Tag Archives: greece

The Alternatives to HEAT

Knowledge is power… And knowing how disastrous the 2021 vintage was in many parts of the winemaking world, culminating in a shortage of some of the best-selling wines such as Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé, discerning customers are already seeking out exciting new alternatives.

Add into the equation the continued challenges across Burgundy. A region that has been continually impacted by consecutive cold/wet/frost/hail vintages, now really is the time to take advantage of those new and exciting wines from around the world, which are made by some of most exciting winemakers, breaking boundaries, experimenting with unusual varieties and much more. You don’t have to settle for second best when exploring these wines and your customers might just find their new favourite.

As global warming and unpredictable weather become an ever present issue, the extraordinary weather patterns that have caused the issues above are driving winemakers to explore more and more extreme wine growing regions to make their wines. Whether it is high altitude or vineyards close to the ocean, a cool climate is an essential requirement when making wines to catch the eye of the classical wine consumer. The winemakers featured here are all working in these extreme environments – and their wines are as good as anything from those from vintage-affected regions.

Richard Kershaw is one of the newest inductees into the Cape Winemakers Guild (in December 2021) and is also the only Master of Wine who is actively making wine in South Africa. Not bad for a man from Sheffield! He specialises in site and clone specific Chardonnay, Syrah, and Pinot Noir from Elgin (Clonal Selection) and other cool climate growing areas in the depths of the Cape (G.P.S. Series).  Despite the incredible detail to which he goes, his winemaking is non-interventionist and he is making some of the very best wines, especially Chardonnay, in South Africa today.

He is meticulous in his viticulture and winemaking, paying special attention to coopers and which barrels work best for specific wines and particularly around clonal selection. He has selected clones of Chardonnay and Syrah that are most suitable for the cool climatic conditions that Elgin offers. The Clonal Selection Syrah 2018 is “a thrilling and emotive Syrah” (97 Pts – Decanter) with Neil Martin (94 Pts – Vinous) labelling it “Absolutely top class” and we certainly don’t disagree. The G.P.S. Series Chardonnay comes from (rare in the area) limestone rich soils in the Lower Duivenhoks River. The resulting wine is vibrant and zingy and according to Neal Martin (93 Pts – Vinous) “This is almost disarmingly harmonious… Warning: You will definitely finish a bottle, even if you didn’t plan to”.

Fine wine doesn’t have to be expensive. Spain, with is a veritable smörgåsbord of wine regions, appellations and grape varieties certainly has some of the most exciting and pioneering winemakers of the northern hemisphere. One winemaker leading the way here is Xosé Lois (XL) Sebio who has been reinvigorating ancient and abandoned vineyards and producing a stunning collection of wines with a very marked identity. XL Sebio’s main aim is to make authentic wines which are far removed from conventions and modern fashions, but at the same time express the terroir from which his wines come with soul and personality. The ‘O’Con’ Albarino 2019 comes from old Albariño strains from the Aios area, in Sanxenxo. (Rias Baixas – Pontevedra – Galicia). The grapes come from an old hillside vineyard plot, with spruce soils, on top of an old tungsten mine. The freshness, depth and meatiness of the old vines help to produce a deep, elegant and sapid wine.

Finally, breaking from the cool climate theme we head to the beautiful island of Santorini. Unique places create unique wines, and Santorini provides this in spades. The soil is volcanic and mineral rich and the indigenous varietals have evolved alongside the island itself. The most famous of these is Assyrtiko, which thrives on an island which has long sunshine hours, a lack of rainfall, sea mists and strong cooling summer winds, all contributing to the unique microclimate. Gaia Estate is one of the pioneers of the Greek wine revolution. Established in 1994 by Greek winemakers Leon Karatsalos and Yiannis Paraskevopoulos. The Wild Ferment Assyrtiko is a gem of a wine and a fabulous alternative to White Burgundy. The wine is fermented naturally in a mix of stainless steel tanks, wooden casks (15% French oak, 15% American oak, 15% in acacia casks) and 10% ceramic vats. The resulting wine is truly unique, with layers of intriguing flavours, a mineral salty tang and beautiful acidity.

Ultimately, the challenges that we all face over the next twelve months can easily be overcome with creativity and helping consumers to get outside of their comfort zones to explore the myriad of stunning and extraordinary wines made by legendary winemakers of the future. And you never know, if they just give these wines a chance, they may not go back to what they wanted before.

WOTM: Akriotou, ‘Erimitis’ White, Sterea Ellada 2020

Our April Wine of the Month is a new addition to our Greek portfolio from the team at Akriotou. The grapes for the ‘Erimitis’ White, Sterea Ellada 2020 are sourced from Plataea, a small village at the foot of the Kitheronas Mountain, in Central Greece. This wine is a blend of native varieties: Savatiano, Assyrtiko and Aidani, which are suited to the hot, dry climate as they have good drought resistant properties. 

In a nutshell

A rich and textured wine with delicate notes of peach, bergamot, lemon and pear complemented by buttery overtones through to a refreshing zesty finish.

The Producer

Vasiliki Akriotou is an oenologist with over 20 years’ experience in the wine industry. In 2015, she created her first range of wines from a micro-winery in the heart of Greece, which reflected her philosophy of winemaking. The vineyards are situated among the snow-capped mountains at altitudes of 280 to 380 metres above sea level. The range includes is Ορειβάτης, which translates as the ‘Mountaineer’ made from Savatiano, which recognises the steep, challenging terrain. This sublime, premium range of wines made from old vines of native grapes, is a true expression of this fresh mountainous terroir.

The wine

Vinification took place separately for each variety. The grapes were carefully selected, destemmed and crushed before the free run must underwent cold skin-contact maceration for six hours. Controlled fermentation took place at 14°C, with bâtonnage of the fine lees twice a week. The three wines were deftly blended and matured in stainless steel tanks for a total of 10 months, during which bâtonnage took place twice weekly for three months, reducing to once a fortnight for seven months, imbuing the wine with a lovely texture.

WOTM: Alpha Estate, Amyndeon, Reserve Vielles Vignes Single Block Barba Yannis, Xinomavro 2017

Our November Wine of the Month is a multi-award-winning wine from northern Greece, recently scoring 93 points in Decanter magazine Alpha Estate, Amyndeon, Reserve Vielles Vignes Single Block Barba Yannis, Xinomavro 2017.  Made from 100% Xinomavro, on 01st November we celebrate #XinomavroDay. A day dedicated to this grape variety most commonly found in Greece to symbolise the typical end of harvest in Northern Greece and the start of the production of wines made from Xinomavro.

In a nutshell

This is a savoury red made from 90 year old vines with an enticing aroma of raspberries and sun dried tomatoes combined with liquorice and wild herbs, lovely flavour concentration and a dry finish.

The producer

Alpha Estate is located in Amyndeo, North West Greece. It is the brainchild of two visionaries, second generation vine grower Makis Mavridis and Bordeaux trained wine maker Angelos Iatrides. Angelos is one of the most talented winemakers working in Europe.
This pristine estate in the cool highlands of Western Macedonia comprises 120 hectares of privately owned single block vineyards and employs the most up to date vineyard techniques and winemaking technology to produce world class wines from French and indigenous Greek varietals.

The wine

The Xinomavro (pronounced Ksee no’ ma vro) grapes were destemmed, lightly crushed and cold soaked with skin contact. Fermentation took place using an indigenous yeast strain which has been isolated from the specific block. The grapes were vinified at gradually increasing temperatures, before being maintained “sur lie” or on its fine lees, for 18 months with regular stirring. Maturation took place in Allier-Jupille French oak casks of medium grain, for 24 months, with a minimum of a further 12 months ageing in the bottle prior to release. Bottled without fining and filtration.
The Single Block Barba Yannis is named in honour of Mr Yannis, from whom the single block of 3.71 hectares was purchased, in 1994. The estate vineyard is located in P.D.O. Amyndeon, in the region of Macedonia and is situated at an altitude of 620 to 710 metres above sea level.

The Homeric Vineyards of Vatsa in Kefalonia

We recently welcomed the wines of Domaine Foivos to our portfolio, from the incredible island of Kefalonia. Expert on all things Greek wine, and part of the Foivos team, Cyril Meidinger, recently shared his thoughts on the viticulture and the history of the vineyards on Kefalonia; particularly the Vatsa Vineyard, just outside the Domaine Foivos winery, where the Nautilus and Pandrosos wines are grown.

Odysseus, famous for his long journey, trying to return home after the events of the Trojan War was met with endless seas of vineyards upon arrival. The fruits of his labour presented itself in more than one form. Whispers of magnificent vines as early as the Homeric times reveal themselves today. In celebration of the hollow horse creator’s victory, indulging in a delightful Kefalonian wine, made for the ultimate reward. The taste of Kefalonia being the most pleasurable for the palate and senses.

Legend describes the creator of this enchanting vine as a king named Kefalos whom journeyed from Attica. In an effort to preserve the memory of his native land, vines were planted as a daily reminder of his heritage in a place known as Thineia (‘’Athenian land’’). Today this ancient vine is cherished and protected by the people of Kefalonia, continuing to keep the legend alive.

Part One

Domaine Foivos has been cultivating vineyards in the Vatsa area of Kefalonia since 1999. The vineyards are located on the south peninsula of the Island in an area called Paliki, which is said to have been the kingdom of Odysseus. Those Vineyards have been planted hundreds of years ago and this specific area is already mentioned 1200 years B.C. by Homer in his writings. They have remained phylloxera-free on their own indigenous roots ever since, at about 800 meters from the Mediterranean Sea in a plain enclosed by small hills. The Vatsa vineyards are composed of about 30% Mavrodaphne, as well as Muscat a Petit Grain, Muscatel, Tsaousi and Vostilidi on clay and limestone soils. The terroir of Vatsa is perfect for growing quality vines, having accumulated all the fossilized seashells from the nearby hills in its underground.

Mavrodaphne is also cultivated mainland, though in Kefalonia, the focus has been on dry vinifications of this variety, resulting in its own PDO Mavrodaphne of Kefalonia. Yannis Karakassis MW describes this variety as ‘’of particular interest as they yield intensely complex herbal wines, with aromatic character, mild tannins and acidity’’ based on his 2017 study of The Vineyards & Wines of Greece. Vostilidi is also a jewel of Kefalonia, saved from extinction as Vostilidi’s cultivation is mentioned in Latin literature as early as in the 16th century, during the Venetian rule on the island. During those times, sweet Muscat of Kefalonia was entirely exported to Venice and received international recognition early on.

The overall yields on the 100 + year old vineyards are tiny, averaging about 2.5 tons per hectare and cultivated biodynamically, without the use of pesticides. Majority of the vineyard is actually made of bushvines, which create perfect conditions and shade resulting in ideal ripeness of those ancient varieties, whilst preserving a unique acidity.

Due to the age of the vines, they have adapted to the environment and have been shaped over time to withstand adversity and stress. These vines have learnt to cohabitate with their enemies and to survive, providing the best and most delicious grapes, with minimal viticultural efforts needed and most importantly, with minimal interventions. This long-term familiarity with their growing environment made the vines resistant and immune to diseases, whilst farmed dryland without the use of any pesticides and with a biodynamic approach.

Part Two

The Vatsa vineyards are a true treasure that needs to be maintained and preserved for the generations to come. This part of the island hasn’t been affected by phylloxera, therefore the vines are still on their own indigenous ungrafted roots, producing an intensity and a complexity that can’t be replicated. The vineyards have been revamped initially just after World War I around 1925, and a second time in 2015, grafting new vines on some of the older roots. The technique used there is to cut the trunk of the original vine just above the ground, and from there vine grows new shoots from the original trunk and roots or by planting in the ground some of the existing shoots and cut them when they create new vines and roots. The original roots are so deep into the ground that they reach all minerals and water needed to produce exceptionally concentrated and healthy grapes.

Of the above varieties grown on our Vatsa vineyards, two PDO Sweet Wines, Mavrodaphne of Kefalonia and Muscat of Kefalonia as well as two PGI Mantzavinata Wines (white and red), which are blends of all those indigenous varieties are produced.

Theodore Orkopoulos and archaeologist wife Stavroula have made it their personal mission to maintain those historical parcels of indigenous Kefalonian varieties in order to prolong this heritage for generations to come.

With merely a total of 160 hectares left on the island of Kefalonia, it is paramount that such ancient vineyards get the attention and the fame that they deserve. Assyrtiko and Santorini have been in the spot light over the last few years, we believe the time has come for Kefalonia to take the international stage with indigenous varieties like Mavrodaphne, Robola or Vostilidi coming from some of the oldest vineyards in Europe.

Conclusion

Perhaps Odysseus’s plan to sack the city of Troy using a giant hollow horse, started with a conversation with fellow comrades enjoying a delicious glass of Kefalonian wine. Perhaps one could say that Kefalonian wine is a potion for creative victory. One thing is for sure, this undiscovered ancient wine of Kefalonia poses the power to unlock the extraordinary.

– Cyril Meidinger

WOTM: Domaine Foivos, ‘Robola of Kefalonia’, Robola 2020

Our June Wine of the Month is a new addition to our portfolio, and one that screams summer – Domaine Foivos, ‘Robola of Kefalonia’, Robola 2020! From Kefalonia, an island off the west coast of Greece, and made from the island’s most well-know indigenous variety, the grapes for this cuvée come from 20 year old vines that are ungrafted and grown on their own indigenous roots in a vineyard in Fragata, on the free-draining slopes of Mount Ainos.

In a nutshell

An incredibly fresh and pure wine that is full of tension. The herbal and citrus aromas create a harmonious fusion through to a palate with lime citrus intensity and mouth-watering freshness.

The producer

The Foivos winery evolved from the historic Mantzavino winery, one of the oldest in Greece. The winery was bought in 1996, and in 1999 Theodorous Orkopoulos produced his first vintages. The winery specialises in rare Greek varieties as well as the better known Robola.

The grapes are farmed organically and biodynamically, and Foivos also explores alternative winemaking practices such as fermentation in Amphora and ageing under water. This winery is making some excellent terroir-driven wines that rank among some of Greece’s finest. Many people believe Kefalonia to be the next Santorini: watch this space!

The wine

The grapes were carefully selected and sorted in the cellar, destemmed and gently pressed. The must was fermented with wild, indigenous yeasts at low temperatures in stainless steel tanks to retain the purity of fruit and aromatic integrity. The wine was gently filtered prior to bottling. Made in an unoaked style to fully express the character of the Robola variety and the mountainous terroir of Mount Ainos.

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!”

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.

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!

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. 

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!”

#TryJanuary

This year we are celebrating #TryJanuary – a time of the year when you when serve something new and exciting, which will entice customers in to try something new!

Here are a few suggestions from the Hallgarten portfolio that are guaranteed to get rid of the January blues.

Try something natural… Larry Cherubino, Laissez Faire Field Blend, Western Australia 2016

Laissez Faire means “let it be” and this is reflected in the hands-off approach of winemaking. As the name suggests, the grapes selected for this Field Blend were harvested at the same time and blended in the field. The fruit was gently destemmed, then the parcels were allowed to ferment naturally on their skins for a period of five days. No additives, sulphites, acids or enzymes were added during the vinification of this blend, with only minimal sulphur added at bottling. Resulting in a floral blend with an exotic yet fresh cacophony of passion fruit, rose petal and lychee. A gentle hint of oak adds texture and weight to the long finish. Try this wine at the Australian Day Tasting 2018.  

Try something exciting… Saint Clair, Pioneer Block 22 ‘Barn Block’, Marlborough, Pinot Noir 2016

Saint Clair founders, Neal and Judy Ibbotson were pioneers in the Marlborough wine industry, first planting vineyards in the valley in 1978 and then establishing Saint Clair Family Estate in 1994. They own 160 hectares of vineyard in 10 different Marlborough locations chosen specifically for the attributes of their individual “terroir” and ability to produce top quality grapes. This Pinot Noir has aromas of ripe dark forest fruits which are complemented by hints of cedar and dark roasted coffee oak. Rich, with a velvety structure and fine grained silky tannins; this is a delicious full-bodied Pinot Noir. Try this wine at the Flavours of New Zealand Tasting.  

Try something for Burns Night… Château De Tracy, Pouilly Fumé 2015

The first members of the noble Stutt family in France came from Scotland in the fifteenth century to help the future King Charles VII of France during the Hundred Years War. In 1586, by way of marriage, the family inherited Château de Tracy. The Chateau is still family owned and cultivated today under the leadership of the Comte Henry d’Estutt d’Assay. An organic approach to viticulture is followed but the Château is not certified as being organic. No pesticides are used, yields are kept very low and strict canopy management is used.  

Try something warming and spicy… Fratelli, Sette, Maharashtra 2012

Fratelli means ‘brothers’ in Italian and three sets of brothers from Italy and India have combined their passion and desire to produce wines made in India, following Italian traditions. Their passion, love and hard work have resulted in the creation of Fratelli Wines, a modern winery located in Akluj in the Solapur district. The viticultural and winemaking expertise has been provided by Piero Masi, a master winemaker from Tuscany and creator of the famous ‘Chianti Classico Casa Sola’. This blend of 70% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, displays supple ripe flavours of plum and blackberry, accented with notes of spice and vanilla, with hints of blackcurrant and cherry. Exquisitely balanced, this blend has a lush, round mouthfeel and a long, lingering finish. Perfect with a spicy curry on a cold January evening!

Try something indigenous and esoteric… Alpha Estate, Amyndeo, Reserve Vielles Vignes Single Block Barba Yannis, Xinomavro 2013

One of the top scoring entries in Decanter’s Top 75 wines of 2017, The Single Block Barba Yiannis is named in honour of Mr Yiannis, from whom the block was purchased in 1994. The vineyard is located in Amyndeo, in the region of Macedonia. Thevines are ungrafted, pre-phylloxera bush vines which are over 90 years old. The summers are hot, so in order to avoid extreme water deficit a “root zone drying irrigation” is used, to ensure the optimum conditions for the nourishment and maturation of the grapes. This wine shows a complex and typical Xinomavro, showing aromas of smoky black fruits, strawberries, dark cherries, liquorice, sundried tomatoes, and delicate spice. Full bodied and structured on the palate, with a rich depth of fruit, concentrated savoury notes and a touch of oak. The velvety tannins lead through to a persistent and aromatic finish.

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