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Yiannis Tselepos is a phenomenon, one of the leaders of the Greek wine renaissance and the modern day king of the ancient Moscofilero variety. A Cypriot by birth, he studied oenology at the Université de Bourgogne in Dijon and, after graduating, spent a couple of years working at several Burgundy estates. He then moved to Arcadia in the eastern Peloponnese, where he found employment as a consulting oenologist, married a local girl, Amelia, and with her founded the eponymous winery. The Tseleposes currently own two estates and have an interest in a third.
Located in Rizes, central Arcadia, Ktima Tselepos is the larger and older of the two estates, dating back to 1999. It sits on a plateau on the eastern flank of Mount Parnon. While the main buildings are surrounded by 30 hectares of vineyards, the estate’s holdings actually total some 240 hectares. The soil here tends to be shale and rocky clay and the average elevation is 750 metres, helping ensure a wide difference in day and night temperatures. The handsome winery is built in the traditional local architectural style; less flashy and touristy than some, it feels like a facility whose main purpose is wine production. Although around two-thirds of the estate’s production is devoted to Moscofiliero, it makes a wide range of wines, from sparklers to still dry reds and whites to sweet wines from international as well as local grape varieties. With a total annual production of 350,000 bottles, half of which is exported, this is no small operation.
In 2003, Tselepos acquired a second property, Ktima Driopi, an 8.5-hecatre plot of 50-year-old vines rooted in steep clay soil in Kousti, near Nemea, about an hour’s drive away to the north-northwest. The estate specializes in the Agiorgitiko, another ancient indigenous variety. A small winery has since been built to handle the estate’s production. As classy as its wines, the estate’s striking labels feature a dormant tree in silhouette.
Tselepos’s latest project is a joint venture on Santorini with the Chryssou family. The family provides the grapes (from 12 hectares of ungrafted 50- to 100-year-old vines in Pyrgos and Emporio) while Yannis provides the wine-making expertise. Dubbed Canava Chryssou Tselepos Santorini, the estate currently produces around 12,000 bottles a year of a single wine, a 100% Assyrtiko.
At all three estates, the viticultural practices are enlightened without being full-bore organic. In Arcadia, the vines are trained on wires, a virtual necessity in the region’s humid climate. On arid, wind-blasted, sun-stroked Santorini, the vines are coaxed into nest-like spirals that lie close to the ground, the better to protect the fruit and preserve precious water. Irrespective of the estate, the grapes are manually harvested in the cool of the early morning and transported to the winery in small crates. Though the facilities are outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment, Yiannis views technology as limited to a supporting role. “Good technology makes for good wine but only the right vineyard will yield a great wine,” he says.
One aspect of this balancing act between technology and terroir was the focus of an interesting exchange during our technical tasting. A member of our party, a professional sommelier with an impressively acute palate, wondered why Tselepos used selected instead of indigenous yeasts, since, he felt, the former scalp and compress wines. Yannis countered with “I have 17 families besides my own who depend on the winery’s success. I’m not going to put their livelihoods at risk.”
I can see both sides of the argument. Obviously, indigenous yeasts – the yeasts native to a place – are a factor in terroir. And many other winemakers have shown that fine wines can reliably be made using them. So it seems a little paradoxical that the winery, which proudly describes its central winemaking philosophy as “to grow Greek varieties within their specific native ecosystem” and which, as the following notes show, does indeed make terroir-expressive wines, doesn’t go all the way down the terroir path.
Then again, Yiannis is clearly more than just a winemaker. He’s also a successful businessman, a player in the local community and a standard bearer for the wines of his region and country. His Moschofileros and Agiorgitikos are widely viewed as models for what the grapes can achieve. His Mantinias have almost singlehandedly put that appellation on the map. One of the reasons this has happened is the wines’ consistency. Why, then, tinker with a winning formula? Why introduce another variable into the process? Why do anything that could undermine the livings of so many and the reputations of a business and a region?
More than just a winemaker? Yes. But still a winemaker at heart, as the following story shows. At one point, Yiannis told us how he came to chose oenopole to represent his wines in Quebec. One day this Greek-Canadian showed up and introduced himself as Theo Diamantis. He explained he was setting up an agency dedicated to selling “real,” terroir-driven wines with a high drinkability quotient, wines made not by industrial producers but by vignerons. And that is why he wanted Tselepos in the portfolio. “It was the first time anybody called me a vigneron,” Yiannis beamed, “and wass all I needed to know. I was ready right then to sign on the dotted line.”
You’ll find my notes on all the day two wines after the jump. For details about where we stayed and ate and what we ate and saw, including some of Tselepos’s vineyards, see the day two report on carswelliana.
Dão 2010, Tinta Roriz, Fonte de Gonçalvinho ($20.15, 12974531)
Another wine unmentioned on the producer’s and agent’s websites. 100% Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo). The grapes were destemmed and given extended maceration on the skins. Alcoholic fermentation took place in temperature-controlled (28°C) stainless steel tanks. After malolactic fermentation, the wine was transferred to second-fill American oak barrels for eight months’ maturation. Reducing sugar: 2.9 g/l. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Vinicolor.
Charred wood and dried ink with plum, black cherry, red meat, cola and cocoa in the background. Medium- to full-bodied, smooth and quite dry. The core of ripe red and black fruit is still vibrant, wrapped in soft tannins, aglow with acidity. As expected in a six-year-old wine, the oak has mostly retreated, shading more than colouring the fruit, except on the bitter-edged finish, where spice, ash and chocolate linger. Not bad but yet another example of heavy-handed oak treatment robbing the wine of freshness. (Buy again? Oak-allergic me? Probably not. But if you’re one of the many who like pronounced oak notes in their wine, go for it. You’ll want to hurry though: there’s not much left in the system.)
Epanomi 2016, Estate White, Ktima Gerovassiliou ($18.65, 10249061)
The village of Epanomi is located about 25 km southeast of Thessaloniki in central Macedonia. A 50-50 blend of Malagousia and Assyrtiko from estate-grown vines After a brief maceration, the grapes are pressed and the juice is fermented in temperature-controlled (18-20°C) stainless steel tanks. Does not undergo malolactic fermentation. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Le Maître de Chai.
Redolent of flowers, fruit and something green: jasmine, orange blossom, grapefruit, lime, stone fruit, lemon grass and maybe a little kiwi and mint. Round in the piehole, fresh with aromatic fruit and bright acidity. A minerally vein runs well into the long finish where it’s joined by an appealing salty bitterness. The Malagousia’s exuberance makes this seem less dry than it actually is, while the Assyrtiko’s acidity and minerals provide welcome structure. Fans of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc looking to broaden their horizons should make a bee line. Food-friendly by nature, this made a fine match for herb-roasted salmon with a squeeze of lemon. (Buy again? Sure.)
RASPIPAV, the more exciting of Quebec’s two wine agency associations and the force behind the popular Salon des vins d’importation privée, has announced the dates for the 2017 edition of Printemps dézippé, its spring wine expo: Wednesday, April 19, at the Marché Bonsecours in Old Montreal and Thursday, April 20, at the Espaces Dalhousie in Quebec City.
The schedule appears to be the same for both events: wine trade and media types only from noon to 5 p.m. ($6 admission for unlimited tasting; preregistration required) and the general public from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. ($20 admission at the door, which gets you a glass and ten coupons exchangeable for pours; additional coupons can be purchased on site). The expo has a great track record, so this is virtually guaranteed to be fun.
Barolo 2012, Riva del Bric, Paolo Conterno ($41.50, 10860223)
100% Nebbiolo from youngish vines (around 20 years old). Manually harvested. On arrival at the winery, the grapes are crushed, destemmed and transferred to tanks for two to three weeks’ maceration and fermentation. Matured 30 to 36 months in 35-hectolitre French oak barrels and six to 12 months in the bottle. Reducing sugar: 1.6 g/l. 14.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Sélections Fréchette.
Cherry, sawdust, kirsch, rose water and eventually hints of leafmould, candied violets and truffle. On the fuller side of medium-bodied. Very dry. The sweet fruit cloaks the fine but firm tannins though it can’t hide the astringent undertow. Bright acidity adds sheen to the velours-like texture while spice and floral notes overtone the long finish. A step up from most Langhe offerings, this is like mainlining Nebbiolo. Impressive QPR. Accessible for a five-year-old Barolo but still primary and best cellared for a couple of years or carafed for an hour or two. (Buy again? Sure.)
My bottle was a generous gift from a Mo’ Wine Group member. Merci Julien !
Peloponnese 2015, Agiorgitiko, Domaine Tetramythos ($16.90, 12178957)
100% Agiorgitiko from organically farmed vines grown at elevations between 400 and 1,000 metres near the village of Ano Diakopto, Achaea, overlooking the Gulf of Corinth. The grapes are fully destemmed, then macerated and fermented with indigenous yeasts for around two weeks in stainless steel tanks. Matured five months in 5,000-litre barrels. Unfiltered and unfined. Reducing sugar: 2.2 g/l. 14% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Plum and elderberry (fruit and flowers) against a backdrop of old wood and slate dust. In the mouth, it’s medium-bodied, supple and lean, with tart fruit, blazing acidity (surprising for this grape) and lithe tannins. An underlay of earth, wood and minerals provides savour while a hint of bitter chocolate and spice adds interest to the long finish with its lingering note of black currant tea. More akin to an alpine wine (think Savoie) or maybe a Piedmont red (Barbera?) than to your typical sun-drenched Agiorgitiko. The freshness and balance make this a versatile food partner. As is often the case with Tetramythos wines, it benefits from a hour’s carafing. And don’t serve it too chilled, just a few degrees under room temperature. (Buy again? Yes.)
Bierzo 2013, Ultreia St-Jacques, Raúl Pérez ($25.95, 12331835)
A Mencia-dominated blend with Bastardo (aka Trousseau) and Garnacha Tintorera (aka Alicante Bouschet) from organically farmed vines in a five-hectare, clay-soiled vineyard planted in 1900 to 1940 in Valtuille de Abajo. Manually harvested. Fermented (80% whole clusters) in large oak vats. Maceration lasts between two and five months. Matured in 225- and 500-litre barrels, foudres and cement tanks. Unfiltered and unfined. Reducing sugar: 2.1 g/l. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Vintrinsec.
Umami-ish nose of slatey plum, blackberry, spice, “bay leaf,” “sumac,” “blond tobacco,” India ink. Medium-bodied and supple-surfaced with clean fruit, fine tannins, streaming acidity and an underlay of minerals and old oak. The persistent finish is complexed by a light astringency and bitterness, while leaf mould lingers. A little too dark and weighty to be a vin plaisir but sharing that genre’s qualities of being straightforward, accessible and delicious. (Buy again? Yes.)
Bierzo 2014, Vico, Raúl Pérez ($40.25, 12335035)
Also available as part of a recent Cellier operation for 25 cents less ($40.00, 13193761). 100% Mencia from dry- and organically farmed 80-year-old vines in Valtuille de Abajo. Soil is sandy with small river stones. Manually harvested. Fermented (30% whole clusters) and macerated for 60 days. Matured 11 months in third-fill, 300-litre French oak barrels. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Vintrinsec.
Complex nose of gingerbread, black pepper, “grape cola,” “Brio Chinato,” slate and balsam fir. Denser and more structured than the Ultreia but even more Burgundian in texture. The remarkably pure fruit is deepened by minerals, structured by fluent acidity and firm but round tannins. The finish is long and savoury. Young and a little monolithic though accessible with a few hours’ carafing. Would be interested in seeing how this tastes in ten or 15 years. A second bottle – opened (by mistake) and immediately recorked 26 hours beforehand – paired deliciously with braised lamb. (Buy again? Yes.)
Bierzo 2013, La Poulosa, La Vizcaina, Raúl Pérez ($54.25, 12332264)
Mencia (90%) and Garnacha Tintorera (aka Alicante Bouschet, 10%) from dry- and organically farmed vines planted in 1940 and rooted in the clay and river stone soil of the two-hectare La Poulosa vineyard in Valtuille de Abajo. Fermented (80% whole clusters) in large oak vats. Total maceration time: 60 days. Matured 12 months in 225-litre used French oak barrels. Unfiltered and unfined. 14.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Vintrinsec.
Wood and leather then smoke, spice and plum then blackberry cordial. Medium- to full-bodied and beautifully structured. A wine with every dimension, including unplumbable depth. The alcohol is well integrated; indeed, the wine is quite fresh, with that balsam note appearing once again. Dark minerals last well into the long finish. Needs five or 10 years but has the potential and balance to convince you it will only improve with age. (Buy again? Yes.)
A flight that made less of an impact than I expected it would. I suspect that’s partly because the wines were young and partly because of what I call the Chianti effect: that, like many Chiantis, these are wines that show better in the dining room than in a tasting room. Before the tasting, the winemaker’s cult status had me worrying that the wines – especially the Poulosa and the second flight’s La del Vivo – would be Parkerized overachievers but they were anything but. They may be a little pricey but their quality is undeniable. Pérez is obviously someone to keep an eye on.
MWG February 17, 2017, tasting: flight 6 of 6