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Entries in Greece (2)


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.


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.






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









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.
















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.


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.








Greece part 1- The Wines of Northern Greece

On a late spring day in June my flight took off from Bergamo and we headed out towards the Dalmatian coast and Croatia, with me pressed with my nose and camera against the window marvelling at a thousand islands, destination Greece.

There were to be twelve of us wine-writer journalists, in the Circle of Wine writers group on a trip through the vineyards of Northern Greece with the irrepressible Ted Lelekas as our guide. Ted's enthusiasm for his country, its culture food and wines was hard to miss and we were all soon drawn in.

So it was that we started the first evening in the Palace hotel in the ancient city of Thessalonica with a tasting of the winemakers from some wineries and regions we would not visit. Places like Drama, Santorini, Pydn, Rodopi. With us on the organising-hosting team were Alexandra Anthidou from Wines of Northern Greece encompassing thirty nine different wineries and also Lily Dimitriou and Kiri Panagiotou of Tsantali.

Quite a few the grapes were rather new to me with-hard-to-pronounce names Assyrtiko, Agioritiko, Xinomavro and Mavrotragano.

 Of course some I had encountered before such as the icon white grape Malagousia, with Limnio bring the oldest of the Greek reds. Northern Greece has adopted quite a number of international grapes being used either to blend with local grapes or to make as a single variety wine such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Gewürztraminer Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc.

Interesting to see producers in the Drama area using Italian grapes to experiment with Verdicchio, Vermentino and most bravely, Sangiovese and the Portuguese Touriga Nacional  at Wine Art Estate  we tasted their wines and also those of Kitima Pavlidis who produce Tempranillo wines. I noticed too Malvasia being used to blend with local grapes.

Up to now I had at least encountered the Retsina wine that Greece is most famed for and at the airport had a Moscofilero white from Boutari which was not entirely unfamiliar. Nothing however could prepare me for the finesse with which Eleni Kechri with her family's fourth-generation winery Stelios Kechris Domaine produces the famed Tear of the Pine and other Retsinas, along with the T brand wine a blend of Xinomavro, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. We also tasted a Muscat dry white, all designed to provide a perfect match with the fish, grilled cheeses, feta tomato and olive oil based Greek dishes.

The tasting was followed by a dinner with the winemakers in a local restaurant with a varied fish-based tasting menu followed by main courses all put together with great attention to detail with the wines, the food was delicious. We also enjoyed Maronia made from indigenous Mavroudi from the village of Maronia Thrace.

The stage was set and I retired to bed with Greece and its wines dancing around in my mind.

Our first morning in Greece we clambered onto a luxury bus designed to carry us and our equipment with Ted Lelekas to the far flung wineries we would visit mostly two or so hours apart. Our first stop was at Domaine Gerovassiliou in the Eponomeo region about half and hour from the city. The estate looks out over the bay and onto the snow-covered Mount Olympus and great way to get the geography and ancient history cogs going in the brain. The Oenologist Vangelis Gerovassiliou has laid out vineyards 56 hectares in extent producing Limnio, Mavroudi, Mavrotraano,Syrah, Merlot, Grenache Rouge, Assyrtiko, Malagousia, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viogner. The compa with a production capacity of 350,000 bottles produces ten labels and exports to twenty countries. 

We were shown around the winery by Assistant winemaker /Oenologist Thass Giantsidis, who also shared the amazing corkscrew museum with a fascinating and amusing collection of corkscrews and wine making tools from every era and every part of the world. We then tasted the wines and there were excellent wines in each category, with my favourite being the Malagousia, with notes of fresh citrus and quince, which I determined from then on would become a project of mine. We shared a fabulous, light, fresh and expertly prepared lunch showcasing the wonderful fresh produce all around the bay and the local fish. The chefs are spoiled for choice and the wine pairing was simply great, all enjoyed in the beautiful modern restaurant-tasting room overlooking a wonderful view.


Back in the bus we drove around the bay and south to the foothills of Mount Olympus at Rapsani were we had a Safari four by four experience awaiting us organised by our hosts Tsantali. As we clambered out of the bus sporting our lovely white Rapsani branded Panama hats in the warm late afternoon sun, we were excitedly chatting about the journey up to the vineyards which cling to the mountains. Loaded into the shortwheel base land rovers we soon left the tar road and were bumping along a dirt road which became a track through virgin forests of oak and streams. At the vineyards we stopped and had a tasting of the famed Rapsani Xinomavro (meaning sour black) wines that I had met when having my birthday dinner at a Greek Restaurant in Italy, life is indeed serendipitous. We took photographs in the vineyards and then bumped along in the fresh air to visit a truly extraordinary small Orthodox church built during Ottoman and Turk occupation for the winegrowers above the village of Rapsani. We then visited the wine museum set up in the village of Rapsani and wandered from there through the houses built on the slopes to a taverna down in the village square where a traditional meat-based feast had been prepared for us. Three courses in and really enjoying the magnums of Rapsani Reserve wines from 1999 on to the 2009 (by then I wasn't taking notes) designed to pair with exactly these meat and tomato based dishes, some at the table who had arrived starving had to now throw in the towel. I soldiered on... Grilled lamb perfectly prepared will simply never be turned down by me. Plate after plate of food arrived, perfectly fried thick cut chips and Greek salads so fresh with huge hunks of the freshest feta cheese, I loved it all, Haloumi, vegetable relishes, I even tried the honeyed fruit preserves at the end. It was finger-licking food, and then came the lamb chops, and the sirloin.... We had magnums of wine to taste still and suddenly one understood the Xinomavro grape a little better, for without food and some age they are super tannic, but carefully made, blended skilfully, given age and paired with this food, yes! It was the perfect end to an action packed day. The sun had long sunk over the village square as we climbed aboard the bus and drove 45 minutes to a Spa hotel in the foothills.