Saturday, 22 March 2014

Greece's time will surely come (2)

In the first part of "Greece's time will surely come" we didn't actually mention any of the wines tasted so here we would like to make up for that.

We were bowled over by the general standard. Obviously some wines were better than others but all were on a remarkably high level given the diversity and variety of styles, grape varieties, terroirs and producers. We kept mainly to the more interesting (obscure to us) Greek grapes such as Athiri, Aidani, Dafne, Kontouro (more commonly known as Mandilaria), Mavrotragano, Plyto, Thrapsathiri, Vidiano, Vlahiko,  with a few interesting foreign varieties thrown in such as Refosco, Touriga Nacional and Tannat.

Our first stop however was at the only independent wine producer of any size on Lesvos: Methymnaeos.

We had just been reading about this very winery in Lazerakis so it was a very great pleasure to find the printed word made flesh in the form of Mr. Yannis Lambrou himself, Producer in Chidira, Lesvos. Mr. Lambrou is unique, one can safely say. For starters he has revived an almost extinct red variety local to Chidira, Chidiriotiko. Mr. Lambrou believes this is the grape which made one of the most famous and expensive wines in ancient Greece and now has 60 ha of it in the volcanic soils of the area.

As if that wasn't enough in terms of uniqueness, Methymnaeos make a white also from Chidiriotiko (i.e. a blanc de noire) and moreover, a Orange wine from the same grape. The Red was our favourite among these, the white being rather austere and perhaps even intentionally a touch oxidised - maybe a food wine? The Orange came in two vintages; 2010 which was also rather Rancio and 2013 which Mr. Lambrou promised would go the same way with a bit of bottle age. We actually preferred the younger less oxydised Orange wine but perhaps our palates are not evolved enough to appreciate the purpose of these wines. Their fascination could not be denied however.

Mr. Lambrou describes the red as the Burgundy of Greece and indeed it showed lightness of colour and taste despite a surprisingly high alcohol content. It was indeed Burgundian but in no way a slavish copy.

'Wine Grapes' would have liked to test Chidiriotiko to make sure it isn't something else or even a blend but no samples have been made available. Our gut feeling is that this is like nothing else we have encountered, but what do we know?

The Whites

On this showing, Greek whites shone particularly brightly. Way back in these pages we made the discovery of Vilana from Crete. How wonderful to find that this was just the tip of the iceberg. We can now add the following to Vilana as major discoveries eligible for inclusion to the Slotovino Hall of fame

This Aidani was gorgeous. It's a pity about its uncharacteristic 14% abv. Half a bottle of this on a hot Greek summer's afternoon would probably do for us for the rest of the day.

The Samaris Kontoura is actually Mandilaria so not quite as obscure as it might have seemed. Lovely wine at 12%.

We just loved this ueber-obscure beauty made from a grape called Plyto (Pluto?). A way less alcoholic than the Aidani at 12.5%. Much more typical of Greek whites in fact.

Lyrarakis is the maker of this and the equally obscure Dafni. Nice but we liked Plyto even more.

Idaia Winery's Thrapsathiri (Crete) is rarer than their Thrapsathiri/Chardonnay blend. We haven't tasted the latter but can't imagine the former could be improved.

This Vidiano is also a tad higher in alcohol than is the norm but is quite marvellous even so. The Oenologist was on hand to explain all about his products. That is typical of the seriousness of these producers.

We had admired two whires from Mediterra already at the Decanter tasting of Greek, Italian and Bulgarian wines in January 2014 so it was good to see them at Oenorama too. They plan to be at Prowein, Dusseldorf too. A very hard-working organisation who have alreadt made inroads into the British and other markets with their delicious Xerolithia and outstanding Mirambelo available from Oddbins and other wines from Morrisons etc.

 If you ever find any of these in shops or restaurants just go for them! We believe you won't be disappointed.

For the reds

Vlahiko, Kontouro/Mandilaria, Mavrotragano, Kotsifali were just a few of many on offer.

Vlahiko has the reputation of being peppery. This one at 12.5% certainly tickled the tastebuds.

Of these, the Mavrotragano was outstanding. We had found the Hatzidakis version already in Theatre of Wine in Tufnell Park, London - a shop which gets better and better. From Lazarakis we understood that already in 2005, Mavrotragano was making waves but it was a surprise to find other producers making their own versions. The one from Argyros was just as good as that of Hatzidakis. The whole Mavrotragano phenomenon reminds us of what happened with Centesimino on Italy. Suddenly it's everywhere. In both cases, the formerly obscure grape deserves its new-found popularity.

The other reds from native varieties were, again most attractive. When Greek wine explodes across our collective consciousness, all these varieties can safely be taken up.

True to form, when Greek producers import foreign varieties they cast their nets well beyond the Cabernets, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Syrah etc. Which other country brings in Nebbiolo,


Tannat (with Syrah)

Touriga Nacional

and others including quite a lot of Tempranillo apparently? Those tasted were also very fine expressions of these grapes. We would like to mention here especially the Refosco of Adam. Adam is the name of the village near which the grape is grown. It lies outside Thessaloniki which is interesting in that the south is more of a happy hunting ground for interesting varieties than the north which tends to specialise in Xinomavro, Agiorgitiko and the international varieties.

The charming owner of this vineyard is Nikos Asteriadis, a Chemical Engineer married to a poetess. Educated in the US, he speaks perfect English and is a worldly negotiator. In many ways he was typical of producers represented at Oenorama and his wines can stand up against competition on any winelist or in any merchant's shelves.

There were plenty of sweet wines on show. After all, an entire island is devoted to them; Samos and Santorini produces the famous Vinsanto (as opposed to the Vin Santo of Toscana). Greeks also like their bubbly and that was well represented. Lots of Olive Oil was also there. The Italians used to buy up Greek Olive Oil and leave their labels imprecise as to the origin. Typically you might read "Product of EU and non-Eu countries"! The Greeks have got wise to this and now produce their own. We have known about the etherial Avlaki and Agathiri oils from Lesvos made by Deborah MacMillan and Nathalie Wheen, ex-pat luminaries of the London culutral scene turned Olive Oil producers.

There is one last wine which was just irresistible although at the same time a slightly guilty pleasure;

It is described as an "Orange Semi-sparkling Wine" but could be mistaken for a vivace Rose. It is so more-ish as to be a contender to knock pink Prosecco off its perch. If someone took this beauty in hand, we might not hear the last of it.

It comes from Domaine Glinavos and is made in the Ioannina area from Debina (white) and Vlahiko (red) grapes. It is called Paliokairisio (Old Times). The fact sheet states that "Bottling is done without adding other substances" so this might be something of a natural wine without sulfates. The blurb goes on to say "Tea and Cognac colour. Its aromas are those of apple and of butter in mild oxidation. The small amount of natural carbonate brings out the richness of tastes and aromas with a sweetness that blends harmoniously with all the other elements... To be served at Cool."  You never knew you would yearn for a wine with aromas of  apple and butter in mild oxidation but you will!

Sadly it was not given to us to have studied Greek and we expect we are not the only ones unable to read so many of the labels, front and back which are in Greek alone. Even if the producers don't need to export their wines, it would be nice if those of us who come across them in Greece could understand better what we are drinking. Just a thought. Otherwise one should have a Greek speaker on hand.

We were lucky enough to have as our companion and interpreter a former CEO of Olympic Airlines, now on the board of Easyjet, Rigas Doganis who immediately recognized the venue of Oenorama as the hangar for Olympic's Jumbos at the time. It had also served as the Olympic Fencing venue incidentally. Rigas knows his Greek wine but on this occasion even he was extremely impressed by the quality on show.

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