Siatista is the fifth Xinomavro region. Also the least known. Tucked-in between the Pindos mountain range (a sister mountain of the Alps) and Mt Velia, lies this sleeper Xinomavro terroir. Wine regions prosper thanks to transport. Until the arrival of the...
Macedonia | Red | Xinomavro
Siatista is the fifth Xinomavro region. Also the least known. Tucked-in between the Pindos mountain range (a sister mountain of the Alps) and Mt Velia, lies this sleeper Xinomavro terroir. Wine regions prosper thanks to transport. Until the arrival of the Egnatia motorway, this essentially isolated mountain pass may well have been consigned to history books. In the 1990s, vine acreage reached 150 hectares. It now stands at 3.5 hectares. It is not all Xinomavro, however. The microclimate goes one better than Florina's cooler-climate Amyndeon. This landlocked clay-limestone slope inches closer to a full-fledged continental climate. Actually, it is the single coldest wine region that I know. With climate change, this frontier may well surpass all its currently better-known sister vineyards. While walking the vineyards of this discovery and tasting the 2011, the region’s contrasted weather vagaries become illuminating. Vintage variation is marked. The 2009 and 2014 were rain-plagued – diplomatic language for a wash-out. It reminded me of the 1990s vintage chart of Goumenissa. Wash-out vintages were peppered with good, and occasionally brilliant, conditions to coax the high-tannic Xinomavro grape into ripening. Goumenissa has Negoska to pad out Xinomavro. The subtly fragrant red Moschomavro steps up for the more famous sweet Siatista. The fortunes of this promising patch are linked to the rise and fall of a far more lucrative profession. Nearby Kastoria and Siatista are famous for the furriers, who were allowed the privilege to wear fur hats as a social distinction during the Byzantine times. Thanks to Dimitri Diamantis the winds of change are blowing again. Autumn is a lovely time to visit this off-the-beaten-path region. Standing at the Agios Panteleimon mountain shelter overlooking the majestic, fir-covered Mt Bourinos (1866 m.), this little-known alpine Greece comes into focus. Our reward (we drove up this time) was a mushroom stew of freshly foraged orange terracotta hedgehogs (Hydnum rufescens – the word is derived from (h)udnon/ύδνον, an Ancient Greek word for truffle according to the Wikipedia) and stone milkcaps (Lactarius salmonicolor, named for its colour). Enjoying this emerging address was another unique mountain experience. With no glassware available, we made spontaneous use of alloy cups. The air was bracing and the temperature plummeting as we seized the last sunrays. There are rare moments on my quest for such discoveries when it just Does.Not.Get.Any.Better.Than.This. Fingers crossed, Siatista bags a stellar vintage sooner, rather than later. That would be worth taking a hike up any mountain in this part of the world.
A blend of trellised six-year-old vineyards and 70-80 year-old bush vines. Altitude: 830 m. A mixture of clones. Harvest: mid-October. ABV: 13.1%. Unfiltered. Initially reductive. Unusual, cold-climate hint of red fruit. After aerating, it moves into higher gear. Linear and elegant. A cornucopia of crushed dark-berry fruit. Mouth-watering acidity. Insistent, layered finish of great purity, laden with graphite minerality. A never previously encountered, singular expression unparalleled in the other four Xinomavro regions. And all this in a mediocre vintage. The perfect ringer for a blind tasting amongst the likes of Mitteleuropa Terodelgo and Lagrein. Best 2015–2025.
16 Dec 2014 © Nico Manessis | Score: 16.5/20
|Xinomavro Siatista PGI Diamantis|
|Area: Macedonia|| |
Onissimos Taverna in Peza, central Crete. The food is the real deal. Local ingredients cooked with discipline and patience. Onissimos is a genial patron: a twinkle in his eyes, his fair beard would not be out of place in a medieval painting from the Ven...
Onissimos Taverna in Peza, central Crete. The food is the real deal. Local ingredients cooked with discipline and patience. Onissimos is a genial patron: a twinkle in his eyes, his fair beard would not be out of place in a medieval painting from the Venetian merchant clubs on this island’s port cities. Nursing a broken leg, he sat close to our table, taking in all the jargon-filled comment on the clutch of bottles loosely centred in front of us. We were absorbed with this late-in-the-day harvest update, climate-change issues, anecdotes of stubborn farmers. Quietly we were also celebrating the new, 2014 vintage. As our supper was coming to an end, and the wine-deconstruction endeavour was losing momentum, with impeccable timing our host produced several glasses of a ruby-coloured wine. His killer comment: “717 kg of Kotsifali and 520 kg of Mandilari”. Pin-drop silence, followed by a warm round of applause. It was his house wine, made from neighbouring vineyards. Still closed on the aftertaste. I had never tasted such a young wine from these specific grapes. Yet, one can one learn from such a hobbyist effort. Obviously, it had not spent so much time on its skins. The Kotsifali aroma was scintillating floral. Despite our fatigue, it was a jolt of lightening. The Mandilari tannins were not obtrusive; no bell pepper, unripe green streak. It got me thinking in other directions. Of all the incomer red grapes on Crete, it is Syrah in which Kotsifali and Mandilari have found a soulmate. To date, the more successful of the two, with a strong commercial demand in the export market, is the Kotsifali-Syrah blends. The Mandilari-Syrah is more challenging, as farming to obtain ripe Mandilari needs that extra effort. In Yiorgos Lyrarakis’s words, “As the 2014 harvest unfolded, Mandilari had stressed and was almost laying down to take a nap. The harvest rains helped it. They were the right amount at the right moment for it to wake up and sprint to its full normal ripeness”. Their single-vineyard Plakoura Mandilari was easily the most toothsome of the in-the-raw cloudy samples on our table. A persuasive argument for how good this undervalued grape really is. The new generation is working on this challenge. The focused ones will get there, as the desire to turn the page is genuine. Zacharias Diamantakis at Kato Assites was illuminating: “Mandilari’s acidity is higher than Syrah's; beyond vivacity, it adds structure, spine”. Wine-wise, Crete is no longer terra incognita – it is the most exciting region in this 21st-century Greek-wine renaissance.
On social media, recently, I witnessed a lively Retsina thread. It came from far-flung corners of the world, including the Far East. It went on for several days. Comment was a revealing eye-opener. Through it all, it was clear that aficionados were either...
On social media, recently, I witnessed a lively Retsina thread. It came from far-flung corners of the world, including the Far East. It went on for several days. Comment was a revealing eye-opener. Through it all, it was clear that aficionados were either looking for the next step, or had seamlessly moved up to modern retsinas. I suspect there is a much larger following that even insiders are not fully aware of. From my vantage point, there are further encouraging signs. During my travels to the Greek islands, this new wave of retsinas, albeit of limited distribution, is telling. There were turning up in haunts old and new. Repeatedly, this niche revival comes down to four different names: Kechris, Tetramythos, Gaia, and Papagiannakos. They are all of subtly different styles and approaches. The biggest surprise came from an enterprising sommelier whose guests had all four while offering practical pairing plate pointers. Five years ago this scene would have been unthinkable. Yet, for open-minded punters, the synergies in this loose group are enticing. The Papagiannakos family are no newcomers to Retsina. Vassilis Papagiannakos is the third generation, with the fourth generation entering the family business. Today, most of their production has diversified from a one-trick pony to excellent, some may argue benchmark, Savatiano, aromatic Malagousia, an assortment of reds and a rare dessert wine. Their intimate familiarity with the local vineyards has not been lost and is one of their trump cards. A 15-minute drive from Athens airport, these rolling hills near Markopoulo are steeped in farming history. Since Neolithic times, grains, olive groves, the vine, and figs have been staples, today adding pistachio trees to the mix. Like all other agricultural produce grown here, they encapsulate bright, distinct flavours. The pine forests of nearby Koubaras and other Arvanites-inhabited communities are the source of the Aleppo pine. A dollop of measured pine resin is added to the grape must. As this ferments, the resin infuses the newly-born wine. Though the resin, harvested with sustainable practices, is not overwhelming, finding the right balance is not a simple matter of complying with legislature: 1 kg / 1,000 litters. Fact is, everyone uses a lot less. Other factors that come into the equation are vintage variation, ditto for the pine-tree sap. This specialty and their other, non-resinated wines are made in a first of its kind winery, built in 2008, with impressive energy-efficient features, including a complex natural-airflow system. Cooler northern winds are channelled throughout the winery and exit from the southern-facing windows. This is a long way from the cement tanks and old large casks the first Papagiannakos generation used.
On several fronts, this historic wine has not only found an enjoyable, fresh-tasting, modern context. It is also unique. Greece is not alone in reinventing traditional categories. Portugal's Vinho Verde is another revival story of a European stalwart. Though much reduced from the industrial-sized volume of 1960s behemoths, these hand-crafted retsinas usher in a new era. Not unlike Vinho Verde and Sherry, these light-on-their-feet retsinas are the perfect match for the saline and pungent small dishes found in this part of the eastern Mediterranean. Having upped its game, Retsina is now gaining a younger, more demanding, cosmopolitan fan base.
Justifiably, there are smiles down on the R section at wine central. Though I never expected anything like this on my beat.
According to the Office International du Vin, Greece's ranking in the volume of wine produced, 14 in the top 20 countries, has lost a place. Hungary has taken the slot previously held by Greece. The level of foreign investment in Hungary is an admirably c...
According to the Office International du Vin, Greece's ranking in the volume of wine produced, 14 in the top 20 countries, has lost a place. Hungary has taken the slot previously held by Greece. The level of foreign investment in Hungary is an admirably cosmopolitan mix. French, Spanish and American are just a few ventures that spring to mind. The fluctuating fortunes of the fragmented Greek vineyard are far more complex than a lack of a high-profile foreign-investment stamp of approval. The grubbing up of vineyards, some merited, others not, has set off an alarm bell.
On my rounds, I see, within historic regions, lazy farming practices. On Crete, a veteran told me how lifelong overcropping Mandilari with unripe ''green'' vegetal notes had run its course. No quality boutique address, of which there are now dozens, would touch grapes like these. Elsewhere, in the Peloponnese, there is an eerie silence in the increasing areas of unpruned vines. Further distressing signals come from terroir-star Santorini. The ongoing loss of vines is not only down to tourist-fueled real-estate demand for a place in the sun with a view. The advanced farmers’ age (average 63) cannot be overlooked. Some just sell up. Only a few have resorted to long-term leasing to professional farmers like Christoforos Hryssou, or Nikos Pelekanos. With 1.9 million visitors expected in 2014 (local population 13,200), it is not pragmatic to advocate a construction moratorium. A touchdown at the airport eventually results in some m2 of concrete pour. There is a way forward: to increase the value of land on which current housing lies. Land zoning is now of the upmost urgency. No vineyard is uniform in soil type. Vlichada, with high sand content, is not ideal for farming the much-in-demand Assyrtiko. It makes sense to designate that area for building, rather than farming. Sea views come as a bonus. The cementing over of Imerovigli, a Grand Cru had it been in Chablis, is just too awful to ponder on. For such a wine, brimming with a sense of place, Santorini’s part-time or full-time farmers command higher prices. The incentive of a higher revenue towards better farming increases land value; it is a win-win situation.
If there is a will for far-reaching change, of which I remain skeptical, other solutions exist, even for the aforementioned Santorini issues. : Therasia, the little Thera (Santorini), is 9.2 km2. Sparsely populated, it numbers 256 inhabitants. It is pre-tourism, no cement Santorini in the 1970s. Since 1613 BC, it has been covered with the same off-white porous topsoil that geologists attribute to the Minoan explosion that occurred on the other side of the caldera. In 1965, there were 74 hectares in vine. From the bay of Korfos, the canavas, cave-like rooms "carved" in the "soft" volcanic rocks, in which wine was produced and stored, exported in bulk to France for the production of sparkling wine. Today, the terraces bear little resemblance to those on my first visit, in the 1990s. Some 50 hectares have been abandoned. Replanting Assyrtiko, Aidani and a little Mavrotragano would be going back to the future. There is room for new boutique wineries. For their energy needs, solar and wind power could be tapped. Presto the carbon-neutral credentials. This expansion would give a new lease of life to one of a handful of the world's improbable vineyards. Nationwide action in planting vines is no fairy tale. Further inertia is simply unthinkable.
Haridimos Hatzidakis has completed 23 harvests. He is one of the most thoughtful oenologists on this high-profile yet fragile vineyard. His six Assyrtiko labels, one Aidani and three dessert wines are clear-cut ideas, sourced with insight from Santorini's...
Aegean Islands | White | Assyrtiko
Haridimos Hatzidakis has completed 23 harvests. He is one of the most thoughtful oenologists on this high-profile yet fragile vineyard. His six Assyrtiko labels, one Aidani and three dessert wines are clear-cut ideas, sourced with insight from Santorini's little-known terroir. He is a risk-taker and early advocate of organic farming. Yet, can organic truly bring something to these wines from a wind-swept, sunny, maritime climate? Tasting through his numerous small vats shows it can: The fresh wines from organically farmed grapes offer more precision. Here lurks another bold decision: For most of his characterful wines he chose to follow the difficult and risky slow-fermentation option, not adding cultured wine yeast. One concession to a full natural-wine manifesto is the minimal use of sulphur after fermentations and at bottling. The effort he puts into these, diverse in character Assyrtikos reminds me of the painstaking discipline of archaeologists on their digs: Brushing away carefully; measuring a day’s work in centimetres; keeping arduous logs, pictures, mapping, GPS coordinates. When Haridimos stumbled upon this single vineyard, it was quasi-abandoned and in terrible shape. It lies 220 m. high, with a southern exposure in the Louros sub-region on the Pyrgos slope. The vines are believed to be over 150 years old. Organic viticulture and ploughing with mules was the only way forward. This gentle approach, a homeopathy of sorts, needs patience. Three years later, it responded with the mosaic-like profile of this name place coming into focus. Each vintage imprint is different – terroir driven would be an understatement. As of the 2011 vintage, Mylos is coming into its own. In tasting through 2011, 2012 and 2013, the aura of this old-vine wisdom on a special plot is tangible. Underneath Hatzidakis’s quiet and modest demeanour lies determination. Not a whiff of vintners’ tales, but proof of deed in his credo: ''Ongoing quest of new challenges''. As I left, he dropped sketchy details of his tinkering with another single vineyard nearby, but that is another story.
At this stage, not yet reductive. Pink-hued brass, pale yellow. Very pure earth-and-fruit aroma. Floral, summer dried-herb notes of thyme. Unfolds to pit stone. An incisively chiselled mineral attack jolts your senses. Saline acidity, with a bone-dry, continuously persistent mineral finish. The palate-twitching crystalline acidity keeps the tasty tannic bite honest. Do not rush this, as 20 minutes later it becomes full of vigour, electrifyingly terse. Impressive harmony from this blockbuster, take-no-prisoners, not-for-everyone style of wine. An intense, lasting impression lingers as the mouth eventually regains its composure. With bottle aging, it will need decanting. A monument in the making. Best 2015-2026
06 Sep 2014 © Nico Manessis | Score: 18.5/20
|Hatzidakis Assyrtiko de Mylos Vieilles Vignes|
|Area: Aegean Islands|| |
With Greece's entry, in 1981, to the common European Market, structural funds became available. Until then, Greek wine was carved up by four behemoths. In this antiquated wine scene, a sea of change unfolded. Many of the all-new co-operatives that sproute...
Peloponnese | White | Malagousia
With Greece's entry, in 1981, to the common European Market, structural funds became available. Until then, Greek wine was carved up by four behemoths. In this antiquated wine scene, a sea of change unfolded. Many of the all-new co-operatives that sprouted were political driven. There is no doubt of the initial and long-lasting impact. Due to infighting, a few became lame ducks. Though stricken, they were given a lifeline of sorts through political hand-outs in exchange for votes. Inevitably, marketing inertia forced many to became ''banks'' (I will get back to this later). On the western leg of the Peloponnesos, Nestor Cooperative of Messinia was set up – and on a grand scale, too. The world was not yet interested in indigenous grapes at the time. Santorini Assyrtiko was a unwanted child going for 50 Drachmas a kg. Instead, acres were planted with the ubiquitous Cabernet Sauvignon. So much so, that by the mid-1990s the new mid-size names or merchants sourced CS from Nestor. Merchants would dip into the huge CS reserves to top up their brands, then on their last leg, sold mostly to Greek tavernas such as those in the German market. Eventually, this and other not pragmatic business models simply died out. The world is a much changed place since those giddy days. This holds true also for the now re-energised world of Greek wine, where 84% of wineries are privately owned. Out of Nestor came Dimitris Panagiotopoulos, who founded in 2004, with his family, the eponymous winery and 25 hectares of vineyards. From a dozen labels, the standout is the Malagousia Bio. Not all of Greece is suitable for organic farming. All the more so if your neighbours happen to farm on different principles. There is another enticing, alas little seen, feature on this cracker of a wine: a screw cap. Those who should be using this closure type are in the hundreds up down the country. But that is another story. Yannis Flerianos, who consults to other boutique wineries in a wide cross-section of latitudes and grape varieties, nailed one of the most intriguing of these currently in vogue varietals. It's the difference, with its dip into the exotic side of this semi-aromatic grape, that is worth seeking. This endorsement comes with a twist. Though I understand the reasons for the popularity of this fashionable grape, currently Malagousia sits nowhere near the top of my current shortlist. If I was just discovering wine, it could well be a favourite. A lifetime ago, a neophyte to wine in London, an almost unpronounceable grape initially impressed me. This was none other than the hedonistic, swirling fruit-salad bowl of Alsace Gewurztraminer. This once tasted never forgotten sensation was just a path on my way to discovering and enjoying Chablis and Mosel Riesling. Does Charco's ring a bell?
Pachimari: single vineyard at Pirgos Trifilias. Alluvial soil. Altitude: 500m. Organically farmed. The wine? Initially closed, it opens up slowly. Marked fresh-basil nose. A cocktail unfolds on the palate of citrus, muscat and spice. Did I mention it opens up slowly? There is so much more character here that I kept it in the fridge for 12 hours. Utterly different wine. Less exuberant on the nose. All exotic fruit, attractive grip. Underlined by a subtle, smokey, mineral tow. Depth and texture rarely seen in this grape. Focused and concentrated. Good balance of modern winemaking know-how and terroir. Top vintage. A jewel. Best 2014-2018
29 Jul 2014 © Nico Manessis | Score: 17.5/20
|Ktima Panagiotopoulou Malagousia Bio|
|Area: Peloponnese|| |