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|
Standing on high vineyards: to my right, postcard-perfect, snow-covered Lefka Ori (2,300m). To my left, the Cretan sea shimmering with reflections of platinum winter light. As far as the eye can reach, rolling hillsides covered with olive trees, vines and...
Crete | Red | Syrah
Standing on high vineyards: to my right, postcard-perfect, snow-covered Lefka Ori (2,300m). To my left, the Cretan sea shimmering with reflections of platinum winter light. As far as the eye can reach, rolling hillsides covered with olive trees, vines and maquis. Nature’s sketch rendered in pointillism. The entrance to the impressive Manousakis Winery lies hidden by the dark-green foliage of orange trees. This bucolic tranquillity made me think of wine tourism on Crete. Focus should shift to the winter period. This has now received a welcome boost, with low-season, weekly flights from Norway. Interestingly, our modern-day Viking visitors overwhelmingly prefer red to white wine.
Beyond the Rhone Ranger grape mix on this estate, there is another connection to the valley in the South of France: Laurence Féraud, of Domaine du Pegau at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, has been advisor and good friend to long-standing manager Kostis Galanis. “It was after a visit to Châteauneuf that I realized that, with Mourvédre, farming needs to achieve phenolic ripeness. His son, Yiannis Galanis, appreciates the contribution of the Mourvédre “spine” to the Nostos SMG blend. Why Rhône? Well, sun- and wind-hardy grapes was the thing to do in the 1990s, as phylloxera had devastated the historic vineyards in the 1970s and ‘80s. One of the winery’s specialties: pale-skinned Romeiko, more suited to sun-dried, aged dessert wines. The, no longer produced, OSTRIA by the defunct Kissamos Co-op was one of the finest of its kind. The wine was cask-aged overlooking a bay. Think of an Isle-of-Skye distillery on a western-Crete, lapis-lazuli cove.
Back to the present. Though the oldest of the Manousakis vineyards date from the early 1990s, the recently completed winery has clearly played a role in hoisting the wines up a notch. Noted new arrivals are a vertical press and large wooden uprights. In tasting 2014s and 2015s, there is a lighter touch, a softer, riper, bright fruit expression. More eloquent and precise.
Nostos, an archaic word for the journey back to one’s roots, is a metaphorical template on their labels. Alexandra Manousakis was born in the U.S. After a career in real estate, she moved to the place of her father Ted’s origins: the charming village of Vatolakkos, inland from Chania. Urbane Alexandra is one of the island’s wine-tourism pioneers. She developed cellar-door sales. From these visitors, several export markets have sprung. Alexandra also met her husband, Afsvin Molavi, a Swede of Iranian origin. Both have brought a broader vision and new energies: the complete label make-over and further marketing synergies – smartly packaged olive oil and hand-gathered sea salt.
Their latest creation is a clear grape spirit from another Rhône grape, Roussanne. Molavi, who studied food science in Sweden, has also worked as a sommelier. His investments include partnerships in high-end coffee houses and Salis, a restaurant on the Venetian harbour of Chania. His cosmopolitan wine list includes Spanish pearls, such as Mencia from Bierzo.
On many fronts, Crete continues to change. Thankfully, little remains of the state of play on my earlier visits. Now, a growing number of richly diverse wines and their stories command international attention, gaining deserving traction on the world stage. Herein lies a unique opportunity: Whoever packages Crete’s culinary landscape and takes it to the world will have a terrific success story on their hands – large as the birth of a Supernova.
Fragrant floral aromatics and spice. Elegant fruit concentration, balanced by textured tannins. Pervading vivacity offers lift. Long-scented, juicy finish. Fine vinosity. The most variety-true effort to date. Decanting recommended. Best 2016–2022.
12 Apr 2016 © Nico Manessis | Score: 17.5/20
|Manousakis Winery Nostos Syrah|
|Area: Crete|| |
There are several good stories on Crete; this is one of them. Spina is a village that lies on the western foothills of the Lefka Ori mountain range (2,400m). What is left today is all of 1.5 hectares of this fragrant Moschato. Ampelographers claim it is a...
Crete | White | Moschato Spinas
There are several good stories on Crete; this is one of them. Spina is a village that lies on the western foothills of the Lefka Ori mountain range (2,400m). What is left today is all of 1.5 hectares of this fragrant Moschato. Ampelographers claim it is a clone of Muscat blanc a petit grains. Almost lost but not forgotten. Manolis Strataridakis went to visit a friend in Chania, who took him to Spina. He had nothing like this on his paternal farm in Ano Kasteliana, in south-central Iraklion, which is over a two-hour drive due east, so he sourced cuttings.
When planting a grape, there is no guarantee it will find its stride in its new home. Many factors enter into the equation. It may take up to 8 years to see if it stacks up in the real world. Manolis and his brother, Kostis, studied agriculture. Vines have been in the family since 1955. Olives and pistachio nuts are some of their other crops. The spotlessly kept winery is now reaching its 10th anniversary. Consulting oenologist Giannis Halkoutsis is on board. All of their wines are of a high standard. Partially explained by selecting clones that are less productive, yet suited to producing fine wine. Their small-berried Kotsifali is a case in point. But there is something else, too. Their address claims the distinction of Europe’s southernmost winery. Map position: 35 N2′34.61N, 25 14′23.54′′ E. The Strataridakis Bros are readily appreciative of Mount Asterousia (1,231m): “If it were not for the mountain protecting us from the hot Libyan air, we would be roasting. Despite a modicum of climate change, the diurnal temperature during grape season swings from 35ºC to 18ºC.” There is something more than a passing interest in this reviewed specialty: The aromatics of Muscat, in this case, follow through intact on the palate in all their glory. Another of the lesser-known grapes on this island, rich in wine heritage, has been reinvented. The Strataridakis Bros have the professionalism to welcome constructive criticism and adapt. Greek wine needs more of this pragmatic realism.
Platinum, pale green. White flower fragrance. Wet pebbles. Bone-dry, pungent, grapey mid-palate, with juicy notes on a crystalline finish. Lucent. Beautifully balanced. It possesses a structured refreshment factor ideal as an aperitif or to brighten up spicy dishes. One of the more striking dry Moschatos. In this style, above anything now on offer from Lemnos or Samos, and that is saying a lot. A rising star.
17 Mar 2016 © Nico Manessis | Score: 17/20
|Strataridakis Moschato Spinas|
|Area: Crete|| |
|Variety: Moschato Spinas|
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.