As a steward of the land Nikos Douloufakis takes the long view. The conversion to organic viticulture is now in it's second decade. Rootstock, clonal selection, pruning methods are questioned and adapted to climate change challenges. Fermenting in small...
Crete | Sparkling | Vidiano
As a steward of the land Nikos Douloufakis takes the long view. The conversion to organic viticulture is now in it's second decade. Rootstock, clonal selection, pruning methods are questioned and adapted to climate change challenges. Fermenting in small tanks his vineyards apart is another dividend paying approach. This new departure was born from a dilemma. Situated on the cooler-site of Ayios Thomas 600m, a 20 year old Vidiano vineyard had one drawback. It did not fully ripen in every vintage. Quality was not an issue it is one of the top expressions of this star grape. What were the options? Rip it up, plant some early maturing grape. It was not an easy decision but one that had to be taken. Inspiration came from earlier in life experience. While studying oenology, he was intrigued by the methode traditionelle of the Champegnois. So, natures call, helped him formulate the way forward: spare the vines and start making sparkling Vidiano. This is a first. Others are bound to follow. Yet, again, Crete reaches deeper into it's impressive potential, by tapping into mountain landscapes and complex tapestry of soil types, in this instance limestone marls, and unique grapes. This effort is the latest game changer from the continent-island. What will they think of next?
Vivid golden yellow. Small beaded lively threads. Creamy pit stone notes. Toasted brioche from 24 months of autolysis. Persistent elegant mineral chalky freshness. Energy and precision. Bone dry. Classy. A whole new aromatic and flavour spectrum for this style of wine. Closest: a bold grower Champagne Chardonnay. More gravitas than Mantinia Moschofilero. A counterpoint to Amyndeo's Xinomavro and blends. Look beyond rich in iodine shellfish or savoury Greek dishes. Thai with its hot spice and lemon grass coriander leaf freshness are a great match – ditto for turmeric perfumed dishes. Drink 2016-2020.
07 Dec 2016 © Nico Manessis | Score: 18/20
|Douloufakis Sparkling Brut|
|Area: Crete|| |
Standing at a road side fruit stall. In the distance, a banana plantation. Behind me, a sandy beach leading to a dense palm forest like no other. I start eating a physalis. Continue with a small sized banana, lastly some papino. The tropics? Almost. It is...
Crete | Red | Liatiko
Standing at a road side fruit stall. In the distance, a banana plantation. Behind me, a sandy beach leading to a dense palm forest like no other. I start eating a physalis. Continue with a small sized banana, lastly some papino. The tropics? Almost. It is the sub-tropics. This is Vai, on Crete's north far-eastern tip. The fruit stall belongs to farmer Nikos Troulinos. He illuminates: the palm trees are a protected species first mentioned by writer Theophrastos (4BC). Not far, towards the town of Sitia, my destination: the Holy Monastery of Toplou.
As the road meanders, natures landscape shifts from sub-tropical to arid wind-swept rich in schist wine country. We stop to admire the restored foot press built in 1709 by Abbott Kallinikos. Closer to the Monastery, vines are planted at 195m-280m. There are 30 hectares of organically farmed Thrapsathiri, Vilana, Assyrtiko. Chardonnay. Red skinned grapes include Liatiko, Mandilari, Merlot, Syrah. Interestingly, there is a single vineyard of un-grafted Liatiko. What is a surreal sight is the wind farm on the ridge rim overlooking these vineyards.
Oenologist Manthos Gialitakis puts dark horse Liatiko in perspective. ''It comes into it's own after a year of bottle ageing. We had no reference point. We are getting a handle on it's dynamics, it does best with some new light toasted oak and mostly second fill casks''. Consulting oenologist, the cosmopolitan in experience and outlook, Manolis Stafilakis has been guiding the Monastery's revival. As we are tasting in the cellar Abbot Filotheos joins us. A commanding personality. Little changed, since our first meeting in 1997. After illuminating us on the monastery's WWII histories he recounted that as a novice, working in the Sitia hinterland, he came across: ''Liatiko, Voidomato, Plyto, Thrapsathiri, Moschato Spinas, Kotsifali, Lakidino and Mavri Robola''. He declined our sundowner tsikoudia(clear grape spirit)paired with picked from the garden wild-artichoke and took off to inspect olives in his rebuilt long wheelbase Land Rover.
In today's world, Sitia is famous as a source of premium olive oil. The Toplou monastery built in 2000, one of the most tasteful in architecture, state of the art, olive press. It has been a success in bolstering local economy and image making. During the Athens held 2004 summer Olympics a new winery was built. Island demand for tsikoudia plus a supply of first class pomace was followed by a distillery. The contrast of the dessert-like Sitia landscape to the 250kms due-west verdant Chania, which receives three times higher annual rainfall, is just one of Crete's trump cards. This, one of a kind wine, illustrates the islands lesser-known diversity.
2014 Liatiko 85% - Mandilari 15%. Luscent amber ruby. ''Sweet'' plumb fruit, red cherries. Earthy spicy notes. Tannic, high-acid Mandilari compliments pale coloured Liatiko and offers stability to blossom and age. Liatiko's brooding spice fragrance is captivating. A richer, warmer attractive expression, from the other cooler higher plateaus of Handràs and Ziros. Such, off the beaten path styles, are exactly what on the international circuit sommeliers are on the look out for. Best: 2017-2021.
28 Sep 2016 © Nico Manessis | Score: 17.5/20
|Liatiko - Mandilari, The Holy Monastery of Toplou|
|Area: Crete|| |
|Variety: Liatiko / Mandilari|
Stelios Alexakis has, for decades, been a towering, standard-setting figure in wine. Nationwide, colleagues hold him in high esteem for his long-lasting professionalism. If you are patient and live long enough, things come full-circle. A new dawn has spru...
Crete | White | Assyrtiko
Stelios Alexakis has, for decades, been a towering, standard-setting figure in wine. Nationwide, colleagues hold him in high esteem for his long-lasting professionalism. If you are patient and live long enough, things come full-circle. A new dawn has sprung in this historic winery, built on the Peridi Metohi, now a suburb of sprawling Heraklion. Concrete vats are back in demand. For good reason: tasting Kotsifali and Mandilari and their élevage makes it obvious why their shares are on the rise. Attention to detail in the renovated and updated 1960s winery, which features a rare layout, is a case study of industrial design. And a treasure-trove for energy-saving tips, such as a protective roof above the top vats, enabling them to be cooled by natural airflow – one of several clever ideas in this winery that’s ahead of its time.
Stelios Alexakis’s two sons, Lazaros and Apostolos, studied in Florence and Fresno State, California, respectively. Lazaros works with grape sourcing, sales and marketing. Apostolos heads wine-making and quality control. Their environmental-sensitivity holy grails: re-using grape pomace to local farmers, who are more than happy to collect free animal feed. They also donate their wastewater to the local municipality. A little-known fact: a boutique winery has been started within the winery. From it, a series of exciting blends from a patchwork of single vineyards above Heraklion are emerging. An experienced agronomist, Dimitris Tsoupeis, has joined them as vineyard manager. Recent investment includes vineyards in the highly thought of sub-regions of Agios Thomas and Venerato. “As we become commercially secure with the new wines, we will move out to the Agios Thomas estate,” Lazaros says. And Apostolos adds, “We are fortunate that we have our father’s life-long efforts in supporting the new venture.” All their wines offer a good quality price ratio. The all-Greek blends, Kariki, are a steal.
In the local dialect, Kariki is the fallow space in between vine rows. The fruit of this wine is sourced from Patira and Alagni (350–500m). Equal parts of Assyrtiko and Athiri (subject to vintage). More fragrant and gentler than any Santorini or any other known source of this pair of star grapes, packing a lot of character for a wine of only 12% alcohol by volume. Crammed with expressive fruit, polished mineral core. Insistent character from high-altitude, cooler-climate sites. A sense of place reflecting Crete’s Southern-Aegean expression. A find. Best 2016–2019.
24 May 2016 © Nico Manessis | Score: 16.5/20
|Alexakis Kariki (Assyrtiko-Athiri)|
|Area: Crete|| |
|Variety: Assyrtiko / Athiri|
Standing on high vineyards: to my right, postcard-perfect, snow-covered Lefka Ori (2,300m). To my left, the Cretan sea shimmering with reflections of platinum winter light. As far as the eye can reach, rolling hillsides covered with olive trees, vines and...
Crete | Red | Syrah
Standing on high vineyards: to my right, postcard-perfect, snow-covered Lefka Ori (2,300m). To my left, the Cretan sea shimmering with reflections of platinum winter light. As far as the eye can reach, rolling hillsides covered with olive trees, vines and maquis. Nature’s sketch rendered in pointillism. The entrance to the impressive Manousakis Winery lies hidden by the dark-green foliage of orange trees. This bucolic tranquillity made me think of wine tourism on Crete. Focus should shift to the winter period. This has now received a welcome boost, with low-season, weekly flights from Norway. Interestingly, our modern-day Viking visitors overwhelmingly prefer red to white wine.
Beyond the Rhone Ranger grape mix on this estate, there is another connection to the valley in the South of France: Laurence Féraud, of Domaine du Pegau at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, has been advisor and good friend to long-standing manager Kostis Galanis. “It was after a visit to Châteauneuf that I realized that, with Mourvédre, farming needs to achieve phenolic ripeness. His son, Yiannis Galanis, appreciates the contribution of the Mourvédre “spine” to the Nostos SMG blend. Why Rhône? Well, sun- and wind-hardy grapes was the thing to do in the 1990s, as phylloxera had devastated the historic vineyards in the 1970s and ‘80s. One of the winery’s specialties: pale-skinned Romeiko, more suited to sun-dried, aged dessert wines. The, no longer produced, OSTRIA by the defunct Kissamos Co-op was one of the finest of its kind. The wine was cask-aged overlooking a bay. Think of an Isle-of-Skye distillery on a western-Crete, lapis-lazuli cove.
Back to the present. Though the oldest of the Manousakis vineyards date from the early 1990s, the recently completed winery has clearly played a role in hoisting the wines up a notch. Noted new arrivals are a vertical press and large wooden uprights. In tasting 2014s and 2015s, there is a lighter touch, a softer, riper, bright fruit expression. More eloquent and precise.
Nostos, an archaic word for the journey back to one’s roots, is a metaphorical template on their labels. Alexandra Manousakis was born in the U.S. After a career in real estate, she moved to the place of her father Ted’s origins: the charming village of Vatolakkos, inland from Chania. Urbane Alexandra is one of the island’s wine-tourism pioneers. She developed cellar-door sales. From these visitors, several export markets have sprung. Alexandra also met her husband, Afsvin Molavi, a Swede of Iranian origin. Both have brought a broader vision and new energies: the complete label make-over and further marketing synergies – smartly packaged olive oil and hand-gathered sea salt.
Their latest creation is a clear grape spirit from another Rhône grape, Roussanne. Molavi, who studied food science in Sweden, has also worked as a sommelier. His investments include partnerships in high-end coffee houses and Salis, a restaurant on the Venetian harbour of Chania. His cosmopolitan wine list includes Spanish pearls, such as Mencia from Bierzo.
On many fronts, Crete continues to change. Thankfully, little remains of the state of play on my earlier visits. Now, a growing number of richly diverse wines and their stories command international attention, gaining deserving traction on the world stage. Herein lies a unique opportunity: Whoever packages Crete’s culinary landscape and takes it to the world will have a terrific success story on their hands – large as the birth of a Supernova.
Fragrant floral aromatics and spice. Elegant fruit concentration, balanced by textured tannins. Pervading vivacity offers lift. Long-scented, juicy finish. Fine vinosity. The most variety-true effort to date. Decanting recommended. Best 2016–2022.
12 Apr 2016 © Nico Manessis | Score: 17.5/20
|Manousakis Winery Nostos Syrah|
|Area: Crete|| |
There are several good stories on Crete; this is one of them. Spina is a village that lies on the western foothills of the Lefka Ori mountain range (2,400m). What is left today is all of 1.5 hectares of this fragrant Moschato. Ampelographers claim it is a...
Crete | White | Moschato Spinas
There are several good stories on Crete; this is one of them. Spina is a village that lies on the western foothills of the Lefka Ori mountain range (2,400m). What is left today is all of 1.5 hectares of this fragrant Moschato. Ampelographers claim it is a clone of Muscat blanc a petit grains. Almost lost but not forgotten. Manolis Strataridakis went to visit a friend in Chania, who took him to Spina. He had nothing like this on his paternal farm in Ano Kasteliana, in south-central Iraklion, which is over a two-hour drive due east, so he sourced cuttings.
When planting a grape, there is no guarantee it will find its stride in its new home. Many factors enter into the equation. It may take up to 8 years to see if it stacks up in the real world. Manolis and his brother, Kostis, studied agriculture. Vines have been in the family since 1955. Olives and pistachio nuts are some of their other crops. The spotlessly kept winery is now reaching its 10th anniversary. Consulting oenologist Giannis Halkoutsis is on board. All of their wines are of a high standard. Partially explained by selecting clones that are less productive, yet suited to producing fine wine. Their small-berried Kotsifali is a case in point. But there is something else, too. Their address claims the distinction of Europe’s southernmost winery. Map position: 35 N2′34.61N, 25 14′23.54′′ E. The Strataridakis Bros are readily appreciative of Mount Asterousia (1,231m): “If it were not for the mountain protecting us from the hot Libyan air, we would be roasting. Despite a modicum of climate change, the diurnal temperature during grape season swings from 35ºC to 18ºC.” There is something more than a passing interest in this reviewed specialty: The aromatics of Muscat, in this case, follow through intact on the palate in all their glory. Another of the lesser-known grapes on this island, rich in wine heritage, has been reinvented. The Strataridakis Bros have the professionalism to welcome constructive criticism and adapt. Greek wine needs more of this pragmatic realism.
Platinum, pale green. White flower fragrance. Wet pebbles. Bone-dry, pungent, grapey mid-palate, with juicy notes on a crystalline finish. Lucent. Beautifully balanced. It possesses a structured refreshment factor ideal as an aperitif or to brighten up spicy dishes. One of the more striking dry Moschatos. In this style, above anything now on offer from Lemnos or Samos, and that is saying a lot. A rising star.
17 Mar 2016 © Nico Manessis | Score: 17/20
|Strataridakis Moschato Spinas|
|Area: Crete|| |
|Variety: Moschato Spinas|
There are two stories of how this grape was named. Vilanios: slave, ie workhorse. The more romantic notion, a Venetian era descriptive, of the gnarled bush vines. From this unique to Crete specialty, so far we have seen dry white wine with a floral spic...
Crete | White | Vilana
There are two stories of how this grape was named. Vilanios: slave, ie workhorse. The more romantic notion, a Venetian era descriptive, of the gnarled bush vines. From this unique to Crete specialty, so far we have seen dry white wine with a floral spice, viscous palate, supported by good acidity. Different, useful, good though not great. If it did, lack something, it was punch - to make an impression beyond it's individuality. On a recent extensive trip, this and other effort's, confirm that Crete is beginning to realize it's potential in it's white and dark skinned grapes. Lyrarakis has been source scouring most of the island. Their 25yo un-grafted Sitia Assyrtiko is a find. Nikos Somarakis, the house agronomist, is the link between vines, winemaking and marketing. He drives around a lot consulting with their farmer's. He also has a keen eye in looking out for sites of exception. The rich in rare DNA Fourfoura plot, on the western foothills of Mt.Psiloritis, above Rethymno, had IRNA's Jean-Michel Boursiquot enthralled. When I visited this forgotten vineyard to shoot a interview - video, I knew that this was ampelographer's Noah's Ark. Few other place's have given me such a buzz of standing on something so rare and special.
Lyrarakis was founded in 1966. Bart and George Lyrarakis are now guiding this progressive ever improving address. It is the hillsides above their estate at Alagni that they reconnected with also a second generation associate, farmer Vassilis Topsis. As we got into real 4X4's, the vertiginous climb was quite an experience. Eventually, we stood on Pirovolikes, an eastern exposure vineyard. It does not look as it was planted recently. In fact, the Vilana bush vines were planted 27 years ago by Topsis father. The entire vineyard is enclosed for protection from sheep and goats that roam these hills. Somarakis is not one to rush. After reconnecting with Topsis, oenologist Myriam Abuzer made the wine in 2013 to evaluate it's potential. It was with the 2014 they captured that elusive bond between nature and vine. Teamwork pays off in these important discoveries. Somarakis thinks that the slow long ripening period is one of the reasons this varietal single vineyard stands out. Topsis adds: 'Snow, not just a dusting, covers yearly the vineyard '. As we stand in silence I am taking all this in. Off the ridge, four bald headed eagles soar on the thermal off this 650m mouthful to pronounce of a place site. To our left, the village of Panorama. Ahead, the deep open vistas filled with winter's calm before the storm. Shades of grey and sun beams are in frames of a still mode film. Somehow, natures wisdom, rubs off in this breakthrough Vilana. Crete is getting serious.
Pale golden. Petrol notes. Beguiling depth of fruit. Beeswax. Mineral kick on the textured classy chalky dry finish. Fresh and clean. Seamless oak adding honey'd creaminess. Big, bold, different. Tension throughout the introduction, middle story and epilogue. This is redefining Vilana. Best 2016-2021.
24 Feb 2016 © Nico Manessis | Score: 18/20
|Lyrarakis Pirovolikes Vineyard Vilana|
|Area: Crete|| |
Central Casting would assign Nikos Vakakis’s bearded face as one of Ulysses’ traveling companions. My teenage days of idolising heroes are long gone; yet, this priest’s son and retired elite commando officer is a modern-day hero. Holding his ground ...
Aegean Islands | Sweet | Muscat
Central Casting would assign Nikos Vakakis’s bearded face as one of Ulysses’ traveling companions. My teenage days of idolising heroes are long gone; yet, this priest’s son and retired elite commando officer is a modern-day hero. Holding his ground on the island of Samos, fighting outdated legislature, pushing Athens and Brussels to put an end to a statute of a Union of Cooperatives monopoly forced upon under a 1934 civil war between farmers and merchants. In short, he has helped bring what is arguably the most famous Greek wine name into the twenty-first century. More boutique producers are springing up now, and that is only good news for the island’s economy.
The Samos landscape of densely planted terraces deserves to be listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site. Neatly tended rows soar up a north-eastern facing mountain named – wait for it – Ampelos, ancient Greek for vine. It is argued that the light of the morning sun brings definition to wine. A particular site in Naoussa lies south-oriented, consistently lacking that magic which defines great terroir. My mind was getting cluttered with such thoughts while on a stop at a farmer’s garden. Sharp cheese, a rusk, wine from a mixture of grapes was on offer. Hazy, volatile, gloriously rust-hued. I seized the moment of the day, or so I thought, and took a swig. This out of condition, beyond orange, wine ferment may have had history in spades. Enjoyable? Not really. Relax Max, there are worse things in life. In front of me, a washed snow-white sheepskin was set out to dry. It looked not unlike a Cycladic marble figurine as it stood eerily silent on all four. Who knows, it may be turned into a tsabouna, the Aegean islands’ very own bagpipe. Below, the simmering sea was pastel-pink and platinum-white. With the previously described wine on offer, I could not be under the influence. Still, it felt as if Ulysses and crew were lurking about, ready to take off on more adventures. Or was the Odyssey nothing more than an attempt to chart a navigation manual? I wondered if fellow travellers had been as lucky as I now was, enjoying my rustic, bucolic surroundings where time seemed to have stopped. Equanimity. This stolen moment in life’s merry-go-round came to an abrupt end as Vakakis’s figure came into focus. ‘Let’s go and see the 1.100m-high (Muscat) vineyard.’
As the 4x4 climbed higher on a surreal landscape resembling a road of grey-slate rock, nature changed. There were deep-rooted plane trees. Also a pine forest. The air was crisp. Nature up here has not much in common with the mid-altitude, or lower, terraces filled with citrus trees in the courtyard of Vakakis Winery. The island has suffered large-scale wildfires; the scars are still present. A flourishing maquis is struggling to bring nature back into balance. From this vantage point, one begins to understand what a blessed island for viticulture Samos is. Diurnal temperature difference ditto for harvest dates. A savvy winemaker can craft a blend. Or, if it stands on its own, bottle a given year, a single vineyard. Vakakis has been honing his wine craft for ten years now. The length of Ulysses travels.
The 2013 white wine vintage is the most homogenous in years. Samos is no exception. Pale golden hued. Apricot nuances, acacia honey on the ever changing aromatics. Layered fruit shows depth and complexity. Waxy richness. Not cloyingly sweet. Creamy aftertaste with fine minerality. Well balanced benefiting from a more useful and lesser than other styles ABV13.5%. A refined sun-dried Muscat expression. A dessert on it's own: sip it away from sticky desserts or chocolate. Drink 2015 -2019.
06 Dec 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 18/20
|Vakakis Fisikos Glykis PDO Samos|
|Area: Aegean Islands|| |
One of the more amusing fashion trends is that of Santorini’s Mavrotragano. A series of hapless circumstances fuelled by human foibles, and tiny acreage, have lifted the price close to 4 Euros/kg. Ex-cellar price: 14 Euros. In Greece, a bottle retails ...
Aegean Islands | Red | Mandilaria
One of the more amusing fashion trends is that of Santorini’s Mavrotragano. A series of hapless circumstances fuelled by human foibles, and tiny acreage, have lifted the price close to 4 Euros/kg.
Ex-cellar price: 14 Euros. In Greece, a bottle retails for 27 Euros. What is it like? Medium-dark colour, feral, with spicy notes. What it does lack, especially for the going price, is body.
It all started gathering momentum when, ten years ago, the Slow Food movement in Italy listed it as a rare heritage grape under threat of extinction. Several, new to Greek wine, freelance journalists latched on to this lead and went off to find the holy grail amongst 409 wine-bearing vines. Well, I have seen the future, and it is not Mavrotragano. To insiders, this hype bordered on farce. Alarmingly, it lasted quite a while. There is light at the end of the tunnel, as I sense it has used 12 of its 15-minute glory. This pressure is about to deflate further, as a serious alternative has made its low-key presence.
Ioanna Vamvakouri, oenologist and managing partner at the re-launched historic Venetsanos winery, has insight on this morbid moment of glory of the black crunchy grape, aka mavrotragano. ‘While at Boutari, I researched Mavrotragano and Mandilaria for eight years. I gave up on Mavrotragano, as it did not thrill me. The dynamics of Mandilaria were far more interesting.’ One of her little-known swan songs while at Boutari was the energetic, food-friendly Mandilari rosé named Kouloures. It was more than an eye-opener. For a modest price, it brilliantly captured Santorini freakish volcanic landscape in a glass. Though it sold out, it went unnoticed. Back to the reviewed Mandilaria: the last two harvest prices are a steady 0.50 Euros. The reviewed wine bottle retails for 14 Euros. Acreage is small, though far more substantial than the other M, where a sniffing dog is needed to locate a vine here and a vine there.
Wine ultimately exists for our pleasure – it comes down to our preferences in profile style. So, if you like high-acid, tannic red wines that through time have become one with the luminous Southern-Aegean archipelago, then this shift in focus is worth following. This counterpoint may help push back a fashion folly towards the classics. Fashion comes and goes. No guesses what has staying power.
From the estate’s prized high Pyrgos single vineyard at Ai Giorgis. Harvested ten days later than other addresses. Deep ruby. Viscous. Round. Devoid of any hint of green notes and angular tannins. Only Xinomavro can scale such natural high acidity (7.1gr/L in tartaric), masking its 15% abv. Textbook vinosity. Refreshing, despite statuesque proportions. Not for everyone, with its chewy, chunky style. Partners protein-rich plates. The most interesting new red-wine effort from a great white-wine terroir. Best 2015–2020.
13 Nov 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 16.5/20
|Venetsanos Mandilaria PGI Cyclades|
|Area: Aegean Islands|| |
Incomers have an advantage. In their new environment, it is easier to identify strengths and weaknesses. Vasilis Laderos moved from Chalkida, in central Greece, to Venerato, above Heraklion. He soon gained insight on the better vineyards and growers in th...
Crete | Red | Kotsifali
Incomers have an advantage. In their new environment, it is easier to identify strengths and weaknesses. Vasilis Laderos moved from Chalkida, in central Greece, to Venerato, above Heraklion. He soon gained insight on the better vineyards and growers in these undulating, calcareous soils, varying from 350- 500m altitude. He founded Idaia Winery with Calliope Volitaki, who is also an oenologist. Nearby cellars also benefit from their consulting services.
Insiders cringe and carp on about the green, unripe tannins of Cretan red wines. They used to have a point. From a series of recent, in-situ tastings, it is diminishing. Nobody has done more to reinforce this change than Idaia. They consistently deliver some of the most toothsome red wines. Who else skipped the difficult 2011 reds? If proof is in ageing, the enjoyment I get from relatively older vintages of their K-M keeps driving home several messages: They are different to anything else in Greece. It is an all-Cretan experience. They capture that elusive sense of place. Their smell and taste could come out of a medieval spice market in one of the island ports, when Venetian galleys where shipping the much-in-demand sweet wines of Malevizi. Moreover, they are appetising.
Why are not more Cretan red exciting? The unrealised potential is obvious and worth tapping into for more addresses. If you are living in the northern hemisphere, heading into winter, you might do worse than track down some of this lip-smacking, earthy cocktail. In this review, satisfying refers to the understated. Not unlike how Idaia go about their business.
Strangely, one of the least-known, flying under the radar, satisfying blends. Dark. The fruit is ripe and soft. Spice. Good intensity on the palate. Tonka-bean notes. Fine tannins. Invigorating, long aftertaste. Best 2015–2019.
07 Oct 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 16.5/20
|Idaia Ghi Kotsifali-Mandilari|
|Area: Crete|| |
|Variety: Kotsifali / Mandilari|
The investment on Santorini is not about to stop any time soon. Joint ventures have recently been set up by Avantis and Tselepos. The ambitiously named Athinà Wine Group is better-known to insiders. Consulting oenologists Athina Tsoli and Angeliki Biba t...
Aegean Islands | White | Assyrtiko
The investment on Santorini is not about to stop any time soon. Joint ventures have recently been set up by Avantis and Tselepos. The ambitiously named Athinà Wine Group is better-known to insiders. Consulting oenologists Athina Tsoli and Angeliki Biba teamed up. Their track record includes Biba’s contribution in the esteemed Chrisostomou Estate, whose Mousaios, a Xinomavro-Limniona blend, has been a revelation of Pieria’s untapped potential.
Tsoli has been consulting on Santorini, as of 2011 at the Artemis Karamolegos Winery. We recently caught up. “As a consultant, I make wine for others. With Athinà, it is a single vineyard axis. It is my vision of regions in which I work. Santorini is difficult to find balance, so I blended three plots: Troulos, Kontarades at Megalochori and Oia.” The summary of her original label was also succinct: “The sculpted label depicts the female symbol of fertility, the wheel of creation, which eschews preconceived ideas.”
Athinà Wine Group has a cosmopolitan outlook, with far-reaching export and marketing synergies. They have developed a collaboration with another famous volcanic vineyard, in Etna, through Marco de la Grazia. He has been supportive on several fronts. Perhaps you did not feel the earth move in this historic part of the Mediterranean. Yet, when I started out as a commentator, such energising partnerships were stuff of daydreams. A breath of fresh air, this was a remarkable achievement by the two women. More gynaecocracy please – or should that be gynaeco-krasi?
Natural closure. Clean, delicate limestone nose. Compact core of fruity minerality. Laser-like definition. Bone-dry, refreshing and palate-awakening persistent aftertaste. Not as brackish as other examples of style and vintage. Accomplished. Singular. A complete picture: showcasing the compelling side of this unique island-vineyard.
21 Sep 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 18/20
|Athinà PDO Santorini|
|Area: Aegean Islands|| |
This unusual review comes from a different address, of sorts: It has aged for four years and a few months at a depth of 20m. Temperature oscillates between 12℃ and 18℃. This is a zero-oxygen-uptake environment. Is the land or sea ‘cellaring’ super...
Aegean Islands | White | Assyrtiko
This unusual review comes from a different address, of sorts: It has aged for four years and a few months at a depth of 20m. Temperature oscillates between 12℃ and 18℃. This is a zero-oxygen-uptake environment. Is the land or sea ‘cellaring’ superior? Tasting back to back, the barnacle-covered example goes beyond than just a unique experience: Its evolution is scintillating, eye-popping stuff. Moreover, from the submerged 450 bottles only 300 have survived. These are going to be auctioned. Proceeds will go to a non-profit marine-conservation foundation. Gaia is on to a good thing here. If you cannot bid this time, there are another four vintages in the pipeline. Expect to hear more from this unique island vineyard, whose haunting beauty is so eerily reflected in these mineral-laden wines.
Synthetic closure. Paler than land-aged Thalassitis. No oxidation, or reductive notes. Fruit is more vibrant than the land example. Moves on to a refined viscous palate. Wet stone. A nod towards Loire Savennières Chenin blanc. Mid-palate is polished (as in all Gaia’s wines), but with a character all of its own. Phenolic bite has melted. Insistent soft-mineral salinity. Tension. Linearity. More gentle than the land-cellared wine. A new-to-me type of wine: ‘young’ yet evolved. An utterly fascinating dive into previously uncharted territory.
19 Aug 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 18.5/20
|Gaia Thalassitis Submerged|
|Area: Aegean Islands|| |
Santorini’s geology puzzle is breathtaking. While researching my forthcoming book with Chef Vassilis Zacharakis, I have been fortunate to broaden my scope beyond vineyards and wine. Vassilis is a brilliant wine taster. As most cooks, he has a holistic ...
Aegean Islands | White | Assyrtiko
Santorini’s geology puzzle is breathtaking. While researching my forthcoming book with Chef Vassilis Zacharakis, I have been fortunate to broaden my scope beyond vineyards and wine.
Vassilis is a brilliant wine taster. As most cooks, he has a holistic approach – ‘balance’ is his mantra.
He understands terroir through his suppliers of local specialties. “There is no question that the tastiest fava is grown along the foothills of Profitis Helias.” This mountain (550m) and a sliver of Akrotiri are the oldest parts of what we call Santorini today. This limestone mass dates from the Mesozoic period, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. It is 200-45 million years old. Some 80–90% of the island’s vineyards, containing magma, ashes, and pumice stone are 3,600 years old.
Such thoughts came into the picture while tasting, with Mattheos Argyros, of his ungrafted 150-year-old Assyrtiko from Episkopi. The vines lie on volcanic ashes and sand on a limestone bedrock on the eastern side of Profitis Ilias. On another front, Argyros’s commitment in investment has far-reaching ramifications. Since his father Yianni's premature death, in 2012, he has rebuilt all the stone walls of the estate vineyards. He has purchased fallow land on mid-slope foothills to plant more of the rare, aromatic Aidani. His new winery is opening in 2016. Most of it is underground, with a Vinsanto cellar to house the island’s most important reserves.
“I could have made (the above ground) prettier; functionality was my main focus, though.” He is not alone on this new venture: Bordeaux heavyweight Stéphane Derenoncourt Consultants has been advising on all fronts. Julien Lavenu leads a team of fellow technicians Grigoris Skopelitis and Manos Kotsonis. This renewal by the fourth-generation producer contains an important message: There is a bright future in the island's wine fortunes, so hang on to your vineyards. I hope, after I have moved on, someone looking at this website can nod approvingly, muttering along these lines: “Yes, the vineyard protection zoning act has passed; we are planting loads more of the three As.” No prize for guessing what this acronym stands for.
Platinum. Floral. A cocktail of lemon zest and chalk. Stylish blend of 80% and 20% (seamless) oak cask. Focused. Great precision and texture. Subtle iodine marine salinity in the classy finish. Shellfish were created for such wines. More Chablis Premier Cru than Puligny Montrachet.
23 Jul 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 18.5/20
|Area: Aegean Islands|| |
Fifteen years ago, Zacharias Diamantakis was a distiller. His fragrant, textured Liatiko tsikoudia sets the standards. Its properties present this misunderstood, gifted Cretan specialty in the best light. He continues to distil now, selling his grape spir...
Crete | White | Vidiano
Fifteen years ago, Zacharias Diamantakis was a distiller. His fragrant, textured Liatiko tsikoudia sets the standards. Its properties present this misunderstood, gifted Cretan specialty in the best light. He continues to distil now, selling his grape spirit on to drinks artisans on the island. His energies have shifted to planting more terraced vineyards on his estate. Assyrtiko, Vidiano, Chardonnay, Malvazia Aromatica, Mandilari and Syrah are his choice of grapes. Location is Kato Asites, 400-650m above the sprawling city-port of Heraklion.
In this reviewed new top white blend, he has married rising star Vidiano and recent to Crete Assyrtiko. This effort is one of several new-wave wines to emerge on this now energised wine scene. On the east-facing, mostly calcareous clay soils, a new dawn is upon us. The age-old question arises: Place or grape? Well, looking at forthcoming reviews along these northern-lying scattered vineyards, there is a number of arguments that some grape varieties transform into something of note due to the place, gaining gravitas through eastern exposure and altitude. Having star grapes is not instant visa to terroir greatness – far from it.
Diamantakis points out: “Wine needs observing and patience.” In this instance, he has chosen to balance the aromatic with the mineral. Vines were planted as recently as 2009: It stands promising. Time will tell if he has chosen the right spot of producing something exceptional, capturing the magic only terroir can deliver. If anything, his sweat-equity experience in distilling, which requires disciplined precision, may turn out an invaluable asset.
In equal parts of both varieties. Vidiano’s viscous, creamy mouthfeel showcases stone fruit, merging seamlessly on to a firm, energetic Assyrtiko minerality. Smokey, nutty. Lasting savoury-saline aftertaste. Cask-driven ferment with a three-month stay on its lees offers a luxurious profile. Different. Best 2015–2019.
04 Jul 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 16.5/20
|Diamantakis Diamantopetra Vidiano-Assyrtiko|
|Area: Crete|| |
|Variety: Vidiano / Assyrtiko|
Santorini’s climate is classified as desert, and so is the nearby island of Anafi. Perched on the caldera ridge, the western-lying remaining vineyards of Santorini share marine humidity and incoming fog. This usually occurs when the south-western winds ...
Aegean Islands | White | Assyrtiko
Santorini’s climate is classified as desert, and so is the nearby island of Anafi. Perched on the caldera ridge, the western-lying remaining vineyards of Santorini share marine humidity and incoming fog. This usually occurs when the south-western winds are blowing. Streaks of mist and sometimes thick fog bounce off the caldera and continue their trajectory reaching the first half of the island. The burn-off imparts precious moisture. This natural cooling also slows down grape development, with harvest starting in the first week of August. Pyrgos, which reaches 300m, is usually one of the last to be harvested, up to two weeks later. Though the fog varies, what does not is the proximity and the humid and cooling effect of the sea below the caldera cliffs. Veteran farmer Nikos Pelekanos laments that the finest grapes were those of Imerovigli 280m. They now lie under luxury boutique hotels, albeit with breathtaking views.
What happens on the eastern side of the island, in the lower-altitude vineyards? Vourvoulos is one of the first to harvest. Ditto for neighbouring Exo Gialos. The reviewed single vineyard, all of 1.4 hectares, is planted to Assyrtiko. Yorgos Koutsoyannopoulos is hands-down the most unassuming man of the island’s current producers. Open-minded, measured, succinct in his comments, a pragmatist. During a visit, he illuminated: “The actual vineyard lies in the sub-zone of Aspra Homata at Exo Gialos. It is fully ripe by end of July, at times nudging in to the first days of August. It lacks moisture. Yields are low –even by Santorini averages.” He credits his U.S. importer, Dionysi Grevenitis, with the idea of separately vinifying this plot of 70–100-year-old-vines.
To varying degrees, Santorini’s bone-dry wines share a marine element. This single vineyard reaches further. More than any other Greek wine, Santorini is liquid geography. It reaches beyond coordinates, altitude and deep-rooted, ungrafted vines on a windswept volcanic moonscape. Swirl it in a decanter. Let it breathe. When did you last experience the Aegean cobalt blue in your glass?
Less oxidative than the 2013. Skin contact. Tank-fermented, no oak. Wet stones, salinity. No angularities, followed by a smooth, linear, very long finish. Returning wave of intense minerality and palate-awakening bright acidity. Intricately flavoured varietal punch. Satisfying and convincing. Another piece revealed of this one-of-kind vinous jigsaw puzzle. Worth watching. Best 2015–2025.
19 Jun 2015 © Nico Manessis | Score: 18/20
|Koutsoyannopoulos Santorini Ksera Homata|
|Area: Aegean Islands|| |