Category Archives: Greece

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.

Marvellous Macedonia

In September, South Sales Director, Daniel O’Keefe, took a trip to Macedonia and Northern Greece to visit a selection of our exciting esoteric producers from the heart of the Mediterranean.

Joining Daniel on the trip was Roger and Sue Jones, owners of The Harrow at Little Bedwyn, a 1 Michelin  Star Restaurant in the Wiltshire countryside. Roger and Sue have been loyal partners of Hallgarten’s for about 16 years and we have become a central part of their restaurant . Over the years Roger has been highly influential, not only as a chef but also as a prominent wine writer and judge for Decanter, The Buyer and The Caterer.

Roger and Sue Jones, The Harrow at Little Bedwyn

Ktima Gerovassiliou

On the first day of our trip we met Thras at the Gerovassiliou restaurant which was house in the stunning winery.  We  started our tasting of the range mid-afternoon while as we had lunch due to Vangelis and Thras being tied up in the winery during the busy harvest period.

The Sauvignon Blanc was quite a hit and the new vintage of the Chardonnay showed amazing levels of complexity, especially when it opened up. The big hit here though was the freshness and viniousness of the Avaton and the Estate Red.

After the tasting we were taken to a fabulous and lively fish restaurant in a suburb of Thessaloniki, where the local seafood cuisine was almost as good as the wines we had previously tasted and later met with Vangelis’ wife, and the team from the restaurant.

Tasting at Ktima Gerovassiliou

Ktima Biblia Chora

The second day took us to Ktima Biblia Chora, established in 1998, the privately owned vineyard lies on the cool climate slopes of Mount Pangeon, at Kokkinochori near Kavala, Here we were  guided around the estate by the excellent Annagret Stamos who works as a chemist in the area. She provided us with a fascinating tour and insight in to the unique climate that dominates the area.

The Estate White 2016 was, as expected, showing very well and the Ovilos White was my favourite wine to date – fresher and with less pronounced wood.

Following this tasting, we went to a lovely, quintessentially Greek taverna near the beach with Annagret and tasted some older vintages.

Experimental vines at Ktima Biblia Chora

Alpha Estate

Visiting the Alpha Estate was truly an eye-opener! Located in Amyndeon, North West Greece. It is the brainchild of two visionaries, second generation vine grower Makis Mavridis and Bordeaux trained wine maker Angelos Iatrides. An immaculate Estate that almost feels as if it is high up  in the Andes.

To kick off the day, Kostas gave us a really comprehensive tour of the vineyards and an insight into the incredible investment they have made into infrastructure – underground irrigation in the vineyard and horizontal rotating vinifiers in the winery. Kostas gave a very clear explanation of the processes that were specific to Alpha and an exemplary rationale as to why Alpha are promoting Xinomavro as a key variety to watch.

The amount of energy put in to trials of different varieties and processes is very impressive. They have, in fact, donated a parcel of their land to the Thessaloniki Viticultural College. You get the feeling that the philosophy behind Alpha Estate is both long-sighted and very progressive.

The stand-out tasting of the trip (all of which were excellent) . We tasted the full range of wines and were even treated to to some of the older vintages. It was again the reds that really shone from this winery with the overarching theme of fresh, clean and beautifully structured vinious wines. Kostas was really able to make us understand the evolution of the winery and wines as they are now.

Later we went out to dinner at a traditional Taverna in the mountains near the Alpha Estate with 2 students who had recently been employed by Alpha, showing their commitment to supporting the local community.

 

Xinomavro old vines
Agiorgitiko at Ktima Biblia Chora
The barrel room at Alpha Estate
A corkscrew museum at Ktima Gerovassiliou

 

Robin’s Late Summer Picks

With the Autumn almost upon us, Director of Regional Sales, Robin Knapp, has been looking back at the wines perfectly suited for late summer.

From the more esoteric side of the portfolio in Greece, to the Michelini brother’s concrete eggs in Tupungato, to some Old World Italian classics, below are a few of Robin’s top picks to help your customers cling on to the last of the summer wine.

Ktima Gerovassiliou, Malagousia 2016     
Glorious aromatics, with a fresh grippy flavour with a spicy and opulent mouthfeel.

Colomba Bianca, ‘Vitese’ Zibibbo 2016     
Superb aromatics – floral and fresh.  Palate has weight, freshness and fabulous balance.

Zorzal, Eggo Blanc de Cal  Sauvignon Blanc 2016  
Edgy and frisky,  showcasing a strong struck-flint mineral intensity, combined with grassy and herbaceous notes.

San Silvestro, ‘Adelasia’ Cortese  2016    
Super fresh and fully dry with incredibly vibrant fruit.

Ocean Eight, Verve Chardonnay 2014    
A complex and mineral Chardonnay with great poise and freshness.   Up there with the best Chablis 1er Cru…

Manolesakis Estate, Exis Red 2016 
A grippy, but soft fresh red.  A fab wine that is reminiscent of Beaujolais with brilliantly earthy undercurrents.

Eden Road, The Long Road Syrah 2013           
Just beautiful. A supple, delicate and smoky wine that is not remotely typical to an Aussie Syrah.

Frescobaldi, Tenuta Castelgiocondo, Campo ai Sassi, Rosso di Montalcino 2015
A medium weight, delicate even wine, full of complex herby fruit. Has characteristics similar to Pinot Noir.

The standout wine:

Chateau Ksara, Le Prieure 2014
 What a little cracker this is! 13% alcohol with good acidity, which makes it certainly cool European in style, rather that baking hot. The blend is made up of primarily the on trend Cinsault and Carignan with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah thrown in to add complexity.

Juicy, fruity and a good level of chunky, with plenty of flavour but not an overpowering wine. Just perfect for  meats or some garlic inspired casserole!

Four Days, Four Locations, Four Tastings

At the start of June we went on a tour of the UK with the unique flavours of many indigenous varietals from countries on the shores of the Med – the South of France, the Maremma, Southern Italy and the islands of Sardinia and Sicily including wines from the more marginal Mount Etna. From the more exotic and adventurous Eastern Mediterranean, we will showcase wines from Croatia, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey and Lebanon, countries which have emerged on to the UK wine scene over the last decade.

The Roadshow stopped off in Bristol, London, Birmingham and finally Edinburgh.

Justin Keay, writing for The Buyer visited us in London to taste through the range of wines and below is what he thought…

Under the direction of its head of buying, Steve Daniel, has been steadily building up its Mediterranean wine portfolio collecting together wineries from the Lebanon, Occitanie, Italy, Turkey, Cyprus and Croatia. But it was the wines from Greece that Justin Keay was particularly enamoured with.

UK wine supplier, Hallgarten, thinks small is beautiful, and they’re right. When it comes to the  Mediterranean, the smaller wineries in its portfolio are producing world class wines that also deliver outstanding value for money.

Last September, Hallgarten took its South African wines and winemakers out on the road, hosting a series of tastings that showed how far the Rainbow Nation’s wine industry has come in recent years. Recently it’s been the turn of Hallgarten’s impressive Mediterranean portfolio – four tastings, four days, but made worthwhile by the sheer quality of what was on show.

Less can be more, I said to myself, noting that in just 95 wines and 11 tables Hallgarten had wrapped up much of what is currently interesting in winemaking in the Mediterranean.

So what were the stand-out wines?

Starting with the eastern Mediterranean, Lebanon’s Château Ksara – located in the Bekaa Valley, adjacent to Syria – was showing 10 wines, all pretty good by any standard. The reds, for those who like their Bordeaux blends, are well made and quite serious although it was the Cuvée 3eme Millenaire 2013, (a blend of 40% Petit Verdot, 30% Syrah and 30% Cabernet Franc) that really impressed. This was full-on cassis fruit intensity, good balanced oak (14 months in barrel), and still very much in its youth.

The stars here, though, were the whites, specifically the Chardonnay 2014 and the fresh, fruity Blanc de Blanc 2016, a blend of 55% Sauvignon, Semillon and Chardonnay. This last wine, which spends several months in French barrique has a wonderful, light oak mouth feel. Very moreish.

Mediterranean
Daniel O’Donnell in London November 2016 for a Masterclass
on the wines of Kayra

At the next table, Turkey’s Kayra Wines showed its continuing renaissance under chief winemaker, Californian Daniel O’Donnell. His high end reds Buzbag Reserve 2013 and Versus Okuzgozu 2014, are both excellent, with the latter a full-bodied, rich wine that could still do with a few more years until it reaches its best.

The entry level white, however, Buzbag Emir-Narince 2015 proved that O’Donnell’s work has truly permeated through even the lower end of the Kayra range. Refreshing, just 12% MediterraneanABV, but lovely fruit on the palate.

Hallgarten had also pulled out its excellent Gerard Bertrand range, some wonderful Italian wines, two wines from Croatia’s Kozlović winery (including a distinctive, quite bitter Teran from the variety that makes the ultimate ‘Marmite wine’), and from Cyprus Kyperounda‘s Petritis 2016 a wonderful 100% Xynesteri that has understandably become a bestseller on that eastern Mediterranean island.

The Greek wines were the centrepiece

However, for me it was the three tables featuring the crop of Hallgarten’s  Greek range that were the centrepiece of this tasting, and especially the whites, which were almost uniformally highly accessible, despite most being made from indigenous varieties of which I’d never heard. Most were also lowish in alcohol, being typically around 12.5%.

“These wines have been really well received even in parts of the country you wouldn’t necessarily expect, because they are approachable and work well with and without food. We had one restaurateur who put a Gaia white as one of his house wines and he’s amazed how well its selling, even better than his Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc,” says Steve Daniel, Hallgarten’s head of buying, who says the growing interest in a healthy Mediterranean diet has also boosted interest.

Mediterranean

First off were three whites from the Idaia Winery in Crete, which produces some 240,000 bottles a year mostly from local varieties. On offer here was the Idaia Gi Vilana 2016 (£10.75); the Vidiano 2016 (£11.57) and the Ocean Thrapshathiri (£11.24), all made 100% from their respective grapes. All interesting, for me the clear winner here was the Thrapshathiri, a delicate, fresh wine with lovely herbal aromas, and a clear crisp finish.

From the Peloponnese, a winery that is a virtual shrine to near extinct grapes, the wines of the beautiful Monemvasia Estate – which produces less than 200,000 bottles a year – were at the other end of the scale taste-wise, and no less interesting for that.

The 100% Kidonitsa White PGI Laconia 2015 is made from one of the grapes used in making Greek Malmsey, which originally hailed from Monemvasia and was first made Mediterraneanhere by monks back in the Middle Ages. This had a wonderful quince taste on the middle palate but a fresh finish, and was quite unlike the more full-bodied Asproudi White PGI Peloponnese 2015, which has benefited from barrel ageing and time on the lees. My favourite of this batch.

Moving swiftly on, to northern Greece and Macedonia, the wines from Ktima Gerovassiliou were quite exceptional. All of them. This winery – founded by Vangelis Gerovassiliou – is best known as having almost single handedly revived the Malagousia variety which almost disappeared in the 1970s – which generally produces well-rounded and aromatic wines that age well but are also very fresh and accessible when drunk young.

The best example here was the Malagousia PGI Epanomi 2016 (£13.55) a full and generous wine that has benefited from being part (20%) fermented in oak. Yet Ktima Gerovassiliou – which now produces 400,000 bottles with plans to increase up to 500,000 – is no one trick pony; its award-winning single varietal range were all pretty good (including a Sauvignon Blanc that spent six months in oak, and a Chardonnay, seven months) but the award-winning Viognier PGI Epanomi 2016 (£14.45) was quite exceptional – lightly oaked, with lots of peach and apricot on the palate, and of generous body. The reds are also good but needed more time, especially the still overly acidic Avaton PGI Epanomi 2013, an interesting blend of Limnio, Mavrotragano and Mavrudi.

And of course, Gaia, whose wines have long been favourites of mine. Yiannis Paraskevopoulos, chief winemaker of this pioneering producer (which makes wines on Santorini and in Nemea in the Peloponnese) was modest when I asked what makes them so special.

“When you have such fantastic raw materials – old vines, rich soil, wonderful weather – it is not so difficult to make such distinctive wines,” says Yiannis.

He’s being far too modest, of course, as one sip of his Thalassitis Assyrtiko PDO Santorini 2016 (£17.26) confirms. Made from very old vines, this is an amazingly full and saline wine, unsurprising because the vines are apparently regularly sprayed with sea salt, but also zesty and fruit forward. This is a superb wine with a remarkable sense of place, as is the Wild Ferment Assyrtiko 2016 (£19.36) made from grapes grown at higher elevation and partly fermented in oak casks.

Mediterranean

Of the reds, the Gaia S. Agiorgitko Syrah PDO Nemea 2015 (£17.15) was the most memorable, fermented and aged in oak for 14 months, and checking in at 15%, though this is already so well-balanced that you really don’t notice it.

To finish? Gaia’s remarkable Vin Santo 2005 was the most moreish wine of the tasting, a deliciously irresistible blend of Assyrtiko, Aidani and Athiri from Santorini. Nectar of the Gods indeed.

 

2016 Greek & Italian – potentially a great vintage…

The buying team has recently spent some time tasting the new 2016 vintages of many of our Greek and Italian wines. Wow – this looks like it has been a brilliant vintage (especially for whites). I cannot remember the last time I got so excited about Italy – and Steve has gone into raptures when looking at both countries.

“I am thrilled to say that 2016 ranks as one of the greatest white wine vintages I have seen,” Steve Daniel says.

In order to whet your appetites, here are some tasting notes from the team:

Steve Daniel, tasting Greece:

“Greek wines get better every year I taste them as the winemakers continue to improve and further understand their vineyards, but without doubt the 2016 vintage is something truly special. The year was a cool one by Greek standards and the white wines are amazing. Both Yiannis at Gaia Wines and Vangelis at Ktima Gerovassiliou state the whites from 2016 are the greatest wines they have made to date. All producers report the same quality.

“The wines combine power, perfume and finesse. I expect to see a flurry of awards  and high marks from Parker etc.  in the coming months.”

 

Steve Daniel, tasting Italy:

Colomba Bianca was launched last year on the 2015 vintage and the acceptance of the wines was universal and the wines have been great. In the 2016 vintage the wines have taken a quantum leap in quality. The wines are rich and aromatic at the same time, and have incredible length and complexity for the price points.

Ca’Rugate has been winning Tre Bicchieri awards for their Soaves for years and are one of the top estates in the region. The 2015s were excellent examples but once again the 2016 whites are at another level.”

San Silvestro, Cortese del Piemonte DOC ‘Adelasia’  2016
“I was completely blown away by the quality of this wine. This year the wine has amazing fruit and intensity and it really is a Gavi buster. The best vintage I have seen of this wine. As a fantastic alternative to Chablis, there has never been a better time to drink this kind of intense, mineral-driven wines.”

 

Jim Wilson, tasting Italy:

Colomba Bianca, Grillo ‘Vitese’ 2016 
“Lovely clean rich and spicy nose – a wine which begs you to taste! White peaches and black pepper on the palate. Looks good and tastes great!”

San Marzano, Verdeca Puglia IGP ‘Talo’ 2016 
“Beautiful fresh flowery nose, intense, touches of lemon zest, perfumed and unusually full. Wonderful balance of acidity and flavour. Very long on the finish. A real eye opener.”

San Silvestro, Cortese del Piemonte DOC ‘Adelasia’  2016
“Like Steve, I found this wine stunning. I have to admit I’ve never really been a fan, but this was drinking quite beautifully. Huge depth of fruit, hay and flowers on the palate, wonderful balance on the finish. Better by far than a number of Gavis’.”

Ca Rugate, Soave Classico DOC San Michele 2016 
“Gorgeous nose, soft appley fruit overladen with hazelnut and a hint of cream. Amazing intensity and depth. Long finish. Everything a really good Soave should be.”

Get in touch with your Account Manager to try these wines and if any knock your socks off, let us know!

2017: It’s sure to be a grape year

Sparkling wine:

2016 has without a doubt been the year for sparkling wines in the wine industry. A trend that we have seen growing and growing, with the UK seeing a huge 80% rise in sparkling wine sales over the past five years – according to HMRC figures.

Italian sparkling wine has become the dominant force in this arena; recent Mintel figures reveal that 28% of all consumers have purchased Prosecco in the past six months, compared to just 18% that had bought Champagne and 18% that had bought Cava.

We predict this demand for Italian sparkling wine continuing well into 2017 with Prosecco being joined as the market leader by its co-patriots; Lambrusco and Pignoletto (pronounced peen-yo-let-o).

Originating from North-East Italy, Lambrusco, a red sparkling wine, is the name for both the grape and the designated growing areas in which it is produced. The wine’s bright acidity, subtle fizz and dark tannic fruit lends itself perfectly to foods synonymous to Italy, such as fatty charcuterie and hearty pasta sauces.

Pignoletto, is an ancient grape variety originally grown in the hills outside Bologna in Emilia-Romagna, North-East Italy, not far from where Prosecco is produced. Like Prosecco, Pignoletto is made using the charmat method (second fermentation in steel tanks) which produces a crisp, refreshing and fruity wine – a great alternative to Prosecco!

Natural, organic, biodynamic and sustainability:

Natural, organic, biodynamic and sustainability are the current buzz words in the wine industry and are set to become front of mind for the customer in 2017. These styles have become commonplace on wine lists and the shelves of independent retailers in recent months, with consumers keen to explore wines which have greener credentials and have been produced with minimal intervention or impact on the environment.

Emerging regions:

In 2017 the popularity of wines from emerging regions will continue as customers are keen to try more exotic and interesting varietals. Two Eastern Mediterranean nations in particular are set to take off – Turkey and Greece. Not only has the quality of Turkish wines improved dramatically over the last 5 years, but Turkish influenced restaurants have also become increasingly popular thanks to the rise in eastern Mediterranean cuisine and the Mangal theme (think new openings such as Neil Rankin’s Temper and Yosma).

Also set to grow is the demand of Greek wine. The whites in particular stand out from the crowd with their striking elegance and finesse, and aromatic qualities that offer the consumer an excellent and cheaper alternative to old world favourites, as well as providing the opportunity to taste something different and exciting.

The trend of quality over quantity is one we will see develop further in 2017 as consumers are becoming more likely to opt for a more premium wine that is memorable. This is partly due to an increase in wine knowledge with today’s consumer becoming more discerning, and party due to overall a decline in overall alcohol consumption.

Whatever 2017 holds, we are sure to see both the on and off trade branch out and experiment with new and interesting wines to feed their customers imaginations.

On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer and Jim’s view of Greek wine

Much have I travelled in the realms of gold

And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;

Round many western islands have I been

Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.

Oft of one wide expanse had I been told

That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;

Yet did I never breathe its pure serene

Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies

When a new planet swims into his ken;

Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes

He stared at the Pacific—and all his men

Looked at each other with a wild surmise—

Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

John Keats wrote On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer after reading Elizabethan playwright George Chapman’s translation of Homer. Although Keats was very familiar with Homer through previous translations, Chapman’s version had an enormous impact on him. He saw Homer through fresh eyes. The volta within the poem – “Then felt I like some watcher of the skies/When a new planet swims into his ken” – conveys his sense of awe at the discovery that he could transcend his role as a passive viewer of literature, and the knowledge that he, too, could create great works.

It’s a bit bonkers, but this poem came to mind during Saturday’s Decanter tasting at the Landmark Hotel, as I toured the Greek section and met up once more with Angelos Iatridis and Evangelos Gerovassiliou, whom I had visited the previous week on a tour of Hallgarten’s northern Greek estates. To say the scales fell from my eyes during my visit would be an understatement on a par with Keats’s conversion (though given that we are talking about Greece, something by Lord Byron might have been more appropriate.)

Of course, I’ve tasted them, written about them, sold them and discussed them with Steve for the last four or five years. But it is only when you go there and see what they are doing, how they are thinking, what a difference they have made, that you begin to appreciate how good they are. Ktima Alpha, Gerovassiliou, Biblia Chora, Manolesakis – all great producers. I must also get to Gaia and Monemvasia (and no doubt Steve has got another half dozen up his sleeve!)

So the scales have fallen from my eyes. Just like they did for the Cockney poet. But let’s face it, it’s a tad unlikely (just a bit!) that I’ll be able to come up with anything that matches Keats’s Melancholy, Nightingale or Grecian Urn, even with the best inspiration to hand.

Talking of which, where’s the nearest Malagousia?

Jim Wilson, Portfolio Director

A Great Greek Trip – Day four

I am being driven at high speed – maniacal speed – by Dimitris Seitanidis. We’re on our way from Kavala to Drama (the modern-day spelling of Hydrama) to visit the Manolesakis Estate, whose wines we started importing earlier this year. Dimitris, it would appear, could also work as a tour guide as well as a wine exporter. Later he will take me on a hair-raising moonlight tour of Thessalonika, chock-full of his flowery accounts of the town’s history.

Drama has the reputation of producing the ripest grapes in Greece, explains Dimitris. “George Manolesakis came from Crete after the war. By the early 1980s, he was working for the local producer Nico Lazaridis. And then, in around 1998, he founded his own company. You’ll like George, he is a quiet man. Dignified.”

Worse, still, my mobile phone is playing up. But I’m determined not to faff around. Best not to make a Drama out of a crisis. I groan inwardly at my pun.

“So. Here we are!”

We pull up at a pleasant modern building on the outskirts of town. Compact, this is the winery from which 150,000 bottles are produced each year. I am greeted with polite restraint by George (whom you immediately warm to, as he has a wrinkled and mischievous face, and bears an uncanny resemblance to Barry Cryer). He and his winemaker, Angeliki Apostolakis, give me a guided tour of the small, meticulously clean winery which actually looks more like a large house with attached garage. An original garagiste.

It’s all very polite, a touch reserved.

And then in walks Stavros.

Stavros Manolesakis, George’s son and general manager. Stavros the Greek. Big bushy beard and moustache, open necked shirt, billowing black leather jacket, big bear hug. “A typical Crete guy,” whispers Dimitris. He is almost a parody, I think, as he rat-a-tat chatters with Dimitris. Later I find that this is a delightful chap, who in his spare time creates banquets for the villagers and who delights in cooking for any local wedding in the village. He shows me a photograph of him barbequing 140 kleftikos. He is frustrated that I have not chosen to stay with his family.

“Next time, you stay with me and I cook,” he states. This is not a question. I’m not going to mess with Stavros.

We jump in his BMW and he begins tearing through the vineyards, seemingly oblivious to the effect on the car’s undercarriage. Quite dramatic, I think. (I cannot get Drama out of my head – what a great name for a place.)

We screech to a halt.

Stavros proudly indicates the surrounding sea of vines. “Now we have 25 hectares. They are dotted around the village in small parcels, none more than three kilometres from the winery. All are hand-harvested.”

Stavros’s father originally planted western varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlot and (not an obvious choice, this) Ugni Blanc. It is only in the last five years that he and Stavros have begun serious plantings of indigenous varietals. This seems to be a common theme on my trip. Now the area is best known for Assyrtiko, Limnio, Roditis and Agiorgitiko. Angeliki explains that Drama’s continental climate, rich soil, and gentle slopes provide ideal conditions. The result is low yields per hectare and a low volume wine production.

Like the other producers on my visit, they are trying to buy other plots throughout the area, but the locals are not stupid and are holding out for higher prices.  “What can you do?” asks Stavros, as we climb back into the car and charge back to the winery, where Stavros directs us into the tasting room.

“Let the tasting begin,” he announces.

Whites5917115a_635987311914363687

  • Estate White 2015 (Chardonnay Sauvignon Blanc 60/40). Lovely nose, very inviting, simple, steeliness of the Sauvignon toning down the rich peach and guava of the Chardonnay. Great balance
    in the mouth, very easy drinking.
  • Malagousia 2015 – fabulous nose, very very lively, vibrant, a touch of the zibbibo.
  • Exis White (Malagousia/Assyrtiko) 2015 – creamy nose, touches of ice cream sundae, spicy palate, but beautifully balanced, acidity started to tail off now.

Red5917015a_635987309412443489

  • Estate Red (Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Syrah) 2011 – dark fruit, restrained at first, then opening out after ten minutes, soft vanilla, very easy drinking. According to Stavros, this is what defines Drama.
  • Exis 2015 (Xinomavro/Limnio)– lovely creamy nose, serious fruit, brooding, fruits of the forest. Good food wine

On the way back to the airport, I muse on my visit. In a world awash with Cabernet and Chardonnay, the 300-plus varieties of Greece – including Xinomavro, Assyrtiko, Agiorgitiko and the undoubted king, Malagousia – offer a wonderful point of difference. Steve was 20 years ahead of the rest of us, so we are all trying to catch up. The best way to convince yourself of this, of course, is to visit the estates on which they are produced, so with apologies for those great producers I haven’t visited on this trip – Gaia, Monemvasia and Idaia – here are my five picks from the trip:

  • Alpha Estate Axia White 2015 (Assyrtiko/Sauvignon Blanc) – nervy and steely and poised; like a highly-strung filly panting in the starting gate. It is beautifully balanced. The acidity feels understated, but the wine stays in the mouth for an eternity, lingering like a love song.
  • Gerovassiliou Estate White (Malagousia/Assyrtiko blend) 2016 – roll out the barrels: this is a stunner! Beautiful nuances of cream, peach and tangerine, then moving on to soft spiciness in the mouth, white pepper, jasmine, exotic, something of the souk about it. Just bottled.
  • Gerovassiliou Avaton (Limnio, Mavroudi, Mavrotragano) 2013 – interesting wine, this. The deep black fruit is obvious, but running through this is a fault line of minerality. It has an edginess to it. Poised, like a gymnast.
  • Biblia Chora 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.
  • Manolesakis Estate Red (Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Syrah) 2011 – dark fruit, restrained at first, then opening out after ten minutes, soft vanilla, very easy drinking.

A Great Greek Trip – Day Three

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.

vassilis-tsaktsarlis-winemake

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.

 

White

  • 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.

 

Red

  • 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.

barrel-room-biblia-chora

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!

magnum-bottles-biblia-chora

A Great Greek Trip – Day Two

At the foot of a master…

Like a lot of great men, the thing which strikes you about Vangelis Gerovassiliou is his humility. Here we are, Chris Losh and I, on the second day of our Greek trip, sitting on the deck of Gerovassiliou’s ocean-going liner of a winery, and he resolutely refuses to gloat when we keep bringing up the subject of his 1990’s single-handed resurrection of the then almost extinct Malagousia grape. Softly spoken, he is a man for whom a shrug of the shoulders says more than a dozen words.

evangelos-gerovassiliou

“I had a lot of help. I was working a vintage in Bordeaux and was intrigued by what they were achieving. I got to know Peynaud. Emile Peynaud. I was introduced to him by Corinne Mentzelopoulos from Margaux.” (If this was anyone else, you’d think they were name-dropping, but Vangelis looks almost embarrassed, muttering under his breath about “luck.”)

“Peynaud liked the potential of the grape when I first micro-vinified it and so I planted four hectares at Domaine Porto Carras, where I was working. He convinced me to continue with my experiments, so I set about developing it during my twenty-five years at Carras.”

It has not been an easy ride. “In the 80s everyone attacked us for drip irrigating. Now everyone irrigates. But you learn something new every year. This year, for instance, we had a lot of rain in the spring and I was worried, But in actual fact, this has turned out to be the best vintage for a long time. So maybe we should irrigate more.”

So what about the wines?

White
• Estate White (Malagousia/Assyrtiko blend) 2016 – roll out the barrels: this is a stunner! Beautiful nuances of cream, peach and tangerine, then moving on to soft spiciness in the mouth, white pepper, jasmine, exotic, something of the souk about it. Just bottled.
• Malagousia 2015 – big, rich and textured, good body and satisfying round. Spices in the mouth, warm, enveloping. A foodie wine.
• Sauvignon Blanc 2015 – a lovely wine. Serious nose, Loire-type grassiness, touches of white pepper. In the mouth it is rich and complex with a hint of salted caramel meandering through the palate.
• Museum Collection 2014 (a blend of the major whites – Malagousia, Assyrtiko, Viognier, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc) – Complex nose, stone fruits, quince, almond ice cream, incredible concentration of fruit and a long finish redolent of dried apricots.

But I want to taste the 2016s rather older bottled stock. Thankfully, Vangelis can sense this and I see him sneaking off to the winery, returning minutes later with tank samples of the 2016 whites. We wait in anticipation while he opens the Malagousia, then bury our heads in the glass. Some things stay with you for a long time, they play on your memory. This is such a wine. Thinking of words to write, what comes to mind is that it somehow sits between a Chablis and a Sancerre, having the steeliness of one and the richness of the other.

domaine-gerovassiliou

The Viognier has that lovely just-cut apricot smell. It lingers, it fills the room as I bend to write. But the maestro is not happy. Vangelis shakes his head and says we must waits few minutes. He thinks it is too closed.  So we wander away and look at other wines, but I’ve got one eye on my glass in the corner. After ten minutes Vangelis beckons us back, a quiet smile on his face. And now the wine leaps out of the glass like a salmon. This is a speedball of fruit. My mouth wants to explode. The mouth is filled with a wonderful piercing acidity.

Red
• Estate Red (Syrah, Merlot, Limnio) 2014 – rich stone fruit, a hint of rhubarb. Stylish and smooth on the palate.
• Avaton (Limnio, Mavroudi, Mavrotragano) 2013 – interesting wine, this. The deep black fruit is obvious, but running through this is a fault line of minerality. It has an edginess to it. Poised, like a gymnast. It reminds me of the first time I ever tasted Mavrud, in Bulgaria, 22 years ago.
• Avaton 2016 from tank – Black Forest Gateaux, alcoholic, almost port-like. Massive.

In spite of the fact that we are novices in his company, Vangelis hangs on to our every comment. But there is a hint of mischief in his face, and, when we are finished with our opinions, he drops his bombshell. “Here in Epanomi, the 2016 vintage is the best of the last 30 years.”

Jolly good thing we were complimentary about the 2016s then!

Jim Wilson, Portfolio Director