One of the more amusing fashion trends is that of Santorini’s Mavrotragano. A series of hapless circumstances fuelled by human foibles, and tiny acreage, have lifted the price close to 4 Euros/kg. Ex-cellar price: 14 Euros. In Greece, a bottle retails ...
Aegean Islands | Red | Mandilaria
One of the more amusing fashion trends is that of Santorini’s Mavrotragano. A series of hapless circumstances fuelled by human foibles, and tiny acreage, have lifted the price close to 4 Euros/kg.
Ex-cellar price: 14 Euros. In Greece, a bottle retails for 27 Euros. What is it like? Medium-dark colour, feral, with spicy notes. What it does lack, especially for the going price, is body.
It all started gathering momentum when, ten years ago, the Slow Food movement in Italy listed it as a rare heritage grape under threat of extinction. Several, new to Greek wine, freelance journalists latched on to this lead and went off to find the holy grail amongst 409 wine-bearing vines. Well, I have seen the future, and it is not Mavrotragano. To insiders, this hype bordered on farce. Alarmingly, it lasted quite a while. There is light at the end of the tunnel, as I sense it has used 12 of its 15-minute glory. This pressure is about to deflate further, as a serious alternative has made its low-key presence.
Ioanna Vamvakouri, oenologist and managing partner at the re-launched historic Venetsanos winery, has insight on this morbid moment of glory of the black crunchy grape, aka mavrotragano. ‘While at Boutari, I researched Mavrotragano and Mandilaria for eight years. I gave up on Mavrotragano, as it did not thrill me. The dynamics of Mandilaria were far more interesting.’ One of her little-known swan songs while at Boutari was the energetic, food-friendly Mandilari rosé named Kouloures. It was more than an eye-opener. For a modest price, it brilliantly captured Santorini freakish volcanic landscape in a glass. Though it sold out, it went unnoticed. Back to the reviewed Mandilaria: the last two harvest prices are a steady 0.50 Euros. The reviewed wine bottle retails for 14 Euros. Acreage is small, though far more substantial than the other M, where a sniffing dog is needed to locate a vine here and a vine there.
Wine ultimately exists for our pleasure – it comes down to our preferences in profile style. So, if you like high-acid, tannic red wines that through time have become one with the luminous Southern-Aegean archipelago, then this shift in focus is worth following. This counterpoint may help push back a fashion folly towards the classics. Fashion comes and goes. No guesses what has staying power.
From the estate’s prized high Pyrgos single vineyard at Ai Giorgis. Harvested ten days later than other addresses. Deep ruby. Viscous. Round. Devoid of any hint of green notes and angular tannins. Only Xinomavro can scale such natural high acidity (7.1gr/L in tartaric), masking its 15% abv. Textbook vinosity. Refreshing, despite statuesque proportions. Not for everyone, with its chewy, chunky style. Partners protein-rich plates. The most interesting new red-wine effort from a great white-wine terroir. Best 2015–2020.
13 Nov 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 16.5/20
|Venetsanos Mandilaria PGI Cyclades|
|Area: Aegean Islands|| |
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.
Incomers have an advantage. In their new environment, it is easier to identify strengths and weaknesses. Vasilis Laderos moved from Chalkida, in central Greece, to Venerato, above Heraklion. He soon gained insight on the better vineyards and growers in th...
Crete | Red | Kotsifali
Incomers have an advantage. In their new environment, it is easier to identify strengths and weaknesses. Vasilis Laderos moved from Chalkida, in central Greece, to Venerato, above Heraklion. He soon gained insight on the better vineyards and growers in these undulating, calcareous soils, varying from 350- 500m altitude. He founded Idaia Winery with Calliope Volitaki, who is also an oenologist. Nearby cellars also benefit from their consulting services.
Insiders cringe and carp on about the green, unripe tannins of Cretan red wines. They used to have a point. From a series of recent, in-situ tastings, it is diminishing. Nobody has done more to reinforce this change than Idaia. They consistently deliver some of the most toothsome red wines. Who else skipped the difficult 2011 reds? If proof is in ageing, the enjoyment I get from relatively older vintages of their K-M keeps driving home several messages: They are different to anything else in Greece. It is an all-Cretan experience. They capture that elusive sense of place. Their smell and taste could come out of a medieval spice market in one of the island ports, when Venetian galleys where shipping the much-in-demand sweet wines of Malevizi. Moreover, they are appetising.
Why are not more Cretan red exciting? The unrealised potential is obvious and worth tapping into for more addresses. If you are living in the northern hemisphere, heading into winter, you might do worse than track down some of this lip-smacking, earthy cocktail. In this review, satisfying refers to the understated. Not unlike how Idaia go about their business.
Strangely, one of the least-known, flying under the radar, satisfying blends. Dark. The fruit is ripe and soft. Spice. Good intensity on the palate. Tonka-bean notes. Fine tannins. Invigorating, long aftertaste. Best 2015–2019.
07 Oct 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 16.5/20
|Idaia Ghi Kotsifali-Mandilari|
|Area: Crete|| |
|Variety: Kotsifali / Mandilari|
The investment on Santorini is not about to stop any time soon. Joint ventures have recently been set up by Avantis and Tselepos. The ambitiously named Athinà Wine Group is better-known to insiders. Consulting oenologists Athina Tsoli and Angeliki Biba t...
Aegean Islands | White | Assyrtiko
The investment on Santorini is not about to stop any time soon. Joint ventures have recently been set up by Avantis and Tselepos. The ambitiously named Athinà Wine Group is better-known to insiders. Consulting oenologists Athina Tsoli and Angeliki Biba teamed up. Their track record includes Biba’s contribution in the esteemed Chrisostomou Estate, whose Mousaios, a Xinomavro-Limniona blend, has been a revelation of Pieria’s untapped potential.
Tsoli has been consulting on Santorini, as of 2011 at the Artemis Karamolegos Winery. We recently caught up. “As a consultant, I make wine for others. With Athinà, it is a single vineyard axis. It is my vision of regions in which I work. Santorini is difficult to find balance, so I blended three plots: Troulos, Kontarades at Megalochori and Oia.” The summary of her original label was also succinct: “The sculpted label depicts the female symbol of fertility, the wheel of creation, which eschews preconceived ideas.”
Athinà Wine Group has a cosmopolitan outlook, with far-reaching export and marketing synergies. They have developed a collaboration with another famous volcanic vineyard, in Etna, through Marco de la Grazia. He has been supportive on several fronts. Perhaps you did not feel the earth move in this historic part of the Mediterranean. Yet, when I started out as a commentator, such energising partnerships were stuff of daydreams. A breath of fresh air, this was a remarkable achievement by the two women. More gynaecocracy please – or should that be gynaeco-krasi?
Natural closure. Clean, delicate limestone nose. Compact core of fruity minerality. Laser-like definition. Bone-dry, refreshing and palate-awakening persistent aftertaste. Not as brackish as other examples of style and vintage. Accomplished. Singular. A complete picture: showcasing the compelling side of this unique island-vineyard.
21 Sep 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 18/20
|Athinà PDO Santorini|
|Area: Aegean Islands|| |
It is unlikely that, in this life, I will ever become a jazz musician. Yet, after sitting in with Eric Boissenot’s annual gig, I am elated. Eric who? This famously discreet, modest man is not listed in the telephone directory, nor does he have a website...
It is unlikely that, in this life, I will ever become a jazz musician. Yet, after sitting in with Eric Boissenot’s annual gig, I am elated. Eric who? This famously discreet, modest man is not listed in the telephone directory, nor does he have a website. Social media is not on his daily action list anytime soon. His consulting services are in high demand from a who-is-who list of 150 clients worldwide. Based in the quiet village of Saint Laurent, in the heart of Medoc, in Bordeaux. The left-and right-bank top addresses make for the ultimate name-dropping list out there. Elsewhere, in Spain, Rioja and Ribeira del Duero figure. How on earth did Alpha Estate in Florina come into the picture? Founder-partner Angelos Iatridis met Eric at Bordeaux University. During his studies, Angelos had to do an internship in the Medoc. So he jumped on a bus, but the village of Saint Laurent was the last stop. His destination was quite a long way. Eric spotted him and offered a lift.
The opportunity of sitting in with a master of his craft was inviting. A rare insight in shaping the blend of Alpha Estate flagship. The 2014 was a wet, cooler vintage. Dozens of cask-sample bottles were lined up of Merlot, Syrah and Xinomavro. Merlot was elegant, aromatic, vinous, with marked freshness – not something you usually find in Greek Merlot, often overripe and lacking typicity. Syrah followed. A broad spectrum, ranging from floral, pepper, dense, textured, cocoa to grapey. Impressive. It clearly has adapted brilliantly in this cooler-climate plateau of 650m. Xinomavro was split in two groups: younger, 15yo vines, noted for their all-spice, and the ungrafted 90yo that was feral. Eric led the crafting blending session. He chose the initial heart and continued to taste in groups that we rated and categorised by style. So far, it was fun. We continued all morning, while Eric, calculator in hand and taking meticulous notes, added and adjusted. It was all about subtlety. The foundation of the blend had taken shape – yet, we were far from finished. Then came tasting bottles of samples of vin de presse. Merlot was difficult. Broken mosaic pieces. Individually, they were clumsy. No complete snapshots. Its chameleon-like talents help it fill in the gaps. Syrah was all-around impressive. It was difficult to believe that these were vin de presse. There were some good wines in there. Above several other addresses I can think of. Local diva Xinomavro was compelling. Higher in natural acidity than the two French grapes, it adds an electric charge, bringing aromatic fireworks and prolonging the aftertaste. Throughout the session, assistant winemaker Katia Belli offered valuable counterpoint to Eric’s craft. Insight gleaned from listening to these two was illuminating. Ying and yang, right in front of you.
We started at 9:30 am and finished at 4.30 pm. Grinning our stained-teeth smiles, we seized the moment in silence. It felt as if I had attended a Dizzy Gillespie jam when he was turning jazz on its head. Prior to leaving, we revisited the day’s work. Though raw, it was brimming with bright, spicy, fruity notes and rich flavour, with Amyndeo’s trump card: crystalline freshness. Alcohol level was all of 12.8% abv. Not all of Greece is capable of delivering so much character at this useful lower-alcohol level. It moreover underscores Amyndeo’s mesoclimate. Diurnal temperatures, sandy-clay topsoil sitting on bedrock of limestone plus precision-farming by founder-partner Makis Mavridis. Asking Eric what pleases him in this venture, ‘By helping to shape it, it is satisfying to see it sell.’ Iatridis, who has created some of the most inspiring wines, egoless, rhetorically replied, ‘How many lives do I have to live to acquire Eric’s experience? I also like to hear comment from the real world. Eric’s feedback is precious.’ Next time you hop off a bus, have a good look around. You never know who may come into your life.
Some of you may start humming Ringo Starr's nasal deliverance of the famous Beatles song. Others, who have no recollection, may be curious to know of octopus hunting and gathering which took place off the beach of Kamari, on the eastern Santorini shorelin...
Some of you may start humming Ringo Starr's nasal deliverance of the famous Beatles song. Others, who have no recollection, may be curious to know of octopus hunting and gathering which took place off the beach of Kamari, on the eastern Santorini shoreline.
Each year, Gaia Wines founding partner Yiannis Paraskevopoulos, submerges a palette of his Thalassitis Santorini. The depth is about 18-20m. Violent winter storms may drag the metal cage full of bottles away from where they originally land. Some survive intact, some break up, a few spill out onto the seabed. Apart from the publicity it brings, the main point of this exercise is to find out if these bottles age differently than the same wine ageing in a cellar on land. Guess what?
There is a difference. More about this in a tasting post.
Back to the Octopus. Something extraordinary happened while a BBC film crew were diving with Paraskevopoulos to retrieve some bottles to be tasted. What this dive found was a scene only nature could deliver. Far removed from the cage, they found a bottle of Thalassitis 2010 with it's neck wedged in the sand. The experienced underwater cameramen were amazed as they realized what had happened. The resourceful octopus had dragged the bottle back to his thalami (habitat). The octopus's garden was littered with shellfish debris around the bottle.
Regrettably, said octopus was unsuccessful in his wine tasting event because the bottle was too large to enter his house. If Paraskevopoulos continues with his marine endeavours perhaps we shall witness octopus evolution changing the course of wine history.