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Greek winery tour: Tselepos (Arcadia)

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[Hover over pics to display captions and credits; click to embiggen.]

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.

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

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Buxom blend

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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.)

Written by carswell

March 21, 2017 at 13:28

Not your ordinary Agiorgitiko

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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.)

Written by carswell

March 16, 2017 at 12:42

Santorini siblings

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Santorini 2015, Assyrtiko, Argyros ($25.25, 11639344)
100% Assytriko from 60- to 70-year-old ungrafted vines trained into low-lying nests and rooted in the island’s rocky, sandy pumice soil. Fermented and matured in stainless steel tanks. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole. Also available at the LCBO ($22.95, 387365).
Somewhat reticent nose that, with coaxing, reveals stones, lemon, brine and, according to one taster, “olive.” Very dry. True to the Assyrtiko grape, which is to say as much about minerals as fruit. The acidity would be trenchant were it not blunted by the slightly viscous texture. Finishes long on an appealing briny/sulphurous note. Bracing, savoury and ready to roll, though the winemaker says it can age for up to eight years. (Buy again? Yes and yes again.)

Santorini 2015, Assyrtiko, French Oak Fermented, Argyros ($32.00, 12338800)
100% Assyrtiko from ungrafted vines more than 150 years old and located in Episkopi. Spent six months in second- and third-fill 500-litre French oak barrels. Reducing sugar: 3.8 g/l. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Softer nose that smells a little sweeter than its sibling’s, with the oak relegated to the background. On the palate, too, the oak is discreet, evident more as gras than, say, vanilla, caramel or toast. It, along with the richer extract, explain the rounder texture; even so, the wine is tighter and more closed than its flightmate. The brilliant acidity, complex minerals and fruity heft are in ideal balance. The finish is long and saline. Already complete, this will only improve with age. If any wine can convince me that oak isn’t beside the point with Assyrtiko, this is it. (Buy again? Yes.)

Technical info is minimal because the estate’s website is offline, probably so it can be overhauled in conjunction with the launch of the estate’s impressive new winery and visitors centre, which opened just in time for the 2016 harvest.

MWG January 12, 2017, tasting: flight 3 of 7

Written by carswell

January 29, 2017 at 11:08

Greek trio

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Crete 2015, Vilana, Lyrarakis ($14.05, 11607553)
100% Vilana from vineyards in Alagni, central Crete, south-southeast of Heraklion. Manually harvested. Half the grapes were whole-cluster pressed; the other half were destemmed and cold-macerated on the skins for several hours. Fermentation took place in temperature-controlled (17-19°C) stainless steel tanks. Screwcapped. Reducing sugar: 1.9 g/l. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Focus Cellars.
Chalk, quartz, matches and a hint of dried herbs. Clean, light and smooth in the mouth, with citrusy, Sauvignon Blanc-like fruit, good acidity and a decently long, clean, minerally finish. Certainly drinkable but also somewhat simple and a bit anonymous. Would like to taste the more upscale bottling. (Buy again? Maybe.)

Patras 2015, Roditis, Tetramythos Winery ($15.80, 12484575)
100% Roditis from organically farmed vines in limestone-soil vineyards located about 10 km south and 800 metres above the Gulf of Corinth. 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. Quebec agent: oenopole.
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. (Buy again? Yes.)

Markopoulo 2015, Savatiano, Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Papagiannakos ($16.55, 11097451)
100% Savatiano from unirrigated 50-year-old vines in rocky, limestone soil a few kilometres east of Athens airport. Manually harvested. Fermented with selected yeasts in temperature-controlled (16-18°C) stainless steel tanks. Matured on the lees for three months. Reducing sugar: 2.0 g/l. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
The nose’s combination of floral notes, sandy beach, lemon curd and white peach is unique. Lemon with hints of tropical fruit, a mineral substrate and bright but unaggressive acidity mark the palate. A bitter thread weaves through the long finish. Probably the most versatile of the trio. As the 2008 Estate bottling tasted last summer showed, Savatiano is capable of improving with age. (Buy again? Yes, including a couple of bottles to cellar for five or six years.)

MWG January 12, 2017, tasting: flight 2 of 7

Written by carswell

January 27, 2017 at 14:49

Buy again? Repeatedly.

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Santorini 2015, Assyrtiko, Domaine Hatzidakis ($27.25, 11901171)
100% Assyrtiko. No maceration. After clarification, the must is fermented at 18ºC with indigenous yeasts. Matured on the lees for 40 days. Aged in stainless steal tanks. Lightly filtered and dosed with sulphur dioxide before bottling.1.9 g/l. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Sandy beach, preserved lemon and a note that trills between petrol and resinous herbs. A mouthful of minerals, dusted with dried lemon zest and salt, infused with tincture of dried peach peel. Acidity would be glaring were it not for the mellowing extract, chalk and quartz. A thread of dried honey twines through the long finish. This has paired deliciously with dishes as varied as grilled chicken (recipe after the jump), veal scalloppini finished with lemon juice and parsley and, of course, oysters on the half shell. It also makes a deluxe aperitif. The price hikes are unfortunate (the 2011 retailed for $21.95) but inevitable: the world has discovered Santorini wines and grape prices on the island are skyrocketing. That doesn’t make this overpriced – far from it – just less of an incredible bargain than it used to be. (Buy again? Repeatedly.)

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Written by carswell

December 22, 2016 at 13:32

Greek winery tour: Papagiannakos (Attica)

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[Hover over pics to display captions and credits; click to embiggen.]

Papagiannakos Winery (photo: E. Lebel/oenopole)

Located a 20-minute drive southeast of Athens International Airport, the Papagiannakos Winery sits on the northwestern edge of Porto Rafti in Markopoulo. Shoebox-shaped with a sloping roof and prominent girders that, in profile, look like a giant Π (pi, the first letter of the family name), the current structure was built in the mid-2000s. It is, in a word, gorgeous: clean and modern in design, integrated into the surroundings, eco-friendly and featuring extensive use of local materials, in particular stones. The equipment is state of the art, the compact barrel cellar houses Allier and Nevers oak casks. A glass wall under a large overhang faces south providing ample daylight while, on the north side, a row of clerestory windows runs above the tall stone wall ensuring good airflow and an escape route for warm air. At the far (west) end of the building are found, on the lower level, a large tasting room and, on the upper level, a beautiful, high-ceilinged event space with a sweeping view over the valley to the ridge separating the region from Athens, with the airport’s control tower just visible over the intervening hills. Carefully chosen artwork adorns the walls. In short, it’s a feel good place.

The Papagiannakos family has been growing grapes and making wine in Markopoulo since 1919. In the 1960s, the second generation upgraded the winery and improved the quality of its output. The current, third-generation owner-winemaker, Vassilis, took over in 1992, and almost immediately began the process of bringing the winery into the 21st century.

Vassilis in his barrel cellar (photo: E. Lebel/oenopole)It may be a conceit but I’ve often found winemakers to resemble the wines they make. In any case, it’s true for Vassilis: classy yet down-to-earth, generous yet reserved, rooted in the past yet forward-looking, attached to a place yet also aware of the world. Speaking about his wines, he rightly said “they don’t shout,” but he could equally have been talking about himself (or his winery’s handsome labels, for that matter).

Papagiannakos has several vineyards, some around the winery and others – including ones under contract – scattered throughout the environs. Though the soil varies from parcel to parcel, it is generally rocky and infertile over a limestone base. The area receives no rain to speak of from May or June through October, so the vines are grown in low bushes; rot isn’t a problem here, in contrast to, say, the Peleponnese, where grape vines are usually trained on wires. The dry, breezy conditions also mean there is no need for insecticides or fungicides. On the other hand, irrigation (drip to conserve water) is a necessity, especially for young vines.

Savatiano vines (photo: E. Lebel/oenopole)The winery has specialized in Savatiano since its founding. Actually, it was the only grape variety grown at the estate until Vassilis took the helm. He soon began playing with the newly resuscitated Malagousia variety and then red grapes. He also has several experimental plots, one of them Greco di Tufo, the first real vintage of which will be the 2016. “Italian grapes,” I exclaimed, unable to hide the surprise in my voice. With a shrug of the shoulders and a wry smile came the reply: “Well, as the name implies, it’s probably Greek.”

After a tour of the building, we gathered in the event room for a technical tasting with Vassilis and members of his family, including his children, affable, knowledgeable and articulate young adults who will eventually take the reins from their father. You’ll find my tasting notes after the jump.

For details about where we stayed, where and what we ate and what we saw, including some of Papagiannakos’s vineyards, see the Day One report on carswelliana.

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

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by carswell

November 6, 2016 at 16:19