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|| |
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|| |
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.