as seen on WineAlign
Man I wish I was there right now. Have you recently pondered or are you considering a visit to Greece? Have the sensational media reports of the last month cast a shadow of doubt on your travel plans? Are you worried about economic crises, ATM line-ups, looting and civil unrest? Don’t be. Do not fall victim as prey to dictum on what you or those who are telling you really do not know. You should go. Greece is just fine thank you very much. She welcomes visitors with open arms. This is what she wants and what she needs.
I am no John Maynard Keynes, have never rooted with Milton Friedman and can’t confidently say that my economic stars align with Paul Krugman, but on my recent trip to Athens and Achaia I saw nary a sign of unparalleled and utter economic disaster, of panic, anarchy or civil disobedience. I had many a conversation about government, taxes and the Euro. I learned that no is the new yes, “but whatever…” and that Greek wine aligns with the functions of the European union.
I am inclined to say, with indubitable and unequivocal doubt that Greece is the safest, most affordable and stupidly beautiful place on the planet. There is adventure, breathtaking vistas and scarcely, if commensurately discovered antiquity at every turn. And there is wine. Exceptional wine. Singular wine. Mythological wine. I can tell you five things I learned about the 21st century state of things Greece.
- Athens is a busy, hot, labyrinthian metropolis that somehow feels like an ancient village. It may just be the most unassailable and secure Gotham I have ever encountered. It did not leave me tired, on the contrary, it fuelled invigoration.
- Encounters with beautiful, nurtured and erudite folks along the course of a given day affords an equipotentiality to reaffirm faith in humans. Doors are always open.
- Bad governance may lead to civil jeremiad and global media strategies built upon the inevitable crumbling foundations of sensationalism and hyperbole, but Greece’s main concern is just that. Bad governance. Business carries on as usual, albeit with a noticeable reduction in smoking and petrol usage, but restaurants, cafes, coffee shops and shopping are not on hold. Centuries have seen such woe and yet Greece persists, remains and progresses. “Believe only half of what you see and nothing that you hear.” America may have long ago entered its Last Great American Whale period but Greece? Not even close. “They say things are done for the majority” and in the case of Greece, that just may be true. In a time of crisis, there are many business opportunists. Hard times? Grow better grapes. Can’t sell them at home? Export more than before and make better money.
- The combination of mountains, ocean, beaches and the symbiotic proximity of the appositeness is nothing short of mind-altering, awe-inspiring and soul-asservating.
- Forget the idea that Greek wine offers up some of the best values, anywhere. Consider that sort of posturing a given and or inconsequential in consideration of the adage that good wine is good wine, period, regardless of price. The wine producing regions of Santorini (Aegean), Thessaloniki/Naoussa (Macedonia) and Nemea (Peloponnese) have made wide inroads on the global scene. Yet how many of you have ever heard of Achaia and Patras in the northern Peloponnese? It is on the verge of breaking out. Obscurity no longer. Uncertainty be gone.
At the pass
Greece has been mired in waiting, or depending on your level of positivity and how to spin, poised to break out. The Greek wine industry is securely fastened in a place somewhere between the relic glow of early period brilliance and the cusp of legacy defining, career opus penning compositions. It is a work in process and the best is yet to come. The wines of Achaia are entirely indicative of this intellection. Antiquity is an amazing tourist attraction and in Achaia, as in the entirety of Greece, you can’t blink without stumbling upon a metaphorical doric this or an allegorical ionic that. Cradles of civilization just have a certain den xéro̱ ti and Greece is the world super-power. The question begs. How does this apply to wine?
Like so many wine producing nations not called France, Germany or Italy, Greece is poised for modern greatness but it has one distinct advantage. It lays ownership to some absolute conditions that easily separate it from emerging and developing, New World regions, but also from European peers. The first is obvious and that of course is a centuries old tradition of making wine. The second may come as a surprise, especially as it relates to wine. Mythology covets a paradigmatic relationship with Greek culture, however intangible it can be quantified. A visit to Achaia offers tantamount proof of such a notion. This from New Wines of Greece: “The fascinating archaeological sites with the notable museums and the grape-growing and wine-making history directly tied to the myth of Hercules are just some of the attributes that will appeal to those who indulge in wine tourism in the Peloponnese.”
Then there is the confluence from the slopes of Egialia, said to form the centre of the triangle of Ancient Delfi, Olympia and Epidavros. It was not long ago that I connected the divine and the allegorical with Greek wine. I quote myself. “Me, I’ll concentrate on the divine mythology of Greek wine, of its place in the fractal world, how it can beautify and simplify, through recursion in dynamic systems, the bleak chaos of wine landscapes. Like the Morai, Greek wines are thread with motherly nurturing. For mere mortals, they direct fate from the birth of their drinking days to death. They are a highly independent bunch, unobstructed and driven by necessity.” It would be obtuse to ignore the hyper-reality of all these extraordinary things, to discount the divined revelation through profound symbols of religious myth. To see the analogy and pertinency with the mathematics of wine; pH, sugar, acidity and alcohol. Not exactly Pythagorean, certainly not Orphic, but mysterious somehow.
The Achaia advantage: From PGI to PDO and endemic varietals
The Peloponnese is located in the southernmost section of continental (western) Greece, its western and northern borders lining the Ionian Sea and the Corinthian Gulf. Homer called it Ampeloessa, meaning “full of vines.” The Achaian advantage is more than just a matter of slope and soil. The Nazi attrocities committed at Kalavryta will always be remembered as the darkest of Peloponnese days but neither war nor Phylloxera has truly interrupted centuries of growth and tradition.
Achaia is one of Greece’s largest wine regions and its 31 wineries accounts for approximately 10 per cent of the national wine output. The mesoclimate of Achaia is determined by a combination of mountain and sea. Erymanthos, Panachaikos and Chelmos range for vines at up to 850m though in Egialia grapes grow as high as 1050m. There are slopes here with a northern aspect, a factor which is not lost on the winemaker in search of cool-climate viticulture. The mountain man of Eigalia Angelos Rouvalis points to the hills and talks of “a rare terroir, where facing north can achieve a significant drop in temperatures, creating specific vine balances, which is difficult to achieve in other places.” It is also here that the waters of the gulfs (Patras and Corinth) cool and temper the climate. Stronger winds ward off the warmer streams blowing up from Africa, creating a much cooler viticultural area than Patras.
The northern Peloponnese vineyards are divided into four distinct viticultural locales. In the east, in the areas of Egialia (Aegialia) and Kalavryta, the PGI Egialia wines are produced. Egialia’s temperate climate and northerly orientation on (250 to 850m) slopes are protected by the cool summer sea breezes of the Gulf of Korinthos (Corinth). Pausanias was a Greek traveler and geographer of the 2nd century AD, who lived in the times of Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. He referred to the villages of Egialia as ideal for cultivating vines. Egialia soils vary from white calcareous to fertile sandy loam with good drainage.
It is in Egialia that the endemic white (blush) and highly aromatic variety Roditis ripens ever so gently. The varietal take in the lower (450 to 500m), yet similar climate for the vineyards of Patras makes for wines of fuller body. Lower Patras slopes are positioned for another indigenous grape, the red varietal Mavrodaphne. Traditionally purposed for desert wine, modern usage of the “black” Daphne is happening for dry table wine, as is the black of Kalavryta (Mavro Kalavryta), from grapes grown on slopes close to the tourist town of Kalavryta. The coastal flatlands between Patras and Rio to the east are dominated by the white Muscat. The varietal watch is on for Mavro Kalavryta, a grape that performs like Gamay or perhaps Cabernet Franc. In the hands of a winemaker like Panayiotis Papagiannopoulos it will be a wine to help mark the act of Achaia’s second renaissance. Konstantinos Lazarakis M.W. sees it as “the best Gamay that is not Gamay.” This is a man who knows his audience. 😉 This is a grape that will define fresh and further down the Peloponnese road for red wines and begin to separate from itself from other red attempts. It’s future will see the establishment of plots into crus, to make simple fruity reds to drink and also more serious wines, to experiment and to use some older barrels and to envision the future when it has been given some age.
The four officially recognized PDO‘s are Muscat of Patras, Muscat of Rio Patras, Mavrodaphne of Patras and Patras. The first three are produced in the central and western section of Achaia. The local Muscat is known to the world as Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains and in Achaia as Moschidi. Under the regulations of both Muscat PDOs the wines may be vin naturellement doux, vin doux or vin doux naturel. PDO Patras is made from 100 per cent Roditis, though there are several clones of this variety. Specific clones are generally chosen based on altitude, as each variant has been proven to work on particular slopes. The top wines are produced from a red Roditis, also known as Alepou. The PDO Mavrodaphne of Patras (Fortified, Vin De Liqueur) can be fashioned with up to 49 per cent dried and rehydrated Corinthian Raisin (Black Currant) in the mix.
Despite the fact that the predominant amount (almost 99 per cent) of Black Corinth ends up in a pouch full of currants, its agricultural significance continues to play a role in the sweet red Mavrodaphne of Patras. Top quality vineyards have historically been cultivated with the Black Corinth because they fetch as much as 300 per cent more money than wine grapes. The bizarre terroir-varietal-trade flow chart is changing for the better but the raisins remain a long way from extinction. Slopes that face the sun perpetuate the propagation. Then there is the unusual scenario of the earthquake factor. “In Patras we are either raisining or shaking,” quips Lazarakis.
Other white varieties grown in the region include the extremely rare Sideritis (only two producers for the variety that shares a name in common with a flowering plant known as Greek Mountain Tea), Malagousia, Lagorthi, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Other red grapes cultivated include Agiorgitiko, Xinomavro, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. The wines of Achaia are built upon an alcohol premise that keeps them stable, in balance and immune from oxidation. Their attitude fights the life work of Louis Pasteur and Jean-Antoine Claude Chaptal. If the wines lost some footing due to the trending towards bacteria and sugar mien, now, with the world peeling back from manipulated wines, the Achaian style is poised to grab their market share.
8ο kil. Pounta-Kalavrita, Ano Diakopto, 25003, Greece, 2691097500 The most modern facility in all of Achaia, re-built after a fire destroyed the property more than 10 years ago. Owned and operated by the brothers Aristos and Stathis Spanos.
Oenologist since 1999 is Panayiotis Papagiannopoulos, a winemaker who may just have been separated from twin Frank Zappa at birth. Located at Ano Diakopto of Egialia, on the slopes of Mount Chelmos, the 14 hectares of vineyards (450-1,000m) are farmed organically (and have been since 1997). Bush vines make up 80 per cent and endemic varieties (85 per cent) cultivated (plus some expatriates) are Roditis, Malagousia, Sauvignon Blanc, Mavro Kalavryta, Agiorgitiko, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The total production is 13,000 cases with export to foreign markets (80 per cent) that exceeds peers by a wide margin.
Pulled from four vineyards at 650-850m of altitude and from vines 19-42 years old. No skin contact though it shows a light, slight tinge of colour. Nearly platinum in its yellow hue, perhaps attributed to organics says Papagiannopoulos, Eighty per cent was achieved through natural ferment (with zero malolactic) plus “one tank for security.” Roditis can go clean or develop anti-austerity, texture, viscosity in the direction of a dirty projector. The Tetramythos glides “forward through the clover and the bergamot.” I can see what she’s seeing. Tasting like a leesy ripe peach, this is the best “basic” Roditis tasted in Achaia. Serious match of Aleria Restaurant‘s Sea Bass Tartare. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted July 2015
Tetramythos Roditis 2008, PDO Patras, Greece
A wine to fulfill the promise of my own personal vindication. I had asked Angelos Rouvalis about laying Roditis down for three to five years or more, to see where it may go and he said, “why?” Here is why. Has fan vaulted to the skies, urged by petrol and a symphony of mythology. Akin and within aromatic mineral reach of Sémillon or Riesling, with just a basal drip of ambrosial, gaseous honey. The green notes (of pea and nettle) are exaggerated but that is attributed to 2008 fruit that may have never been fully ripe. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted July 2015
Tetramythos Muscat Sec Blanc Nature 2014, PGI Peloponnese, Greece
Nothing short of lucent, this friable, direct and crunchy raw Muscat. Effusive of individual vowels and consonants, typically Achaian, extrapolated to Greek in its lambent and inventive simplicity. More glade than wax, it coats with orange and the spirit of lime. So different and yet so familiar, inevitably dry and straight as an arrow. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted July 2015
A terrific example for a grape saved from extinction, Tetramythos owns 1.9 of a total four hectares of MK. Kudos for the effort especially considering the variety is thin skinned, slow to mature and difficult to cultivate. Saw nearly 20 days of skin contact because “the variety dictates the practice,” notes Konstantinos Lazarakis M.W. The fruit and bitters express a push-pull of terroir. One of two wineries making dry wines from the endemic variety, here the fresh red grape, the food friendly marker. Here confidently struts modern Achaian winemaking, from the ashes of naturalism and antiquity, the way Gamay or Loire Cabernet Franc are wont to do. Vibrant, with verve and a necessary natural funk. Herbal and with a rub of tomato skin, creamy, cool yet resinous, followed through from aroma to texture. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted July 2015
The domain is set within a dramatically oriented steppe of an amphitheatre, in a bowl beneath the shadow of a 940m rock that houses the great Greek Orthodox monastery of Mega Spileo (Grand Cave). Nowhere else in the Chelmos mountains does monk viticulture resonate as it does here. The great vineyard (Megali Ambelos) perches above the Vouraikos Canyon at 800m of height. The winemaker for the wines of Cavino and Mega Spileo is Stelios Tsiris. Varieties grown since re-planting in 1999 include Mavrodafne, Mavro Kalavritino, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Lagorthi, Assyrtiko, Malagousia and Riesling.
Moschato 2014, PGI Achaia, Greece
Nearly bone dry (4 g/L RS) and well-nigh nicked by acidity (6.2 g/L TA) this is really a true expression of the Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, an elegant cold pour into a glass on a breezy, sunny day. Until now Muscat in Achaia “could never look me in the eye” but the flurry of aromatics sing like a songstress in white lace. Its gaze is like lemon and olive oil and its tongue like the sweet wax on the rind. Here the Moschato path has been properly and soulfully taken. Rich in gold, like the kingdom of Agamemnon at Mycenae. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted July 2015
Deus Rosato NV, Peloponnese, Greece
Made from 100 per cent Syrah and slightly sweeter than the Muscat, here at 60 g/L RS. The lees, cheese and funk from Syrah turned to sparkling distracts from the sweetness, sending this to parts of southern France in meditative, Mediterranean, savoire savour faire. Raspberry and cranberry vie for sweet and sour supremacy and the wine actually, seemingly turns dry on the peppery, fizzy, tanky and spirited back side. Never backs down and the last conceit is one of tannin. So much more successful than the Moschato. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted July 2015
Cavino Mavrodafne Reserve 2000 (Winery)
“We are about to experience one of the best underdogs of Greece,” says Konstantinos Lazarakis M.W. by way of introduction. The world had to wait 18 months plus seven years years for this to appear. A Port-style fortified red, fashioned from the 27 best judged oak barrels and finished in October of 2000. The mix is Mavrodaphne (70 per cent) and Black Corinth (30), expertly amassed and positioned at a time when using the 49 percent maximum allowance of dried raisin was the norm. Ahead of its time in that regards but also because of its rangy acidity, incredible acidity actually, something that gives this dessert wine the essence and spirit of raisin radio. That and a beautiful oxidation and it succeeds in wooing palates, not to mention fulfilling the promise laid bare by Mr. Lazarakis. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted July 2015
Achilleos str., 264 42 Proastio, Patras, Greece, 30 2610 420334, email@example.com
Founded in 1974 by oenologist Athanassios Parparoussis who works as winemaker while daughters Erifili and Dimitra support on the business and marketing side. The winery is located in Patras and the property includes 10 hectares at Movri Achaias. Grapes are farmed organically and Parparoussis is one of only two vintners ion the region making wines from the rare and indigenous Sideritis. Parparoussis farms organically in principal but is not certified, nor is Athanassios concerned with the designation. It’s a matter of being devoutly pragmatic. “The soil is alive, so why kill it.”
The 2014 “gift of Dionysus” is herbal, arid, directly unassuming and fixed with a very savoury, nearly resinous pastel palate. The wind blows rosemary and lavender and truthfully it’s like a naturally cured red feeling in a white package. All lemon citrus at the tail. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted July 2015
Parparoussis Rosé “Petite Fleur” 2014, PGI Achaia, Peloponnese, Greece
Just under 300 cases are made of this pale, lithe and prodigiously lithe blush wine, like the Dionysus, made from 100 per cent Sideritis. Skin maceration was performed overnight, “a one night stand,” while indigenous yeast was employed for a natural, dry vinification. The light and rust-directed antiquity of caste excess has caused an exaggerated herbal, namely oregano aroma. The overall feel is suppositious and may just be one of the great Rosé stories ever told. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted July 2015
Parparoussis Taos 2010, PGI Achaia, Greece
A barrel fermented, dry vinified, 100 per cent Mavrodaphne. Naturally pitchy, high in acidity and purposed in tannin. A rare zero dilution at the hands of Black Corinthian Raisin and therefore not so high in alcohol, despite the richness of hue. Actually has a modern next tier level of complexity, complexion and aromatic intensity. Purple flowers and plum swirl in its circuitous, cycloid multiplicity. The savoury, resinous black bay laurel and chalky, cooked lentil, the grill and its smouldering charcoal are all in. Further resinous of bay oil on the back bitters and a very Tentura finish. Wild, sauvage, beautiful and built for the ling haul. Drink 2018-2025. Tasted July 2015
Selinous, 25100 – Aiyion, Greece, 30 2691029415, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eonologist is Angelos Rouvalis, a winemaker with an encyclopedic knowledge of every hill and slope in the mountains above Patras and where each variety grows best. Established in 1990 by Rouvalis, a Bordeaux-trained winemaker, recognized internationally as a pioneer in the renaissance that has taken place in the Greek wine industry in recent years. In 1994 Yannis Karabatsos, an agricultural engineer and expert in Greek viticulture joined the winery. “The Oenoforos winery consists of five levels on the slopes of Aigialeia in the village of Selinous. It combines monastic simplicity with state-of-the-art technology.”
The “white stone” could be considered the Pinot Grigio of Greece though the pink-skinned variety grown here between 800-1000m is such a bleed of high altitude calcaire. An amalgamated, aromatic accumulation is all about citrus without the airs of pierce and secondary sandarac meets kedros that reminds of clementine. At 11.5 per cent alcohol and low pH it might confuse for Trocken Riesling if not for its classic herbiage and austerity. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted July 2015
25008 Vassiliko Chalandritsas, Patra, 30 2694061447, email@example.com
The winery was founded by the late visionary winemaker, Constantinos Antonopoulos near the city of Patras in the northwestern of Peloponnese. Constantinos saw the vast, untapped potential of this diverse landscape, especially the mountainous region of Achaia and the unique winemaking opportunities it presented. A new up to-date winery has been built recently at Vasiliko, Achaia, where the majority of the winery’s vineyards are. Indigenous Greek varieties are the focus. All three Antonopoulos wines tasted at the winery Achaia Clauss were clearly achieved through very serious work. Though clean beyond the pale, they all exhibit slightly to more than leesy and all finish with so much salinity and limestone inflection. The only thing missing is the crustaceous accent.
Antonopoulos Adholi This White 2014, PGI Achaia, Greece
Essential and pedigreed blend of Lohorthi 65 per cent), Chardonnay (20) and Roditis (15) that expresses increased aromatics much like Viognier. Nearly profoundly tropical but so very dry, like Assyrtiko in its cracking open but with the feel of wild yeast and the feign of barrel. Chalk it up to 800-900m clay-limestone speak and no more than that, creasing to a crisp effervescence without bubble, yet it does tingle of the tongue. Like it’s working all the while, then on to citrus on the end, in lemon and lime torque as if by Riesling. The Moschofilero might be Mycenaean Linear B and this the other, later Greek alphabet. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted July 2015
Korinthou 121, Aigio, Greece, 30 26910 28062, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sosanna Katsikosta is Oenologist and General Manager while Katerina heads up business and marketing operations. The sisters are carrying on a winemaking tradition passed on to them from their late father. Konstantinos Katsikostas carried the torch from his father Luke who founded the winery in 1946 in the area of Palaiokamares of Aegio. Annual production of 2,000 cases. Katsikosta is desperately, passionately practicing, experimenting, trying to stir up vinous ghosts and find their way back to ancestry, to ways of elders, to bring to light what used to be and to establish an identity for the world to see.
Acheon Sideritis 2014, PGI Achaia, Greece
The nearly extant one, a rare variety, being revived, planted at low altitudes, with yields 70-75 hL/L. Aromatic and misunderstood, with a Savagnin character, a funky, musky skin, like leather but not as deep, yet something oddly tropical, like jackfruit, or gummy bear, dusty ginger, and resin, like thyme. Another variety being worked with to see what it can be and to link back to what once was. Really good acidity. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted July 2015
Vassiliko Achaias TK. 25008, 30 26940 61 900, email@example.com. Winemaker is Giannis Kotrotsos.
Kotrotsos Mavrodaphne NV, PDO Mavrodaphne of Patras, Greece The standard 15 per cent alcohol and in this plugged in, short fuse sweet wine is highly intense and lit caper green, dried fruit and a serious pasticcio of botanicals, distilled into a major excitative and concentrated sweetness. The second bottle tasted has so much more life and character. Much more sweet floral attractiveness and the sweetness is less pronounced as a result. Goes from spice and piquancy to sweetness with the right transitory methodology, culminating in a great LBV Port finish. Nutty and spicy. Tremendous fruit forward expression. Drink 2016-2024. Tasted July 2015
Georgios J. Karellas A.V.E.E, 41-43, Skagiopouliou Str., Patras, 262 22, 30 2610 321 000, firstname.lastname@example.org
Karelas Mavrodaphne Reserve 2009, PDO Mavrodaphne of Patras, Greece
The only Mavrodaphne aged in highly seasoned toasted new French barrels. The standard weight bearing 15 per cent alcohol and a similar feeling as with previous kicks at the sweet Mavrodaphne can, but more red fruit and brighter raisins in the sun. The spice and liqueur here seem less spirited and combine for a more mature, seasoned, reasoned, direct and ultimately cleaner expression. Captain Jack (or George) will get you Achaia tonight “and take you to your special island.” Drink 2015-2022. Tasted July 2015
Loukatos Bros, Β 3 & ΟΤ 24, Industrial Zone Patra 25018 Achaia / Patra, Greece, 30 2610 647588, email@example.com
Perhaps most famous for their local production of spirits, namely Tentura and Mastic, Loukatos does a bang up job with dessert wines, especially in their handling of Muscat from Patras.
Loukatos Muscat NV, PDO Muscat of Patras (WineAlign)
A 15 per cent abv Vin de Liqueur largely based on the 2013 vintage. Very clementine and apricot nosed, impeccably balanced from viscous to intensity in grape, with nothing musty or musky about it, though there is a musk melon sense, a botrytis that is very clean. Another excellent, natural sweet Patras example of what Muscat can do, again at super low cost, with high flavour and here, more fruit forward than the Kotrotos. Drink 2015-2021. Tasted July 2015
Crisis? No one’s gonna bring Greece down, nor me neither, ’till I again reach Achaia ground.
Good to go!