On the large, southern-facing slope of this jewel of a island vineyard lie the villages Pyrgos Kalistis and Megalochori. For centuries, they have been the heartland of Santorini's wine production. Alas, with no strict, enforceable land zoning, new, la...
Aegean Islands | White | Assyrtiko
On the large, southern-facing slope of this jewel of a island vineyard lie the villages Pyrgos Kalistis and Megalochori. For centuries, they have been the heartland of Santorini's wine production. Alas, with no strict, enforceable land zoning, new, large eyesores continue to be built. One sadly often appreciates something only after it has been lost. Still, demand has resulted in some good news from this diminishing acreage. Perhaps the newly found momentum of boutique wineries springing up will buffer this madness. Will it usher this under-threat terroir into common-sense long-term planning? What is heartening, bone-dry wines have scaled new heights, beyond a great low-yield vintage that 2013 has turned out to be. The quality competition amongst 11 existing wineries, soon to be joined by three new ventures, is escalating. That can only have a positive effect. Viticulture cannot be done on hot air; it needs capital to improve. I have argued in these pages that the way forward in order to protect, and add value to, these rare vineyards is to identify name places and enable us to enjoy more of this great terroir through minimal-intervention winemaking. More than anyone, Gavalas has upped his game. There are modern wines across the board, where terroir shines through a 21st-century touch. The exciting feature of this reviewed wine is not the Natural Ferment, though that has a say in the overall style. Hatzidakis has spoilt us with bottling several Pyrgos single vineyards. The grapes in this new departure by Gavalas mostly come from their Megalochori estate. Broadly speaking, Pyrgos is crisper – a study in minerals. Megalochori is not blunt on the mineral front, yet is softer, highlighting finesse. Thirty years ago, wine from these vineyards was shipped to Athens in bulk from the now defunct Megalochori wineries of Akilas, Chryssou and Venetsanos. Fast-forward to now, wine is bottled and increasingly exported throughout the world. Santorini Assyrtiko are in fact the first two words that professionals in cosmopolitan wine markets have become aware of in modern Greek wine. It only took 20 years.
White flowers. Incisive aroma of honey meshing with supple, briny phenolic yeastiness. Creamy, lemony plump texture. Marine salinity on the playful, lasting finish. A forward, approachable, soft style. Brimming with a unique sense of place. Best: 2014-2019
07 Apr 2014 © Nico Manessis | Score: 17/20
|Gavalas Santorini Natural Ferment|
|Area: Aegean Islands|| |
A great memory booster for one's armchair travels, wine has that magic-carpet-ride capability to transpose you to the top of a hill, or to a panorama of soil and nature. Nearly 20 years now, I have been fortunate to criss-cross the Greek vineyard. Whe...
Peloponnese | Red | Agiorgitiko
A great memory booster for one's armchair travels, wine has that magic-carpet-ride capability to transpose you to the top of a hill, or to a panorama of soil and nature. Nearly 20 years now, I have been fortunate to criss-cross the Greek vineyard. When in Mitteleuropa, the ''cheapest'' way for a quick visit to Hellas through my mind's eye is to savour one of her sun-drenched wines. I value two things above all: finesse and the more elusive regional identity. When Kostas Mitravelas announced that he has something ''new'' for me to taste I was curious as to how he had handled the newborn. Confession time: I have never been enamoured with over-extracted, inky-black monsters. Anyone anywhere can ape them. Would he have also bred one of these monsters? It would be out of character for him to do so, but who knows? Finally, sur place, my fears dissipated in a pleasant surprise. Kostas is hardly the talkative type. Getting him to open up somewhat was like pulling teeth: "Two bush-vine place names, Ahladia and Tsindari (at the foothills of Koutsi), are over 40 years old. They are also the lowest-yielding of my vineyards. I blended these as building blocks to produce a different expression of old-vine Nemea. It has more colour and concentration than my Ktima." Quantity, subject on the vagaries of weather, can reach 4,000 bottles. The 2011 vintage is all of 1,300 bottles. A 2012 and 2013 were also made. Mind you, this maiden vintage was not the most uniform, or a top vintage. Neither a poor one. Gaia went as far to declassify their iconic Gaia Estate. This is a genuine effort to create a jewel in the crown of this estate’s wines. If Nemea wants to move forward and shake off the current inertia, it should look for inspiration to such thoughtful efforts.
Deep red-blue rim. Cocoa powder. Fine-grained tannins. Black-cherry freshness. Depth. Finesse on the finish. Balanced. Authentic. A creamy, classy, fruity, terroir-driven Mediterranean red, capturing Nemea's Agiorigitiko core character. Though perhaps a lacklustre vintage, the old bush-vine wisdom shines. A wine with soul. Decant for 45 minutes. Best 2014-2021.
19 Mar 2014 © Nico Manessis | Score: 17.5/20
|Mitravelas Estate Nema, Old Vineyards|
|Area: Peloponnese|| |
One of the advantages in clocking the mileage I manage through the vineyards is meeting people who make wine to share with friends. Most of this wine gets bottled. No label, apart from chalk or felt-pen codes. It does not enter the marketplace. There is p...
One of the advantages in clocking the mileage I manage through the vineyards is meeting people who make wine to share with friends. Most of this wine gets bottled. No label, apart from chalk or felt-pen codes. It does not enter the marketplace. There is plenty of hit and miss, yet some, benefiting from professional guidance, are lovely. They are also invaluable leads in spotting trends and finding out which grapes work outside their inherited historic regions, i.e. Agiorgitiko in Nemea. As king Assyrtiko marches on from Santorini into many other soils and mesoclimates, savvy wineries are preparing the next big thing. The very large white grape jigsaw puzzle has quietly come into focus. That mostly limestone rock in the Ionian Islands, Cephalonia, is Robola's power-house address today. The on-form Gentilini 2013 Robolas are possibly the finest they have made. Now is a time to re-discover the seductive Robola charms. In the 1990s it was planted on the mainland, notably in Fthiotida. The R word then went quiet. Recently the radar became active again. The fact that established names, such as Ktima Pavlidis and Biblia Chora, have it on their Research & Development programs has not escaped attention. Nikos Karatzas at Pavlidis went far into uncharted territory by producing an orange wine. It is more than promising, too. Biblia Chora is more conventional, with that always gentle signature touch for which Vassilis Tsaktsarlis is noted. Profile differences between Robola and Assyrtiko? Robola is less tannic, overall more digest. Also not a fruit bomb. Similarities? Both varieties possess discreet aroma, but crunchy acidity and mineral finish make them stand out. And that’s where their similarities end. Robola leans towards flint. Assyrtiko is savoury. On volcanic Santorini soil, derived sulfur and in-your-face minerals are as strong as the Meltemi wind. Bottle variation on bone-dry Santorini is noticeable, less so with Robola. There is a small minority of wine drinkers who actually find it difficult to enjoy a second glass of Assyrtiko. Not so with more polished, urbane Robola. No one really knows where the next great Robola terroir may emerge. There is a clue, however: The glass of the 2013 vintage in front of me, from a three-year old vineyard, is nothing short of astonishing. Bergamot, vibrant broad-grape freshness, with flinty minerals. What harmony! Such a clear picture! Its proud owner is a retired banker, whose new lease of life farming a limestone patch near Lake Kopaida shines like a bright beacon in the darkest night. Robola is the next Assyrtiko.
In the haze, the Aliakmon River flows into the man-made Polyfytos Lake. In the distance, a solitary pelican glides on the mirror-like water surface. Seen from a particular angle, the abstract white building of Ktima Voyatzi could be mistaken for an interg...
Macedonia | Red | Xinomavro
In the haze, the Aliakmon River flows into the man-made Polyfytos Lake. In the distance, a solitary pelican glides on the mirror-like water surface. Seen from a particular angle, the abstract white building of Ktima Voyatzi could be mistaken for an intergalactic docking station. The striking elongated walkway ascending to the tasting room, the brainchild of architect Yiorgos Pappakostas, brilliantly captures what an uphill effort quality wine-making is. I urge future winery ventures to visit this address to see that one does not have to hark towards the past for inspiration and turn 'traditional' to eyesore. Inside, there are commanding views of the lake and the estate vineyards. One can see a battery of stainless steel tanks. It is all thought out with workflow in mind and attention to detail. So are the wines. Yiannis Voyatzis has been the longstanding chief oenologist of Boutari. Located in Velvendos, a prime peach-producing region, this estate is his own gig. Voyatzis is one of the top professionals of his generation. His approach is methodical and focused. He is keen on terroir yet sees beyond varieties, crafting a patchwork of place names into a classy, convincing mélange. His philosophy is lucid and coherent. There are no power-vinification show-offs here. What is there is a great in-situ support team. A thoughtful manager, oenologist Irine Zande daily breathes life into this venture. Roving ambassador, strikingly different younger brother Nikos Voyatzis is a great storyteller. Funny, too. Velvendos lies behind Naoussa's Mount Vermion. It is also home to distinct Xinomavro clones – different aromatics, darker colour, softer tannins. Though a Xinomavro varietal is indeed bottled here, it was the Ktima that quietly stole the show.
Comprising 65% Xinomavro, 25% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, it is the Xinomavro aromatics that take centre-stage, with a zippy acidity that holds interest, more so after carafing for several hours. Structure and tannins are so neatly interweaved it seems grafted by nanotechnology. Precise, polished sophistication, with a wink towards Bordeaux, the Xinomavro introducing exotic, charged aromatics and tension. Gratifyingly cerebral. Now, if you want to impress friends new to Greek wine, this is a great candidate for some blind tasting. The fun factor should be sky-high. Best 2014-2020
08 Feb 2014 © Nico Manessis | Score: 17/20
|Area: Macedonia|| |
"Without travel, you can’t really know the place you are from" -David Mansaray In late November 2008, I was graduating with a degree in Enology in Athens, while at the same time I was practising my second vintage harvest on the island of Santorin...
"Without travel, you can’t really know the place you are from"
In late November 2008, I was graduating with a degree in Enology in Athens, while at the same time I was practising my second vintage harvest on the island of Santorini. It was a period in my life when I was becoming ever more curious and excited in discovering with my own eyes and soul the art of winemaking, worldwide.
Early enough in my career, I realized that no matter how many wine books I read, or how many wines I tasted I would never become accomplished before I finally handcrafted my own wine!
My journey across the wine world started in early 2009 with a trip to Mendoza, Argentina. If I were ever asked to express my overall experience in one word that word would be "teamwork", a principle I intend to treasure throughout my career.
Cahors, France, was the second destination of my journey. This south-western region in France, famed for the Malbec grape variety, taught me how the integration of everyday life with the skills of winemaking can generate a new synthesis, called "knowledge".
After France, it was now time for Australia to be my new home. Winemaking in Australia and quality control go hand in hand. I have experienced all levels of winemaking, with their impeccable focus on the preservation of flavours and aromas, both signature characteristics of Australian wines. I have re-visited Australia on numerous occasions and was always faced with the same question: "Are you a white or red winemaker?" In a country where specialization is very important, I was lucky enough to become involved with both types of wines and at the same time deal with all kinds of grape varieties.
Last but not least in my journey across the wine world was California. A land so generously gifted by nature. Napa and numerous other valleys of California are decorated every year with new state-of-the-art boutique style wineries, thus giving the opportunity for new people to develop their winemaking skills and produce new, modern wines.
One of the lessons I derived from my practical work across the world was to appreciate the knowledge that I acquired as a student of Enology in Greece and from my interaction with the local growers. Winemaking in Greece is deeply routed into our culture and has also technologically evolved throughout the years as Greek winemakers nowadays meticulously analyse, assess, and craft all types of wines.
Nonetheless, all individuals must be dedicated to becoming the best version of themselves. Opting for work placement abroad and then implementing the positive experiences from our host countries to our own ethics gives us the foundation for a promising career.
The setting, the spacious canava of Pelekanos Hotel Wine Bar. Haridimos Hatzidakis had invited the farmers from whom he sources some of his grapes, alongside with a clutch of wine lovers, to explore a decade of his Nichteri. If you are unfamiliar with thi...
The setting, the spacious canava of Pelekanos Hotel Wine Bar. Haridimos Hatzidakis had invited the farmers from whom he sources some of his grapes, alongside with a clutch of wine lovers, to explore a decade of his Nichteri. If you are unfamiliar with this term, some insight: In the past, after harvesting all day long, this was the first wine made, after dusk. Nichta is Greek for night. In essence, it was the free-run juice of the then age-old foot presses. It was a canava’s finest and most expensive wine. In today’s terms, it translates into grapes picked later, of ABV14.5% – ABV16%. To put this in context, the bone-dry PDO Santorini are on average ABV%13.5. These wines need strongly flavoured dishes. Their intensity compares to Sherry, Fino en rama. Surprisingly, another wine region also gives a nod to the unique wines of the crescent-shaped volcanic island. More on that in a moment.
On a large communal table, the mingling of land-owning farmers like the genial Christoforos Chryssou and chef Vassilis Zacharakis, who went as far as to name his restaurant, what else, Nichteri, boded for a great evening. The guest list rounded up most of the island’s wine community. Sharing was genuine. Their stories behind these wines, encompassing a very diverse and far-reaching spectrum of experiences and opinions, made this simply the most instructive and enjoyable clan gathering on my wine-route travels in years. Leading the tasting was Paris-based Hatzidakis importer, Yorgos Ioannidis. All bottles came from the producer’s cellar and were decanted between 2-4 hours. To put us in the mood with a "reference", a teaser. 2012 cask sample. Reminiscent of a Vin Jaune from the Jura. It felt like it was harvested a few months ago. Not rated.
2010: Did not reach standards and was declassified
2009: Grapey. Quince. Textured. Elegance. Structured for ageing. 18.5/20
2008: Fino-like. Heat. Tannic bite. Bone dry. Approachable. 17.5/20
2007: Petrol. Heat imprint. Honeyed. Stoney backbone. 17/ 20
2006: Focused. Complexity. Freshness. Classy. Complete. 19.5/20
2005: Petrol. Maritime salinity. Extract. Intensity. 17.5/ 20
2004: A large harvest. Fleshy. Marred by hollow finish. 14/20
2003: Floral. Spice. Cherubic. Playful. 16.5/20
2002: The smallest harvest in recent memory. Lactic. Mushroom. 15.5/20
2001: Lively fresh flavours. Energy. Some staying power! 18.5/20
2000: Back to the Nichteri style. Smokey pyritic aftertaste. Holding up. 17/20
1999: Reductive. Signs of oxidation. Sherry-like flor. Dried out. 14/20
Haridimos explained that these wines were not always from the same sites. Rather, it was all about a quest to locate the most suitable place name to deliver the best Nichteri possible. With hindsight, it is a pity that a team of young technicians with their tablets were not involved to help compile a database to build on from this pioneering quest. Interestingly, Hatzidakis also stated that the average ABV% on all these wines was 14.7. The 2006, the night’s star, was perfection. This breathtaking bottle has joined my pantheon of the greatest wines I have been lucky enough to enjoy over the years. Let me put it this way: There was no spitting out. As I stepped out on the cobblestone street of Fira, cold winter air bracing my face, something quite unexpected happened. I jumped up, clicking my heels. Now, I may be a poor dancer but, with the elating rush throughout my body and soul, it felt, for that fleeting instant, like the gravity-defying, mid-air hovering leap Mikhail Baryshnikov performed in his day.