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Greek winery tour: Tetramythos (Achaea)

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The first two days of our mini-tour of the Peloponnese took us east to the hot valley floors and cool forested mountains of Arcadia and west to the rolling, Ionian Sea-breezed plain of Elis. The last day was devoted to Achaea, the rugged terrain of the peninsula’s north central coast, and to one of Greece’s most forward-thinking yet underappreciated wineries: Tetramythos.

The Tetramythos estate is located near the village of Ano Diakopto, by car about nine kilometres south of the beachside town of Pounta Trapeza on the Gulf of Corinth. About nine kilometres south and one kilometre up, that is, for the village, the winery and all its vineyards are perched on the side of a ridge that is part of the massive Aroania range, which includes the peninsula’s third-highest peak, the 2,355-metre (7,726-foot) Mount Aroania. In fact, if you continue up the road, you’ll soon arrive at one of Greece’s biggest ski resorts.

Tetramythos was founded by brothers Aristides and Stathios Spanos, both locals. After dabbling in farming, they decided to focus on wine-growing. In 1999, they connected with another local, oenologist Panagiotis Papagiannopoulos, and produced their first bottles of wine. In the years that followed, they planted new vineyards, expanding the estate to its current 14 hectares, and constructed the winery buildings, which consist of two handsome stone and stucco structures: a large shoebox-shaped winery and a more visitor-focused building that houses a reception area, a boutique cum (small) wine museum and a banquet/conference room. The windows and decks of the last offer panoramic views of the valley all the way down to the gulf.

The nearby vineyards are located at elevations ranging from around 500 metres to more than 1,000 metres. (Coming from a plot at 1,000 metres, the Sauvignon Blanc may be some of the highest grown anywhere.) The soil is mostly limestone and some of the vines are 80 years old. Most are bush-trained, though a few plots are planted in rows and trained on wires. Roditis, a local pink-skinned grape, is the main white variety, while another local grape, Mavro Kalavrytino, is used for the estate’s flagship red (the town of Kalavryta is another 25 km by car further down, well, up the highway from Ano Diakopto). The other Greek varieties are Malagousia, Muscat Mikrorago, Agiorgitiko and Mavrodaphne. Constituting about 15% of the vineyard, the international varieties (Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) came with the estate and are not Panagiotis’s favourites but “you work with what you’re given,” he says.

In midsummer, the vineyards – some in terraces, others following the lay of the land – are patches of green in an otherwise tawny landscape. Once covered in pine forests, the mountainsides are now mostly bare, the result of a huge wildfire that raged through the area in July 2007. Among much other damage, the roof of the winery caught fire and the building burned down. Oddly, due to the leaves’ high moisture content, the vineyards didn’t so much burn as act as a buffer. Tetramythos made their 2007s at nearby wineries. The winery building was reconstructed in less than a year and the 2008s were made on site.

Farming at Tetramythos is organic, which is surprisingly rare in Greece and here is surely facilitated by the climate: dry and sunny during the growing season, with maritime and mountain breezes providing good air circulation and the altitude increasing the day-night temperature spread crucial to maintaining good acidity.

The wine-making facilities are centred around a large, high-ceilinged vat room lined on two and a half sides with tall stainless steel tanks and a wooden vat. A recumbent cylindrical press sits slightly off centre and a bottling line, with a glass wall onto the vat room, is off to one side. Underground are found a barrel cellar, a bottle-ageing cellar and a private tasting room.

Like the estate, the wines seem both modern and timeless. The wine-making is mostly non-interventionist. With one exception (the Roditis Orange Nature PDO Patras Reserve), all the grapes are destemmed. Only free-run juice is used for the wines, which are usually fermented with the natural yeasts found on the grapes and in the winery environment; very occasionally – and then only to restart a stopped natural fermentation – are the musts inoculated with selected yeasts.

Though we tasted only one of them, “natural,” no-added-sulphur versions of many of their wines are now being made. Unfortunately, none of them is available in Quebec. Fortunately, that is about to change: the 2018 Muscat Sec Nature, Roditis Nature, Roditis Orange Nature and Retsina Amphora Nature as well as the 2018 Retsina and 2016 Sauvignon Blanc “Miliá” are slated to appear on the SAQ’s shelves soon (you heard it here first, folks).

Annual production currently hovers around 200,000 bottles. Considerably more than half is exported, with Quebec being a major market and alone buying more than three-quarters of the regular Roditis bottling.

Before going over, I’d wondered about the winery’s name. “Four myths” maybe? But if so, which? None actually. Tetramythos is the name of a local wild pear tree with small, bitter fruit. “Only my grandmother would eat it and only when it was so ripe it started turning mouldy,” Panagiotis explained. The Spanos brothers don’t speak English, so our ability to converse with them was limited (yet another reason to learn Greek!). Panagiotis, however, is fluent, and interacting with him was a highlight of the trip. Grounded yet a bit cosmic, he is soft-spoken and reserved, not florid, but also focused and frank, radiating integrity and inner-strength.

Why do I say Tetramythos is underappreciated? Well, here we have a groundbreaking organic, increasingly natural estate making characterful, terroir-driven and super-drinkable high-QPR wines mostly from native grapes. And, yet, for much of the world, the winery remains one of Greece’s best-kept secrets. Luckily, due to the wines’ quality, authenticity and affordability and to the legwork of oenopole’s sales team, Quebec is one of the few places where it isn’t. We should count our blessings.

You’ll find my tasting notes on all the Tetramythos wines we tasted after the jump. For details about where we stayed, where and what we ate and what we saw, including the Tetramythos vineyards, see the Day Four report on carswelliana.

INTRODUCTION
PAPAGIANNAKOS (ATTICA)
TSELEPOS (ARCADIA)
MERCOURI (ELIS)
♦ TETRAMYTHOS (ACHAEA)
THYMIOPOULOS (MACEDONIA)
ARGYROS (SANTORINI)

AT TAVERNA O MICHALIS

Achaia 2015, Roditis, Tetramythos
100% organically farmed Roditis. The manually harvested grapes are destemmed and pneumatically pressed. The must is gravity-fed into small, temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks for fermentation (with indigenous yeasts) and maturation. Reducing sugar: 1.9 g/l. 12% ABV. The 2017 is currently available at the SAQ ($15.95, 12484575). Quebec reportedly buys around 80% of the bottles produced.
Bottled two weeks before we tasted it in early July 2016. Panagiotis said it “will become expressive aromatically in two more weeks.” True to itself though rounder, richer and deeper than the 2014. My note from a bottle opened six months later reads: Expressive nose of candied white berries, quartz dust and a hint of jalapeño. The fruity extract and lemon overtones notwithstanding, minerally – even rainwatery – on the palate, an impression only heightened by the brisk acidity. Ripe-sweet upfront, dry on the long, saline finish. Direct and to the point. Experience shows this really comes into its own with a selection of meze or a grilled porgy.

Achaia 2014, Malagousia, Tetramythos
100% organically farmed Malagousia. The grape originated on the other (north) side of the gulf. According to the winemaker, Tetramythos’s version has higher than typical acidity and less floral character than usual due to the vineyard’s high elevation. He also said the grapes produce “the greenest juice I’ve ever seen.” Macerated on the skins 30 hours, giving it a hint of tannins. Only the free-run juice is used. Fermented in temperature-controlled (18°C) stainless steel tanks with indigenous yeasts for 100 days. Underwent full malolactic fermentation. Reducing sugar: 1.8 g/l. 12.5% ABV. The 2017 is currently available at the SAQ ($19.00, 12910335).
Pale green with paler straw green glints. Savoury, complex nose: herbal and minerally (“fried stuffed zucchini flowers” per Theo). Fresh and lively in the mouth. Seems a little fruit-sweet on the attack but is actually very dry. So minerally — crystalline even. Crisp acidity. Long, pure and delicious. The aromatics of Malagousia can sometimes be over the top but that’s far from the case here.

Retsina 2013, Appellation traditionnelle, Tetramythos
100% organically farmed Roditis. Fermented in amphora with wild yeasts. Pine resin is added at the start of alcoholic fermentation (1 kg resin per 1 kl of must). Matured in stainless steel tanks. 12% ABV. The first Quebec shipment of this wine, in the 2017 vintage, is slated for release at the SAQ later this year. Put me down for a case!
Pale straw yellow. Piney but not too, the resin analogous to oak on other wines and not overwhelming the minerals and yellow fruit. In the mouth, it’s dry, smooth, elegant even, and far from devoid of fruit. Not just unfatiguing but positively refreshing, due in no small part to the nippy acidity. Long minerally finish. Works superbly with garlic (tzatziki, anyone?).

Muscat Sec 2015, Blanc nature, Tetramythos
100% Muscat Mikrorago (aka Moschato Samou aka Muscat blanc à petit grains) from organically farmed vineyards at 825 metres in altitude. Fermented with indigenous yeasts. Unfiltered and unfined. Sulphur dioxide is used only at bottling and then only minimally. 13.5% ABV. The 2018 is slated to arrive at the SAQ later this year.
Subtle, faintly Muscat nose: limestone, spice, white and yellow fruit segueing to lemon and orange overtoned with honey and rose. A light-bodied mouthful of gossamer fruit, fleet acidity and great minerality. Long and so dry. Gorgeous. This was initially exported only to France (nowadays a few cases find their way to London and Brussels) and that it sells well there comes as no surprise, as it’s easily the equal of some of the beautiful dry Muscats from the Midi.

Achaia 2015, Miliá, Tetramythos
100% Sauvignon Blanc from high-altitude, organically farmed vines. Vinified in stainless steel. Underwent malolactic fermentation and maturation in oak barrels. 13.5% ABV. The 2016 is slated to arrive at the SAQ later this year.
Pale yellow-beige-pink with pale yellow glints. Subtle nose of peach, apple, lemon and minerals with just a hint of telltale boxwood. In the mouth, it’s richly flavoured but fluid, faintly sweet on the attack but dry on the finish. Nippy acidity keeps things fresh and lively. A load of minerals provides depth and texture and last through the clean finish. Beautiful with grilled sea bream.

AT THE TETRAMYTHOS INN

Achaia 2015, Black of Kalavryta, Tetramythos
100% Mavro Kalavrytino from organically farmed bush vines. The manually harvested grapes are destemmed, crushed and given 15 days’ maceration. Made only with the free-run juice. Alcholic fermentation with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel. Unusually for a red wine, malolactic fermentation is prevented. Matured a few months in 5,000-liter wood vats. Filtered through coarse paper. 12.5% ABV. The 2017 can be found at the SAQ ($18.65, 11885457).
Complex nose: fresh, herby, crushed cherries with faint floral and very faint leather overtones. Light- to medium-bodied and very dry. Fluid but winey, with lacy tannins and smooth acidity. The plummy fruit is darkened by slate and iron. Still a little tight on the long finish. Unique and delightful, one of my go-to Greek reds.

Achaia 2008, Black of Kalavryta, Tetramythos
Wine-making as above. Panagiotis says this is “the best vintage ever,” despite its being the vintage following the devastating fire. 13.8% ABV.
Shows some fading and faint bricking toward the rim. Burgundian nose albeit a bit plummy. Clean, dry and fruity on the palate. The tannins are resolved but the wine is not structureless, thanks in part to a smooth current of acidity. The finish is long and silky. Still vibrant and wonderfully pure. Panagiotis suggests seafood roasted with tomatoes and “even Thanksgiving turkey.”

Peloponese 2015, Agirogitiko, Tetramythos
100% organically farmed Agiorgitiko. Destemmed. Macerated and fermented in stainless steel with indigenous yeasts for around two weeks. Underwent malolactic fermentation, a first for this cuvée (the cool vintage meant a high malolactic acidity content). Matured five months in 5,000-litre barrels. Filtered through coarse paper. Reducing sugar: 2.2 g/l. 14% ABV. A few bottles of the 2016 remain at the SAQ ($17.25, 12178957).
Spice, licorice, coffee, black cherry and plum. Gains leather and herbed meat notes as it breathes. Medium-bodied, smooth and not at all alcoholic. The pure black cherry fruit – juicy but so not a bomb – has an umami side. The tannins are soft and velvety, the acidity bright. Long finish with a hint of black currant. Impressive.

Peloponese 2015, Miliá, Tetramythos
Merlot (66%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%) and Mavro Kalavrytino (14%) from organically farmed vines. Manually harvested. Destemmed. Spent 12 months in second fill barrels. Unfiltered. Residual sugar: 2.4 g/l. 13.5% ABV.
Cassis, plum, herbs, polished leather and hints of smoke and green pepper. Medium-bodied. The rich fruit is finely structured by wiry tannins and sleek acidity. Grounded in minerals and wood, topped with gingerbread spice and herb notes. Pure and delicious. Panagiotis suggests lamb with potatoes.

Achaia 2013, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tetramythos
100% Cabernet Sauvignon from organically farmed vines planted before 2000 in two vineyards, one lower (“provides structure and alcohol”) and the other higher (“gives acidity and perfume”). Destemmed. Fermentation, in wood tanks, lasted five to six weeks. Matured 36 months in old barrels. Unfiltered and unfined. 14% ABV.
We tasted the wine only a few days after it had been bottled. Textbook fresh nose of cassis and plum with hints of tobacco, cedar, herbs and slate. Green pepper appears after aeration. Medium- to full-bodied but not heavy, full of juicy fruit but fundamentally savoury. The acidity is fresh and bright, the fine tannins are still a little tight. Kirsch and tobacco linger on the long finish. Lovely. The winery claims this is ageable and I see no reason to doubt them.

VQPRD Patras 2005, Roditis, Tetramythos
100% Roditis from organically farmed vines. Matured in stainless steel and bottle. 12.5% ABV.
Medium gold with pale gold glints. Faintly oxidized nose: yellow plum, dried herbs, limestone and hints of petrol. Beautiful, soft, glowing and layered. The fruit (yellow apple and pear) is still present and pure. The acidity is singing and there are minerals galore. The effect is sustained from entry through the long finish. If you have doubts about whether Roditis can age, this 11-year-old wine should put them to rest.

Roditis 2008, Βαρελι, Tetramythos
As above but matured six months in second-fill barrels. 13% ABV.
Rich gold with gold glints. Candied yellow apple, lots of minerals, background herbs, hints of caramel and pineapple. Lighter than expected. Savoury. Full of subtle flavours. A fluent current of acidity runs throughout. The fruit sweetens on the long, lightly bitey finish. “Will keep for five to eight years more,” Panagiotis says.

Chardonnay 2015, Der Grieche Taverna, Tetramythos
A custom bottling for a Frankfurt restaurant. 100% Chardonnay from purchased grapes. Fermented and matured in stainless steel. Underwent full malolactic fermentation. 13.5% ABV.
Lovely nose of mineral-dusted lemon and apple with hints of straw and herbs. Varietally correct. Smooth and clean. The touch of residual sugar is balanced by bright acidity. Decent finish. Easy-drinking and probably the most international of the Tetramythos wines we tasted.

Vin de table 2011, Mavrodaphne, Tetramythos
A kind of vin doux naturel. 100% Mavrodaphne from high-altitude (1,500 m) vines. Picked the last day of harvest. Oversized dried Zante currants too big to market are added to the must. Fermentation and maturation in barrels last three years. Residual sugar: 58 g/l. 16.5% ABV.
Engaging nose of plum, dried strawberry, sweet spice and garrigue. Not dry but not saccharine and surprisingly fleet. Faint tannic structure. Good acidity. This rich but not cloying wine could accompany savoury dishes like roasted duck.

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