Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Winery tour and tasting at Domaine Porto Carras (Sithonia, Greece)

I had visited Greece on a number of occasions previously but had never made it to the north so I was very pleased to be selected as a team member of the North-Greece-Wines-sponsored Press Trip to the region. After our pickups at the Elektra Hotel and Thessaloniki Airport, we took a one-hour trip through beautiful coastal villages to our first stop on the tour, Domaine Porto Carras.

Domaine Porto Carras is located on the western side of the middle finger (Sithonia Municipality) of peninsular Halkidiki which is, itself, a part of Greek Macedonia. The maps below show the placement of Domaine Porto Carras within a broader geographical context.

Macedonia Region within Greece (inset) and Halkidiki within
Macedonia. Source: askelena.com
Domaine Porto Carras location in Sithonia on
the Halkidiki Peninsula
We were warmly welcomed at Domaine Porto Carras by a team led by the (as I came to find out) irrepressible Popi Golfi. After introductions all around, a quick walkaround of the Melissanthi Tasting Hall, and some refreshments, we were bundled into the Domaine's transportation for a tour of the vineyards. Our guide for the tour was going to be Stergios Giannis, the Domine's Agronomist-Viticulturist.

Tasting setup at Melissanthi Tasting Hall
Team Member John Matson with Stergios Giannos and
Popi Golfi of Domaine Porto Carras
We took a narrow, winding trail through lower-elevation vineyards up to a point which yielded spectacular views of the vineyards flowing away from us until (seemingly) becoming one with the sea.

As we walked between the vehicle and the lookout point, Stergios provided some background on the Domaine. At 4500 ha, it is the largest organic vineyard in Greece. Originally purchased by Mr Carras in 1963, 27 ha were eventually planted to vine in 1967 after careful planning and testing of vineyard sites by professors from Thessaloniki School of Agronomy and Athens Vine and Wine Institute. The post-experimentation design had white varieties planted close to the sea while red varieties were planted at higher elevation. The famed Bordeaux Oenologist Emile Peynaud collaborated with the estate from 1970 to 1975.

The top level wines in the Greek appellation system are wines designated PDO and the Porto Carras vineyards on the slopes of Mt. Meliton constitute a single-domaine PDO called Slopes of Meliton. The characteristics of that PDO are displayed in the figure below. The Domaine also makes wines that are classed as PGI Sithonia, an appellation which encompasses grapes grown anywhere on the Sithonia peninsula, and PGI Halkidiki which encompasses grapes grown anywhere in that geographic area.

Stergios with Robin Gheesling (right) and Olga Mosina
After our tour of the Slopes of Meliton we got back into the transporter and made our way to the Limnio Vineyard. The vineyard is separated into two 5-ha plots and the grapes are used both for a standalone varietal and as a component in a Bordeaux-style blend. The characteristics of this ancient variety are explored here.

Popi Golfi leaving no doubt as to where we are
After a brief tour of the winery led by Oenologist Eyfrossyni Drossou, we returned to Melissanthi Hall to taste the wines of the Domaine.

Stainless steel tanks (Courtesy Domaine Porto Carras)
The Domaine's wines are shown in the table below with the ones tasted in the picture immediately following.

Table 1: Domaine Porto Carras Wines
Wine Type Wine Name Appellation Varietal Composition Yield (kg/ha) Production Aging
White Athiri PGI Halkidiki Athiri
Skin contact and then classic fermentation in SS vats

Assyrtiko PGI Halkidiki Assyrtiko

Blanc de Blancs PDO Meliton Slopes Athiri, Assyrtiko, Roditis 6000 - 7000 do.

Melissanthi do. Assyrtiko, Athiri do. do.

Amathousa PGI Halkidiki Sauvignon Blanc do. do.

Malagouzia PGI Sithonia Malagouzia

Red Limnio PDO Meliton Slopes Limnio
Classic fermentation 12 months in oak

Limnio-Cabernet Sauvignon PGI Halkidiki Limnio, Cabernet Sauvignon
do. do.

Merlot do. Merlot do. do. do.

Magnus Baccata PGI Sithonia Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Limnio do. do. 24 months in French oak

Chateau Porto Carras PDO Meliton Slopes Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Limnio, Merlot do. do. 24 months in French oak, 1 year in bottle

Syrah PGI Sithonia Syrah
do. 24 months in French oak, 1 year in bottle

Grande Reserve Porphyrogenitos ‘93 PDO Meliton Slopes Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Limnio
do. French oak barrels for 24 months; 15 years in bottle 
Rosé Rosé PGI Sithonia Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon
Skin contact for 8-12 hrs; fermentation in SS tanks at 16 - 18C

Of the white wines tasted, I was pleasantly surprised by the Assyrtiko. Of the reds, while the Magnus Baccata merits attention, it was the Bordeaux blends that blew me away with spice, tobacco, cedar, dark chocolate, and vanilla notes accompanying a red-fruit character, velvety feel, and lengthy finish. The 1993 was just an evolved version of the 2006. I brought a few bottles of these wines home.

After the tour and tasting we travelled to the Porto Carras Grand Resort and had dinner at one of the restaurants.

If a harbinger of what was to come, I had died and gone to heaven.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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