In the scope of history, Retsina is a recent arrival in the Mediterranean. Resinated wine was first mentioned in Greece in 2300 BC. It was also made elsewhere, where vines and pine trees were to be found. That covers a large part of the northern Mediterra...
Macedonia | White | Roditis
In the scope of history, Retsina is a recent arrival in the Mediterranean. Resinated wine was first mentioned in Greece in 2300 BC. It was also made elsewhere, where vines and pine trees were to be found. That covers a large part of the northern Mediterranean coastline – amongst other places, Narbonne, in today's France, and the Greek-founded port town of Eborio, in today's Spanish Catalunia. Other, older cultures made it long before. Looking eastwards: coastal China, 6000 BC. Shiraz, in today's Iran, where grape pips and crystallised resin were found in jars dated 5000 BC. With bacteria lurking in water, wine was an accessible and safer base for medicinal potions. Honey, herbs, roots, various tinctures, bitters were also used. Fresh seawater was added as a mild laxative. The antiseptic properties of resin were also known. How did the R word enter Greek culture? In a not entirely unexpected moment of serendipity, it was the sealing properties of resin that are thought to have accidentally given birth to resinated wine. Wooden casks were first used by Romans. The Greeks also widely used jars to ferment, store and transport. Plaster, leather, or wood were used as closures. At some point, a resourceful potter, or perhaps a merchant ship captain, added a swipe of resin on the circular jar top. While at sea, the protector resin, acting as sealant, came into contact with wine. This newly born, pine infused wine actually reached beyond the flavour sensation and sense-awakening burst of menthol. Let me put it this way: If a soldier were struck by diarrhoea, it was not the best of conditions to go fight. It was comforting and reassuring to stay healthy by dropping by your local wine merchant’s shed with amphorae stuck into the ground and take in a dose of homeopathy while enjoying a drink. Hop into our time capsule and fast forward a couple of millennia to Thessaloniki, where Stelios Kechris reinvented retsina by repositioning it for the 21st century. To put things into perspective: In this bustling maritime city, there are several large retsina-only houses with most envied profitability for the Greek wine world. Their cash flow reflects the thousands of bottles opened daily. It is a different business model to capital-intensive wineries in need of time, expensive oak, additional bottle ageing, where retsina is not in sight and in some addresses, indeed, looked upon as anachronistic anathema. When the Greek wine sector was investing in modern farming techniques of indigenous grapes, underground cellars, modern wine making kit, and replacing modern graphics for kitsch labels, Kechris bet the shop by focusing on a niche, quality retsina. He had to fight the price issue and a clientele initially indifferent to this revisited retsina. Ultimately, he won the wager. He underestimated by how much, though. After 15 years of uphill struggle, he now sells 900,000 500 ml Kechribari bottles annually. Even more remarkably, this achievement took place in a highly competitive large-volume environment, where the dominant negociants count their quarterly production in millions of bottles. Chapeau bas, Monsieur Kechris & Filles!
Kechribari, a clever play on the words of the producer’s surname and the amber colour of the pine tear. Cork closure. Star-bright. Green tints. Deftly blended Goumenissa Roditis (85%) and Attica Savatiano (15%). Citrus on the clean, dry, modern, fruity aftertaste. Understated menthol lift. Harmonious. Balanced. Imaginative and well done. A lot of character packed in the light-bodied 11.5% ABV. Aleppo pine (pinus halepensis) resin, sourced mainly from Chalkidiki and Attica, added while the grape must ferments. Not just for Modern-Greek fare. Try with spicy aromatic Indian dishes.
28 Jun 2014 © Nico Manessis | Score: 17/20
|Kechribari Retsina Stelios Kechris & Daughters|
|Area: Macedonia|| |
Under your nose. While shooting videos on eastern Crete, a discovery unfolded. It came from that deep, dark ocean of life's fountain: the great unexpected. Santorini lies about 100 nautical miles north of the Ziros Plateau. This 500-m. valley bolted out ...
Crete | White | Assyrtiko
Under your nose.
While shooting videos on eastern Crete, a discovery unfolded. It came from that deep, dark ocean of life's fountain: the great unexpected. Santorini lies about 100 nautical miles north of the Ziros Plateau. This 500-m. valley bolted out of anonymity in the 1990s thanks to Domaine Economou. Yiannis Economou was making ‘natural’ wines before it became a movement from the likes of Josko Gravner et al. Ever since my first trip to Crete, a question haunted me. Simply put: Why wasn’t there any Assyrtiko on this island? Although there are now recent plantings, there was none back in 1993. Or was there? Bearded and professor-like, the patriarch of modern Cretan wine Sotiris Lyrarakis is a pleasure to catch up with. He has 50 years of experience on the Liatikos of Ziros, which Yiannis Economou has turned into a cult winery now listed for over 100 USD in New York's finest restaurants. When I picked his brains, he was adamant that it was Liatiko and nothing else: ‘The smaller berries are due to the centenarian vines and cooler microclimate. When I founded Lyrarakis with my brothers, in 1966, we brought grapes from this plateau. My nephew Giorgos and son Bart have reconnected.’ During the shoot, I followed the Lyrarakis crew in sourcing grapes from this no-man’s plateau on the south-eastern tip above the port town of Sitia. Olive-oil aficionados are familiar with the produce of these hillsides and canyons. Wine-lovers, less so. We met two enlightened farmers who grow grapes and other crops. This was one of my many unforgettable travel experiences. Their succinct factual details of climate change were a tour de force. I broke out in cold sweat. It had me thinking long into my next port of call. A small patch of vineyards with a different shade of green foliage came suddenly into focus. It had been harvested. Instinct told me it was not Greek. What is this? ‘Chardonnay,’ came the improbable answer. ‘The [Sitia] Co-operative suggested to plant this in the 1990s. To move forward.’ Yet, I was surrounded by rare ungrafted Thrapsathiri, Liatiko, Vilana, and a few other, completely unknown to me, heritage vines. It was suggested to visit a vineyard where Assyrtiko was about to be harvested. I could not believe my ears. As we scrambled around, my enlightened new friends informed me that the A cuttings had arrived in 1981 from Santorini Co-op as a gift to the Sitia Co-op. It smells of politics, but who cares? To my understanding, this is the oldest, possibly the first, Assyrtiko vineyard on Crete. This chance encounter happened in 2012. It was a difficult vintage on the big island. Nikos Somarakis, the Lyrarakis vineyard technician, had not yet offered his input to reduce vine stress. Patience is rewarded. Ample rainfall, no heat spikes, Somarakis’ coaching, all had a positive effect in the exceptional 2013 vintage. This discovery left me grinning, saying: under your nose.
Bold, yet delicate. Botanical. Gravel notes. Pear drop, crystalline fruit. Refined, expanding, textured saline finish. Minerality well done. Classy structure. Stylistically, this Cretan Assyrtiko is the ‘link’ between the take-no-prisoners Santorinis and the discreet mainland styles. Beyond rarity, two points: Altitude giving it freshness, and the relatively and usefully lower ABV13%. Unlike any other on the scene. A find. Best 2014-2019.
06 Jun 2014 © Nico Manessis | Score: 18/20
|Area: Crete|| |
On Santorini, the three As mature in the following order: Athiri, Assyrtiko, Aidani. Visually the vigour of Aidani is the more impressive. Yet, appearances can be deceiving. If there is a problem, it lies in its small acreage, as well as market forces...
Aegean Islands | White | Aidani
On Santorini, the three As mature in the following order: Athiri, Assyrtiko, Aidani. Visually the vigour of Aidani is the more impressive. Yet, appearances can be deceiving. If there is a problem, it lies in its small acreage, as well as market forces. It is mostly found in the field mix and in few more-recently planted vines notably by the beautifully restored Argyros’s Episkopi vineyards, or Hatzidakis’s Pyrgos organic plots. Aidani is gifted with a more aromatic, though lower in acid, profile than king Assyrtiko. The revisited, much in demand Aidani is needed on two fronts, resulting in some serious price hikes. Sun-dried Vinsanto's backbone tannic bite and acidity remains Assyrtiko. It is the smokey, floral aromatic qualities needed for Vinsanto that set the wineries reaching deep into their pockets. During harvest the Aidani word has become almost a battle cry. With chilling chambers now being the norm, this once overlooked grape has become something of a prima donna. Price continues to rise as demand far outstrips supply – especially as the dry varietal emerged over the last decade. This softer introduction to the bone-dry Assyrtiko has become the new darling of the fooderati. Nature’s wisdom is such that in a given year not all three As mature in the same time window. Athiri likes cooler climatic conditions, such as the 2009 and 2011. Aidani ripens slowly and in some areas it struggles to reach the full aroma spectrum and expressive flavour levels. The outstanding 2013 seems to be kind to most Aidanis. Consulting oenologist Athina Tsoli has left few stones unturned in improving quality and individuality at Karamolengos. Fully aware of the value of terroir-driven place names, she has grouped them in styles to structure their shape for each label from the vineyard up. This may be a logistical nightmare but much needed discipline. Fact remains: one has to go with these building blocks or happy-go-lucky end up in messy mediocrity. Even for the softer, aromatic Aidani, this terroir has such a strong imprint that it needs a proactive stance after the harvest futile attempts in blending. The acidity in this, much improved, varietal is impressive. It is sourced at the highest and cooler Pyrgos sites, arguably the highest and slower-ripening vineyards on this one-of-a-kind island vineyard. Interestingly, as Pyrgos village reaches 340m and the vineyards 300m, the locals refer to the microclimate as ‘Siberia’. According to Artemis Karamolengos, he sourced from the east-facing Exo Gonia and the south-western upper-Megalochori slopes. The look on his face after asking him how many hours of extra labour to harvest Aidani involves, was, well, priceless.
Platinum. Pale yellow tints. Lime scented, wet pebbles. Fat, vibrant freshness. Sweet blossom, smokey, mineral, long aftertaste. Food was made for such wines. My Portobello-mushroom risotto, spiked with six-month-old Cretan umami-rich graviera cheese, was quite a match. I urge you to stock up of this, yet another surprise from this world-class improbable vineyard. Palate-cleansing hedonism at its best.
19 May 2014 © Nico Manessis | Score: 17.5/20
|Artemis Karamolengos Aidani|
|Area: Aegean Islands|| |
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.
"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.