Tue 11 Sep 2012

Fowl Play in Greece


What does the organic and biodynamic wine producer do when his vines are invaded by locusts? Locusts even in modest number have a huge appetite for vegetation and like vine leaves.

Give up the struggle and resort to insecticide? Resign himself to losing his harvest? Neither of these things, as I found out when I visited the ingenious Apostolos Thymiopoulos in Naoussa this month.

Apostolos had noticed that a wasp nest close to his neighbours house had been destroyed and eaten by guinea fowl. So he went quickly to a local breeder and bought 50 guinea fowl and a few turkeys and let them loose in his vineyards. All the locusts were gobbled up in three weeks and his vines suffered only local damage.

Several of the guinea fowl were later eaten by a fox and a couple ended up in the pot, but I saw the heroic and quickest moving survivors safely fenced in next to the house and, if the link works, you can see them at work in the vines saving the harvest.

While there I visited and tasted a number of other producers of Naoussa and learnt more about this fascinating region which lies on the south-east facing hill slopes an hour and a bit?s drive due west of Thessaloniki. The city of Thessaloniki had been basking in 35° (Athens was 40°) but while Naoussa was marvellously hot, we were refreshed by a cooling breeze that came down from the mountains behind the town.

The key grape grown is xynomavro which with controlled yields is capable of producing wines of extraordinary finesse and depth of flavour, but which like Piedmont?s nebbiolo can lack charm if over-produced and be over-tannic if over-extracted or if badly handled in barrel. There are lots of different soils here from sandy, to clay and a stony mix of crumbly schist, quartz and sandstone. Thymiopoulos? wines capture wonderful bouquet with lovely rich, rounded fruit balanced by ripe tannins.

His organically cultivated grapes are planted on very stony soil. The Jeunes Vignes, 2011 (six to nine years) is delicious and best drunk cellar cool like Burgundy. We will be listing this wine shortly at £10.50 per bottle.

His ?Earth & Sky? Classic Naoussa, 2009, which we will list next year, from 40 year old vines has wonderful depth but may not reach its peak for three to five years longer. For me they are certainly the finest example of Naoussa I tasted proving yet again that Greece now has some world-class wines worth seeking out.

The school where Aristotle taught the young Alexander the Great is just outside the town and Vergina, where you can see the extraordinary treasure-filled tomb of his father, Philip of Macedon, now turned into a museum, is close by.

Sebastian Payne MW
Society Buyer


  1. Ian Scobie says:

    I’d like to try these Greek wines but why are they so expensive compared to Italian/Spanish/French equivalents-is this just another example of Greece’s inflated prices as when they joined the euro and will more realistic prices prevail when they leave the euro?

    • Sebastian Payne MW says:

      This is because the best wines we buy are made in small quantity and are much in demand in Greece. They are not made on the much larger scale of wineries in Spain, Italy and southern France so lack the same economies of scale.

    • Michael Pavlidis says:

      I strongly disagree . The xinomauro of Thimiopoulos is much better than most of Nebiolo’s or barolo’s and still a lot less in price than them.

  2. Paul Venables says:

    The Jeunes Vignes really is quite delicious. I don’t think the £11.50 I paid to take a bottle away from Vinoteca in Farringdon, London today is expensive. It’s a lovely, quality wine. I will be buying more from the Wine Society as soon as I can. This wine makes me want to try more of what Greece has to offer.

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