trees caressing crystalline waters, sandy coves and beaches, delicious seafood. Now, if you are expecting a gorgeous Swedish mermaid to leap out of an aforementioned cove into the picture, I am going to disappoint.
Seductive floral nose with jasmine and fresh grape scents. Vivacious, peachy. Elegant blossoming finish, with the creamy Athiri coming through. Cleverly crafted. Easy drinking but enough going on (70% Athiri - 30% Muscat of Alexandria) to maintain interest. Different from a sea of wines in this style. Best 2013-2015.
04 May 2013 © Nico Manessis | Score: 16/20
|Area: Macedonia|| |
As I was darting off from Goumenissa en route to Naoussa, the landscape unfolding before me recalled parts of Sancerre. The outlines of rolling hills share a remarkable visual resemblance. Yet, the French vineyard does have an edge over this lesser-known ...
Macedonia | Red | Xinomavro
As I was darting off from Goumenissa en route to Naoussa, the landscape unfolding before me recalled parts of Sancerre. The outlines of rolling hills share a remarkable visual resemblance. Yet, the French vineyard does have an edge over this lesser-known Xinomavro country. As it has been around longer, place names have be become established stylistic reference points. Travelling the Greek wine routes, one often ponders: Does terroir exist here? Are you driving past the next big thing to emerge from a near-obscure region? On this visit, signs point towards a brighter future. Goumenissa may one day become more "famous" than Naoussa. Readers of these pages may be familiar with Aidarinis' single-vineyard "Ï". It is classy. On a recent visit, it was the regular entry-level wine that impressed me most. It was wholesome. It captured, as few wines can, that elusive T word: why such a vast improvement? It soon became apparent that this stalwart address is, amongst other things, a hard-nosed pragmatist. Grapes for this pretty wine are now sourced near Gerakona from earlier-ripening (September) vineyards. This shift from the botrytis-plagued, now uprooted, older sites close to the village and in the shadow of Mount Paikos – where higher rainfall and harvest in October were the norm – is a revelation of the region's true potential. This change of sourcing demonstrates how important it is to re-evaluate the location of inherited vineyards over time. Christos Aidarinis, whose family has been making and trading wine in these hills for over 130 years, and his oenologist, Michalis Michailidis, are on to a good thing here. I urge all of you to pick up some of this "revisited" 21st-century Goumenissa. It deserves wider recognition and acclaim.
Blend: 30% Negoska - 70% Xinomavro. Average vine age: 10 years. Deeper colour than previous vintages. Ripe, harmonious tannins, packing stone fruit and substance. Both grapes shine and compliment each other on the spicy-laden lengthy finish. Exciting definition. A new benchmark. Best 2014-17.
09 Apr 2013 © Nico Manessis | Score: 17/20
|Area: Macedonia|| |
Within the variation of a vintage, there is much to be said about consistency. Especially in Naoussa, where our friend Mr. Macho Xinomavro can put on quite a show. It can tease, frustrate; does rusticity like few others; exasperate, disappoint, satiate, t...
Macedonia | Red | Xinomavro
Within the variation of a vintage, there is much to be said about consistency. Especially in Naoussa, where our friend Mr. Macho Xinomavro can put on quite a show. It can tease, frustrate; does rusticity like few others; exasperate, disappoint, satiate, thrill; leave us speechless, nodding in approval. On form, it reaches mind and body like only Assyrtiko from Santorini can. Over the years, there is little doubt as to whose Naoussa would top the consistency shortlist. Year-in, year-out, Nikos Foundis' Naoussea comes through with an honesty and value for money that are just hard to beat. In this vintage, it goes a step further and reaches that sweet spot, well, Mr. X rarely ventures into. Naoussea is, nearly always, well-done rusticity. The 2007 has that extra ripe dimension without falling into the trap of the heatwave jammy character. To date it is the most complete effort. Kudos to the whole team for delivering such a tasteful and pretty wine. To those of you who celebrate Easter, mark this wine on your shopping list.
Ripely scented with freshness and energy. No signs of fatigue or dusty earthy rusticity. Impressive entry of focused fruit with a spicy spectrum. Subtle wood. Such a clear terroir picture. Supple structure. Bright flavours. Great balance. A wine of admirable typicity and unusual elegance.
30 Mar 2013 © Nico Manessis | Score: 17.5/20
|Area: Macedonia|| |
Above all, Vinsanto needs patience. The first release of Gaia’s Vinsanto was the worst kept secret. Over the years, during cask "look sees" were a story of growing up pains. Nothing different or that special. Yet there was an approach which was not obvi...
Aegean Islands | Sweet | Assyrtiko
Above all, Vinsanto needs patience. The first release of Gaia’s Vinsanto was the worst kept secret. Over the years, during cask "look sees" were a story of growing up pains. Nothing different or that special. Yet there was an approach which was not obvious prior the final blend. It is now. Bear with me. Any wine that starts its life span with sun-drying grapes and then undergoes extended barrel ageing, eventually has to varying degrees, volatile acidity. "Lift" as we say, in wine speak, is welcome though more pronounced levels it smells like glue. Neither desirable or pleasant. It can even dominate and obliterate the rich aromatics and taste these wines have to offer. With almost 25 years presence on the island, Yiannis Paraskevopoulos had time to observe closely the sun-drying process. It became apparent that this age old custom of using sun and wind, practised though out the Mediterrenean, had issues. The arch modernist YP worked on a simple but effective approach to give it a revisited modern template. Half of the grapes, of the tiny 2002 harvest, were sun-dried the traditional manner. The other half were put under shade.
This lower pace dessicating has apparently several advantages.Volatile acidity is lower and there is marked more fresher tasting fruit in the aroma and taste. If you like rancio then look elsewhere. In essence, what Gaia has brought to this historic dessert wine, is a 21st century touch.This jibes with the rest of Gaia’s portfolio.
Bottled unfiltered. Pale mahogany. Less raisiny, vibrantly fruity. Silky, echoing the aroma and texture of melting in the mouth Manuka honey. Orange peel. Citrus on the focused smoky mineral conclusion. Polished and stylish. Best 2012-2018.
19 Feb 2013 © Nico Manessis | Score: 18/20
|Gaia 10 year old Vinsanto|
|Area: Aegean Islands|| |
|Variety: Assyrtiko / Aidani|
While the hype on the pretty Naoussa 2011 vintage rumbles on, I looked on how the 2007s were ageing. For various reasons, it was annus horribilis: The year of wild fires. In the Peloponnese alone, 5 million olive trees were lost. Drought during the vegeta...
Macedonia | Red | Xinomavro
While the hype on the pretty Naoussa 2011 vintage rumbles on, I looked on how the 2007s were ageing. For various reasons, it was annus horribilis: The year of wild fires. In the Peloponnese alone, 5 million olive trees were lost. Drought during the vegetative cycle. Heat spikes. Not the easiest of the recent, potentially great vintages. As ampelographer and now winemaker Haroula Spinthiropoulou ponders, "Nature adapts, but it is the speed of change that she has a hard time coping with". Stylistically, the looked-at 2007s from my archive cellar were all over the place. Aromatic-wise, this grape somehow manages to deliver, despite the aforementioned testing weather loops. There were premature signs of brick-red rim colour. Some well-done rusticity, and I do not include Brett in that umbrella term. It was, also, one of the most enjoyable taste-offs in ages. One of those rare moments that wine satisfies deeply, beyond the hedonist in us. It left inner glowing embers. The reviewed wine stood out head and shoulders for its colour, freshness, and ripe-tannin tasty structure. Oenologist Dimitri Sgiannis is a Naoussa insider. He first came to my attention with his other Naoussa efforts with another heat-wave year, the 2000. He then made his mark with his gentle touch in taming the wild side of the ever fascinating and playful Xinomavro. The name place for this classy varietal is Roudina, in Nea Strantza. It is worth watching, as the singular character of this wine weighs in with gusto. In this challenging year, only a handful stand out with such compelling conviction.
Tawny ruby. Strawberry scented. Attractive fruited ripe tannins. Earthy spice, succulence. Richer and sweeter than any other wine in this vintage. Keeps evolving in the glass. Focused austere finish. Serious. Worth ageing. The single vineyard character is a revelation.
Best 2013 - 2023.
11 Jan 2013 © Nico Manessis | Score: 18.5/20
|Area: Macedonia|| |
An instance of nature imitating art, the colour-coded diversity in a geology map of the Greek vineyard is a child of seismic activity. Its ramifications reach beyond the Richter scale. It may have something to do with the fact that there is always a gutsy...
Aegean Islands | White | Muscat
An instance of nature imitating art, the colour-coded diversity in a geology map of the Greek vineyard is a child of seismic activity. Its ramifications reach beyond the Richter scale. It may have something to do with the fact that there is always a gutsy individual to take on the establishment and carve out a difficult yet ultimately rewarding path. Nikos Vakakis fits this mould. For this online map of the anthropogeography of Greek wine, Nikos's background is unique. The son of a village priest, he joined the army and became a commando officer. Now 52, military retirement in hand, he has become the first all-new boutique producer on Samos in 77 years.
In 1934, civil unrest broke out on Samos as farmers attacked the wine merchants. Merchants' greed, which made them pay pittance for choice grapes, eventually brought their demise. The government stepped in and decreed as obligatory the creation of a Union of Cooperatives. This monopoly became obsolete when Greece became member of the European Union. Greece being Greece, this did not go down without a fight. Vakakis was one of the clutch of individuals who fought this in the Courts of Brussels.
Samos is now free of such anachronisms; anyone can invest. Why would anyone want to? For good reason: Samos is home to some of the finest high Muscat grapes. The north-facing, densely planted terraces on the aptly named Ampelos (vine) Mountain, which date from the 16th century, may be recent, so to speak, for a region of the Mediterranean where wine trading has been documented for over 2,500 years. Yet, its prominence was earned on merit. The potential of this island vineyard in the eastern Aegean remains largely unknown. Thanks to this new, and other soon to follow endeavours, we can start discovering more of its facets.
The French have a description for Vakakis's first effort: cuvée montagnard. Checking in at 920-1000 m. and amongst pine trees. This altitude also offers high natural acidity, which brings balance in sweet wines. The Moschato aspro (muscat a petit grains) vines are 60 years old. New to wine Vakakis has drafted as consultant Dimitris Skafidas, the long-standing oenologist at Domaine Mercouri. The grapes are dried in a novel approach: 25-30 days under the shade of olive groves. This labour-intensive change of desiccation pace is inspiring. As Greek wine weathers the current economic turbulence, this new departure is worth following closely.
13% ABV. Residual sugar 105 gr/l. Pale yellow. White flowers and flint aroma. Peach that follows through on the lemon-lychee finish. Scintillating freshness. Satin-textured viscosity. Racy. Ethereal. Best 2012-2017.
03 Dec 2012 © Nico Manessis | Score: 18/20
|Moschato VND Vakakis Wines Samos|
|Area: Aegean Islands|| |
Naoussa did not have it easy in 2009. Yet, the trying weather patterns allowed the best sites and vineyardists to shine. After a comprehensive tasting of key names, the emerging picture is summed up thus: poor tannin management and dullness. The latter ...
Macedonia | Red | Xinomavro
Naoussa did not have it easy in 2009. Yet, the trying weather patterns allowed the best sites and vineyardists to shine. After a comprehensive tasting of key names, the emerging picture is summed up thus: poor tannin management and dullness. The latter is not a word usually associated with the characterful grape Xinomavro. One estate went as far as sending out a press release saying that they are not bottling this challenging vintage.
Apostolis Thymiopoulos has once again proven his modernist credentials. Yet, his winery is not full of kit, so as to claim that his wines are a technological marvel. On the contrary. The answer lies in the vines. His southern location, just north of the town of Veroia, and the microclimate do come into play. There is a marked ripeness, a charm in and around of Trilofos. You may add the fact that while the whole region has finished harvesting, Thymiopoulos's vineyard is always the last, up to two weeks later. His late father Stergios left a strong legacy. Widely praised as the region's top farmer, he fully understood his vineyards. This know-how has been transmitted to Apostolos. Though an oenologist, he does not speak just figures, impressive though they be. His is a holistic approach, soon to be certified as organic. He has also started to incorporate biodynamics. Both wines, the approachable and entertaining Young Vines and Gi ke Uranos (Uranos in the U.S.), have a transcending appeal. Fruity, with tasty, ripe tannins and that polished, high-acid, tannic bite, they are also vivacious, taste natural, even though low in sulphur. Uranos is a blend of three vine sites: Amygdalies and the adjacent Kaifas, as well as limestone-rich Aghios Trifonas. The 2009 vintage was marked by low temperatures and no heat spikes. Harvest took place under cloud-covered skies. Intermittent showers made up for the lack of spring and summer rainfall. Thumbing back through my older notes, a pattern emerges. The multifaceted profile of this benchmark reveals itself slowly. It is worth waiting for.
Aerate it and watch it unfold. Deep ruby. Perfumed. "Sweet". Wild strawberry-scented, blending earthy mushroom notes. Compact fruit held together with neatly formed, precise, fine tannin. Minerality adds interest to satisfying bitter-edge finish. Leaves the palate refreshed like few other wines can (Nebbiolo comes close). The taste of autumn in one's glass.
08 Nov 2012 © Nico Manessis | Score: 18/20
|Gi ke Uranos Thymiopoulos Vineyards|
|Area: Macedonia|| |
Haridimos Hatzidakis is the most adventurous figure in the Santorini estates. Since his landmark 2003, by far the best wine of the vintage, his style has shifted towards "natural". He continues to be a risk-taker, with his numerous single-vineyard effort...
Aegean Islands | White | Assyrtiko
Haridimos Hatzidakis is the most adventurous figure in the Santorini estates. Since his landmark 2003, by far the best wine of the vintage, his style has shifted towards "natural".
He continues to be a risk-taker, with his numerous single-vineyard efforts. Recently, I had a chance to catch up with his latest as well as some of the older wines. His commitment to bottling single vineyards has been exemplary. More Santorini producers need to follow his example. There are so many "unmapped" vineyards that beckon and deserve to be discovered. Tourlos, Kontarades, and Melihines, in random order, are just a few that spring to mind from my walks. The vineyard map of Santorini should, sooner rather than later, read as Burgundy's. Pyrgos-based Hatzidakis has been a gutsy explorer of his terroir. The reviewed wine struck a cerebral note that no other wine of the terrific 2011 vintage could strike. Not your usual sulfur-briny Santorini mineral cocktail. The cooler-climate village of Pyrgos harvests up to two weeks later than other, "warmer" vineyards, such as lower-lying Vourvoulos, or Akrotiri. From a blend of two single vineyards on the various Louris sub-plots, on a sliver of soil, leaps this pearl of a wine. It is an emphatic signature of one of the great terroirs that, alas, continues to be built over. New mega-villas have sprung up amongst prime vineyards on the fringes of Pyrgos and Megalochori. The old adage that each plane touchdown equals more cubic meters of cement has never rung so true. As the crisis bites, one can only hope that a return to farming of various Santoriniotes up and down the country will offer a real buffer on this cement-boom madness blighting this unique terroir.
Initially reductive and dull. Count 40 minutes, or best carafe it before the "fireworks" light up. White pepper followed by an intriguing red-flower aroma. Explosive stoney mid-palate, splendid depth of fruit. Linear. Concentration, yet finesse on the finish. Bone dry. Focused. A very fine expression from these old vines. Strikingly different.
10 Sep 2012 © Nico Manessis | Score: 17.5/20
|Hatzidakis 2011 Assyrtiko Sélectionne|
|Area: Aegean Islands|| |
As the African plate inched forward, it collided with the European, and Crete popped up. The only near-uniform soil type on the island is the limestone hillsides above the town of Iraklio. The rest of the island is a geologist's dream. With its cooler mi...
Crete | Red | Liatiko
As the African plate inched forward, it collided with the European, and Crete popped up. The only near-uniform soil type on the island is the limestone hillsides above the town of Iraklio. The rest of the island is a geologist's dream.
With its cooler microclimate, this artisan estate lies on a dream patch of soil. On a geology map, it looks like it poured out of a mixer. Marl-littered, with petrified shells and urchins, red oxides, sand and schist. Yannis Economou has been on my radar ever since I discovered him in the 1990s. He readily admits Ziros is blessed with an extraordinary terroir. Yet, it is his deep understanding and minimalist approach that turn heads and raise eyebrows. For two decades he has been making "natural" wines. His only concession is low doses of sulphur, and that not in all wines.
There is nothing weird about his Sitia. It sings with laser-like accuracy. Economou is not an easy man to pry about his methods or get to taste the older vintages. Not suffering fools lightly, he teases, in a nice way. His worldly outlook to the world's finest wines enables him to see what he has and how to manage it, cellaring up to a decade and releasing when each vintage is ready. All grapes come from his own, organically farmed vineyards. Yields are minute, as "that's what nature gives up here", from ungrafted 80-90-year-old vines.
On a recent visit, I tasted the trio of 2006, 2005, 2004. All very different, compelling stuff. The 2004 is enveloped in a wall of acidity. Like the reviewed 1999, it is a profound wine, even though not ready yet. One can not argue against Economou's approach. It is all clearly thought out. Perhaps the best news is that he plans to bottle in magnums. I cannot think of any other collectable red wine more deserving of this, some argue ideal, format. There is another hidden gem in his 600-m. Ziros cellar: the little-seen dark horse in the Cretan white-grape bounty, Thrapsathiri 2009. Think of Château de Beaucastel old-vine Roussanne meeting Cretan botanical gutsiness. Now that is another teaser Economou story.
The smaller-berried Liatiko, with a spoon of Mandilari. Indigenous yeast. Darker- and fresher-looking than any previous vintages. Reminiscent of an aged Burgundy frozen in time. Floral, with aeration it expands into a spectrum of exotic spice aromas. "Sweet" Pinot noir-like nose and palate. Cherries. Compact, high-acid, firm backbone. Intense, lasting aftertaste. A rare combination where a great terroir and human are in unison. If this wine hailed from a classic Italian or French region, it would be very, very expensive. For this pedigree and class, it is a steal. Carafe for 15 minutes. Best 2012- 27.
21 Aug 2012 © Nico Manessis | Score: 19/20
|Area: Crete|| |
|Variety: Liatiko / Mandilari|
One of my earliest recollections in tasting grapes was a type of Muscat. It was cut from a pergola between an olive grove and a beach. It came with instructions. "Wash it before you eat it". After a frisson, or two, of running across the piping hot sand, ...
Peloponnese | White | Kidonitsa
One of my earliest recollections in tasting grapes was a type of Muscat. It was cut from a pergola between an olive grove and a beach. It came with instructions. "Wash it before you eat it". After a frisson, or two, of running across the piping hot sand, I found myself washing my gift in the Ionian Sea. This cocktail of berries bursting with sugar and Ionian salinity dripping down my chin has been one of my happiest experiences in those long-lost days of innocent, carefree existence. It was an impossible act to follow.
None of this was going through my mind while visiting the windswept, barren, stony vineyards of Ioannis Batistas, situated on the inner side of the easternmost "finger" of the Peloponnese. I was absorbing the after-harvest, almost leafless, battered from winds Kidonitsa vines. This grape is named after the aroma of quince. We visited the cellar where the 2011 vintage had just finished fermenting. No reliving the Corfu childhood years. How would that be possible? Yet, something was at hand, not felt in ages: a hunter's reward. From the vat, a hazy glass of simply the most "grapey" wine I have ever come across. Ticking off aromatic grapes: Malagousia and Moschofilero pale in comparison. Transcends Muscat. Frontier stuff. I do not know what Leif Erikson felt when he discovered what he named "Vinland" (Labrador), where he saw wild vines symbiotically clinging to trees, or if his Nordic settlement ever attempted to make wine from grapes. But this find in Laconia was an unexpected revelation. Previous tastings were prone to inconsistency. The picture is now lucent. The owner of this patch of Kidonitsa, restaurateur Ioannis Batistas, explained that this specific vineyard has farming issues. "The current plant stock produces very low yields, mostly reduced by the exposed location". Planting it to a more sheltered from the wind, cooler site in a less extreme environment should reveal more of this highly promising grape. Current Kidonitsa total acreage is estimated at 20 hectares. This invaluable DNA bank is more than worth tapping into. It is a no-brainer that a "new" discovery of such personality, with a bursting-to-the-seams grapey character, has a bright future. To farmers reading this note: Get your vine nursery in order early. Ditto for forward-thinking estates from more northern latitudes that should evaluate a pearl from a warmer climate. Could this rarity turn out to be the Greek vineyard's "Little Prince"?
Yellow gold-green tints. Mealy. Redolent of peach. Gunflint. Kumquat zest, earth-notes mineral backbone. Round. Silky textured saline finish. Stylistically it resembles Aegean island cultivars such as Santorini's Aidani or Crete's Vilana. In reality, an equally attractive though different aromatic picture. Singular. Best 2012-2015.
04 Jul 2012 © Nico Manessis | Score: 16.5/20
|Area: Peloponnese|| |
Many of my friends enjoy wine but know little about it. Politely they listen to the capsule introduction of what we are about to drink, and then we move onto other topics. While celebrating Greek Orthodox Easter, some great lamb from the Landes was the pi...
Peloponnese | Red | Mavrodaphne
Many of my friends enjoy wine but know little about it. Politely they listen to the capsule introduction of what we are about to drink, and then we move onto other topics. While celebrating Greek Orthodox Easter, some great lamb from the Landes was the piece de resistance. Having previously "done" Nemea, it was time for new blood.
The reviewed wine was not decanted, and served from the cellar "cold to the touch". One of my guests bolted: "Now... this is wine!" - "Why, I asked?" Half-blushing, he gushed, "Comfort. A feel-good factor." His face radiated. It did not take long for the second bottle to reach the table. This reaction made me focus on where dry Mavrodaphne stands today.
Originating from the southwestern vineyards of the island of Cephalonia, it is also found, across from this island, on the northwestern Ionian sea shoreline of the Peloponnese. This dark horse of a grape is now on the move: Naoussa, even in cooler-climate Amyndeo, where it ends up in exciting blends. There is an aura of mystery about it, and this is what makes it so, well, attractive. The truth of the matter is that its aromatics are indescribable. Rare and amongst the finest. As in the 2005 Taos. The rest of the picture in this off-beat, satisfying wine is clear as a cloudless day. If I were starting a vineyard (which I am not), tsingelo, the smaller-berried clone of Mavrodaphne, would be at the top of my list. That is the easy part. Next, and a more difficult step, is to match it with some plot of land where, after years, it may, or may not, shine.
Daughters, Erifili and Dimitra, and father, Thanassis Parparoussis, are not fashion-led. The financial crisis has brought those who champion values back to the forefront. A refreshing air of anti-conformist, liberal wine dogma permeates this stalwart, now in its third generation, boutique estate. Their all-Greek grape portfolio is a microcosm of distinctive wines, including their superb distillate Apostagma Oinou Paleothen. In addition to Sideritis, Nemea Agiorgitiko and perfumed sun-dried Muscat, they also farm the great, Aegean in origin, grapes Athiri and Assyrtiko. The Mavrodaphne vines are now between 10 - 22 years old. Are we witnessing the birth of a terroir? Possibly. The influence of the eucalyptus forest and the natural barrier of the Strofilia conifer forest have a say in this. Above all, the sandy riverbed soils littered with marine fossils produce wines now reaching beyond a sense of place. Stay tuned for updates.
Ταώς is ancient Greek for peacock - not imaginary ones, the ones that roam freely in the estate garden. The smaller-berried clone of Mavrodaphne, in a pretty vintage with no heat spikes. Dark in colour. Very fine, complex aroma. Melt-in-mouth, suave, round tannins that carry through some of that exotic one-of-a-kind aroma. Seamless oak. Packed with intense, creamy generosity. Floral and spice on the long finish. Lucent. Different. Best 2012-2016.
17 May 2012 © Nico Manessis | Score: 17.5/20
|Area: Peloponnese|| |
If I have learned anything from wine is that it usually has the last word. This is very much such a story. All apostles preaching ABC (anything but chardonnay) this time will have to eat their proverbial hat. With the new challenges of climate change let'...
Peloponnese | White | Chardonnay
If I have learned anything from wine is that it usually has the last word. This is very much such a story. All apostles preaching ABC (anything but chardonnay) this time will have to eat their proverbial hat. With the new challenges of climate change let's hope we will witness more of these exceptional vintages for non-indigenous varieties. There are a clutch of unique circumstances that have nurtured this impressive effort. The old saying that quality wine is made from grapes that have spent more than 100 days on the vine is an important factor here. Harvest date for most Greek Chardonnay's is more recently, late August or early September. In this instance, the grapes for this iconic oak fermented chardonnay were harvested October 6th. It is a blend of three vineyards, Vassiliko (110m), Mihaleika (840m) and Amygdalies (920m) on the slopes of the Panachaiko (1928m) range of Mountains, in north-western Peloponesos. Spring rain, very cool nights and absence of heat waves contributed to this by any yardstick remarkable bottle. Veteran winemaker Mihalis Probonas, who has a grasp on the international wine scene says "September gave us textbook weather conditions. Cool nights, light winds, no rain. Ripening was at a snails pace (grapes) matured perfectly." His face lights up as we walk on a winter morning in the aforementioned vineyards. He is one of the few technicians who has reference point in various single vineyards of southern Burgundy and cooler sites in Australia. Ditto for the finest producers. "Prices have eased. There is a window to buy again". I add that includes many of us as we exchange on form addresses. We then discuss obscure local grapes such as Santameriana and Mygdali. We focus on their greater tolerance to sudden weather changes and dynamics they offer in blends he has been working on. Back in the cellar. As we taste this reviewed wine his body language speaks professional pride and satisfaction. Not suprisingly, a deafening silence follows, interrupted only by all the "rude" mouth noises shamelessly wine lovers muster. Anax? Classical Greek for King.
Deep golden-green. Initially reductive. Opening up to toasty vanilla notes. Textured palate underpinned with a interplay of bee pollen, butter, nutty, chestnut, lees creaminess, enveloped in a continental freshness. Broad and complex. Remarkable length and balance. With time terroir will reveal itself. The new benchmark? It has the structure to follow medium bodied red wines. Essential to carafe. Best 2012 - 2022.
09 Apr 2012 © Nico Manessis | Score: 18,5/20
|Anax Chardonnay Antonopoulos Vineyards|
|Area: Peloponnese|| |