Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The 2018 Odyssey Greek Wine Tour - From Agiorgitiko to Xinomavro

"When I wander through my Lemnian vines to see if they’re ripe yet –for they are the first of Nature’s fruits to ripen, those vines from Lemnos…", Aristotle The Peace
The Lemnia grape, now known as Limnio, is the oldest Greek variety still in existence. Today the ancient grape is cultivated in the Northern wine regions of the Halkidiki Peninsula of Greek Macedonia, Thrace, and Thessaloniki - the regional home of Ktima Gerovassiliou. This winery was one of three Northern Greek producers along with a trio from the Peloponnese region and the Greek Islands to participate in the 2018 Odyssey Greek Wine Tour of eight U.S. cities. During their Washington D.C. stop, I was introduced to Limnio through Gerovassiliou's 2013 Avaton ($50) - a red blend of 50% Limnio, 25% Mavrotragana and 25% Mavroudi. This is a fantastic wine, earthy and structured, creeping tannins and juicy acids. Ktima Gerovassiliou is also known for their 2016 Malagousia ($23), a white wine grape that Vangelis Gerovassiliou saved from extinction in 1976.

Most of the wineries showcased wine made from both indigenous and international grape varieties as the latter are popular in both the export and domestic tourism markets. It must also be easier to sell a delicious Gerovassiliou Viognier or Chardonnay as opposed to the difficult to pronounce indigenous Limnio, Mavrotragana, Mavroudi, and Malagousia grapes. Or even the Assyrtiko, Agiorgitiko, Mavrodaphne, Sideritis, Vidiano, and Xinomavro grapes.

However, we will focus on the wines from indigenous grapes like the Ktima Biblia Chora 2012 Biblinos Red ($27) and 2016 Biblinos Rosé ($23), both made from a yet to be named grape from northern Greece. This winery opened in 2001 on the southern slopes of Mount Pangeon as a partnership between Vassilis Tsaktsarlis and Ktima Gerovassiliou. The grapes for the Biblinos were found growing wild on Mount Pangeon which were later cultivated at the winery's estate. DNA tests revealed a Greek heritage with "genetic traits similar to modern Greek varietals, but it is also quite different, making it more of a distant relative.
In other words, DNA testing showed that it is an older Greek varietal that has not been cultivated in more recent times". A great story for two delicious wines. Tsaktsarlis also planted the white Cretan grape Vidiano in the Pangeon mountainside which then is blended with 8% Assyrtiko to create the floral and acidic 2016 Sole Vidiano ($27).   Also look for their 100% Assyriko 2016 Areti White ($23) and 100% Agiorgitiko 2010 Areti Red ($29).  The final Northern winery was Domaine Katsaros, a small family enterprise established in 1985 operating near Mount Olympus. Second generation wine maker Evripidis Katsaros was available to pour their 2014 Valos ($24) made from 100% estate Xinomavro. This estate is located 2,460 feet above sea level and is reflected in this soft, yet fresh and earthy wine.

Moving to the Peloponnese region, sisters Erifili and Dimitra were also on hand representing Parparoussis Winery, which was founded by their father Athanassios Parparoussis in 1974. The winery's primary goal is to promote Greek indigenous varieties with the wines showcasing their unique character. Whereas the 100% Sideritis 2016 Gifts of Dionysos ($20) was very light, the 2016 Petite Fleur Rosé ($20) was very flavorful with strawberries morphing into refreshing acids. Their 2016 Assyrtiko ($23) combines juicy acids with abundant mouthfeel from five months on lees. It's somewhat similar to the velvety 2014 Gifts of Dionysos Cava ($23) which includes 25% Athiri. Another well made structured wine is their 2012 Nemea Reserve ($45) from 100% Agiorgitiko which is very similar to the Biblia Chora Areti Red. Their final red was the very unique 2010 Taos ($35), 100% Mavrodaphne that is both dirty and earthy combined with a smooth cherry finish. The winery also produces a dessert Mavrodaphne where the grape branches are bent to stop circulation and to keep the grapes concentrated. This delicious wine is all raisins and figs.

Also in Peloponnese, Ktimatselepos was pouring several wines made from international grapes but also a couple still wines and méthode champenoise sparkling wines using the Moschofilero grape. This is an aromatic white wine grape from the Ktimatselepos's home in Mantinia. Giannas Tselepos founded his namesake winery in 1989 and in 2003 he purchased Ktima Driopi in Nemea that features that region's signature grape: Agiorgitiko. First however, the Amalia Brut NV ($25) and 2013 Amalia Vintage ($40) sparkling wines are both very refreshing with the vintage version having an almond character. And the 2016 Blanc de Gris ($24) provides nice texture and mouthfeel for a light and acidic wine. As for the Agiorgitiko, the 2013 Driopi Nemea Reserve ($34) is excellent with a full bodied creamy palate and structured tannins. The less expensive 2015 Driopi Nemea ($19) still provides plenty of solid fruit flavors with similar integrated tannins.

The Greek Islands comprised the final region with Giannas Tselepos representing Santorini's Canava Chrissou Estate in addition to Venetsanos Winery and Rhous Tamiolakis winery in Crete. Starting with the Cretan winery, I slowly flowed through their four wines starting with the bright and floral 2016 Estate White ($18) a blend of 80% Muscat of Spina and 20% Vidiano then on to the spicy and textured 2015 Skipper White ($23).  This wine is comprised of predominately Vidiano with 30% Plyto --another ancient grape variety brought back from extinction. As for reds, the 2016 Estate Red ($19) is a jammy blend of 90% Kotsifali and 10% Syrah, whereas the 2015 Skipper Red ($24) is a co-fermentation of 70% Kotsifali and 30% Mandilaria. This fruit forward wine ends with subtle tannins - these are two easy drinking reds.

Assyrtiko is the signature grape of Santorini in each of the examples were fresh, saline driven, and full of racy acids. Each of the Canava Chrissou 2016 Santorini ($34) and 2016 Laoudia ($50) as well as the Venetsanos 2016 Santorini ($37) and 2016 Nykteri ($40) are highly recommended. Venetsanos also offers a 2016 Mandilaria ($37) that has slightly more body but similar refreshing acids.

Cheers to the Odyssey Greek Wine Tour and don't hesitate to try wines from indigenous Greek varieties. They may be impossible to pronounce, but well worth the time.

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