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.
“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?
• 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.
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.
• 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