Saturday, April 30, 2016

Bartolo Mascarello 1958 - 2010: A Historical Retrospective (with Antonio Galloni)

I am a huge Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino fan and Bartolo Mascarello and Gianfranco Soldera, respectively, are in the top rank of quality producers in those regions. And London, due to its vivacity, culture, food and wine scene, and role as the locus of Europe (and that is not a political statement), is one of my favorite cities in the world. So when Antonio Galloni's Vinous announced back-to-back tastings of multiple vintages of these producers' offerings -- to be held in London on April 26th and 27th -- that was an alignment of all the stars and, hence, a no-brainer for me to sign up.

The first of the two events --- Bartolo Mascarello: A Historical Perspective, 1958 - 2010 -- was a tasting dinner held at the 28º - 50º Maddox Street location. The event was scheduled to begin at 6:30 pm and I was one of the first to arrive. Antonio was still opening wines but Jacquesson Cuvée 738 was available and the Head Sommelier, Louis Dufouleurand, poured me a glass. Accompanying the Champagne was a selection of Charcuterie; Crab Salad, Mango Avocado, and Coriander on Crouton; Mozzarella and Cherry Tomato Bruschetta with Fresh Pesto; and Parmesan and Truffle Arancini.






Crab Salad, Mango Avocado, and Coriander on
Crouton
As the attendees filtered in, I was pleased to recognize a gentleman who had sat at my table in New York City at the Galloni 2010 Brunello di Montalcino tasting. We conversed animatedly for a while. As the room filled, I noted that a number of Americans had crossed the pond to attend the event, one person coming all the way from Los Angeles. At 7:00 pm sharp we were directed to take our seats.

In his opening remarks Antonio mentioned that we would be drinking 18 vintages organized into five flights, each flightwith a theme. All of the wines had been sourced from a single owner so provenanace was assured.

He went on to say that Mascarello is a traditional Piemonte producer that had been producing wine in the region for three generations. The first flight -- themed "ready to drink" -- would clearly exhibit the generational shift from Bartolo Mascarello to his daughter Maria Theresa. In Bartolo's days, Mascarello blended vineyards, fermented the grapes together, and allowed the resulting wine to mature slowly. More recently, the aging time has been shortened, the winery (and the wine) has been cleaner, and they now have the equipment to do proper destemming. Maria Theresa got rid of the old barrels, she procured a modern destemmer, and the grapes are ripening such that it is easier to separate the Nebbiolo stem from the grape.

The following two charts illustrate the viticultural and vinicultural practices of Maria Theresa as she described them in TONG 16.



The flights and themes for the tasting were as follows:
  • Flight 1: Ready to Drink (2000, 2003, 2005, 1995)
  • Flight 2: Cooler Vintages (1997, 1998, 1999, 2001)
  • Flight 3: Classic Vintages (1986, 1989, 1990 1996)
  • Flight 4: Four Greatest of Recent Vintages (2004, 2006, 2008, 2010)
  • Flight 5: Because We Can (My characterization -- 1986 in Magnum, 1958 in Magnum).
I will report on the actual tasting in a follow-up post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Wine Art Estate (Mikrochori, Greece): Stellar food and vibrant wines

Wine Art Estate's goal is to demonstrate how well selected indigenous and international varieties perform in the microclimate of its native Drama. And, based on our experiences there during our North Greece tour, they are well on the way to accomplishing that goal.

The estate is the result of a cooperation between two professionals: Yiannis Papadopoulos, a successful civil engineer, and Yiannis Kalïtzidis, an equally successful architect (and, by the way, a "master chef", as I will explain later). Papadopoulos initiated the venture in 1993 by planting a small family vineyard and vinifying the produce. Kalïtzidis joined forces with him two years later. And the rest is history.

We arrived at the estate in the early evening after fairly intense sessions at Stelios Kechris and Ktima Biblia Chora, and long rides in between. We were welcomed warmly by Akis Papadopoulos (son of the founder and winemaker) and his father.

Wine Art Estate at our arrival
Akis and Yiannis Papadopoulos, Wine Art Estate

After introductions, Akis led us into the cellar for a tour. Before proceeding further, though, I would like to provide some details regarding the estate.

The winery, and 16 ha of the estate's 26 ha of vineyards, are located in Mikrochori, a village in the Macedonian prefecture of Drama (see map below). An additional 10 ha of vineyards is being planted in Kali Vrisi, an area close to the Bulgarian border.

Location of Wine Art Estate indicated by red arrow
The climate in Drama is semi-continental with 2017.75 degree days and 264.4 mm of rain annually. The estate's vineyards sit on well-drained, red-brown sandy clay soils which are blessed with good structure and bountiful organic matter (The lower soil layers in Mikrochori are compact). The vineyards lie on south-facing slopes at altitudes ranging between 90 and 275 m.

Wine Art Estate currently plants four indigenous (Assyrtiko, Agiortiko, Limnio) and eight international (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Sangioveses, Nebbiolo, Touriga Nacional) varieties. The scions are spur-pruned on bilateral cordons and are grafted onto a number of rootstocks to include 110R, 140RUG, 1103P, 41B, and SO4. Row orientation is north-south in Mikrochori and west-east in Kali Vrisi.

Now back to the tour of the winery.

The facility is comprised of two structures -- each possessing above- and below-ground aspects -- located on two sides of a bisecting road and connected by a broad underground tunnel which doubles as a barrel storage room. One of the structures serves as the wine production facility while the other services the commercial aspects of the business.

As we went through the cellar, Akis explained its operation as well as their practices. He was especially proud of the rotary fermenter -- employed in red wine production -- and the electronic monitoring system which allows centralized monitoring of tank operations. The winery has a 300,000 bottle capacity.

Source: Wine Art Estate
Source: Wine Art Estate
After our tour of the wine production area we made our way through the tunnel to the building on the other side of the street. Once on the other side we came up one level to the tasting room which had been set up for a wine tasting dinner for the bloggers.


The first wine poured was the 2013 Techni Alipias, an 80/20 Sauvignon Blanc-Assyrtiko blend. The wine was aromatic with a grassy nose accompanying grapefruit and tropical aromas. The minerality and mouthfeel reflected the Assyrtiko contribution. Bright acidity with some bitterness and a lengthy finish. The wine was further complexed by the grilled eggplant with which it was paired.

Grilled Eggplant

The next wine up was a 2015 Malagousia. This wine exhibited fruity and floral aromas and a slight reductiveness. White flower, white peach, white melon. Uber pleasant. Paired with a feta and pesto dish.

Feta with Pesto

Our third dish was a stunning sauteed octopus in olive oil. It was paired with the 2011and 2014 Assyrtikos. The 2011 Assyrtiko was tank fermented. Less mineral than Santorini Assyrtikos. As is the case for all the estate's white varieties, the fruit was sourced from the Kali Vrisi vineyard. Citrus and complex tropical fruit suggestive of riper grapes. Citrus rind. The 2014 Assyrtiko was barrel-aged and showed toast notes and grapefruit. The oak was beautifully integrated. Akis indicated that the toast levels for the barrels were medium.

Octopus

The 2014 Chardonnay spent six months on oak. Sweet vanilla notes and great acidity. A burnt toast flavor is late-arriving. This could be a Chardonnay in the class of Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay or Capensis were it not for an overt oak presence.

The Techni Alipias Rosé 2014 is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and Nebbiolo. A complex nose, inclusive of vanilla notes, but simple on the palate. Paired with a squid risotto.

Squid Risotto

The Techni Alipias Red 2012 is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Agiorgitiko. On the nose red fruit, raspberry, cocoa, chocolate. Spice and softness on the palate. Ripe fruit. Easy drinking. This was paired with a Beef Loin and Sweet Potato/Carrot side.

Beef Loin with Sweet Potato/Carrot side

After the Tecni Alipias Red, we turned to the varietal red wines: 2010 Syrah, 2011 Merlot, and 2007 Nebbiolo. The Syrah showed notes of meat, blood, fruit and a brambliness. On the palate it was softer and rounder than its Northern Rhone counterparts. The Merlot had a nice nose with dark ripe fruits, chocolate, and earth. Good acidity and a spiciness. The Nebbiolo exhibited traditional tar and roses but, in addition, showed perfumed cassis, nutmeg, and stemminess. The attack was unimpressive but the mid-palate was superb and it ended with a long, elegant finish.

After the final dish was consumed and cleared, the Chef made his way up to the dining room and was revealed to be Yiannis Kalïtzidis, the co-owner. This guy is obviously restless. He was not busy enough in his professional career so he went out and partnered with his friend to found and grow one of the highest-quality wineries in Macedonia. Not satisfied with that, he takes the time to turn out restaurant-quality food to restaurant-sized audiences. Amazingly accomplished man.

Yiannis Kalïtzidis


This was a very pleasant visit for the group. The wines of the estate are of excellent quality and has that characteristic across the board. We encountered many very good wines on this trip but there were only two estates where the quality stayed at an extremely high level across the entire product line. And Wine Art Estate was one of those properties. Unlike the practice at many of its contemporaries, this estate has only three blends, a key tell that it is really focused on the goal of demonstrating the Drama microclimate effects in its wines.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Ktima Kir Yianni (Amynteo and Naoussa, Greece): The estate and its wines

"Xinomavro is the noble grape of Greece with Naoussa appellation wines characterized by complexity, structure, and character while Anyndeon wines are characterized by elegance, aroma, and freshness." So said Stellios Boutaris (Winemaker and CEO, Ktima Kir-Yianni) while discussing (during a Wine Bloggers' tour of the estate) the dual terroirs from which the grapes used in the estate's wines are sourced.

We had arrived early for a vineyard tour and tasting and had been welcomed by the aforementioned Stellios and Lambros Papadimitriou (Director of Sales and Marketing). We were to be joined by a group of Austrian Somms but they had been up late tasting with the Naoussa producers. No worries. We decided to proceed and they would join in upon arrival.

Stellios Boutaris, Winemaker and CEO, Kir-Yianni
Lambros Papadimitriou, Dir., Sales and
Marketing, Kir-Yianni
Vineyard around Kir-Yianni winery in Naoussa

After some dialogue in the area outside the vineyard, and on the winery portico, we repaired to a conference room for a more detailed presentation and a tasting of the wines.

The Naoussa vineyard was bought by Boutari -- the leading Greek wine brand -- in the 1960s and had a number of managers before eventually being managed by Yiannis Boutaris between the 1970s and 1990s. In 1997 Yiannis spun off two of the enterprise's most prominent vineyards to form Kir-Yianni with the goal of creating a "super-premium" Greek wine estate. Yiannis was joined by his son Stellios who took over the reins in 1999.

As intimated previously, Kir-Yianni has holdings in both the Naoussa and Amyndeon appellations. The Naoussa vineyard (55 ha) is in the area of Yiannakohori, in the northern part of the appellation and was originally planted in the 1960s. There have been three stages in its development:

Early 19790s
  • Planted with 50 ha of Xinomavro
  • Trained vertical shoot positioning
1985 - 1990
  • Much of the vineyard uprooted and replanted with Merlot and Syrah
    • Believed to be suited to the microclimate of the region
    • Believed to give great results when combined with Xinomavro
2004
  • 15 ha replanted with Xinomavro and other Greek and international varieties
The vineyard is divided into 40 separate plots based on soil properties, reliefs, and the different varieties/clones. Vine density is between 2900 and 4000 vines/ha with each vine yielding 2 to 2.5 kg of fruit. Seventy percent of the vineyard is still old vines with the Xinomavro vines averaging 25 years of age.

The Naoussa vineyard produces big reds from Xinomavro (50%), Merlot (20%), Syrah (15%), Cabernet Sauvignon (10%), and other experimental varieties.

We did not visit the Kir-Yianni Amyndeon vineyard but our understanding is that it is 18 ha in size at 700 m altitude. In addition to owned grapes, Kir-Yianni controls an additional 40 ha through contractual agriculture. The varieties planted in Amyndeon include Xinomavro, Roditis, Malagousia, Syrah, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Gewurtztraminer.




A total of 18 wines were presented for the team to taste: two sparkling wines (one of which was a rosé); four whites; one rosé; three red blends; and eight Xinomavro reds. Stellios had indicated that Greeks love Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc blends and half of the white wines reflected a bow to that market reality. In general, blends play a significant role in the estate's offerings: excluding a single-vineyard Sauvignon Blanc and the Xinomavro wines, all of the remaining wines are blends. This focus on blends reflects another reality of the marketplace as related by Stellios: they operate in a brand-driven local market.

The estate began making a sparkling wine 5 years ago and today have two of these wines on the market. The Paranga sparkling is a blend while the Akakies sparkling is 100% Xinomavro. Both are made via the Charmat method, an approach which may be questioned in light of the comparatively stellar sparkling wines produced by Domaine Karanika in similar terroir conditions in Amyndeon.

As regards the Xinomavro wines, the estate's strategy is to produce a new generation of Xinomavro products and, to that end (according to Yiannis Karakassas MW), are employing clones that provide better ripeness in the fruit. The staples that were presented to us were one PDO each from Naousa and Amyndeon and a Xinomavro (with a small dose of Syrah) labeled PGI Imathia. In addition, we were allowed to taste four unreleased wines made from single-block grapes and one single-block wild ferment.

At the conclusion of the tasting we went back out onto the portico for a snack and some more wine.


All in all, an insightful visit.

****************************************************************************************************

Whites
Paranga Sparkling (Roditis-Malvasia-Xinomavro) -- Pleasant; pleasing fresh fruit and residual sugar balanced by bright acidity; drying finish; spiciness.
Paranga White/Petra 2014 (Roditis 80% - Malagousia 20%) -- Melony, white fruit character; lees richness; citrus rind; white stone fruit.
Ktima Kir-Yianni Samaropetra Vineyard 2014 (Roditis 50% - Sauvignon Blanc 50%) -- Peach; rich, tropical notes; rich lees; citrus; broad-based.
Tesseris Limnes 2014 (Chardonnay 60% - Gewurtztraminer 40%) -- Tropical notes; bitter acidity; weighty.
Droumo 2014 (Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc) -- Not aromatic; broad-based acidity; balanced; more of an old world style.

Red Blends
Paranga 2013 (Merlot 50% - Xinomavro 25% - Syrah 25%) -- Oak, bright stemmy fruit; cocoa; semi-bubble-gum character; phenolic; barky.
Ktima Kir-Yianni Yianakohori Hills 2012 (Xinomavro 50% - Merlot 30% - Syrah 20%) -- Elegance; black fruit; soft; round; non-complex with medium finish.
Dyo Elies (Syrah 60% - Merlot 30% - Xinomavro 10%) -- dark fruit; front-loaded; good acidity; tannin bomb.

Rosé
Akakies Rosé 2014 (Xinomavro) -- Dark rose color; strawberry; weighty with high acidity.

Reds
Kali Riza 2013 (PDO Amyndeon Xinomavro Old Vines) -- Tomato, red cherries; bright tannins; good acidity; balanced.
Ramnista 2011 and 2005 (PDO Naoussa Xinomavro) -- More muted on nose; spicy; more vegetal character but more elegance. The 2005 exhibited some more developmental characteristics to include truffles and kerosene.
Ramnista Siniatsi (block 9) 2011 (PDO Naoussa Xinomavro) -- Fresh on nose; leather; big acidity; lighter color than block 15.
Ramnista Cyclamina (block 15) 2011 (PDO Naoussa Xinomavro) -- Dark fruits; plumminess; spice; hint of dates and stewed fruit.
Ramnista LImni (block 5) 2011 -- More robust on the nose with a little mintiness; great palate feel; vegetality; beautiful wine.


©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The best sparkling wines you have never heard of: Domaine Karanika, Amynteo, Greece

My initial exposure to Domaine Karanika came about during my trip to Athens in February of this year to participate in the #Winelovers 4th Anniversary Celebration. I was on my third visit to Vintage Wine Bar & Bistro, this latter visit prompted by my encounter on the previous evening with the 1999 Domaine Economou Sitia, a Liatiko-based wine which I found to be extremely pleasurable and which exhibited great persistence, as regards my thought process, on the following day. So much so that I convinced Brandon Tokash and a number of other Winelovers to revisit the bar with me (Brandon and I went initially and the others followed after a stop at Fabrica).

When Panos Kyriazis (co-proprietor at Vintage) set two sparkling wines on the table for Brandon and me to try, my mind was still on the Liatiko . The first sparkling wine that we tried -- the Amalia Brut -- did nothing to distract me from that single-minded pursuit but the second, the Karanika Brut Cuvée Speciale, was truly an eye-opening wine. I was very impressed with it both as a standalone as well as paired with the restaurant's butterflied shrimp tartare. In my notes I mentioned that "maybe (Xinomavro) producers from the region should spend some more time looking at this solution."


Since coming back to the US I have purchased a couple of cases of the wine and drunk a number of bottles. In this post I share what I have learned about the producer and its sparkling wines since that initial encounter.

Domaine Karanika is located in the Amynteo region of Macedonia, an area which I have previously described. The winery was founded by Laurens M. Hartman-Karanika and Annette van Kampen, a husband-and-wife team who, like John Shafer of Shafer Vineyards, left management positions in the publishing industry to pursue dreams of creating a business in the wine industry. The key difference here is that John's path led from Illinois to Napa's Stags Leap District while our subjects' journey took them from the Netherlands to Amynteo. Today Laurens functions as the domaine's oenologist while Annette is the vineyardist.

The overarching philosophy of the estate is minimalism incorporating practices such as:
  • Organic farming with elements of biodynamics
  • Cover crops for soil revitalization
  • Gravity flow in the winery to minimize handling
  • Natural-yeasts fermentation
  • Minimal sulfite addition and use of Montmorillonite clay for filtering only when absolutely necessary
The first chart below illustrates the soil distribution in the major grape-growing regions of Amynteo while the second chart depicts the Karanika vineyard locations, varieties, and the destination of the grapes from the individual vineyards. Vineyard management practices are also summarized in the second chart.



Domaine Karanika produces a number of still wines but I have not tasted any of them as yet and, to that extent, they are not covered in this post. Rather, my focus is on the sparkling wines.


The table below summarizes the specs for the three sparkling wines that are produced by the estate: two 100% Xinomavro wines and one Assyrtiko-Xinomavro blend, a relatively recent addition to the product line.


In an interview with the Greek magazine Monopole, Laurens was asked what made him decide to use Xinomavro as the varietal base of his sparkling wines. Laurens indicated that he had tasted some Blanc de Noirs in Amynteo and Naoussa in 2003, and, having some experience with Blanc de Noirs from Epernay, immediately knew that Xinomavro would be the perfect grape for a Blanc de Noir. The only question was whether it could provide a high-quality mousse, a question which was answered affirmatively by subsequent research.

During my recent passage through North Greece, I tasted a few sparkling wines but none come close to the Karanika Brut Cuvee Speciale, especially due to the fact that they mostly employ the Charmat Method. I have written a 10-part series on this blog comparing Champagne, Franciacorta, Prosecco, and Cava and I have not encountered examples from the latter three which excite me as much as does the Karanika product.

And I am not alone in my enthusiasm. Both Graperover, and the aforementioned Monopole, refer to the comments made by Tom Stevenson, the noted Champagne and Sparkling wine critic, about Domaine Karanika sparkling wines. I reproduce below a Tom Stevenson quote currently resident on the Graperover site:
I shall be keeping a very close eye on Laurens Hartman in the future. He has the potential to produce a world class sparkling wine and of all the budding new sparkling wine superstars I am currently following, Hartman is the only one not using classic Champagne grape varieties. Xinomavro's naturally high acid and intrinsically low color makes it the obvious choice for anyone trying to craft a sparkling wine that is expressive of its Greek roots, but seldom have I come across any artisanal sparkling wine that is as polished as Hartman's 2010-based second release of Domaine Karanika Xinomavro Brut. It has a silky smooth mousse that most champenois would die for. ... it is already the best sparkling wine produced in Greece ... it is only a matter of time and experience before Hartman crafts something truly world class.
Since my return from Greece, I have hunted these wines down relentlessly. I have not been able to locate the Assyrtiko-Xinomavro blend but have been able to order cases of both the Cuvee Speciale and the Rosé from MacArthur Beverages in Wasington DC. I have drunk these wines alone, with food, and with Champagnes of varying caliber and never have they appeared miscast.






The Cuvee Speciale shows its true character if allowed to remain on the palate briefly allowing an opportunity for the bubbles to ennervate said palate both with their vigor as well as the bursts of lemom-lime acidity, reminiscent of eating Pop Rocks candy. That lemon-lime acidity morphs into a distinct tamarind character. The yeasty/bready character of many double ferments is not readily apparent, a result of relatively short sur lie residence. The Rosé drinks easily with distinct raspberry notes, great acidity, and persistence.

My next goal is to get my hands on the Assyrtiko-Xinomavro blend so that I can see how far forward Domaine Karanika has moved the chains to what Tom Stevenson predicts will be "something truly world class." In my estimation, Domaine Karanika is already ahead of much of the world with the in-place product lineup. And don't get me started on the QPR associated with these products.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Evangelos Gerovassiliou (Ktima Gerovassiliou) fleshes out the history of the resurgence of Malagousia

On March 21st, I received an email titled "about Malagousia" from Evangelos Gerovassiliou, owner of Ktima Gerovassiliou, co-owner of Ktima Biblia Chora (along with Vassilis Tsaktsarlis), former oenologist at Domaine Porto Carras, and (as described by #Winelover Ted Lelekas in a recent Lavina Kharkwal article on Vangelis and his wines" "... one of Greece's most respected winemakers."

Vangelis Gerovassiliou (center) at Ktima Gerovassiliou

In the concluding paragraph of my recent post on the Malagousia story, I had raised questions as to whether Stavroula Kourakou-Dragona (the author of the source for my piece) had established the primacy of Evangelos in the resurgence of the variety and whether the variety was still flourishing when the first grapes went to Porto Carras from the Wine Institute. In his email, Evangelos indicated that he had read my piece but waited to respond until after he had done the appropriate background research which included conversations with Mr. Nikoloudis (agronomist and a member of the team at Porto Carras that "revived Malagousia") and Mr. Stavrakas (Professor of viticulture at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki), both of whom helped in the research that backed up this email. Vangelis expressed regret that, due to his passing, Vassilis Logothetis, Professor of Ampelography at the aforementioned University, and creator of an experimental vineyard at Domaine Porto Carras, could not be consulted for input.

In comparing Evangelos' missive and Kourakou-Dragona's article, they both agree on the fact that Malagousia was first mentioned in Rousopoulos Oenologics and expanded upon in Krimbas' three-volume Greek Ampelography written beginning in 1943. But from there, their stories diverge markedly. Kourakou-Dragona (her primary source is Charalambos Kotinis) tells of the Wine Institute wanting to include Malagousia in its collection and soliciting Kotinis who provided some cuttings which he had obtained from a grapegrower in Mesologgi named Pantelas Valandreas. And, according to Kourakou-Dragona, some of these same vines were sent on to Domaine Porto Carras.

Evangelos does not subscribe to this version of history. According to him, there were a few Malagousia vines at the School of Agricultural Sciences in Patras. Further, Logothetis had started an experimental vineyard at Porto Carras and was traveling around the country looking for rare and extinct varieties with which to seed the vineyard. One such rare variety that he had secured was Malagousia which he planted in the vineyard in 1969.

Kourakou-Dragona indicated that the first vinification of Malagousia occurred in 1974. Evangelos informs that after tasting the Malagousia grape in 1975, he decided to do the first micro-vinifications at Porto Carras and over the next 4 to 5 years the land devoted to the variety increased to 4 ha.

In 1980, his team sent some Malagousia rootstocks to the Institute of Vine and Wine in Likovrisi, Athens, where Mr Kotinis was employed at that time. Further, in 1982, the Institute asked for some Malagousia grapes and the Porto Carras team responded to that request by sending along two crates of the variety. Mr Kotinis published his book Atlas of Greek Ampelography in 1985.

In concluding, Evangelos said they had looked through the files of the Institute and could find no research on the Malagousia variety prior to 1982. (I read this to say that any research done at the Institute would have been based on the material supplied by Domaine Porto Carras.). Further, the team cannot be sure if Vassilis Logothetis got the initial samples from Mr. Kotinis or whether he found it on a pergola in Nafpatkos.

So the source of the initial Malagousia vines that today populate the North Greece vineyards remains shrouded in the mists of history. Not so the role of Evangelos and his team in the resurgence of the variety. I concur with Kourakou-Dragona in her statement as regards Malagousia where she crowns Gerovassiliou as the "one that placed the pump on her foot and named her Queen of the dance."

UPDATE (3/30/16): In a follow-up email, Evangelos indicated that, after reading the above post, he had a lengthy conversation with Mrs Kourakou and "after taking into consideration all the facts, we have concluded that it was most probably the Institute of Vine and Wine in Likovrisi, Athens that gave the root-stocks of Malagousia to Porto Carras in 1969."

This is beautiful and is the conclusion that I had arrived at overnight. It binds the stories together nicely, providing primacy to the relevant players in their respective spheres of influence.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Xinomavro: Variety, growing regions, and wines

During my recent visit to the Kir-Yianni winery in Naoussa, Stelios Boutaris described Xinomavro as a difficult grape to grow and very unique in that "it is susceptible to every pest and disease that comes along." In the Wine Commanders presentation (Xinomavro on Fire) at the 2015 edition of the Digital Wine Communications Conference, Yiannis Karakasis MW referred to the variety as "a diva." Yet they are both effusive in the praise of the wines made from this grape.

What is it about this variety that engenders this "disdain" among the greatest proponents of its wines? In this post I will explore the internals of the variety, its growing regions, and the product of this union. The Naoussa and Amynteo portions of the post draws heavily on the work of Dr. Stefanos Koundouras of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Perspectives on Xinomavro: Greece's Noblest Varietal, alpha-estate.com. Use permission granted by Angelos Iatrides of Alpha Estate.).

The Variety
Greece has over 69,000 ha of land devoted to the growth of its 300 indigenous varieties, the fourth most planted (2,389 ha) of which is Xinomavro, the noble red variety from North Greece which is the basis of the PDO wines from Naoussa, Amyndeon, and Goumenissa and a key component of the PDO wine from Rapsani. The key characteristics of the variety are provided in the figure below.


Growing Regions
The PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) designation describes the highest quality level in the European wine classification schema and Xinomavro wines made from grapes grown in the Naoussa, Amyndeon, Goumenissa, and Rapsani areas -- and meeting other relevant statutory requirements --can use this indication on the labels.


Naoussa
The Naoussa PDO covers between 500 and 600 ha of mostly east-facing slopes at altitudes ranging between 106.68 m (350 feet) and 457.2 m (1500 feet) at the foot of Mt Vermion in Central Macedonia (Between 100 and 120 ha of the planted vines are devoted to the growth of non-Xinomavro varieties.).

Naoussa PDO showing key crus. Used with permission.
The climate in the region is Mediterranean, with continental influences, and is further moderated by Mt. Vermion which protects the vineyards from cold north winds as well as providing a rain-shadow effect.

Table 1 below shows the varying soil types in the Naoussa PDO while Table 2 shows the unique microclimates created by the interaction of the soils and climate zones.

Designation Soil Type Percent
K1 Loamy soils (sandy clay loam, loam) without Calcium Carbonate
23
K2 Loamy soils (sandy clay loam, loam) with Calcium Carbonate > 4%
15
K3 Clay soils (sandy clay, sandy loam, loam) without Calcium Carbonate
25
K4 Clay soils (sandy clay, sandy loam, loam) with Calcium Carbonate > 4%
30
K5 Acidic soils (pH < 6)
7
Table 1. Soil types in Naoussa PDO (Source: Koundouras)


Zone Altitude (feet) Characteristics
1
400
  • Deep soils
  • Earlier harvest
  • Grapes suitable for light reds
2
500
ditto
3
700
  • Central zone ranging between 600 and 800 feet
  • Mostly clay soils with high lime percentage
  • Some of the best crus
  • Trademark tannic wines with aging potential
4
800
ditto
5
900
Late-ripening
6
1100
ditto
Table 2. Naoussa PDO microclimates (Source: Koundouras)

According to Koundouras, the wines with the best aging potential are associated with calcareous clay soils as these soils provide good drainage, root aeration, and medium vine vigor.

Amynteo
The Amynteo PDO covers 650 ha (250 of which is devoted to non-Xinomavro varieties) at altitudes ranging between 550 (1800 feet) and 750 m (2500 feet) in the town and municipality of Amynteo in the Florina peripheral unit of Macedonia. Amynteo is the coldest grape-growing region in Greece with cold winters and relatively cool summers and autumns. There are four lakes in the region which serve to modify the climate but the largest impact is derived from the presence of the interconnected lakes Vergitis and Petres, of which the former is the largest. The area experiences northern winds from surrounding mountain ranges.

The area is cooler and drier than Naoussa and most of the new vineyards are irrigated. The vineyards are, for the most part, modern and cordon-trained but there are clusters of old vineyards including some own-rooted, pre-phylloxera, head-trained vines.

The main grape growing regions and soil types are illustrated in the charts below. According to Koundouras, the Type I soils are "ideal for aromatic and elegant Xinomavro wines" while the type II soils produce "structured and balanced" wines.


Goumenissa
The Goumenissa PDO covers 330 ha on the western slopes of Mt. Paiko, just 50 km northwest of Thessaloniki. The gentle, southwest-facing slopes are somewhat protected from the cold north winds by the Paiko range while the lower altitude allows the moderating effect of the Aegean Sea to influence the crop.

In this region Xinomavro is blended with up to 20% Negoska, a distant relative and a variety that is unique to Macedonia. The two varieties have to be co-vinified and aged a minimum of 1 year in oak. According to BBR, the high sugar content, and riper berry fruit, of the Negoska, help to balance out the character of the relatively austere Xinomavro. The wines of this region are seen as broader, and less firmly structured than other wines of Macedonia.

Rapsani
The vineyards proper are located on the southern slopes of Mount Olympus and its "mainland mediterranean" climate is modified by the surrounding mountains and forests as well as by the Thermaic Gulf of the Aegean Sea. One of the heralded aspects of the environment is the 10 - 15 ℃ temperature variation between day and night, a condition which, it is held, "enhances phenolic ripeness and aromatic concentration of the grapes." The physical and legal characteristics of the zone are elaborated in the chart below.


The Wines
I evidenced a variety of Xinomavro wine styles during my tour of Northern Greece to include:
  • Still and sparkling Blanc de Noirs
  • Rosés
  • Red fruit-forward
  • Red structured
  • Mono-varietal (Naoussa and Amyndeon)
  • Blended (Rapsani and Goumenissa)
  • Sweet
The aroma/taste profile of a traditional Xinomavro red wine is indicated in the table below.

Aromas Taste
Strawberries, cherries, plums Structured, ageworthy
Vegetal (dried tomatoes, olives) Firm tannins, medium-high intensity
Floral (roses) in light soils, robust in clay Medium-high alcohol (has risen 1.1% over last 20 years
Develops savory, aromatic complexity (truffles

Table 3. Xinomavro aroma/taste profile (Source: Wine Commanders)

Compared to Naoussa, Xinomavros from Amyndeon have brighter fruit character, a leaner palate, and greater florality.

There is an ongoing concerted attempt to present Xinomavro as the face of North Greece red wines and it took a little while for me to get it. At 2014 DWCC, Ted Lelekas and Luiz Alberto presented a seminar on the wines of North Greece and I left the session not feeling the urge to add the wines to my collection. And it was nothing that the guys did. The wine just did not appeal to me. The tomato vegetal character and hint of a mid-palate were somewhat off-putting.

That feeling persisted on this tour until I tasted the 2005 Ramnista at Kir-Yianni and the 2008 Ramnista and the 2007 Boutari 1879 Legacy at the Wine Commanders Master Class at the Plovdiv DWCC. The 2008 Ramnista exhibited ripe fruit, truffles and a kerosene character. Red fruit on the palate with a mid-palate that raised its hand. According to the Wine Commanders, Kir-Yianni uses clones that allow greater ripening of fruit (less vegetal character). According to the Wine Commanders, the year 2007 was a "ripe vintage year" and the the 1879 Legacy reflected this with rich, ripe cherry fruit along with tar, licorice, earth, truffles and spice. And a mid-palate.

What this told me is that Xinomavro, like Barolo and Pinot Noir, for example, shows best after it has had an opportunity to evolve in the bottle. The problem with that is that the trend today is towards wines that are more approachable.


©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, March 12, 2016

A "Hubble Telescope" dive into the Malagouzia story

In my recent post on the "Malagouzia story," I reached out to readers asking that if they had any additional material on the topic, I would be pleased to entertain it. Well, one intrepid reader came through for me. Not only did they find a source that allowed a deep and broad look into the history of the variety, the reader also translated the document from the original Greek. I am extremely grateful as this extensively sourced tale, including primary source data from individuals involved in the history of the grape, is truly enlightening.

The source of which I speak is an article titled "The Rebirth of Cinderella Malagouzia" appearing in the July 22, 2001 issue of the Greek newspaper Kathimerini and written by Stavroula Kourakou-Dragona, who was recently profiled in the online magazine Greece Is.

According to the writer, and based on the writings of Professor Vassos Krimbas, author of the Greep Ampelografia (Published between 1943 and 1949), Malagouzia was "localized" in the Mesologgi area of Western Greece "since the 1900s." Several years after the conclusion of WWII, the variety was still growing in the areas indicated on the map below.


The variety fell on hard times in its home range due to real estate development and the introduction of irrigated crops and was almost driven to extinction. When the noted agronomist, and area native, Charalambos Kotinis returned to the area in 1993 in search of the variety, he identified only a small number of vines around Mesologgi and some own-rooted vines in the Naupaktos area.

The resurgence of the variety was kickstarted by an initiative from the Institute of Wine in Lykovrysi, Attica. The Institute has a collection of vines and wanted to add Malagousia to said collection and asked Kotinis to secure same. The story from that starting point is detailed in the graphic below.



A few of things of note. Nowhere in her telling of the story does Ms. Kourakou-Dragona mention the Professor Logothetis of the Agricultural University of Thessaloniki referenced in the Jancis Robinson et al., Wine Grapes. Secondly, while Kotinis is mentioned throughout her article, and is clearly the person most responsible for the spread of Malagouzia throughout the country, she crowns Gerovassiliou as the "one that placed the pump on her foot and named her Queen of the dance." I do not feel that the article supports that conclusion. I am not saying that that is not a fact, only that the article does not clearly show that. Finally, while Gerovassiliou is widely credited with rescuing the variety from extinction, that is revisionist history. When the first vines were sent to the Wine Institute, and then on to Porto Carras, Malagousia was still flourishing in Mesologgi. We only know that it went nearly extinct in Mesologgi when Kotinis went to look for it in 1993. By that time we had flourishing colonies of Malagousia in Porto Carras and at Ktima Gerovassiliou. So Vangelis did not rescue this variety from oblivion. Rather, he showed that it could flourish outside of its home range and served as the launch pad for its wider deployment.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme