The 2017 Greek Wine Tasting - 25 April 2017

 

Vintners’ Hall, 68 Upper Thames Street, London EC4V 3BG

 

Wines from Greece have only featured on the global wine scene for the past 20 years or so and the whole country is now producing a fantastic selection of indigenous and international grape varietals at very competitive prices.

Whilst Greece has one of the longest winemaking histories in the world, over the last two to three decades Greek wine producers have been making a conscious effort to invest in technology, education and innovation which has resulted in a dramatic increase in wine quality.

 

At the very heart of Greek wine are small family-owned boutique wineries who continue to instil a very personal touch to the whole process from planting to pruning to harvesting to blending and many Greek wines are created in an artisanal way.

 

Overall, Greece enjoys a Mediterranean climate, but further north and inland in Macedonia, Epirus, Thrace, Central Greece and parts of the Peloponnese the climate is more continental.  Winters can be very harsh with regular snowfall, spring and autumn are often cold and wet, and whilst summers are milder, summer evenings can be quite cool.

 

Greece has around 110,000 hectares of vineyards being cultivated by 180,000 growers and 900 wineries.  As such, vineyard holdings are extremely fragmented averaging around half a hectare per grower.  White wine production dominates and Greek varietals account for around 90% of production.  The four most important varietals are:

 

  • Savatiano - white, aromatic, intense and fruity

  • Roditis - pink-skinned with ripe melon and honey flavours

  • Muscat - very fragrant with rose petals and bergamot

  • Agiorgitiko - the native red grape which is deeply coloured, very concentrated, has aromas of red fruits and soft tannins

 

The five wine producing zones in Greece are Northern Greece, which includes Thrace, Macedonia and Epirus, Central Greece & Attica, the Peloponnese & the Ionian Islands, Crete and finally the Aegean Islands.  Nemea in the Peloponnese region is the largest appellation for red wine and Patras in the Peloponnese leads the way for dry whites.  In terms of sweet wines, Samos in the Aegean Islands is the leader for sweet whites and Mavrodaphne in the Peloponnese produces the best sweet reds.

 

Some interesting producers and wines that I had the pleasure of tasting included the following:

 

Producer: Tsilili Winery

The Tsilili winery is located in the village of Raxa, near Trikala, in the Thessaly region of Central Greece.  Originally founded as a winery/distillery in 1989, the Tsililis family created the Theopetra Estate in 1996, an iconic new winery equipped with cutting edge technology which, combined with their organic vineyards, has placed them in a strong position to revive some of the rare Greek grape varieties. 

 

BiancoNero White Sparkling Wine

Region: Trikala, Thessaly

Alcohol: 7.5%

Grapes: 100% Muscat Hamburg

This fresh sparkling white has aromas and flavours of ripe white peach, lemon blossom and honey.  

 

BiancoNero Pink Sparkling Wine

Region: Trikala, Thessaly

Alcohol: 7.5%

Grapes: 100% Muscat Hamburg

With fragrant rose petals on the nose, this fruity rosé is light, semi-sweet and bursting with fresh strawberries and red raspberries.

 

Producer: Domaine Karanika

The organic and biodynamic vineyards of Domaine Karanika are located at the Amyndeon plateau in north-west Greece.  The Domaine was founded by Laurens M. Hartman-Karanika and Annette van Kampen. Having lived in the Netherlands for most of their lives and trained as winemakers and oenologists, their love of Xinomavro finally led them to Greece.  They produce sparkling, red and white wines and their winemaking philosophy is all about minimal intervention, preferring to let the wines speak for themselves.

 

Karanika Brut Cuvée Spéciale

Region: Amyndeon, Macedonia

Alcohol: 11.5%

Grapes: 100% Xinomavro

Classification: PGI Amyndeon

Produced by the traditional method, this elegant sparkling white wine has refreshing acidity, a medium body and ripe citrus aromas and flavours. 

 

Karanika Brut Prestige

Region: Amyndeon, Macedonia

Alcohol: 13%

Grapes: 60% Assyrtiko & 40% Xinomavro

Classification: PGI Amyndeon

Having spent 12 months on the lees, this sparkling white is rich and full-bodied with aromas and flavours of citrus, peach and green pear combined with honey, brioche and cream.

 

Karanika Brut Nature Extra Cuvée de Reserve

Region: Amyndeon, Macedonia

Alcohol: 12.5%

Grapes: 100% Xinomavro

Classification: PGI Amyndeon

With no dosage to detract from the pure red fruit flavours, this complex sparkling wine has mouth-watering acidity, a good body and a long finish.

 

Producer: Domaine Skouras

Domaine Skouras was founded by George Skouras who studied agriculture at the University of Dijon in Burgundy, France.  Having gained experience in a number of wine regions in Europe, George decided to set up a small wine-making facility in 1986 in Pyrgela, a tiny village close to Argos.   Next, he established a boutique winery in the village of Gimno, in the Nemea appellation of the Peloponnese region in southern Greece.  In 2004, he opened a new large scale winery in Malandreni, also in the Nemea appellation, to handle the increased capacity.  Domaine Skouras focuses on producing high quality wines which reflect the local terroir. 

 

Nemea Grand Cuvée 2013

Region: Nemea, Peloponnese

Alcohol: 13.5%

Grapes: 100% Agiorgitiko   

Classification: PDO Nemea

This exceptionally smooth red has spent 12 months in new French barriques and a further 6 months in the bottle.  It has silky smooth tannins and a great concentration of ripe red fruit, blackberries and black plums with just a touch of spice. 

 

Megas Oenos 2013

Region: Nemea, Peloponnese

Alcohol: 14%

Grapes: 80% Agiorgitiko & 20% Cabernet Sauvignon

Classification: PGI Peloponnese

Megas Oenos is a flagship red wine which has become synonymous with George Skouras.  It is not the first time I have encountered this wine and the latest vintage did not disappoint.  Having spent 18 months in new French oak, followed by 6 months in the bottle, this elegant and full bodied deeply coloured red has fresh acidity, beautifully smooth tannins, blackberries, black cherries, tobacco, sweet spice and a very long finish.

 

Producer: Domaine Papagiannakos

The Papagiannakos winery was built on the site of an old monastery in the early 20th century in the heart of the Attican vineyards in Mesogaia, Attica, very close to Athens, Central Greece.  Family owned and run, it is now in the hands of 3rd generation, Vassilis Papagiannakos.  Surrounded by the sea, Attica experiences mild winters, cool summers and an average annual temperature of 18C.

 

Erythros Papagiannakou 2014

Region: Attica, Central Greece

Alcohol: 12.5%

Grapes: 70% Agiorgitiko & 30% Cabernet Sauvignon

Classification: PGI Attiki

This rich deep purple wine was aged for 6 months in oak barrels, followed by 6 months in the bottle.  It is robust, fruity and perfumed with a good concentration of ripe red and black fruit, clove, smoke and a hint of vanilla. 

 

Producer: Papaioannou Estate

The privately owned Papaioannou Estate was established by Thanasis Papaioannou and has vineyards in a number of locations within the Nemea appellation in the Peloponnese region of southern Greece.  Winemaking is all about allowing the indigenous grape varietals to express themselves.  With approximately 57 hectares under vine, Thanasis’ son, George, a chemist and oenologist, is continuing the tradition.  Labels on the wines are striking and typically Greek in style; the wines are equally impressive. 

 

Estate Papaioannou 2010

Region: Nemea, Peloponnese

Alcohol: 12%

Grapes: 100% Agiorgitiko 

Classification: VQPRD Nemea

This elegant red was aged for 1 year in oak, followed by 6 months in the bottle.  It is rich and complex, with refreshing acidity, bright red fruit and silky smooth tannins. 

 

Microclima Ktima Papaioannou 2005

Region: Nemea, Peloponnese

Alcohol: 13.5%

Grapes: 100% Agiorgitiko – single vineyard

Classification: VQPRD Nemea

This beautiful red was barrel aged for 20 months, followed by a year in the bottle.  It is full-bodied, exceptionally smooth, with mouth-coating soft tannins, bright red fruit, black pepper and sweet spice.

 

Ecumenikos Vin Doux 2010

Region: Nemea, Peloponnese

Alcohol: 16%

Grapes: 100% Agiorgitiko

Classification: VQPRD Nemea

This naturally sweet red wine was aged for 24 months in barrel, followed by 3 years in the bottle.  It has the perfect combination of natural acidity and freshness combined with red fruit, honey, dark chocolate and vanilla.  It is absolutely stunning.

 

Producer: Gavalas Winery

The Gavalas family-owned winery is located in Megalochori, Santorini, one of the Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea.  The family has been making wine since the end of the 19th century and in 1973 they established a wine store in Athens to handle sales and distribution of Santorini wines throughout Greece.  Previously having been suppliers of Vin Santo to other producers, they began bottling their own production in 1998. 

 

Vin Santo Gavalas 2008

Region: Santorini

Alcohol: 10%

Grapes: 100% Assyrtiko 

Classification: PDO Santorini

This naturally sweet wine is made from grapes which, once ripe, are sundried on terraces for 10-15 days.  Gentle pressing releases a very small quantity of juice with high sugar content.  This wine is aged for 6 years in barrel prior to being bottled.  It has great acidity and is packed full of super ripe dried fruit, dates, figs, prunes and honey.  It is super smooth with a very long finish.

 

Producer: Lyrarakis Wines

The Lyrarakis Estate is a family-owned winery located in Heraklion, Crete.  The family’s 14 hectares of vineyards lie in the shadow of the stunning Lassithi Mountains.  Having produced high quality wines since 1966, there is a strong focus on the use of rare indigenous varietals and the production of single varietal wines.  The estate has successfully revived 2 of the ancient Cretan varietals, namely Dafni and Plytó which cannot be found anywhere else in Greece. 

 

Dafni Psarades 2015

Region: Crete

Alcohol: 13%

Grapes: 100% Dafni

Classification: PGI Crete

Dafni derives its name from the laurel or bay leaf, as the wine resembles these aromas.  Dafni was saved from extinction by the Lyrarakis family when they re-planted it in the early 1990’s.  This young white wine has aromas of fresh herbs and rosemary, good levels of acidity and some ripe citrus. 

 

Plytó Psarades 2016

Region: Crete

Alcohol: 12.5%

Grapes: 100% Plytó

Classification: PGI Crete

Plytó was also saved from extinction by the Lyrarakis family and re-planted in the 1990’s.  This is an aromatic and floral white wine with great minerality and a delicate hue of salmon pink. 

 

Mandilari Plakoura 2013

Region: Crete

Alcohol: 13.5%

Grapes: 100% Mandilari

Classification: PGI Crete

This elegant red wine is produced from the local Mandilari grape which is naturally high in acidity and tannins.  Having been aged for 12 months in oak, this is incredibly fruity, with a good body and long finish.

 

Okto2 2013

Region: Crete

Alcohol: 13%

Grapes: 50% Kotsifali, 30% Syrah & 20% Mandilari

Classification: PGI Crete

Kotsifali is an indigenous black grape which provides intense red fruit flavours, high alcohol and moderate acidity.  Ideally it needs a blending partner to add colour, acidity and tannin and as such is often partnered with Mandilari.  This deep red wine has smooth tannins, a good concentration of ripe black fruit, black pepper, cinnamon and clove.

 

Producer: UWC Samos

UWC Samos is a winery located on Samos, one of the Aegean Islands.  All of the island’s 3000 producers are members of the Union of Viticultural Co-operatives of Samos which is wholly responsible for the vast range of sweet wines produced on the island, from the light, fruity styles, to the honeyed/straw wines, to the long aged and spicy oaked wines. 

 

Vin Doux 2016

Region: Samos, Greek Islands

Alcohol: 15%

Grapes: Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains

Classification: PDO Samos

This fortified sweet white wine combines honey, peaches and orange blossom with refreshing acidity resulting in a very clean finish.

 

Grand Cru 2016

Region: Samos, Greek Islands

Alcohol: 15%

Grapes: Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains

Classification: PDO Samos

Also fortified, this young sweet white is a richer and fuller style than the Vin Doux.

 

Anthemis 2007

Region: Samos, Greek Islands

Alcohol: 15%

Grapes: Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains

Classification: PDO Samos

Amber in colour with some oxidative notes, this sweet white wine is packed full of orange marmalade, vanilla custard, caramel, toffee, dates and figs.  It is simply awesome.

 

Nectar 2010

Region: Samos, Greek Islands

Alcohol: 14%

Grapes: Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains

Classification: PDO Samos

This intense deep golden beauty was produced from sundried grapes and aged in oak barrels for 6 years.  It is intensely aromatic, with aromas and flavours of dried apricot, stewed plums, caramel, butterscotch and honey. 

 

The range of wines available today really highlighted the vast diversity of styles and production even when talking about the same grape variety.  Whilst Greek wine is not produced on the vast scale of somewhere like France or Italy, it does offer new and interesting options for someone willing to seek out its unique offerings.  Why not combine a trip to one of the Greek Wine Roads, indulge in some of the local Greek gastronomy and wrap it all up with a stunning glass of Greek wine.  Enjoy!

 

 

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