Category Archives: Greece

A Great Greek Trip – Day One

No matter how many times you do it, there’s always something disconcerting about being deposited by the late night budget airline into a small, unfamiliar European city. Bleary-eyed passengers shuffle unseeing through the dimly-lit concrete arrivals hall and emerge into a cold night, now blinking against the harsh light of the bus concourse. Thessaloniki is considered an open-air museum of Byzantine art, according to VisitGreece, but tonight it’s pitch dark and we’re hungry, and all we pray for is a taxi.

But there are times in your life when you’re really grateful to be a wine buyer, especially when you work with producers such as Evangelis Gerovassiliou – the Godfather of Malagousia – who has arranged for us to be picked up. Minutes after landing we are whisked off in a cab (how guilty you feel, looking back at the queues for the airport bus) that winds its way us through the industrial surrounds of the airport to an amazingly funky restaurant, Duck Private Cheffing (some name!) where Evangelis treats us to carpaccio of swordfish, eggs sprinkled with black truffles (brought into the restaurant by a mate of his who tells us they come from Mount Olympus!), grilled langoustine, lobster, grouper and seabass. And four desserts. Four.

But to work.

I’m here on a long-awaited trip to visit some of our producers in northern Greece (and about time, too) and next morning, in the company of Imbibe’s Chris Losh, I am driving through the flat scrub hinterland of the city towards Amyndeo’s hazy, golden and tawny coloured hills which offer the promise of kind things.

Immediately upon arrival at Ktima Alpha, you feel at home. The winery is new, linear, cool, classy. The affable export manager, Kostas Arvanitakis – a touch of the Danny de Vito here – greets us expansively, takes our bags and whisks us away on a tour of the vineyards.

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The estate was founded in 1997 by the experienced viticulturist Makis Mavridis and chemist-oenologist Angelos Iatridis. The winery and the 105-hectare vineyards are situated midway between two huge lakes on land which was previously underwater. “Here they have found many fossils, including some mammoth fossils,” explains Kostas, as we watch two falcon hawks glide overhead.

The vineyards are in immaculate condition. Ktima Alpha was the first vineyard in Europe to install subsoil irrigation pipes – in 1995 – and now have 500 kilometres of them. “That would get you from London to Newcastle,” I helpfully explain to fellow northerner Chris.

“We have fifteen varietals in production, with another twelve on an experimental basis, “ says Kostas, pausing to show us the prized 93-year old xinomavro vineyards; the winery’s Xinomavro Reserve regularly tops the bill as the best Greek red in international competitions.

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“But still, I’d love to have a crack at Riesling.”

I tell him we’re more interested in indigenous varietals, but Kostas points out: “Yes, but blends are important to the consumer because they allow him to be introduced to obscure Greek varietals.”

Alpha is on a journey to increase awareness of Amyndeo, often in the shadows of its bigger cousin Naoussa down the road. Alpha are renting a satellite from the University of Athens to provide photographs to allow them to ascertain ripening potential. “We make our data available to the local winemakers. If we can help them, then we increase awareness of Amyndeo.” It seems to be working. Vineyard land is increasing in the region, in contrast to much of the rest of the country.

The €20 million investment in the winery is obvious. The winery is sparkling. We pose by the horizontal rotating fermenters, the French oak barrel room, the R&D department – “Angelos’ playground,” according to Kostas.

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As we head towards the tasting, Chris asks him about the influence of awards and press comments. Kostas tells us that of all the awards the winery has won, gaining a spot in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines in late 2015 for the Alpha Malagousia Turtles Vineyard had the biggest impact on sales. “That got us noticed.”

We taste 22 wines, highlights being:

White

  • 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. I announce this grandly. Kostas looks bemused, but does reveal that Australia’s Peter Barry has planted assyrtiko and has released his first commercial batch.

Red

  • Xinomavro Hedgehog 2013 – masses of juicy just-pressed curranty fruit on the nose, ripe strawberry fruits, pomegranates, sweet, almost unctuous. Beautifully smooth in the mouth, oak integrated, soft tannins. Really gorgeous.
  • Xinomavro Reserve 2012 – classy elegant, Mayfair gentleman’s club on the nose, leather, sophisticated, Prime Minister’s Question Time – important and significant. Alcoholic, leather chairs, cigar smoke.
  • Xinomavro Reserve 2005 – right out of the top drawer. Serious, deep, moody, a big novel of a wine. Surprisingly upfront fruit, but in the mouth it is textured, gamey, supply and leathery. Perfect balance. Still got lots and lots of time.
  • Alpha Estate SMX (Syrah, Xinomavro, Merlot) 2013 – very soft, supply, an athletic wine, limbering up, ready to crush the oppo, good acidity, mocha, coffee, a touch of orange.

And then we have lunch. And this is what we have (unbelievably): lentils, eggplant, grilled cheese with red pepper jam, risotto, wild boar with pasta, steak, beef in muscat sauce. And three desserts. Lunch ends at 6.45.

It’s good to be in Greece.

Jim Wilson, Portfolio Director

Greece is the word

If you walked beyond the fountains of Granary Square, Kings Cross, on the weekend of 08 and 09 October you would have been met with an amazing array of the finest Grecian producers at London Greek Wine Festival 2017.

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Hosted by Theodore Kyriakou of The Greek Larder, we attended the festival with a range of over 30 wines from our suppliers including:

  • Domaine Gerovassiliou, led by the godfather of modern Greek wine, Evangelos Gerovassiliou, who was the original winemaker at Chateau Carras in the late 1970s where he introduced the almost extinct Malagousia grape
  • Gaia Wines, offering its wines from estates in Nemea and Santorini, the latter boasting the oldest vineyards in the world, coupled with the unique Assyrtiko grape
  • Ktima Alpha, offering wines from its pristine estate in the cool highlands of Amyndeo, northern Greece
  • Monemvasia Winery, with its range of stunning single variety and blended wines from the indigenous varieties if the Peloponnese
  • Manolesakis Estate, showcasing two original and exciting blends from the perfect microclimate in Drama, north-east Greece
  • Ktima Biblia Chora, providing visitors with two delights from its estate, one of which is the most awarded Greek white – domestically and internationally
  • Idaia Winery, equipped with a collection of wines made from indigenous grapes in Venerato, a village in the heart of the vineyards of the Malevizi district

The collection of reds, whites, indigenous blends, international blends and even a sweet wine demonstrated the remarkable improvements in the Greek wine industry over the past decade and the varying delights that Greece has to offer.

The star wine of the festival was an extraordinary bottle of Thalassitis, from Gaia Wines, which truly embodied the power of Poseidon after spending five years underwater in the bottle in the caves of Santorini.

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In addition to the sumptuous food and countless bottles on offer to try, we were able to listen to inspirational host, Olly Smith, take us through past and present Greek wine, as well as our very own Steve Daniel guide us in all things authentically Greek.

An amazing weekend, with amazing people – one not to be missed in 2017!

WOTW: Kidonitsa White PGI Laconia, Monemvasia Estate, 2015

In a nutshell: Translates as ‘little quince’ from Greek displaying intense aromas and ripe quince characters, this is one of very few single varietal Kidonitsa around

The Producer: The appellation of origin Malvasia is referred to the Byzantine city of Monemvasia whose name was also given by the Franks to its wine. The vineyards were located at Dorieon Chora the region of the countryside of Epidavros Limiras which was a favourable environment for the vineyard cultivation. The mild coastal climate in combination with the terrain made up the exceptional features which gave a unique quality to the wines of Malvasia. This is where Malvasia was made prior to the 13th century when the local traders loaded it onto the ships from the port of Monemvasia. In the Byzantine era, the economy of fortified cities such as Monemvasia was based on trade. After the 14th century, these cities gained significant privileges and traded freely in all major trading centres.

The Wine: The grapes were carefully selected. The fermentation took place with selected yeasts, in stainless steel at low temperatures of between 14 to 16°C for a period of 15 to 20 days, preserving the quince aromatics of this variety and retaining the freshness of the style.

Tasting note: Elegant aromas of tropical fruits and quince, which follow through pleasantly on to the palate, crisp with excellent balance and a fairly long finish.

In The Papers: Gaia and Domaine Gerovassiliou

The Greek renaissance continues apace with David Williams in The Observer dedicating his feature to the wines of this ancient wine-growing country.

“The wines of Greece are quirky and highly individual,” he writes before heaping praise on Gaia’s Wild Ferment Assyrtiko and Domaine Gerovassiliou’s Malagouzia and Viognier.

Continue reading In The Papers: Gaia and Domaine Gerovassiliou

In The Papers: Head of Buying Steve Daniel Profiled by Victoria Moore

Our very own Steve Daniel was the subject of Victoria Moore’s Saturday Telegraph wine column this week.

She featured a lengthy and insightful interview with Steve (who knew that he discovered Greek wine after his best friend’s Aunty Nora married a Greek travel agent called Stavros?!) as well as reviewing a number of wines from the Hallgarten range.

Read the full interview and reviews here, and below is a snapshot of her thoughts on the wines she tasted:

Roccolo Grassi Valpolicella 2011 – “so perfect it makes my eyes pop”

Larry Cherubino Apostrophe Stone’s Throw White 2015 – “delicious: a glacially clean, but also pretty and slightly peachy blend”

Hey Malbec Matias Riccitelli 2014 -“ a surprisingly elegant, smooth Malbec that is beautifully poised”

Gaia Wines Wild Ferment Assyrtiko 2015 – “this white wine tastes of ginger, white grapefruit rind and baked lemons”

Tandem Ars Nova 2012 – “you can really smell the cassis flavour of the blackcurrant, but there’s also a roundness and brightness”

Steve Daniel’s Top Greek Picks

At this week’s ‘A Taste of Greece 2016’ wine tasting in London we will be showing our entire Greek portfolio, all 32 wines.

On hand to help guide attendees through the wines will be Steve Daniel, Hallgarten’s head of buying and Greek wine expert. Steve was the first person to bring Greek wines to the UK when he was working at Oddbins in the 1980s, and he is still as passionate about the country and its wines today.

Continue reading Steve Daniel’s Top Greek Picks

WOTW: Domaine Gerovassiliou Viognier, 2015

In a nutshell: Peachy, ripe and mouth-filling, it’s no surprise this keeps winning prizes.

The producer: Vangelis Gerovassiliou is the Godfather of Modern Greek winemaking. He studied winemaking at Bordeaux University and was the winemaker at the ground breaking Château Carras from 1976 until 1999. Vangelis set up his winery in 1981 specialising in blends of French and Greek varietals.

Continue reading WOTW: Domaine Gerovassiliou Viognier, 2015