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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

A couple of South African Cinsaults

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Swartland 2016, Cinsault, The Drifter, A.A. Badenhorst ($18.00, 13057997)
No technical info on this wine is to be found online, not even on the producer’s or Quebec agent’s websites. I suspect it may be the first vintage and may be sold only in Quebec. 100% Cinsault possibly from organically farmed old vines. Screwcapped. Reducing sugar: 2.5 g/l. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: Symbiose.
Engaging nose of slightly candied red berries, “campfire,” “violets” and “clove” (quoting other tasters). In the piehole, it’s medium-bodied and supple. The fruit has a “raspberry jam” side to it as well as a lactic edge. The tannins are soft and the bright acidity goes a long way toward balancing the ripe fruit’s inherent sweetness. A tarry undertow and minerally finish add some welcome depth. A hit with most around the table though a little too fruit-driven and one-note for my palate. (Buy again? Maybe.)

Swartland 2015, Cinsault, Leeuwenkuil ($19.95, 12976895)
100% Cinsault from dry-farmed old bush vines. Harvested at various stages of ripeness with the fruit’s acidity being a determining factor. Part of the harvest is fermented on the skins in open tanks with punch-downs and pump-overs, part is left in whole clusters to undergo carbonic maceration. Matured in 500- and 5,000-litre French oak barrels for six months. Screwcapped. Reducing sugar: 2.0 g/l. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: Univins.
Nose similar to the Badenhorst’s though savourier, with notes of dried herbs, “jamón” and a faint smokiness. A lovely, balanced, medium-bodied mouthful of ripe fruit, sleek acidity and light rustic tannins that add a touch of astringency to the clean finish. The raspberry, cherry and blackberry flavours are overtoned with spice and deepened with black olive and slate. New Worldish but in the best possible way. A favourite of just about everyone present. (Buy again? A bottle or two for grilling season or to pair with Latucca Barbecue’s most excellent beef brisket and ribs.)

MWG February 17, 2017, tasting: flight 5 of 6

Written by carswell

March 8, 2017 at 12:53

Catalonian orphan

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Empordà 2015, Sauló, Espelt Viticultors ($15.15, 10856241)
A 50-50 blend of Liedoner Negre (aka Grenache) and Carinyena (aka Carignan) from organically farmed vines rooted in weathered granite soil in the southern foothills of the Albera Massif, just south of the French border and just inland from the Mediterranean. The grapes from each parcel are vinified separately and given 36 hours’ cold maceration before fermentation in stainless steel temperature-controlled tanks. Lightly filtered before bottling. Reducing sugar: 2.6 g/l. 14.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Le Marchand de Vin, one of whose reps attended the tasting and comped this bottle (merci, Simon!).
Raspberry (a bit candied), peppery spice and a hint of plum. Full-bodied and fruit-driven. The fruit is very ripe and sweet seeming (one taster notes “raspberry jam on the finish”) but the wine is fundamentally dry. A healthy shot of acidity and raspy tannins provide just enough structure, a dark undercurrent adds a little intrigue. Slate and earth linger on the drying finish. A crowd-pleaser whose candour and sunny disposition go a long way toward making up for any lack of nuance or depth. Fans of fruit-forward wines in the mood for something different should put this QPR winner on their shopping list. The label is a delight. (Buy again? Sure, especially to take to a party or barbecue where a highfalutin wine wouldn’t be appropriate.)

MWG January 12, 2017, tasting: flight 5 of 7

Written by carswell

February 1, 2017 at 11:40

Loire cousins

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Chinon 2014, Expression, Alain Lorieux ($19.85, 00873257)
100% Cabernet Franc from vines rooted in flinty clay. The grapes are destemmed. Macerated and fermented in stainless steel tanks for around five weeks with daily pumpovers. Reducing sugar: 1.8 g/l. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Rézin.
Blackberry, raspberry, hints of ash, leather and greenery. A supple, medium-bodied, oh-so-dry mouthful of sweet-tart fruit, bright acidity and light tannins set against a darker, minerally backdrop. “More leafy” than the Saint Nicolas. Good clean finish that has you aching for another sip. Quaffable in the extreme. (Buy again? Yes.)

Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil 2014, Les Mauguerets – La Contrie, Pascal et Alain Lorieux ($22.45, 00872580)
100% Cabernet Franc from vines rooted in gravelly soil in Les Mauguerets and La Contrie, two adjacent lieux-dits. The gravel retains heat and facilitates ripening. The grapes are destemmed. Macerated and fermented in stainless steel tanks for four to six weeks with daily pump-overs. Reducing sugar: 1.7 g/l. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Rézin.
Faintly funky nose of dark berries, spice and tobacco leaf. Compared with the Chinon, “more earthy” and complex as well as a notch richer, more structured and more dimensional. The fruit is a little sweeter and juicier too and the mineral component is if anything stronger. With its scents of black tea leaves, the long finish only adds to the impression of sauvity. This textbook example of Loire Cab Franc doesn’t shout but has real presence. (Buy again? For sure.)

MWG January 12, 2017, tasting: flight 4 of 7

Written by carswell

January 31, 2017 at 13:16

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