on the road: A weeklong diary in the land of Dionysus
Greece Rising Up!

  • by Evan Saviolidis

Evan Saviolidis is an Ontario-based sommelier instructor and journalist with Tidings, Canada's largest wine magazine. This article appeared in Tidings and is serialized here with permission of the writer. www.evanwinesavvy.com.

Part II: Day 3

It was an early morning departure to the Naoussa region and Boutari, a goliath of the industry. The company was the first to bottle Greek wine back in 1879, as well as the first to ship abroad. Today, they produce a plethora of wines, in seven different regions, covering all points on the Greek compass. Bordeaux trained Dr. Yannis Voyatis, who has served as lead enologist for the past 25 years, led our tasting.

While tasting through the portfolio, Voyatis gave us the low down on Xinomavro (acid-black), the local Naoussa varietal. It is a challenging grape. It requires heat, it is hard to extract colour, it is historically astringent and responds well to French oak. He even compared it to Nebbiolo.

My favorite table wines of the tasting were the 2004 Grande Reserve Naoussa (87), 93 Grande Reserve Naoussa (89), 2009 Moschofilero (88), and Skalani (89)- a Cretan blend of Kotsifali and Syrah. As a finale, we were served a trio of dried grape dessert wines- two from Crete, Iouliatiko and Spinas (88 each), and a VinSanto from Santorini (89). The philosophy behind these products, according to Voyatis, "is to produce a range of wines based on antiquity, from Greek grapes dried under the Greek sun."

The afternoon stop was next door in the village of Yanakohori and Ktima Kir-Yanni (Sir John's Estate). Yannis Boutari is considered the patriarch of the modern Greek wine industry. During his tenure at the namesake family winery in the 60s, he updated everything to the techno novel niceties-stainless steel, temperature controlled fermentation, new oak barrels and shorter aging times, to name a few. More importantly, he encouraged his winemakers to spread their wings and learn from abroad. Abroad, in most cases meant France and Bordeaux. Many of Greece's current role call of great winemakers apprenticed at Boutari.

In 1996, he left the family business, taking with him the finest 48 hectares in Naoussa. After many years of experimentation with rootstock, soil and trellising, the winery now concentrates on five clones of Xinomavro, as well as the softening agents known as Merlot and Syrah. By law, a Naoussa wine must be made from 100% Xinomavro. The winery produces this, as well as an array of Vin de Pays blended wines with the foreign invaders.

The wines are not for the faint of heart. They are powerful offerings with boatloads of tannins, which will probably never wane. They all require age and are clearly meant for food. From the 07 vintage, The Kir-Yianni Estate earns 87 points, the Dyo Elies (Two Olives) 89, Daporos 90, and Ramnista 90.

West of Naoussa, tucked behind Mount Vermion, is the up and coming region of Amyndeo. The climate here is purely continental and is the coolest growing region in Greece (snow is common place in winter.) The soil, which is sand-based, with low fertility and good drainage, makes for small concentrated berries. These are but a few factors that attracted Angelos Iatridis to the region. After returning home from training in Bordeaux, Alsace, the Rhone and Madiran, he started his own consultation company before planting his property in the late 1990s. A few years later, Alpha Estate was born.

Angelo is extremely meticulous. He is also an ardent believer in the local terroir. While touring the impeccably manicured vineyards he tells us he grows 12 varietals. These include the rarities of Barbera, Gewurztraminer, Montepulciano and Tannat, a grape he developed a predilection for while working at Chateau Montus in Madiran. When our discussion turned to the potential of Xinomavro in the region, he saw a few of us wince, in anticipation of the upcoming tannic pain that befell us in Naoussa. He re-assured us that it was not the case in Amyndeo, as the long hang time and sandy soil impart extra heat to the vineyards, helping to tame the wild child nature of the 'acid-black' grape. He was right. It was the most impressive portfolio tasting of the entire trip.

Stylistically, the wines are very modern style Bordelaise-elegant, concentrated and refined. The Xinomavro Reserve Old Vines 2006 and 2007 earn 89 and 90 points respectively. Both show dark cherries, violets, plums and spice, with the 07 having a touch more depth on the taste buds. Angelo informs us that 2007 was a fabulous vintage. The 06 and 07 Alpha Estate, both blends of 60% Syrah, 20% Xinomavro and 20% Merlot also earned 89 and 90 points respectively. That being said, my favorite red wines were the ones based on Tannat. The 06 and 07 both garnered 91 points. As whites go, the 100% Sauvignon Blanc Alpha White was full bodied and intense (90).

Dinner was hosted by Alpha at Thomas Restaurant in Sklithro, which offers contemporary Greek. The Sauvignon Blanc was an absolute killer with the local grilled/smoked red peppers and salad with plevrotus mushrooms and parmeggiano. The main offering, which consisted of a combination of roasted lamb shanks, sautéed pork chunks in a tomato based sauce, and braised veal cheeks with tagliatelle, was phenomenal with the reds. Even though we were stuffed, before leaving, we were served one of the most unique dessert items ever- candied tomatoes. Of course, Tsipouro followed, but I abstained.

Next time: Drama and Crete