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Posts Tagged ‘Greece

Stone fruit

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Of the rising stars of the Greek wine world, Apostolo Thymiopoulos is at or near the top. Still quite young (he just turned 40), he hails from Naoussa in Macedonia, about an hour’s drive west of Thessaloniki. From grapes he grows biodynamically there, he makes several wines that have become big hits in Quebec: the exquisite Rosé de Xinomavro, the ultra-popular, ultra-drinkable Jeunes vignes de Xinomavro, the classy Naoussa and his flagship Terre et ciel (aka Earth and Sky in anglophone countries). If that weren’t enough, he’s also been expanding into new areas, including the entry-level ATMA line and two or three (depending on the vintage) high-end Assyrtikos from Santorini made in collaboration with the Chryssou family of grape growers and sold mainly to well-heeled vacationers at Aegean luxury resorts (he got his feet wet on the island several years ago by helping the Hatzidakis family when winemaker Haridimos was indisposed and also assisted with the 2017 vintage following Haridimos’s untimely death). His latest project revolves around a recently acquired old-vine vineyard in Rapsani, in Thessaly, on the slopes of Mount Olympus, 120 km south of his Naoussa base. Only one wine, a red, is made. This 2015 is the first vintage and it’s a beaut.

Rapsani 2015, Terra Petra, Domaine Thymiopoulos ($31.00, 13509199)
A blend of Xinomavro (40%), Krassato (30%) and Stavroto (30%) from organically dry farmed vines between 15 and 50 years old and grown in one of the highest altitude vineyards in the appellation. The vineyard’s schist and granite subsoil is covered with rolled stones while most of the vines are bush-trained, giving the vineyard a very Châteauneuf-du-Pape-like appearance. Fermented with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel tanks and matured in large, neutral oak tonneaux for 24 months. Unfiltered and unfined. Added sulphur is kept to a minimum. Comes in an elegant if heavy bottle with a soft wax capsule. Reducing sugar: 3.6 g/l. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Intensely aromatic nose of sweet red and black fruit, sandalwood and inky minerals. In the mouth, it’s medium-bodied and fluid. As befits a warm vintage, the fruit has a solar character but is in no way jammy or bomby, helped no doubt by the enlivening acidity and finely etched tannins. The fleshy mid-palate reveals a unique and beautiful complex of flavours, including plum, red berries, black fig, herbs (oregano? marjoram?), dark minerals, sweet spice, a dusting of black pepper and hints of olive, tomato and leather. There’s good depth for a young wine and the potential for more to develop. A thread of bitterness unspools through the long, dry finish. Such balance and refinement as well as a quality that has me reaching for “purity” or maybe “clarity” as descriptors. While the wine is drinking beautifully now, it will surely integrate and open over the next five or more years (the 2018 cohort of the Greek winery tour returned raving about a 10-year-old bottle of the Rosé de Xinomavro paired with kid stuffed with its entrails and rice and slow-roasted, so chances are good that this wine will hold up for a decade or two). Substantial enough to accompany grilled or stewed lamb, the acidity cutting knife-like through the fat, but also light enough to go with white meats like veal or rabbit braised with tomato. A world-class wine, maybe my favourite of Apostolo’s reds and undoubtedly one of the best Greek reds I’ve drunk. (Buy again? Done!)

This has been in the system only since the very end of August but it’s disappearing fast. If you’re interested and especially if you’re located in Montreal, don’t dawdle. And keep an eye peeled for the 2016: early reports are that the cooler vintage produced a wine that is, if anything, even finer than the 2015.

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Written by carswell

September 17, 2018 at 14:18

Drama queen

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Drama 2016, Thema, Ktima Pavlidis ($21.10, 10701265)
A 50-50 blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Assyrtiko. The grapes are harvested in the cool of the night. Destemmed, lightly crushed and cold-macerated on the skins before slow, gentle pressing. Fermentation takes place in temperature-controlled (18°C) stainless steel tanks. Matured two months on the lees. Reducing sugar: 1.8 g/l. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: Focus Cellars.
The nose and palate seem an accurate reflection of the blend, which is pretty seamless by the way; the Sauvignon contributes vibrant fruit (kiwi, grapefruit, maybe a little peach) and a hint of grassiness, the Assyrtiko minerality, acidity and some welcome austerity. The end result? What might be a juicy New World Sauvignon is brought closer to what you sometimes find in the Loire in a very ripe vintage. Richly textured yet fresh. Fruity yet dry. The clean, fairly long finish brings an intriguing touch of bitterness. While the wine tastes more international than Greek, in its genre it’s pretty hard to beat. You don’t get the dazzle or depth of, say, a top Sancerre, Menetou-Salon, Graves or Pessac-Léognan but neither do you get the Fresca-like excess of many equivalently priced New World Sauvignon Blancs (looking at you, New Zealand). Food pairings? Mezze, simply prepared seafood, white meat with lime. (Buy again? Sure.)

Written by carswell

January 10, 2018 at 12:13

Mainlining Assyrtiko

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Santorini 2013, Pure, Volcanic Slopes Vineyards ($45.50, 13109697)
Run as a separate operation, Volcanic Slopes Vineyards is a second label of sorts of Argyros Estate. It is the brainchild of Argyros’ winemaker and commercial director, Stefanos Georgas. The idea is to make as pure an expression of Santorini Assyrtiko as possible using a hands-off approach. This 2013 is the first vintage of what is, so far, its only cuvée. Assyrtiko (100%) from 80- to 150-year-old ungrafted vines in two parcels: one with pumice soil in Episkopi Gonias, the other with basalt soil in Megalochori. Manually harvested. Half of the must is free-run juice, the other half is juice from gently pressed whole clusters. Fermented with indigenous yeasts. Matured 14 months on the lees with frequent stirring in a naturally temperature-controlled underground concrete tank in the old Argyros winery. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: oneopole.
Multifaceted nose that prompts descriptors like lemon, quartz dust, “sour fuzzy peach,” “distant honey,” bay leaf and lingering apple. Imposing and enthralling from the first sip: a “decadent” yet austere amalgam of clementine and incredible minerality and salinity. The rich extract and electric acidity are in breathtaking balance. There’s great breadth, depth and length – every dimension, in fact. Pure is no exaggeration, no marketing gimmick. A stunning wine, “like mainlining Assyrtiko.” It will be fascinating to see how this evolves over the next three to five years and maybe beyond. Surely one of the great white wines of Europe and, as such, more than fairly priced. The 2013 is almost sold out. Tasted at the winery in July 2016, two days after it had been bottled, the 2014 seemed every bit its equal. (Buy again? Imperatively – even the group’s white wine skeptic felt compelled to run out and acquire a couple of bottles.)

Santorini 2016, Assyrtiko, Hatzidakis ($28.50, 11901171)
The estate’s entry-level bottling. Sadly, 2016 was Haridimos Hatzidakis’s last vintage. 100% Assyrtiko from organically farmed, ungrafted vines up to a century old in Pyrgos, Megalochori, Akrotiri and Vourvoulos. The manually harvested grapes were direct-pressed. The must was clarified by settling, then fermented with indigenous yeasts in temperature-controlled (18°C) tanks. Stayed on the lees for 40 days. Matured in stainless steel tanks. Lightly filtered and dosed with sulphur dioxide before bottling. Reducing sugar: 1.9 g/l. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: oneopole.
Lemony, “ferny” nose with notes of “modelling clay,” peach and distant sea shore. In the mouth, the dense extract and unctuous texture are counterpointed by crystalline minerals, vibrant verging on trenchant acidity and a fundamental dryness. Fruitier (lemon and quince) than in some earlier vintages. The saline finish brings some dried herb notes. Not as deep, broad or long as the (older and much more expensive) Pure, though hardly lacking dimension. Almost too rich for an aperitif; probably best thought of as a food wine (to date, it has made a matchless match for spaghetti with leeks, olive oil, lemon juice and zest and bottarga and for oysters on the half shell). (Buy again? Multiples.)

MWG September 28th tasting: flight 4 of 7

Written by carswell

November 11, 2017 at 14:01

Three Macedonian flagships

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The Macedonia in question is the region of northern Greece, not the Republic of Macedonia.

Epanomi 2014, Avaton, Domaine Gerovassiliou ($40.25, 11901111)
A blend of Limnio (40%), Mavroudi (40%) and Mavrotragano (20%). Manually harvested. Fermented in neutral barrels. After malolactic fermentation is completed, the wine is transferred to French oak barrels (50% new) for 18 months’ maturation. Reducing sugar: 3.0 g/l. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Le Maître de Chai.
Nose of very ripe black raspberry, dark cherry and plum overtoned with earth and spice. Full-bodied and dry. Full of jammy, sweet fruit. Round tannins and smooth acidity provide some structure and texture. Gains meat and spice notes on the mid-palate and chocolate on the long finish. A bit heavy and unrelenting: probably better in four or five years but also probably never  refreshing. Seems bigger, more modern and more international in style than some earlier vintages. (Buy again? Maybe next vintage.)

Macedonia 2015, Terre et Ciel, Domaine Thymiopoulos ($31.25, 11814368)
100% Xinomavro from three parcels of organically farmed 45- to 75-year-old vines. Manually harvested. Fermented in stainless steel vats with native yeasts. Matured in a mix of Burgundy barrels (20% new). Bottled unfiltered, unfined and with a small squirt of sulphur dioxide. Reducing sugar: 3.6 g/l. 14% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Complex, savoury, evolving nose of “wine gums,” “soy sauce,” “pickled beets” and coffee beans segueing into cherry, “Worcestershire” and, unfortunately, a streak of volatile acidity that wouldn’t dissipate. Smooth and more medium- than full-bodied in the mouth. Good balance between ripe fruit, bright acidity, round tannins and mineral depth. Still, we couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a little off. Bottles opened before and since have been clean and more interesting. (Buy again? Based on other bottles, yes.)

Amyndeon 2012, Xinomavro Reserve, Vieilles Vignes, Alpha Estate ($33.00, 11902940)
100% Xinomavro from 91-year-old vines rooted in sandy clay over limestone. Manually harvested. Destemmed, lightly crushed and cold-macerated. The tank is gradually heated, prompting fermentation to begin. Matured 24 months in French oak casks and 12 months in the bottle. Unfiltered and unfined. Reducing sugar: 4.6 g/l. 14.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Univins.
Deep nose: dark fruit, graphite, smoked meat spice and meat, among other things. Full-bodied though unheavy, quite structured though round. The plummy fruit is spiced with star anise, framed by cushy tannins, enlivened by acidity. A “butter cookies” note enriches the long finish. An elegant wine in the prime of its life. (Buy again? Sure.)

MWG July 27th tasting: flight 6 of 7

Written by carswell

September 29, 2017 at 15:33

Neo Naoussa

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Naoussa 2014, Domaine Thymiopoulos ($23.85, 13288218)
A new cuvée that, in price and sophistication, sits between the Jeunes vignes and the Terre et Ciel (the Xinomavro Nature, available through the private import channel, stands apart in more ways than one). 100% Xinomavro from organically farmed, 30-year-old vines rooted in volcanic and limestone soil and located between 180 and 500 metres above sea level. Manually harvested. Fermented with indigenous yeasts. After alcoholic and malolatic fermentation, the wine was transferred into 500-litre oak barrels for 12 months’ maturation. Unfiltered. Reducing sugar: 2.4 g/l. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Protean nose of, among other things, black cherry, wild strawberry, black olive, balsamic vinegar, old leather, earth and violet. Medium-bodied and, despite the fine, firm tannins, supple. Fruity but dry, with freshening acidity, flavours that echo the nose and a slatey underlay. Any oak is very sotto voce. The finish is savoury, while earth and sweet-spicy notes linger. Clean, pure and eminently drinkable. Food-friendly too. May be the most elegant Xinomavro I’ve tasted. Unsurprisingly, the limited quantities are disappearing fast. (Buy again? Of course.)

Written by carswell

August 17, 2017 at 12:51

A toast to Haridimos Hatzidakis

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Originally from Crete, Haridimos Hatzidakis founded his eponymous estate in Pyrgos, on Santorini, in 1996, replanting a vineyard that had been abandoned 40 years earlier after the devastating 1956 earthquake. Today the estate comprises 10 hectares of owned and leased vineyards. Assyrtiko, Aidani and Mavrotragano are grown and the farming is organic, still something of a rarity on the island.

Hatzidakis’s wines, which the Mo’ Wine Group began discovering when some of the 2008s became available through the private import channel, quickly convinced me that Santorini was one of the world’s great wine appellations and that Hatzidakis was one of the world’s great winemakers. My first encounter with the Mylos, again the 2008, had me declaring it to be one of the world’s great whites, a claim subsequent encounters and vintages have not called into question.

I met Hatzidakis only once, at last year’s Salon des vins d’importation privée. He seemed a humble, somewhat shy, soft-spoken man who needed only a little prompting to reveal his passion for wine-making, organic farming and Santorini. He spoke with pride about his new winery and encouraged me to visit if I made it back to the island. It is something I ardently hope to do but, alas, it won’t be in his company: Haridimos Hatzidakis died suddenly last Friday.

On Saturday, friends and I opened a bottle of the recently arrived 2016 Mylos, arguably the estate’s flagship wine, and raised a glass in honour of Haridimos’s life and accomplishments and in the hope that his legacy lives on.

Santorini 2016, Assyrtiko de Mylos, Vieilles Vignes, Hatzidakis ($51.75, 12338834)
100% Assyrtiko from dry-farmed old vines – ungrafted like all Santorini vines – that average 150 to 300 years old. The certified organic, late-harvested grapes were picked by hand, destemmed, cooled, crushed and macerated on their skins for 12 hours. Fermentation (at 18°C with indigenous yeasts) and maturation (on the lees) took place in stainless steel tanks and lasted 10 months. Bottled unfiltered, unfined and with minimal sulphur dioxide. About 3,000 bottles made. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.

Already pale gold in colour. Tightly furled nose that blossoms as the wine breathes: preserved lemon, minerals, hints of petrol and fish oil and eventually Mediterranean herbs. Weighty in the mouth, with an oily texture, Meyer lemon flavours, a mineral structure and an astounding salinity. Assyrtiko’s trademark acidity is here turned stealthy by the dense extract. Dominated by citrus-pith and sharp-edged minerals and developing honeyed overtones, the intense finish lasts for minutes. Made a credible pairing for grilled octopus dressed with wine vinegar, olive oil, red onion and capers and a superb match for bucantini with olive oil, lemon, leek and bottarga, which brought out the wine’s fruit (“though it’s fruity in the sense that olives are fruity,” another imbiber noted). (Buy again? Oh, yes.)

Earlier vintages of this wine have “aged” quickly, turning a rich gold-bronze, gaining pronounced oxidative and honeyed notes, the acidity smoothing out, the minerality receding slightly. However disconcerting this can be at first, you are soon won over by the wine’s richness, authority and infinitely layered complexity. At that stage, it is excellent with grilled lamb chops (recipe after the jump) and sublime with beef tartare.

Update (September 9, 2017): On the oenopole website, Theo Diamantis has posted a moving tribute to Haridimos.

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Written by carswell

August 15, 2017 at 13:23

Mountain red

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Achaia 2010, Grand Cave, Domain Mega Spileo/Cavino ($28.85, 13110137)
The estate is named after a nearby monastery that once owned the vineyard. Most of the technical info comes from the back label and kudos to the winery for that. A 60-40 blend of Mavrodaphne and Mavro Kalavrytino (aka Black of Kalavryta) from vines rooted in sandy clay soil in a relatively cool-climate mountain vineyard between 780 and 880 metres above sea level and located near the village of Kalavryta. No chemical insecticides, herbicides or fertilizers are used. Manually harvested. Destemmed. Prefermentation maceration at low temperatures for 24-48 hours. Long and gentle alcoholic fermentation in small temperature-controlled tanks. Malolactic fermentation and maturation on the lees in new oak barrels (80% French, 20% American) for 16 months. Lightly filtered. Not cold stabilized. Bottle-aged 24 months before release. 6,500 bottles made. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Divin Paradis.
Heady nose of plum, prune, leather, burned earth, sweet spice, coffee, hints of blood and chocolate. More medium- than full-bodied and very dry. The ripe but not jammy or forward fruit is complemented by a full set of tertiary flavours (old wood, leather, cigar box, dried herbs and earth) and a swirl of inky minerals, framed by smooth but animating acidity and soft tannins that show their mettle on the long, lightly astringent finish. Sandalwood, terracotta and dried cherry linger. Savoury, balanced and at peak. Fairly priced for a seven-year-old wine of this quality. Fairly cries out for grilled lamb. (Buy again? Yep.)

Written by carswell

August 13, 2017 at 13:12