This is so apt. We’re on our way to visit Biblia Chora, which nestles in the foothills of the majestic Mount Pangeon. Now here’s the thing: according to Greek myth, Pangeon was where Dionysus – the God of Wine – was raised; the wine here is going to have to be good.
We’re very late. The drive from Domaine Gerovassiliou, skirting the Halkidiki peninsular, has taken longer than we thought. No worries. A typically laid-back Vassilis Tsaktsarlis, owner and winemaker, welcomes us expansively. I later find out that Vassilis is 50 years old. He is undoubtedly the youngest-looking 50 year-old I’ve ever seen who has not worked in Hollywood.
We go for a tour of an absolutely pristine winery, built on two floors below a beautiful reception area which would do justice to a four-star hotel. “We started to build the winery in 2001 and finished in 2007,” he states proudly. Vassilis set up the winery with his good friend and mentor, Vangelis Gerovassiliou and €15 million was invested and. As well as the regulatory stainless steel and oak barrels (all red wines are aged in French oak), Vassilis has ten small tanks for research, into which he processes grapes from 24 different experimental vines. “Next year we are looking to experiment with concrete egg tanks, but this is risky because we rely heavily on the home market.
“We produce 600,000 bottles per year, and 68% is for the home market, but we also export to 19 countries.”
Vassilis originally worked for Nico Lazaridis, before striking out on his own. He explains that Gerovassiliou comes to the winery once or twice a month and then spends a great deal of time during harvest time, when they put the blends together.
As it is late, we get stuck in to the tasting, leaving the vineyard tour for the morro.
- Vidiano 2015 – Lovely creamy nose, a touch of lanolin, ethereal. Vidiano is a Cretan variety and we already list a brilliant Vidiano from Idaia, based in Crete, so Biblia Chora’s is unlikely to be listed. But tasting this version does remind me of what a great selection we have from the eastern Mediterranean. Sometime soon we must take advantage of the “Ottolenghi Effect” and highlight our wines from Greece, Croatia, Turkey, Cyprus and Lebanon (though we’ve yet to list anything from Ottolenghi’s home country: memo to self.)
- Estate White (Sauvignon Blanc/Assyrtiko): Spectacular nose, as big as a circus tent. Green peppers sprinkled with white pepper. Herbaceous and with rasping acidity. Discussing Assyrtiko, Chris Losh from Imbibe muses that Assyrtiko is a great supporting grape, often allowing other grapes in a blend to show their best. This starts me thinking of other great “supporters.” Mm. Well, in terms of football, Peter Beardsley was the Assyrtiko to Gary Linker’s Malagousia (I’m going back a bit, there.)
- Areti 2013 (Assyrtiko): big steely Premier Cru Chablis nose, tangerine, a touch of petrol. Full bodied in the mouth but acidity kicks in at the end.
- Estate Red 2012 (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Limnio) – a fantastic and classy nose, definitely claret-like. Beautifully integrated into the oak, real concentration of flavours and well balanced. Although aspiring to favour the indigenous varietals, this becomes my wine of the trip.
- Ovilos 2008 – smoky nose, very expressive and upfront. Tannins still very firm but not harsh. A touch of minerality. Good balance.
The next morning Vassilis takes us on a tour of the vineyard, pausing by a couples of acres of scrubland, situated incongruously in the middle of the vines. He explains: “This is the problem we have in trying to buy land from locals who do not cultivate it. This small area is owned by nine people and they cannot agree between themselves what to do!” But that is very much a one-off – most of the land is beautifully cultivated and in the early morning sun, the contrast between the green and gold of the white varieties and the red glow of the Agiorgitiko causes the heart to sing. “We began planting in 1998 and now we have 48 hectares under vine, all organic,” he explains. “Sauvignon Blanc and Assyrtiko are the most planted.”
As Vassilis begins to elaborate on the two climates – Mediterranean and Continental – which affect the land – my eyes begin to wander and in the distance I am hypnotised by the site of the mountainous peninsular of Halkidiki. “You can just see Mount Athos, right at the end of the land” says Vassilis, seeing my preoccupation. He turns back to the vines. “Mount Pangeon is protecting the vines from the cold North winds, the soil is rocky, and well-draining. These are ideal conditions for cultivating vine…”
“Didn’t they shoot a James Bond movie on Mount Athos?” I say. That brings the conversation to a stop, but Vassilis quickly corrects me: “No. You’re thinking of The Holy Trinity Church at Meteora in the centre of Greece.” Ah. We turn back to the vines. “Which one was it?” I say. Chris and Vassilis look at me in puzzlement. “The James Bond movie?” We pause and think. “I think it was For Your Eyes Only,” I say again. Chris and Vassilis leave me to my ruminations while they continue with the discussion on the vineyard. But now I can’t get rid of that theme tune which was sung by, who, Lulu? No, hold on. Getting confused again. It was Sheena Easton, not Lulu. “For Your Eyes Only, da da da da dah…” Yup.
What a place this is!