Grapevine Archive for greece
Prowein, the three-day wine fair, held in Düsseldorf annually in March, has become an invaluable meeting place of wine producers and buyers from all over the world.
This year Marcel Orford-Williams takes back the Society’s German wine buying, but I could not resist spending a morning with him and producers I had introduced in the last five years and looking at the wonderfully promising 2015 vintage wines with several growers we have both known over many years.
Where else can one meet in one well-organised place so many producers from every German wine-producing region, catch up with their news and taste so many of their wines to make a selection?
I was there principally, however, to talk to growers from further east: Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Moldova, Romania and beyond.
While there is no substitute for visiting producers on their home patch (my first visit to Georgia last year was an education) this fair is a fantastic way to narrow the field and find growers whose wines will appeal to Wine Society members, while saving money on travel expenses.
The Turks have been hard hit by a massive drop in tourism, following bombs in Istanbul and hostility with Russia but, in spite of unhelpful politics and a predominantly teetotal population, people are making inspiring wines of character and high quality. Vinkara’s Öküzgözü (£7.75) is just one example. My wife and I visited New York and Washington shortly after 9/11 in a half-empty plane to a warm welcome from American friends. This is surely an excellent time to visit Turkey.
Our Greek suppliers, a dynamic motivated group, mostly youthful, who export most of what they make are similarly inspiring making great, original wines.
We began last year to import from Moldova. Château Vartely makes some lovely wines, wants and needs to sell to us, so offers good prices.
What is not to like?
Let us give these movers and shakers, who rise above difficult times, our support.
Sebastian Payne MW
One reason for the success of Syriza in the recent Greek elections will have been support from younger voters. They feel that they are not responsible for their country’s woes, and 50 percent, we are told, cannot find paid work.
My recent visit to seven independent wineries in Crete introduced me to several more.
Crete has no fewer than 11 indigenous varieties. Only four of these are red; two make dry red and two are better for sweet wine. Two varieties that used to dominate Cretan vineyards were frankly rather dull: red romeiko, which oxidises easily with high alcohol, was once 80 per cent of the vines near Chania, to the west of the island. White vilana, still 80 per cent of the main Cretan vineyard area round Heraklim, is, at best, no more than fresh, light and floral.Phylloxera, the terminal vine disease of ungrafted vines, reached Crete as late as 1980, and was a catalyst that made many replace their vines with olive trees, which have always thrived here. A remarkable tree, over 3,000 years old near Kolymbari, still survives to prove the point.
A silver lining to the phylloxera cloud was the rediscovery of better-quality native varieties that had fallen from favour.
Nikos Karavitakis is one of the younger generation to champion the white, apricot-scented vidiano, which his chemist father helped rediscover near Rethymno. We list his 2014 wine, Vidiano Klima, Karavitakis at £8.95 per bottle. His 2012 ‘The Little Prince’ Cretan Red, made with the kotsifali and mandilaria varieties, is also available for the same price.
The Karavitakis family have owned land and vineyard at Kolymbari near Chania for four generations and have been bottling their own wines for 20 years. They are part of a movement called Wines of Crete, including many other young independent growers, which has challenged the arrogant older-generation view that the old oxidative wines were best. We are likely to hear more of them.
Sebastian Payne MW
Burns Night is fast approaching, arriving this coming Sunday. In anticipation of the coming night here are some of my choices for wine and spirits to toast, and then drink alongside the glorious haggis.
Haggis is a very robust dish with strong meat and spice flavours. Any lightweight wines will therefore be well and truly drowned out. In my opinion, the best options are therefore full-bodied and spicy reds of the Rhône, Greece and Lebanon.
• Semeli Nemea Reserve 2010 (£10.95)
This is a wonderful example of agiorgitiko with firm tannins and red berry fruit. From a classic vintage in Greece this is a full-bodied and rich, yet fine and elegant wine that will continue to age for a further five years.
• Gigondas Chateau Raspail 2011 (£14.95)
This is classic Gigondas, full-bodied, richly textured, spicy with ripe and round tannins with just the slightest oak influence.
• Massaya Silver Selection Red 2010 (£17.50)
This cuvée is a blend of cinsault, grenache, cabernet and mourvèdre made with the help of Chateauneuf winemaker Daniel Brunier. This has wonderful blackberry notes with spice. It’s round, exotic and elegant with firm, ripe tannins.
• Chateau Musar 2007 (£22)
One of the great cult wines of the wine-world coming from Lebanon’s most famous producer. This cabernet, cinsault and carignan blend has bags of character, it is powerful and concentrated with dark berry fruit and spice. This should be peaking around 2022 and lasting until 2027, but is drinking fantastically now.
Of course, if you are able and willing to experience the occasion in the true, traditional way then there is no better option than Scotch whisky. Of course it is advisable to have some of Scotland’s greatest export on hand even if serving wine, for after the meal.
• Litre of The Society’s Special 16 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky (£25)
If you are having a Burns Night party with the whole clan in attendance it may be an idea to keep aside the single malt and pass round glasses of this terrific blend. A blend of fine old malts and grains this has delicate smoke and honey here, with complexity and length reminiscent of far more expensive drams.
• The Society’s Exhibition Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 12 Years Old (£32)
For those looking to splash out (hopefully retaining some liquid in the glass) this is a wonderful option from the Society’s Exhibition range. This 12 year old malt has classic Speyside qualities of wonderful dried fruit, sweet spices, nuts and citrus fruits.
Trainee Campaign Manager
Tetramythos (stress the second syllable) has deservedly been getting attention for its Retsina (£7.95 per bottle) from people who know what they are talking about:Tim Atkin MW said, ‘This is no ordinary, drink-it-on-holiday Retsina. It’s biodynamic, fermented in amphorae with wild yeasts and highly unusual. The pine resin notes are restrained and enjoyable, adding a Mediterranean herb like dimension to the pear, beeswax and honey fruit. The wine finishes tangy and dry.’
David Williams of The Observer called it ‘the first I’ve tried outside Greece that actually invited a second sip. The pine is restrained, the base wine brisk and lemony: a match for fishy meze and stuffed vine leaves.’
The winery, owned by brothers Aristides and Stathis Spanos, is in fact beautifully equipped and spotless having been totally rebuilt in 2008 after the former place and much of the local village (but not vineyards) was destroyed in a horrific bush fire the year before.
The secret of their Retsina is that it is based on an excellent-quality white from the roditis grape. The pine resin, which I watched Stathis gather from their trees overlooking the Gulf of Corinth, is suspended in its amphora in a kind of tea bag, just enough to add a herby touch.
The amphora allows some oxygen in to help the wine develop without altering the taste with wood.
The wine is fermented without sulphur (a minimal amount is added afterwards) and the grapes are wholly organic. The wine can do you nothing but good!
Sebastian Payne MW
Society Buyer for Greece
This wine is currently available in our Look East offering, which covers a number of exciting wines from Greece, Hungary and the Balkans, including three mixed cases.
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
Bragging about one’s holidays might seem a little tasteless, though they were exceedingly good. So this is not going to be a tale of sun, sand and… but rather of wine and of one particular grape variety: moschofilero.
Finding good white wine in Greece was never easy. Most was often dull or oxidised; beer was usually the only viable answer to quench a thirst. That perception is now out of date. Whatever the shortcomings of the Greek economy, there is a sense of real pride in Greece which is evident in the quality of the wines. Even humble jug wines (sometimes made from saavatiano or vilano grapes) are lovely but, for me, pride and place goes to the moschofilero.
This is often a pink coloured grape and is planted mainly on Peloponnese and produces a light and fragrant wine that has some similarity to muscat but not as pungent and more delicate. Curiously for a variety that is native of Greece, it does not tolerate excessive heat which is why it is often planted at altitude such as among the high mountains of the Peloponnese.
Back to the holiday: The scene is on board a ferry outward bound from Piraeus where the service in the restaurant is perfect and where the chief steward is dressed in navy whites. The food was excellent, tzatziki, squid, grilled meats and a decent salad, and all washed down with a refreshing moschofilero 2010 from Skouras. Heaven!
Click here to view The Society’s ‘Discover Greece’ offer.
The Times’ Jane MacQuitty has listed her 50 best summer whites, and these include the following Society wines:
McHenry Hohnen Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc 2009 £8.50 (cf Tanners £10.05)
David Hohnen and his winemaker daughter Freya reckon that this is their best sem-sauv vintage yet, and so do I. From a cool, fruit-concentrating year and made from almost equal parts of each grape but grown in different areas of Margaret River for added complexity, it makes for this stylish juicy summer aperitif. Harvesting at night and fermenting cool in stainless steel enhances this white’s tangy, tingly, herby, green pepper-stacked fruit.
Stella Bella Chardonnay 2008 £12.50
Stella Bella is one of the shining lights of Western Australia, though you’d never know from the quirky labels. It is made from hand-picked, separately vinified chardonnay grapes collected from eight different vineyards in the southern Margaret River area, in order to capture complexity. This ’08 barrel-fermented and aged Aussie chardonnay truly does stand comparison with white Burgundy. I loved its elegant smoky, toasty, hazelnutty fruit and so will you.
Soave from the Veneto region in northeast Italy is awash with watery, faintly lemony whites that are just not worth the money. The Pieropans have long bucked the trend with full-bodiedm flavoursome SOaves made from the traditional garganega grape grown on their 30ha of superior, lower yielding vineyards. The family’s single vineyard offerings, such as La Rocca from vineyards high on the Monte Rocchetta hill just below its medieval castle, are their greatest Soaves. These are picked late, often at the end of October. La Rocca’s fine, waxy, floral, apple and pear fruit is a real summer treat.
A 15% fortified Greek vin doux, or vin de liqueur, as this Samos sticky proudlu bills itself, is a post-prandial bottle that most Top 100 drinkers would pass by either here or in Greece. What a pity. Within lies a gorgeous, fat, smoky, raisiny pudding wine, spiked with aniseed and made from the oldest and noblest member of the muscat family, the muscat blanc à petit grains. Fortified immediately after pressing and matured for five years in French oak casks, this spicy muscat has an ancient pedigree that makes it probably the world’s oldest-known grape variety. Served cool, Anthemis is perfect with bold summer desserts such as a fruit crème brulée or praline and honeycomb ice cream.
My editor thinks this is one of the worst sherry labels ever and, alas, he has a point. But it would be a tragedy if you ignored this gilded, bemedalled bottle because within lies oneof the best manzanillas: a magnificent, yeasty, tangy, floral and iodine-charged, five year old explosion of flavour from one of the best Sanlùcar Sherry bodegas of all, Herederos de Argüeso, founded in 1822. Manzanilla comes from the seaside town of Sanlùcar de Barrameda; the spongy layer of flor yeast that gives the drier sherry styles of fino and manzanilla its flavour grows more vigorously here. Hence this magnificent fortified wine.