Category Archives: Greece

WOTM: Ktima Biblia Chora ‘Ovilos’ White, Pangeon, Semillon Assyrtiko 2019

Recently awarded 97 points and a Platinum Medal at the 2020 Decanter World Wine Awards, Ktima Biblia Chora ‘Ovilos’ 2019 truly is a world-beating wine. The wine is a 50/50 blend of Semillon and Greek indigenous variety, Assyrtiko, which are grown in the warmest but most barren spot in the vineyard, along the Pangeon hillside.

In a nutshell

The distinctive and characteristic aromas of apricot and honey from the Semillon blend perfectly with the citrus and lemon notes from the Assyrtiko, with nuances of vanilla and nutty hints adding complexity. Elegant, with a creamy texture, this stylish wine is beautifully balanced by refreshing palate which leads to a long finish.

The producer

Ktima Biblia Chora is the innovative creation of Vassilis Tsaktsarlis and Vangelis Gerovassiliou two of the most talented winemakers in Greece. The winery was established in 1998 and the privately owned vineyard lies on the cool climate slopes of Mount Pangeon, at Kokkinochori near Kavala. It has been farmed organically since day one. These exceptional, cutting edge wines are some of the best white wines in Greece, which have similarities to very good white Bordeaux – not surprising as Vassilis Tsaktsarlis studied with Denis Dubourdieu; the king of modern white Graves.

The wine

The Assyrtiko (pronounced Ah-SEER-tee-koe) and Semillon grapes were picked at optimum maturity and then carefully selected. The wine was vinified in the state-ofthe-art winery, using modern techniques to ensure the aromatics and varietal flavours were retained. Each variety was vinified separately in 225 litre French oak barrels, of which 50% were new and 50% were one year old. Maturation lasted for five months, with bâtonnage taking place in the barrel.

Greece Meets Ipswich

Now that parts of the UK have a small amount of freedom to dine in restaurants, socialise (at a socially distant distance) and taste new wines. Our team in the East of England jumped at the opportunity to partner with The Salthouse Harbour Hotel, to bring a taste of Greek wines to the area, paired with a four course menu with a suitably Grecian theme.

When you think of Ipswich, many associate the town with the disappointing football team more so than its food and drink scene, however there are so many hidden gems – one of which, The Salthouse Hotel, on its age old harbour is a beacon of hope!

The restaurant team have often shouted about the iconic Gaia Wild Ferment Assyrtiko and in an effort to push the Eastern Mediterranean boundaries further, they decided to throw a Greek Wine Evening to showcase what the country has to offer to their guests.

And here is how the evening looked, with words from Ed Keith, Sales Executive in Hallgarten’s East Team:

Arrival drink – 2019 Agiorgitiko Rosé ‘4-6H’, Peloponnese, Gaia Wines

“A beautifully balanced and delicate Rosé that would give any usual suspect Southern French Rosé a run for their money. A perfect harmony of fresh red fruit, acidity and a hint of sweetness. Great modern packaging also.”

Pre Starter – 2019 Vidiano, Dafnes, Crete, Idaia Winery
Paired with – Tempura halloumi fritters with pickled carrot and orange salad served with a smoked tomato relish

“The real surprise for most. Incredible minerality, balanced rounded fruit, a touch herbs and a bone dry finish. Like a combination of Chablis and Muscadet. What could go wrong when there is deep fried cheese involved!”

Starter –  2019 Malagouzia, Single Vineyard Turtles, Florina, Alpha Estate
Paired with – Whole bream “En papilotte” for two to share with lemon, garlic, olive oil and oregano

“Much more refined and elegant than some other Malagousia ‘sur Lie’ gives this an incredible texture to balance with the aromatic style of the wine. Refined stone fruits with a hint of citrus. Beautiful with seafood and stands up to spice brilliantly. It didn’t shout over the dish but you knew it was there.”

Main – 2013 Monemvasios Red, Laconia, Monemvasia Winery
Paired with – “Youvetsi” Braised lamb and tomato stew with orzo pasta, spinach and feta cheese

“Possibly my favourite “lockdown” wine. If a Barolo and Bordeaux had a baby this would be it. Generous but not overpowering fruit with a real feel of freshness. Add to this dry yet supple tannin and you have in my opinion a perfect red wine for winter or anytime to be honest. This is made for lamb, either stewed of grilled and it won the crowd!”

Dessert – 2008 Vin Santo, Santorini, Gaia Wines
Paired with – Honey and rosewater baklava, Pistachio nuts and cinnamon syrup

“I don’t need to convince anyone on this. Rich and luscious toffee, caramel and figs. Much more complexity and knocks spots off most other Vin Santo’s and certainly most dessert wines. It isn’t cheap but we only served this in 50ml measures so the bottle went a long way. A real point of difference on a list!”

The Wine Gold Mine

The Eastern Mediterranean is a gold mine for wine, which is finally beginning to see its well-deserved place on the UK wine shelf. The region is home to some of the oldest wine producing countries and it really shows as the wines are so pure. Many of the wines are often produced from one of the hundreds of indigenous grape varieties grown in the area. The below are top picks from the UK Eastern Mediterranean wine pioneer, Steve Daniel.

Idaia Winery, Dafnes, Crete, Vidiano 2019

“Amazing, fresh, intense and mineral Cretan grape. Like standing on a hillside overlooking the Aegean, you can almost smell the salty sea air and the mountain herbs and it’s great value. Crank up the BBQ stick on the seabream or seabass, and away you go.”

Jako Vino, Stina ‘Cuvee White’, Dalmatia 2018

“The island of Brač is one of the most popular of the Croatian islands and a short hop from Split. Wonderful white wine from precipitous white stone slopes overlooking the town of Bol and the Adriatic Sea. A unique blend of Pošip (intense and mineral) and Vugava (exotic like

Viognier) with a splash of Chardonnay. The famous white stone from the island has been quarried for centuries and the white stone even built the White House.”

Kayra, Beyaz Kalecik Karasi Rosé, Aegean, 2018

“Imagine yourself sitting in the harbour of Kalkan, watching the sunset, feasting on meze. A beautiful pale pink, delicate orange scented rose with just a touch of sweetness.”

 

Bodegas Viñátigo, Marmajuelo, Islas Canarias – Tenerife 2018

“An amazing rare wine from a grape now only found in the Canaries, which was discovered and brought back from the brink by Doctor Grape: Juan Jesus Mendez.

“This is an enormously rich, intense and aromatic white wine

fermented in a blend of stainless steel and concrete egg fermenter. Tiny amounts are produced every year, and most of it is guzzled by the locals and discerning tourists. We manage to get an allocation every year.”

Bodega Biniagual, ‘Finca Biniagual Negre’, Mallorca 2014

“A rich and intense spicy red made from the local Manto Negro red grape with the addition of Syrah and Cabernet. A great substitute for wherever you would use the best Malbec you can get your hands on. The perfect alfresco BBQ wine.”

Château Oumsiyat, ‘Cuvée Membliarus’, Bekaa Valley, Assyrtico 2018

“A great value Assyrtiko, and Lebanon’s first and only one! Assyrtiko may well have been taken to Santorini by the Phoenicians, so this might be a case of the grape going back to its original home. A brilliant partner to grilled seafood and all sorts of other Lebanese delights.”

Summer Wine

“Strawberries, cherries and an angel’s kiss in spring – my summer wine is really made from all these things!”

 

Hallgarten brand manager and one of our Greek wine experts, Evangelia Tevekelidou, has been considering what ‘summer wine’ means to her. 

This is how Nancy Sinatra describes her summer wine, and I have to admit, she makes me want a sip of it! Okay, okay, maybe more than one sip… But what is a summer wine really? What does it smell or taste like? Where does it come from? Is it a white, rosé or red? If you ask me it can be (nearly) anything! But anything, is a boring answer, so let me narrow down my thoughts. A summer wine must be a wine that reminds us of summer.

 

For me – coming from Greece – summer is a direct association with holidays in the islands (ideally in the Aegean). So, surely a summer wine in my eyes should also be coming from these islands… One that comes straight to mind is Poderi Parpinello ‘Sessantaquattro’, Vermentino 2018 from Sardinia – the Smaragd of the med. Aromas of yellow fruits, dry but smooth and very textured on the palate, this Vermentino is the perfect match for shellfish by the beach.

 

Alternatively, Bodegas Viñátigo, Gual 2016 from the volcanic soils of Tenerife, in Las Canarias, will definitely impress your palate the same way as an ‘elaborate’ summer cocktail; smokiness, jasmine and tropical pineapple on the nose, followed by a rich buttery palate and a long finish.

 

Another favourite summery wine is Gaia Wines’ Assyrtiko ‘Thalassitis’ from the iconic and ever-so-Instagrammable island of Santorini. Thalassitis, meaning ‘coming from the sea’ (Thalassa is Greek for sea), is one of the most terroir-driven wines I have ever tasted. You can feel the salt, the volcanic soil and the bone-dry conditions where these old vines are, not just surviving, but thriving.

 

 

Being from this part of the world, I could continue my island wine list even further, but what about a summer wine being low-alcohol and therefore fresher on the palate? Under the hot sun, the alcohol percentage could help you keep fresh as a daisy and not result in too many ill-effects.

 

I tasted this exciting wine in the Hallgarten tasting room recently and it could (technically) be considered as an island wine too. England is a big island, no? Yes, I am talking about an English wine, from Essex, New Hall Vineyards, Bacchus Reserve 2018. It is very pale in colour and the alcohol is only 10.5%, making it a perfect choice to enjoy under the hot sun. The wine itself has an abundance of green apple flavours, white pepper notes and it has an absolute freshness that will cool any palate.

 

 

A wine we have seen take the trade by storm in recent years is Koshu, from Japan. Island wine, low alcohol – it ticks all the boxes! Grace Winery’s Koshu Kayagatake 2018is very light and lean in its style, but also elegantly floral with thirst-quenching acidity and only 11.5%. Arigato freshness!

 

 

After spending some time thinking about these wines, I have just realised all of my summer wines are white wines. Does this mean that summer wine always has to be white – no. When people think of summer wine rosé often springs to mind or a lightly chilled, fresh red wine.

 

In Greece, we often see temperatures hit 40 degrees Celsius in the sun and nearly 70% of our local wine production comes from white varieties. I might be biased, but it seems that this is why my summer wine, is a white wine. Oh, oh summer wine…

Volcanic Santorini

At the centre of the most seismically active area in the eastern Mediterranean, Santorini is a unique region for the cultivation of vines. The volcanic, porous soil, the long hours of sunshine, the lack of rainfall throughout the year, the sea mist and the strong winds during summer, the traditional ‘kouloura’ (basket shape) training system, and some of the vineyards dating back almost 3,000 years create rare, precious wines.

This unique combination is most evident in two of Gaia’s wines. The Wild  Ferment Assyrtiko is made from grapes from upland vineyards in Pyrgos. The bigger day/night temperature range up here means longer ripening periods which, combined with some skin contact at cool temperature, helps to extract phenolics, giving you a peachy, minerally, umami-rich and powerful wine.

 

Meanwhile, Gaia’s Thalassitis benefits from sea spray which hits the low-lying vines and confers a stunning, almost indefinable salty character which adds complexity to this steely grape.

One of the pioneers of the modern Greek wine revolution Gaia Wines was established in 1994 by Greek winemakers Leon Karatsalos and Yiannis Paraskevopoulos. Operating two different wineries they make cutting edge  wines in both Nemea and Santorini. Gaia’s main aim is to present the potential of the indigenous Greek grape varieties to wine enthusiasts worldwide.

 

For more information on the wines of Gaia Wines please get in touch with your account manager.

What’s Steve been drinking?

Hallgarten Head Buyer, the man with the amazing palate, Steve Daniel, has been sampling the delights of Santorini this month with the Gaia Wines, Santorini, ‘Wild Ferment’ Assyrtiko 2017 particularly catching his eye.

Gaia Wines, Santorini, ‘Wild Ferment’ Assyrtiko 2017

My desert island wine. In my opinion, the best wine produced on the stunning island of Santorini and one of the most exciting wines on the planet.

The wine is made from ancient (the oldest wines on earth), low yielding vines, from the high slopes of Pyrgos, Santorini.

The wine is only fermented using wild yeasts. 50% of the wine is fermented in new barrels a third of which are Acacia, with a small proportion fermented in Ceramic tanks and the balance in stainless steel.

Explosive, with layers of volcanic minerals, white flowers, lemon zest and a touch of roasted pineapple. This is the fruitiest wine Gaia has ever made on Santorini! It has energy and power in abundance, and an almost endless finish.

A truly stunning wine. Due to the diminishing vineyard area, increasing number of wineries on the island and a surge in popularity of these unique wines the price of grapes on the island has sky-rocketed. Five years ago a kilo of grapes cost €1 – an average price for the world. This year the price is €4.50 per kilo. The grapes are now some of the most expensive in the world, with only Champagne and Grand Cru Burgundies coming in more expensive.

So make the most of the Wild Ferment this year, as next vintage will reflect the new costs!

Fire in the booze!

From Santorini to Soave, some of the world’s most interesting and talked-about wines come from vineyards planted on volcanic soils. It comes as no surprise that there’s been an explosion of interest in these ‘volcanic’ wines from sommeliers and wine merchants alike.

So what singles out these wines among all the others? Certainly the mineral-rich nature of volcanic soils plays a massive part, as does the finite-availability of wines from such specific sites. It’s true that vines grown on plain old clay or limestone can be world-beating, but you can find these soils in every wine-growing region of the world.

The ‘wow factor’ and story of behind volcanic wines shouldn’t be overlooked either. These vines grown on ancient soils really do take terroir to the next level with their mineral characters, fresh acidity, salinity and distinct longevity. The sight of green shoots and leaves emerging from the black volcanic soil is as ethereal as its gets in the vineyard.

According to Jamie Goode in his book The Science of Wine: From Vine to Glass, wines from volcanic soils are said to be riper, weightier, richer, and with texture and minerality that make them age worthy. Quite an attractive list of assets, but where do these characters come from?

Volcanic soils are rich in potassium, calcium, iron and magnesium, as well as other elements, which can contribute greatly to a wine’s mineral profile. Potassium-rich soils tend to produce wines with an almost almond-edged and savoury finish, while black volcanic soils enhance the citrus, peach and apricot aromas. They all enjoy a wonderful freshness.

Add to this the fact that volcanic rocks constitute high levels of macro-porosity in soils which allows water to be delivered to the roots of vines very slowly. This water-retaining property can be a lifesaver during a dry growing season when vines must rely on groundwater to survive.

The aspect of the volcano itself and the altitude at which many vineyards are planted also help to produce top quality fruit, as does the unflinching determination and attitude of generations of viticulturists who have risked eruptions to plant, tend and harvest vines. Simply put, these are very special sites, and they look awesome too.

Here’s a few volcanic suggestions from our portfolio.

Feudi di San Gregorio, Greco di Tufo, Campania, 2017:
“An aromatic and mineral wine showing flavours of peach, melon and citrus over a creamy texture.”

Ca’Rugate, Monte Fiorentine Soave Classico, Veneto, 2016:
“A beautifully layered wine with a rich flavour of ripe pineapple through to a fresh, mineral and lemon finish, full of flavour.”

Gaia Thalassitis Assyrtiko Santorini 2017:
“Explosive minerality with fresh lemon zest on the nose, crisp acidity on the palate and underlying floral notes. Refreshing with a crisp, mineral finish.”

Domaine Lavigne, Saumur Champigny Vieilles Vignes, Loire, 2016:
“A red Loire showing typical Cabernet Franc rhubarb and graphite character with a refreshing dryness on the finish.”

Chateau Grand Pré, Morgon, Beaujolais, 2016/2017:
“Rich, fleshy and balanced, with an appealing sauvage nose of green plums, chunky cherries and a hint of smokiness and spice.”

Basilisco, Teodosio Aglianico del Vulture, Basilicata, 2014:
“A full bodied and concentrated wine with aromas of soft fruit, plum and Morello cherry. Well balanced through to a dry, lingering finish.”

I Scream, You Scream, What do you serve with ice cream?

The scorching hot UK summer has seen temperatures exceed 30C sending customers into bars and restaurants in search of ice cream, with some retailers reporting a sales increase of over 100 per cent compared to July 2017.

We’ve taken a closer look at a question hospitality venues are hearing more and more this summer – which wines you should pair with which flavours of ice cream?

Pistachio Ice Cream

Pair this Mediterranean classic ice cream with another classic – Cava. It’s made in the same style as a Champagne, without the slightly larger price tag. The Pinord, Cava ‘+ & + Seleccion’ Brut NV is ideally suited to this ice cream, named because the winemaker’s family that first tasted the wine always wanted a little bit more, and a little bit more, and a bit more… ‘More’ in Spanish is ‘plus’ – and so the name was born.

Blood Orange Sorbet

Moscato d’Asti is your match. Almost any sorbet tastes great with this bubbly, semi-sweet dessert wine – you could even pour the Moscato over the sorbet for a refreshing sorbet float. The Michele Chiarlo ‘Nivole’, Moscato d’Asti 2017 is the wine for the job here, with its floral aromas, which are seamlessly complemented by peach and apricot notes on the fragrant bouquet. The gently sparkling palate is delicate, light and creamy.

Strawberry Ice Cream

When serving a dessert with strawberry ice cream, we would always suggest recommending a glass of off-dry rosé, such as the New Hall Vineyards, Pinot Noir Rosé 2017 from Essex. The wine has notes of ripe cassis and wild raspberry on the finish, which is perfect for cutting the richness of ice cream.

 

Vanilla Ice Cream

Vanilla ice cream is a simple classic, so often overlooked, but it is also a blank canvas for whatever toppings you’d like to serve. If you are topping with nuts or chocolate, you can’t go wrong with the Barros 10 Year Old Tawny Port, with its soft and silky texture, and subtle nuances of wood which are balanced by a fresh acidity and impetus tannin.

 

Plain Greek Frozen Yogurt

The sour notes of plain Greek frozen yogurt pair perfectly with the similar tart flavour profile of a Santorini Vin Santo. The extended barrel aging of the Gaia Wines, Vin Santo, Santorini 2006 provides richness, as well as acidity, resulting in a wine that is deep honey in colour, complex and full-flavoured, with notes of toffee and caramel. For the ultimate pairing experience, serve with baked spiced apples or pears.

 

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Here’s where Australian Shiraz comes into its element. The rich, red raspberry fruits, chocolate nuances, and subtle eucalyptus notes are cross-complementary with a scoop of mint and chocolate ice cream. A wine that is perfectly suited to this task is the ‘Eight Uncles’, Barossa Valley, Shiraz 2015 from family run winery, Fox Gordon, which specialises in contemporary and premium wines from the Barossa Valley and Adelaide Hills.

 

WOTM: Idaia Winery, Ocean, Dafnes, Crete, Thrapshathiri 2017

Made from the Thrapshathiri (pronounced Thrap-sah-THEE-ree) grape, indigenous to the Dafnes region of Crete. Idaia Winery makes up an integral part of our Mediterranean portfolio.

In a nutshell:

A bright, uplifting wine, with delicate fruit aromas followed by a generous and spicy mouthfeel with hints of liquorice and pine and a refreshing herbal, saline finish.

The producer:

Idaia Winery is located in Venerato, a village in the heart of the vineyards of the Malevizi district, which is part of the Dafnes appellation area. Idaia is a family company, specialising in producing wines from indigenous grapes, which reflect a true sense of place. Oenologists Vasilis Laderos and Calliope Volitaki use their extensive knowledge, experience and passion to create these superb wines with strong personalities. We are delighted to include these wines in our portfolio, they are truly expressive of the terroir of Crete.

The wine:

The winemaking philosophy is to create wines which showcase the quality of the indigenous varieties. Following a thorough inspection at the winery, the grapes were preserved for 24 hours at very low temperatures. The grapes were destemmed, then cryo-maceration took place for approximately six hours. The free-run juice was removed without having been pressed. After a cold settling, the wine was fermented with carefully selected yeasts which highlight the aromatic characters of this variety. Fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks for 10 to 12 days at temperatures that did not exceed 16°C, maintaining the purity of fruit in the resulting wine.

Serving suggestion:

The perfect accompaniment to salads, seafood and grilled fish dishes.

See more information on the wine here or speak to your account manager for more details. 

Island Hopping Wines

With  the UK enjoying Mediterranean style weather and many predicting a vintage year for English wine, we have taken a closer look at some of the sunny island wines you can serve here.

From the popular holiday destinations of Mallorca and Tenerife, to the picturesque and idyllic Santorini, to the lesser known island of  Brač off Croatia, there is plenty to tantalise taste buds.

From Mallorca… Bodega Biniagual, ‘Memories Negre’ 2013

Located in the heart of Binissalem, the small village of Biniagual was renowned for its wine production until the phylloxera plague destroyed most of the vines at the beginning of the 20th century.

“An approachable red with bright aromas of wild red berried fruits combined with a subtle hint of spice. Showing a beautifully balanced structure, soft and smooth with plenty of vibrant fruit and a satisfying finish. ”

From Brač, Croatia… Jako Vino, Stina ‘Cuvee White’, Dalmatia 2016

The beautiful Croatian island of Brač is famous for its white stone, which is known locally as Stina and was the inspiration behind the name of this stunning collection of Jako Vino wines.

“A youthful yet complex nose delights with layers of floral hints with tropical notes of apricot and mango. The full bodied palate is dry, refreshingly balanced and full of juicy yellow fruits with citrus hints on the lingering finish.”

From Santorini… Gaia Wines, ‘Thalassitis’, Assyrtiko 2017

One of the pioneers of the modern Greek wine revolution Gaia Estate was established in 1994 by Greek winemakers Leon Karatsalos and Yiannis Paraskevopoulos. This wine is made from the island’s indigenous variety Assyrtiko Episkopi, Akrotiri and Pyrgos regions.

“Explosive minerality with fresh lemon zest on the nose, crisp acidity on the palate and underlying floral notes. Refreshing with a crisp, mineral finish.”

From Tenerife… Bodegas Viñátigo, Listán Blanco 2017

The philosophy behind Bodegas Viñátigo is to revive and promote the extensive varietal heritage of the Canary Islands. The journey started in the 1990s, at a century old plot in the village of La Guancha, in the north of Tenerife, where the traditional varieties of Listán Blanco and Listán Negro were vinified in the old family winery.

“Made entirely from the local Listán Blanco grape, the wine shows aromas of dry fruits and an enticing hint of fennel. The palate is full-bodied with a refreshing, balancing acidity and ample fruity flavours and floral notes. A lovely crisp wine with great intensity and a long, persistent finish.”

From Sardinia… Poderi Parpinello,Isola del Nuraghi, Cagnulari 2015

Giampaolo Parpinello and his son Paolo strive to reflect the Sardinian terroir and reveal the typicity of the wines, on a 30 hectare estate the family have been running for three generations.

“A deep, intense Cagnulari with delicate aromas of wild flowers backed by concentrated, ripe red fruits and a touch of spice. Dry and elegantly structured with a smooth finish.”

From Crete… Idaia Winery, Dafnes, Vidiano 2017

Idaia Winery is located in Venerato, a village in the heart of the vineyards of the Malevizi district, which is part of the Dafnes appellation area.

“Delicate aromatic characters of ripe pear, melon and a hint of banana, lead to a refreshing acidity which balances the rich and charming palate. With an impressively aromatic aftertaste, this is the quintessential introduction to the Vidiano grape.”

 

For further details on any of the wines above, please get in touch with your account manager. 

Greece’s Tuscan Future

On the road north out of Athens you pass some astounding Homeric monuments, so illusory they could be a series of Hollywood sound stages. These are juxtaposed with a display of graffiti of appropriately Olympian standard, on a par with anything the guerrilla precincts of Amsterdam and Berlin have to offer. Startling.

We are driving to the Gaia winery in Nemea on the Peloponnese, home of the Agiorgitiko. Yiannis Paraskevopoulosis, the co-owner of Gaia, is at the wheel. He is a tall, well built, square-jawed, handsome Athenian of very strong opinions, not afraid to air them, yet often doing so in a surprisingly soft voice. Each statement is phrased almost as a question, a prelude to polite debate, you might think; but he is not to be messed with. When we reach the subject of Natural Wines, he raises his eyebrows: “If you ask me: what is a natural wine, I ask: well, what is an unnatural wine?”

It takes about 90 minutes before the northern suburbs give way to the Gulf of Corinth and you get your first glimpse of the turquoise and latte Aegean out of which seem to grow the distant, spectral hills, oddly familiar somehow, and you think: ah, Greece!

When we reach the Gaia winery, perched at 500 metres above sea level in Koutsi, we gaze down at the valley floor spread alluringly before us like a quilt, then up towards Mount Kyllini, its peak covered in snow, and – my God – the wind is screaming. And it is here that Yiannis discourses on his love of Tuscany, Agiorgitiko’s resemblance to Sangiovese – and why he believes the best – oh yes! – is yet to come for his beloved Nemea.

You politely listen while he states his case.

“We have wasted forty years by planting the wrong clones. Forty years!”

According to Yannis, in ancient times the land was planted with 10,000 vines per hectare, which meant the grapes had to fight to survive. A couple of generations ago the farmers were encouraged to replant, this time at 3,000 vines per hectare. The results were weak grapes, and wines high in acidity and astringency.

“When I arrived here in 1997 the wines were a pinkish red.” He shrugs his shoulders expansively. “The other issue is that Agiorgitiko is a very flexible grape. If you increase the yield dramatically you will still get a palatable wine, and if you are paid by the kilo – which is how the growers were paid then – then that is what you will produce – a palatable wine.”

He gazes round the vineyard. “Now, we have replanted. We have seven hectares, six of which are planted with Agiorgitiko, one of which with Syrah. We also work with a very small number of growers, about fifteen, with whom we have long-term agreements. The key thing here is that we pay by the hectare, not by the kilo, so it makes no sense for any growers to simply produce a ton of low-class grapes.

“But the biggest problem for the area – and this is what separates us from Tuscany – is clonal selection. We were planting the wrong clones. Or, rather, an unidentified blend of clones, good & bad! They were always virus infected. And these viruses will mean that you lose polyphenols and therefore grape sugars. What we need is to create a Nemea that is virus-free which is largely what they have in Tuscany. We have a unique plant – there is no other Agiorgitiko in Greece apart from some experimental plantings in Drama in the north.”

But things are looking up – and Yannis explains the reason for his optimism. “We have worked with a scientist called Kostas Bakasietas, who has collaborated with the Entav Inra nursery in France. Only he was capable of doing it. Our research institutions proved incapable. He has identified five different Agiorgitiko clones which are the Olympic champions of the variety. Just five. And only one of those clones is currently in operation. And there is only one hectare planted with this clone. And guess where that is. Here! In the whole of the 3,000 hectares of Nemea, the largest appellation in Greece, there is one hectare. Right out there!”

He pauses. “But. It took me this long to work that out! What was I doing for all that time, you might ask. Well, I spent all of that time trying to make the current vines better. I looked after the water stress management; I raised the canopy by two feet; I started early leaf removing to expose the flowers. So I made lots of adjustments. But the key will be the new clones. Kostas is the engine and we are the first on to the train.”

As we make our way down to the winery, Yiannis continues. “You know, what has also held us back is the cost of land, and the difficulty of getting permission to plant vines. The Government thinks us wine producers are rich and so they prefer to give the farming rights to “poor” farmers.”

Yiannis lets out a meaty laugh. “I have enemies. Nothing but enemies!”

As we begin tasting in a stylishly-designed barrel room, Yannis talks of his love affair with Sangiovese and Tuscany. “I have always been inspired by Tuscany,” he said. “And Agiorgitiko is stylistically very similar to Sangiovese. Neither of them are blockbuster wines. Both are supple and have very round tannins. If you were to blend a Merlot into a Sangiovese you would have an Agiorgitiko. I look to Tuscany for inspiration. For instance, I decided to plant Syrah. Why? Well, partly because I love Syrah, but also because I wanted to do what they did with Super Tuscans. To step outside the legal boundaries, do something different. And Syrah performs brilliantly down here.”

And it does! After a beautifully balanced 2017 Assyrtiko – fresh, lemony and lively – and a lovely 2017 Moschofilero – rose petals, amazingly fresh – we crack on with the reds, investigating first the 2017 Notios, an 85% Agiorgitiko/15% Syrah blend, showing rasping fruit and lovely soft tannins. The 2016 Gaia S, a 70/30 blend of the same grapes, has masses of sweet, dark unctuous fruit. Finally, the 2015 Gaia Estate, 100% Agiorgitiko from 40 year old vines, is a stunner, sweet vivacious fruit, raspberry coulis, grippy tannins, amazing length.

Over a lunch of grouper at a beachside taverna that looks like something out of Mamma Mia! Yiannis’ passion is infectious. “We need to move fast. We need different classifications to show the higher quality of hilly Nemea to valley Nemea. I want a different PDO for anything grown above five hundred metres but “they” won’t let me. We need to go higher to find the cooler nights. I am looking for longer ripening periods. Even at 15% alcohol you can end up with wines which are too jammy. But…” he leaves the sentence unfinished, a testament to his “enemies.”

Yiannis concedes that Greece’s reputation is built on whites. “But you can make great whites without taking great risks. With reds, you need to work harder. And even with our new good clones it is still a risk. We can learn from other peoples’ experience to get the learning period down from forty years to twenty years. But there is still a risk.”

He laughs. “But if we can get it right, then we can take on Tuscany. Yes, we have lost forty years. But I am positive. If you think that the wines of Gaia Estate are good today, then the Gaia wines of the future will blow your mind!”

What are the training team drinking this festive season?

The training team, led by MW Beverly Tabbron, has put their heads together to suggest a few festive tipples perfect for the party season to serve over Christmas.

To kick off the meal:

Aromatic whites such as Ktima Gerovassiliou, Viogner 2016 or Tandem, Inmácula Viognier Viura 2015 are fantastic as an aperitif to get the party going.

For for those who prefer a zestier style, a standout option is the critically acclaimed Gaia Wines, Wild Ferment Assyrtiko 2016 or the Hiruzta, Berezia Txakoli 2016!

For the main course:

When choosing reds stick with lighter styles such as; Tandem, Ars Nova 2013Michele Chiarlo, 6 Mesi Le Orme, Barbera d’Asti 2015 or a classic Pinot Noir from Burgundy.

If the meal requires a moreish fruity style of wine, the Colomba Bianca, Vitese Syrah 2016 would tick the box.

To finish:

Treat yourself to a glass of Tramin, Terminum Late Harvest Gewürztraminer 2014 – concentrated and intense with flavours of mango and lychee – or Roccolo Grassi, La Broia, Recioto di Soave 2014 – rich and honied, Christmas pud in a glass.