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Wednesday
Aug052015

Lisbon and its wine and food - part I of Portugal Tour

Portugal …The Lisbon wine region

“Ladies and gentlemen on the right you will see the port of Lisbon, the estuary and the 25 de Abril bridge”, the captains voice came over the airwaves. So thrilling that view over the EasyJet wing. As the plane banks sharply to land on the runway it always seems like I could jump out and touch that red bridge so reminiscent of the San Francisco one.

 It’s no secret that I love Portugal, am a frequent visitor and live to promote its excellent wines.

So this summer when I found myself with a reasonably free week and a burning desire to dig deeper on some of the wineries not yet visited. I took up the challenge to visit three regions with good friends Leonor and Mario, great wine ambassadors of their country and in particular of the greater Lisbon area where they live and work.

The rough plan was start in Lisbon, where the seafood is simply delicious and wine from every region  can be tasted and enjoyed, then head and hour or so  northeast to some new wineries,  then to move down South-east to Alentejo the wild, hot heart of Portugal  a region I’m falling more and more in love with. On to Algarve the Deep South to touch the bottom of Portugal and then on day four, heading back north around the Setubal region of the famed Moscadel. Finally on the last morning the Arinto zone of Lisbon, before heading for the airport.

So there was the plan and I studied the map and realized there are so many places I still want to dig deeper on. In the past I have focussed in on Douro and its glorious world-heritage-site river and terraced valley producing some of the best wines on the planet, but Portugal is blessed with so many extraordinary wine areas. A long slice of a country that juts out into the fierce Atlantic giving rise to white beaches and the best range of fresh seafood at a quality you can only dream of. What to pair it with? Well here one is really spoilt for choice…..

The crisp whites of the extreme North West Minho or vinho verde, the complex whites and robust reds of the Alentego, the mineral refreshing wines of the Lisbon zone. The fine reds from Douro and the fabulous Ports to end a meal on.

 Have we yet mentioned, Dão and  Beira,   Alvarinho, Aragonez, Touriga Nacional, Castelão, Trincadeira,  Touriga franca, Tinta Roriz, Fernão Pires the  more  international Syrah, Cabernet sauvignon, Sauvignon blanc, or Chardonnay made with Portuguese flair.

The sheer diversity of Portugal’s landscapes and wines is breath-taking!

Portugal is known for its sun, its 800km of coastline with blue oceans, white beaches, golf courses. Spray-washed cliffs tumbling to the sea, mountains, great walks like the Compostella of the North. Cities like Lisbon, Aveiro and Douro, steeped in History, culture and great food and wine.

Don’t like fish? Well.. No problem, have a perfectly prepared steak, or a curry with a fine red, and enjoy the famous pastries with a sparkling wine….. Have I whet your appetite yet…. Portugal never disappoints…

Strap in because you’re in for a treat.

We started our first evening in the bustling centre of Lisbon in the Mercado di Ribeira where you can select something from a range of restaurant spots representing over twenty chefs and wines from every region.. A trendy place to get a quick bite to eat or to grab a glass of wine after a long day of shopping. Our choice…. a plate of petiscos, oven baked fish and a sharp crisp vinho verde. Around us people were tucking into peri-peri chicken, steaks, hamburgers or whatever they felt like.

I was in the mood. The mere mention of the word Petiscos makes my heart skip a beat. Portugal is indeed fortunate that the world hasn’t adopted them as it has the Spanish tapas (served badly in bars all over Europe) no, thankfully, petiscos i.e. bits of delicious fish, octopus and calamari fried  and served in a little basket to eat long with your chilled wine , have remained intact and un-stolen by the greater world.

So on Friday we woke to the kind of weather Lisbon is famed for - glorious hot sunshine and a good fresh breeze blowing off the sea. We were heading north to an area I have come to know and love just 40 mins outside Lisbon and home to five star golf courses woven between vineyards - Torras Vedras . We had a visit to make to Santos e Santos  a family company , established in 1977 a large producer and exporter with vineyards in the Lisbon and Alentejo regions. Santos produces wine for the local and export markets under more than 30 labels from bulk boxed wine to prestige aged red wines. We did a winery tour of the modern bottling facility and I saw the largest stainless steel tanks I’ve ever seen, which had to be assembled outside and on site as they are huge. This Lisbon  (formerly Estremadura region) location is the hub where they produce and bottle 8,5 million litres of wine which is sent all over the world and also consumed locally. Their estate and winery in the Alentejo region is one of the largest near Evora. So after the winery tour headed up by winemaker Antonio Fonseca we tasted Quinta da Cidadoura 2013  wine, a blend of Syrah, Touriga Nacional and Castelão which had good aging potential with firm tannins and a blackberry cassis lingering finish. The wine was awarded by IWSC 2012, Decanter and won double gold at the China Wine and Spirts Comp.  While there we were invited to stop at the Santos estate the following morning in Alentejo where thirty Alentejano local reds would be judged and rated by a team of winemakers and wine-judges from all over Alentego which we would judge too, followed by Lunch. Super! A new Estate to visit… but more of that later in the Alentejo post.

http://www.santosesantos.pt/en/qualidade.html

We popped into the resort Camp Real now rebranded Dolce Resorts to say hello to the team and have some fish and chips and curry for lunch by the sparkling blue pool, washed down with the very drinkable Cerejeras white wine of my dear friends the Fonseca-Reis family who make excellent wines in the Lisbon area at Bombarral. The outdoor restaurant overlooks the five-star golf course the gentle vineyard-covered hills and the private villas owned by the wealthy of Europe.

 We had an appointment at the winery an hour north east in the village of Vilar- Cadarval.   Quinta do Gradil has existed since the 18th century as the home of the Marquis of Pombal recently brought back to life by its owner Luis Viera who acquired it in 1999. The estate now boasts a lovely boutique restaurant and tasting room in the old granary building which is overseen by Chef Luis Rato, and a state of the art tasting room with amazing views where we tasted some of the wines produced on the 200 hectare estate. In particular the whites were Fresh and well-structured I liked the Arinto, Sauvignon Blanc blend we tasted along with the Sparkling brut - very refreshing. The reserve white and the rose made from Syrah and Touriga Nacional we tasted were interesting as was the red blend. The estate also produces single varietal wines such as Petit verdot, Verdelho and Viognier. I took home an Obidos DOC wine Gaeiras from the Old vines. Quinta do Gradil Mula Velha red wines and their late harvest wine were awarded in the IWSC 2015. The estate runs a harvest experience for those lucky enough to be on the list who return each year to help with the harvest.

The  winery website for visits is  http://www.quintadogradil.pt/en/4/restaurant.

 

To end the day we now had to drive to the other side of the peninsula near Cascais to an international wine competition held this year in a town called Oeiras part of the greater Lisbon area.

Held in the royal palace grounds-a national monument,  another home of the illustrious Marquis of Pombal portfolio ( he certainly had his pick) with some glorious formal gardens named Poets park and an orangery, was this prestigious European wine competition featuring prize winning wines from every corner of Portugal. Also included were some Italian, German and Austrian wines. The wine stalls and   local food stalls were all set out on the lawns on a gorgeous summer evening, if there’s a better way to end the day then I don’t know what that is.

We got our tasting glasses with the smell of Petiscos and roasted pork filling the air and started our way round. By chance since all the judges were having a press moment we happened upon the gold medal winners table, where we camped out with the  late harvest wines  some from Alto Adige Italy small production and worth their weight in gold, some organic too. Oeiras is in the Bucelas, Carcavelos and Colares Controlled Wine region so we tasted some fine Carcavelos, and some Great ports and other  dessert wines. Around the grounds there were wines from every region. We met some old friends like Quinta Ameal from Ponte de Lima with Loureiro, and even the legendary, powerful Vinhao.

 We tasted from Douro and Alentejo, Dão and some truly fabulous Ports from Douro. Leonor, Ed and I followed no order just tasted to our hearts delight, after a long day. The smell of the food drew us over and we feasted at the wooden tables on freshly cooked petiscos, juicy calamari and roast pig sandwiches followed by little pies, all washed down with 20 year old port while watching locals dressed in beautiful traditional costumes perform a harvest dance. It was heaven basically, and I hope to have many more such evenings before I die.

We strolled along the beach at Praia da Torre near the fort at sunset after coffee and I can’t remember ever being so satisfied as I fell into bed in Lisbon.

Next.. Alentejo to Algave 

 

 

   

 

Saturday
Jul252015

West End WineTour London

West End Wine Tour. London Wine Week

It was on a perfect Late spring day post London wine fair and during London Wine Week, that I found myself stepping out along St James Street, destination Berry Brothers Rudd.

London Wine week is an annual and collaborative event that takes place in May across London, and includes some of the top drawer merchants, hundreds of wine bars all over London and even the corner pub that keeps a small wine list can participate.

Wine is changing for the better. Nearly gone are the days of fussy, florid men in Burgundy-hued trousers and waistcoats looking down their noses and sniffing at corks in distaste while trying to read how much they could extract from your wallet for a rather average Bordeaux they had just discovered in France.

 

 

 

Should we want to spend a good morning searching out new wines for our collections or just to pair with our Sunday Roast with the in-laws, we used to be forced to either pop along to Sainsbury’s, or to risk crossing the threshold of a Wine merchant- that bastion of maleness, ill-disguised misogyny and snobbish foppery only rivalled by The City’s stockbrokers circa 1999.

Enter Geordie Willis, Brand Director for Berry Bros Rudd, who met me in the historic Shop premises for a cellar tour we had arranged. The shop reminiscent of Dickens and Pickwick papers, with its hand-made window panes, centuries of thicker-than-treacle paint on the shop-front and the smell of centuries of wood-polish, is a slice of London not to be missed.

Geordie in his early thirties recently returned from Hong Kong where he was growing the business and full of enthusiasm, led me down to the most iconic of wine cellars. As the appointed wine merchant to the Royal Family since King George 111, and a favourite haunt of Prime ministers, Parliament, and the well-heeled since records began, Berry Bros has met the wine needs of Londoners and people around the world. Now under the chairmanship of Simon Berry, Berry Bros have occupied this rabbit-warren of subterranean cellars and beautifully appointed rooms since 1698. Arguably the best address in London.  I can hear you say, yes fine if you can afford it and yes snobbery personified and Museum-like. Not so fast.

The  Cellars which are spacious and spread out over an acre, have recently been renovated to host a wine school, teaching tasting room, and some wonderful event spaces up small staircases to admire, marvel at and to simply luxuriate in the sheer beauty of the winemaking tradition, little changed  for  centuries.

Each year more restaurants and hotels employ a sommelier (no longer a male-only profession), and each year hundreds of people passionate about wine, enrol in WSET classes or are working towards a Master of Wine Qualification. Berry Bros wine school is instrumental in innovating and being an influence in wine education.

 Cellar highlights were very early Champagne wines dusty and waiting patiently for the cork to be popped and a magical vintage to be enjoyed. They had been cellared perhaps for a royal christening, or a retirement dinner for Churchill. I love the mustiness of cellars and the smell of wood crates, I took photos rather than notes, hyperventilating as I was with excitement at the range and depth of the collection. Beautiful early vintages of Bordeaux and Barolo all carefully catalogued. Cellar envy is felt by all who visit I’m sure. The clay bricks made in a kiln before anything was machine-made provide a safe, sturdy fortress for these cellars and the amazing collection of wine they hold. If you wanted to experience the history of fashion or beekeeping you might visit the Victoria and Albert  or the natural history museum, instead this is the history of wine but it’s not a museum, it’s alive and well and current. Little has changed Geordie tells me as he reconfigures the brand for todays wine enthusiasts, just a commitment to delight and surprise with wines. To sell wines to today’s generation of collectors and wine drinkers while respecting the journey and the traditions of Berry Brothers Rudd.

 

 

 Berry Bros have 4,000 wines on offer and were the first to open an online wine store in 1994. They also offer, fine wine investment advice, cellaring at a wine storage facility out of London, a wine club, wine school run by Rebecca Lamont and Anne McHale MW. Regular tasting events, wine appreciation courses and wine trading. The team at Berry Bros represent a huge knowledge base of wine. Cutting edge stuff.

 

 

Upstairs in the beautiful dining room used to host corporate and bespoke private events and boasting the talents of chef Stewart Turner, we taste a glass of Kings Ginger made for Berry Bros in Holland. Simply sublime to revive the spirits after a long days shopping or after a day filling in tax forms. Any mixologist worth their salt in London now knows The Kings Ginger.

In a small office, a snug lounge really, we sit to talk about the brand before a fireplace and what it means to Geordie and his family. In this room, Number three, an iconic room for Berry Bros, which overlooks the intimate restaurant below ,and where perhaps Lord Byron, sat and enjoyed a glass of Cutty Sark or two over a story, are lined up six wines Geordie has selected for London wine week tastings. The No 3 London gin brand from Berry Bros with a key on it, made in Holland, takes its name from this room, holder of many secrets.

It’s getting towards the Lunch hour and I must leave Berry Bros for a lunch date. Everything about the experience left me wanting more. I think the perfect place to browse in while your significant other shops for shoes, has a haircut, or your husband visits his accountant, a place to take people who are visiting London for the first time.

Berry Bros regularly host tasting events throughout the year, a perfect anniversary gift or a birthday surprise, perhaps to soften your boss up for a raise, or a nice treat for your mum who is in town for a week? Book in advance online via the events page on the website Berry Bros Rudd.

I left Berry Bros thinking that if the future of wine branding is in hands as safe as Geordie Willis we have nothing to worry about, and lots to enjoy.

 

And just around the corner was another established name, Fortnum and Mason, where I had a lunch date. Fortnum’s as it has been affectionately named for decades is a department store  established in 1707, in Jermyn Street  in  the Harrods, Selfridges class for the uninitiated, but has become synonymous with good food wine, chocolate, tea, perfume, all the little luxuries that make life worth living. Set out over five floors, head straight down to the wine area, tastings are regularly held, ask for the agenda, or just browse the wines from around the world, in extensive mahogany-wood-panelled-luxury. While your sister looks for a hat for Ascot, your mum buys her favourite tea, or your future wife is looking for a new handbag you could pop downstairs to wine browse. Lots of temptations from a picnic hamper you can order for a special occasion, a bottle of wine for tonight, or a mixed case of wine delivered.

 Fortnums in the heart of the West end, contemporary, high-end, established but something for everyone, not just those who spend hundreds of pounds on a creed perfume.

 

Head upstairs to one of two restaurant areas to enjoy a glass of wine or eat something light at the beautiful bar in The Fountain if you’re alone and prefer mingling. I think a perfect first date venue, or a great place to meet friends after work for an aperitif. Order by the glass. Then there’s the Wine bar  in the Wine shop where you could taste to your heart’s desire, with some snacks or a cheeseboard from the food hall, or splash out on some oysters.  I dined in the Gallery restaurant, always popular around lunchtime with everyone, bankers, tourists, and everyone’s mum, so get there early. The chef recently back from Dubai, really knows how to please the palate without breaking the bank.

 

Once you manage to get a table as I did, enjoy a simple lunch menu or a la Carte served with a lovely glass of chilled wine from their extensive wine list, I chose a glass of lovely French Muscadet, dry and lemony paired with a delicious pink Sirloin beetroot and crispy onion plate.  Superbly prepared, and rounded off with the most scrumptious pannacotta with pistachio I’ve ever had.  I contemplated a vintage Sauternes over dessert, but I had another tasting to go to in Chelsea later, so onward and upwards.

 

 Just divine, you can be in and out within an hour if you’re rushing back to the office, or you just popped in for some shopping and felt peckish. Meeting someone for lunch? Perfect get a bottle of wine to share, or separate wines by the glass if you can’t agree. Impeccable service and fast. I have long believed that the difference in price between a lunch served by well-trained staff, or a place with sticky tables and microwaved food is about eight to ten pounds.  In my opinion Fortnum’s offer real value for money and a great wine day out.

If you prefer a trendier venue that serves good wine and food and offers you all the wine choice you may need in one evening without exhausting your credit card, then head nowhere else but just up Oxford Street in Marylebone to Vinoteca near Marble Arch Tube. If you’re alone you will feel perfectly happy just sipping your glass of prosecco and enjoying a delicious choice of snacks at the bar, or join in on a feasting table where a group of  five to nine people will share a roast lamb with their choice of wine. Out on a date, the three course dinner with matching wines is a rather good idea. This is hearty, varied and well-executed cooking, with the wine being brought out for you to savour first. With 285 wines from small producers across the globe, Will Lauder’s team will be on your go -to list for a night out. It’s a place you will come back to whatever your age or wine tastes. Downstairs is a private venue with a dedicated chef if you have a special event. You can buy wine to take away from Vinoteca or order online too.

London Wine Week runs from the middle of May (2015 was the second edition) during and after London Wine Fair. Participating wine bars, pubs and bistros all over London.

Website www.LondonWineWeek.com 

 

Sunday
Jul192015

Sithonia Porta Carras Greece where Malagouzia found its renaissance

 

 

After a week spent on a tour of the wineries in Northern Greece my interest in the Malagouzia variety had become deeper. So since I had two more days in Greece I decided to take a drive down the coast to Sithonia Halikidiki a very popular destination for many visitors to the beautiful beaches of Greece. The peninsula lies about an hour and a half south of Thessalonika and is easily reached by car. The other side of the bay is Kassandra also well known by holidaymakers

Having visited with Evangelos Gerovassiliou an Oenologist with his winery in Eponomeo, I came to hear of the work that was carried out in the past to prevent the indigenous grape Malagouzia one of hundreds of Greek varieties) from going extinct by the viticulturalists at Sithonia.

I was met on the outskirts of thessalonika by the Agronomist- Enologist at Domaine Porto Carras and we set off on the drive down the coast while he told me the story of winemaking at Porto Carras.

We stopped off to see the sea view from up top looking out over the sea to Kassandra and to the port of Carras.The turquoise blue water and white beaches set in such a natural paradise are breathtaking.

In 1965, the first vineyards and olive groves were planted. At the same time, work on the innovative tourism Resort, which is associated with Domaine Porto Carras, began. At the time, this created a real revolution in the hotel and wine making sector in Greece. On the western side of Chalkidiki's Sithonia Peninsula, where the verdant slopes of Mt. Meliton stretch down to mingle with the crystal clear waters of Toroneo Bay, 4500 hectares of the largest organic Greek vineyards lie in amphitheatre-like formation. These vineyards are some of the largest in Europe.



The vineyards were designed by university professors from the Thessaloniki School of Agronomy and Athens Vine & Wine Institute in an exemplary manner. For the first time a systematic study was carried out on the suitability of foreign varieties in Greece. The Domaines people have respected the magnificence of this unique environment. Wherever there were forests, they have been left untouched. Thus the trees today still constitute a natural barrier, trapping the evening atmospheric moisture which helps the vines withstand the hot days of summer.The winemaking team today that I met with and tasted with are Dioni Samara and Efrosyni Drosou with a consultant in Professor of Enology in Athens Mr. George Kotseridis. The viticulture is accomplished by Dr.Leon Zikas and Stergios Giannos the Agronomist for the Estate.

In 2000 Porto Carras Grand Resort was acquired by the Technical Olympic Group of Companies. The Chairman Konstantinos Stengos, made it the purpose of his life to bring Porto Carras to the foremost of resorts and wineries, along with Yliana Stengou Vice president  who today manages the operation.

The "Slopes of Mt. Meliton" vineyards are a model of organic viniculture, in line with modern international trends, respecting the consumer and the environment.



Thanks to the exceptional climate conditions prevailing in the area, the Domaines vineyards are one of the rare cases where most vine diseases are confronted using organic processes.
Plant protection is achieved solely by using sulphur and copper so that cultivation can be certified as purely organic, moreover only organic fertilizers are used. The yield per 1000m2, which does not exceed 800 kilos, demonstrates that the viticultural potential of the area is extremely high.

The hilly areas in the region create excellent ecological conditions for cultivating the 22 select varieties that thrive on the south-western slopes at an altitude of 200-300 m. These conditions allow the Asyrtiko, Athiri, Malagouzia, Sauvignon Blanc, and Rhoditis varieties to produce the highest quality white wines.

 Malagouzia, an almost extinct variety and one of the most ancient white varieties of the world, was revived at Domaine Porto Carras. After experimental plantings, the possibilities of the variety were recognized. Thus the production of high quality and balanced wines, with high aromatic potential, began. Today about 10 hectares of Malagousia are cultivated at around 100-400 metres.
Among the red wines, the famed Greek Limnio variety, the most ancient variety in the world, referred to in texts of Aristotle, stands out accompanied by the International varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Syrah. Which grown at altitudes ranging from 300 to 400m, have adapted well to the cool north-eastern slopes of the region.


The winery produces 1,200,000 bottles per year with 18 labels and exports to 15 countries.

The wines, I have focused on four here.

Limnio

Type: Red Dry, P.D.O. Meliton Slopes.
Varietal Composition: Limnio.
Style: Ruby red color with spicy aromas of pepper and cinnamon. Full and easy mouth, with flavor of ripe black berried fruits, delicate tannins.

 

 

Altitude: 150 - 300 m
Soil: sandy clay.
Yield: 5.000 kg/ha.

Method of Production: Classic vinification process for red wines in controlled temperatures. Aging in French oak barrels for 12 months.

 

 

 

Arithi

 

Type: White dry, P.G.I. Halkidiki.
Varietal Composition: 100% Athiri.
Style: Bright light gold color, aroma of white flesh fruits,white Peach. Fresh and fruit forward.

Altitude : 200 - 300 m.
Soil: sandy clay.
Yield: 7.000 kg/ha.
Method of Production: Skin contact for few hours and classic vinification process for white wines, fermentation in stainless steel vats at temperatures of 16° - 18 °C

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Malagouzia

Type: Dry White P.G.I. Sithonia.
Varietal Composition: 100% Malagouzia.
Style: Greenish yellow color, blossom and exotic fruits with notes of mint. Rich and round mouth, with apricot and peach flavors.

 

Altitude: 100 - 150 m
Soil: sandy clay.
Yield: 8.000 kg/ha.
Method of Production: : Skin contact for few hours and classic vinification process for white wines, vinification in stainless steel vats at temperatures of 16° - 18 °C.

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Assyrtiko

Type: White dry, P.G.I. Halkidiki.
Varietal Composition: 100% Assyrtiko.
Style: Intense citrus aroma, minerality, high acidity a characteristic of the Assyrtiko variety, refreshing aftertaste.

 

Altitude: 200 - 300 m
Soil: sandy clay.
Yield: 7.000 kg/ha.
Method of Production: Skin contact for few hours and classic vinification process for white wines, fermentation in stainless steel vats at temperatures of 16° - 18 °C.

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 

The area of Porto Carras Sithonia with its elevated positions and its beautiful forests, aquamarine sea edged with world class beaches and leading winery offers so much to explore both for the dedicated wine enthusiast or the casual holidaymaker who can taste the wines at the winery.

The resort boasts five star hotels and a range of different accommodations. As We stand on the pool deck of the beautiful villa Galini built by the architect Kapsampelis for Giannis Carras and which hosted distinguished guests like Salvador Dali, presidents and Royalty regularly, I realise I will certainly be back.

Villa Galini is now a boutique hotel with one of the finest views anywhere in the world.

Footnote:

A note of serendipity once back in London. I realise that as I do each year, I trust the chief buyer of Hallgarten Druit at London Wine fair to let me blind taste a wine that he selects randomly. Going through my photos and notes I find that last year the wine he selected for me to taste blind was none other than the Organic Porto Carras Malagouzia. A wine I knew little of at the time, but loved.

 
 
   

 

 
 

 

   
 
 
     

 

Wednesday
Jul152015

Northern Greece part 4 Naoussa and Kir.Yianni wines.

On the last part of the Greek tour 

We come to the evening with the co-operative winemakers of Naoussa, the region that lays claim to the Xinomavro grape. There were 13 producers all displaying four or five wines each. When we arrived at the beautiful boutique hotel housed in an old building in Naoussa with a lovely courtyard where we would have a dinner with the winemakers. I could not image how I would be able to taste all these wines and do justice to Xinomavro. At present they export to 22 countries and produce 8,000,000 bottles of wine collectively. So Xinomavro has no shortage of fans. They also grown Syrah, Merlot to blend with and Roditis too.

 

I started with the strategy that I would taste one of each suggested by themselves and then see, how I felt. Some were muscly aggressive wines that were so tannic I was taken aback. I did my first round.

Then I started to warm up to Xino and did my second round with a second wine of the favorites I had spotted, among the tomato leaf and herbaceous tannic wines.  Along the way I met Nana  Chryssochoou a viticulturist –oenologist  who had studied in  Piedmont Italy and it was from one of her aged 90s vintages that I started to see how it could be compared to an aged Barbaresco, and a distant relative of  the Nebbiolo Grape. These wines need age or skilful blending, or both. As for a xinomavro wine I would approach over dinner, I would choose Tsantalis Naoussa old vines wines. Smoother and food-friendly I thought.

 

The dinner was abundant with tomato and cheese featuring broadly and rich with mushrooms.   Robust plates of food, designed with the wine in mi kept coming. It was lovely to be outside under the moon and to chat with the winemakers about the future of Greece and the future of Xinomavro.

We fell into our beds at the hotel Esperides and woke to a pretty view over the plain in an orchard of peach trees .Fruit was and still is a major income producer along with wine in Naoussa. Ted told us he had arranged our group of wine writers to meet the Mayor of Naoussa, so we made a stop off at the mayor’s office on the way to our tasting at Kir.yanni   Estate nearby. The mayor presented us all with a book and we shared some news about our trip. It was a nice round off for our Naoussa visit.

 

We arrived at Kir.yanni mid-morning on what was to be our last day. In fact one of the group has a flight to catch so to Amsterdam so Ted and the Kir.Yianni staff kindly tailored our vineyard tour and tasting to be completed before noon.

 

Kir.yanni lies nestled between the mountains, a really beautiful estate. The photographers amongst us went crazy! We were introduced to the estate by Yorgos Anastasopoulos general manager. The vineyards are overlooked by the winery and a wonderful tasting-room perched above the slopes.

Kir.Yianni was founded in 1997 by Yianni Boutari.  His son Stellios now runs the company. The company has vineyards in Amynteo and Naoussa in western Macedonia Greece. In total they cultivate an area of 75 hectares with the varieties Rhoditis, Sauvignon blanc, Xinomavro, merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer.  They produce 800,000 bottles produce 10 labels and export to 15 countries. The viticulturist for the Estate is Dr. Haroula Spinthiropolou and is the author of the book Grape varieties of Greece. After a very inspiring walk around the vineyards we tasted the wines with Yorgos.

The whites were well structured and refreshing with a nice acid component. Among the three we tasted Iliked the Petra Malagouzia and Roditis blend. I like its citrusy freshness.

We went on to taste the reds which were all well made and I particularly like the Kali Riza made from  100% old Xinomavro vines a 2009 with good aging potential and the Diaporos a Xinomavro select block blended with a little Syrah 13% and aged 22 months in oak and a further 6 in the bottle.  A good rounded black fruit and dark chocolate nuanced wine. But the real surprise for me was the Akakies 100% Xinomavro Dry Rose, I loved its rich raspberry, pomegranate and wild strawberry nose and the lovely way it develops on the palate with a long dry finish, not being a great lover of pink wines, (strike 2) I was so impressed by this version of Xinomavro that I took home a bottle and had to pay for the extra bag on the plane. When enjoyed with a salmon cucumber and rocket salad back in Italy, I was as impressed with it and couldn’t get enough of it,  it paired well with the strawberry dessert too.

 

Kir.yianni now make a sparkling version of this pink wine and that’s sure to be a hit with many people who don’t favour Rose’.

 

 

 

The tour officially now over we went into Naoussa and had a typical Greek lunch sitting outside on the promenade under the trees. The Greek mezze turned into a Greek feast with course after course of meats, gorgeous fresh Greek Salads and we all spent a happy 2 hours saying goodbye to Ted.

The entire trip was a delight and I saw and learned so much I will simply have to go back to Greece as I only scratched the surface.

I returned to my hotel in Thessalonica ready to further explore Malagouzia alone, in the place of its renaissance at Haldikidi Sithonia at Porto Carras an organic winery.

Thats the next post.

Sunday
Jul052015

Greece part 3-Amyndeon Northern Greece

We drove to the Amyndeon-Florina region of Northern Greece with a tasting at Alpha estate on the agenda, followed by Lunch and another tasting at the Kontosoros Restaurant in Xino Nero Florina with a winery from Kozani region Voyatzi Estate on Polyphytos Lake.

Alpha Estate was established in 1997 by the Oenologist Angelos Latridis and the viticulturist Makis Mavridis. The 69 acre vineyard is one of the largest we visited and the coldest and lies at an altitude of 620-710 metres with gentle slopes and a North West exposure with the influence of lakes Petron and Vegoritida. The systems from plantings to vineyard management are carefully monitored and managed all the way through to the winery which is a state of the art, spotless modern winery with a new robotic bottling plant and a large cellar set to double its capacity in the near future. At present the winery produces 500,000 bottles. We went on a vineyard tour with export manager Kostas Arvanitakis, who also took us to see ninety year old bush vines they have bought and cared for nearby from a farmer[DJ1] .  Used for their flagship Alpha 1 wine 2008 vintage, a really good wine with black fruit, cassis and a good long finish. Alpha one is made from the winemaker’s best block and only 17 barrels each harvest. 18 +18 months aged in new Allier oak and twelve months in the bottle.

And so to the tasting which most of us agreed was the best organized and well run tasting ever at a Winery. Before us were placed the whites the estate produces and then the reds on a placement mat to keep track with the tasting notes and  a sheet to record notes, God is in the details. Very well done. 

The whites were interesting and the standout for me was, the Malagouzia single vineyard Turtles (I was by now keeping an eye out for it), I also enjoyed the rose' (not normally my forte) made from a blend of Xinomavro and Syrah with its strawberry notes and deep Salmon colour. The Sauvignon Blanc which was tasted again over lunch, was juicy and fresh and as a regular taster of Sauvignon Blanc around the world I found it interesting.  But the triumph on the whites was the late harvest Omega, made by drying Gewurztraminer and Malagouzia grapes on the vine to intensify the flavours of pear and the spicy floral gewürztraminer, whilst keeping a good balance between the residual sugar and acid. It was refreshing with a long finish. As for the reds, the Red entry level blend of Xinomavro, Syrah and Merlot was very approachable and may get a new generation of Xino drinkers who may have found the traditional Xinomavro tannins too aggressive. The estate also makes a decent Pinot Noir and a Tannat.

 

Winemaker Angelos Latridis and his team have a string of awards on the walls an he was nominated winemaker of the year by The Wine Enthusiast in 2014. The estates philosophy and investment into making approachable wines for the international market whilst still maintaining the attachment to indigenous Greek varieties, seems to be working. They presently export to 32 counties. The consumer and his needs seems very high on the list of the daily workflow at the estate from flavour profiles to QR codes on all the wine bottles, and I like that approach. It seems the future of Greek wine really is bright.

 

 

 

 

  

And so to our tasting Of Voyatzi wines at the Kontosoros award winning restaurant in Xino Nero, followed by Lunch with [DJ2] the winemakers at the restaurant with the wines of Voyatzi and Alpha.

Voyatzi Estate is located in the Valvento Kozani PGI area on Polyphtos Lake. At an altitude of 340 metres. Assyrtiko, Chardonnay, Malavasia Aromatica, Xinomavro, Moschomavro are the main varietals of the estate. The estate is managed organically with a total production of 100,000 bottles on 8 hectates. The original estate was part of the Voyatzi family’s extensive vineyards who were well-known wine merchants in the area in the 20th century. The wine labels are innovative and fresh and all of our group agreed how good they were. The Oenologist Irene Zande together with the agronomist presented the wines and lunched with us. They produce 5 labels and export to 7 countries.

The Ktima Voyatzi Valvento White, a blend of Assyrtiko, Chardonnay and Malvasia Aromatica, was crisp and intense with a very present acidity. Next was the 2011 Ktima Voyatzi Red a blend of Xinomavro, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, aged one year in the barrel. Ripe, red currant fruit with firm tannins. The most interesting wine for me was the Frog Prince label. The Tsapournakos the variety Tsapournakos a PGI of the Valvento region, is said to be very similar to Cabernet Franc and legend has it may in fact be Cabernet Franc that the locals could not pronounce, whether or not this is fact is unproven and perhaps DNA research should be done. The wine however 100% Tsapournakos, dark red in colour, red fruit and spice on the nose, is intense, complex round and rich in character with a persistent finish. On to the Xinomavro ( the reindeer label) which is a particular clone of Valvendo  PGI. Only 5,000 bottles of the wine are produced each year. A deep purple wine with a herbal character and sun-dried tomato with a distinctive character and long finish.

So onto a wonderful lunch presented by the chef patron Nikos Kontosoros. His restaurant which also has rooms above, is a must do if you visit the Florina region of Greece.

The Menu,

Bruschetta Anchovy, Florina Red pepper,

Asparagus Veloute

Florinela Cheese and Tomato

Salad or grilled and fresh vegetables with feta cheese

Port fillet with Sun dried tomatoes and Florinela Cheese

Wild mushroom Risotto

Lazy Pie, Phyllo pastry with crème Anglaise. (A favourite of Ted Lelekas who dines here often)

Ktima Voyatzi white 2014

Alpha Sauvignon Blanc 2014

RED Ktima Voyatzi red 2011

Alpha Xinomavro Reserve old vines 2010

Dessert Alpha Estate Omega Late harvest 2012.