Tag Archives: greece

What’s Steve been drinking?

Hallgarten Head Buyer, the man with the amazing palate, Steve Daniel, has been sampling the delights of Santorini this month with the Gaia Wines, Santorini, ‘Wild Ferment’ Assyrtiko 2017 particularly catching his eye.

Gaia Wines, Santorini, ‘Wild Ferment’ Assyrtiko 2017

My desert island wine. In my opinion, the best wine produced on the stunning island of Santorini and one of the most exciting wines on the planet.

The wine is made from ancient (the oldest wines on earth), low yielding vines, from the high slopes of Pyrgos, Santorini.

The wine is only fermented using wild yeasts. 50% of the wine is fermented in new barrels a third of which are Acacia, with a small proportion fermented in Ceramic tanks and the balance in stainless steel.

Explosive, with layers of volcanic minerals, white flowers, lemon zest and a touch of roasted pineapple. This is the fruitiest wine Gaia has ever made on Santorini! It has energy and power in abundance, and an almost endless finish.

A truly stunning wine. Due to the diminishing vineyard area, increasing number of wineries on the island and a surge in popularity of these unique wines the price of grapes on the island has sky-rocketed. Five years ago a kilo of grapes cost €1 – an average price for the world. This year the price is €4.50 per kilo. The grapes are now some of the most expensive in the world, with only Champagne and Grand Cru Burgundies coming in more expensive.

So make the most of the Wild Ferment this year, as next vintage will reflect the new costs!

WOTM: Idaia Winery, Ocean, Dafnes, Crete, Thrapshathiri 2017

Made from the Thrapshathiri (pronounced Thrap-sah-THEE-ree) grape, indigenous to the Dafnes region of Crete. Idaia Winery makes up an integral part of our Mediterranean portfolio.

In a nutshell:

A bright, uplifting wine, with delicate fruit aromas followed by a generous and spicy mouthfeel with hints of liquorice and pine and a refreshing herbal, saline finish.

The producer:

Idaia Winery is located in Venerato, a village in the heart of the vineyards of the Malevizi district, which is part of the Dafnes appellation area. Idaia is a family company, specialising in producing wines from indigenous grapes, which reflect a true sense of place. Oenologists Vasilis Laderos and Calliope Volitaki use their extensive knowledge, experience and passion to create these superb wines with strong personalities. We are delighted to include these wines in our portfolio, they are truly expressive of the terroir of Crete.

The wine:

The winemaking philosophy is to create wines which showcase the quality of the indigenous varieties. Following a thorough inspection at the winery, the grapes were preserved for 24 hours at very low temperatures. The grapes were destemmed, then cryo-maceration took place for approximately six hours. The free-run juice was removed without having been pressed. After a cold settling, the wine was fermented with carefully selected yeasts which highlight the aromatic characters of this variety. Fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks for 10 to 12 days at temperatures that did not exceed 16°C, maintaining the purity of fruit in the resulting wine.

Serving suggestion:

The perfect accompaniment to salads, seafood and grilled fish dishes.

See more information on the wine here or speak to your account manager for more details. 

Greece’s Tuscan Future

On the road north out of Athens you pass some astounding Homeric monuments, so illusory they could be a series of Hollywood sound stages. These are juxtaposed with a display of graffiti of appropriately Olympian standard, on a par with anything the guerrilla precincts of Amsterdam and Berlin have to offer. Startling.

We are driving to the Gaia winery in Nemea on the Peloponnese, home of the Agiorgitiko. Yiannis Paraskevopoulosis, the co-owner of Gaia, is at the wheel. He is a tall, well built, square-jawed, handsome Athenian of very strong opinions, not afraid to air them, yet often doing so in a surprisingly soft voice. Each statement is phrased almost as a question, a prelude to polite debate, you might think; but he is not to be messed with. When we reach the subject of Natural Wines, he raises his eyebrows: “If you ask me: what is a natural wine, I ask: well, what is an unnatural wine?”

It takes about 90 minutes before the northern suburbs give way to the Gulf of Corinth and you get your first glimpse of the turquoise and latte Aegean out of which seem to grow the distant, spectral hills, oddly familiar somehow, and you think: ah, Greece!

When we reach the Gaia winery, perched at 500 metres above sea level in Koutsi, we gaze down at the valley floor spread alluringly before us like a quilt, then up towards Mount Kyllini, its peak covered in snow, and – my God – the wind is screaming. And it is here that Yiannis discourses on his love of Tuscany, Agiorgitiko’s resemblance to Sangiovese – and why he believes the best – oh yes! – is yet to come for his beloved Nemea.

You politely listen while he states his case.

“We have wasted forty years by planting the wrong clones. Forty years!”

According to Yannis, in ancient times the land was planted with 10,000 vines per hectare, which meant the grapes had to fight to survive. A couple of generations ago the farmers were encouraged to replant, this time at 3,000 vines per hectare. The results were weak grapes, and wines high in acidity and astringency.

“When I arrived here in 1997 the wines were a pinkish red.” He shrugs his shoulders expansively. “The other issue is that Agiorgitiko is a very flexible grape. If you increase the yield dramatically you will still get a palatable wine, and if you are paid by the kilo – which is how the growers were paid then – then that is what you will produce – a palatable wine.”

He gazes round the vineyard. “Now, we have replanted. We have seven hectares, six of which are planted with Agiorgitiko, one of which with Syrah. We also work with a very small number of growers, about fifteen, with whom we have long-term agreements. The key thing here is that we pay by the hectare, not by the kilo, so it makes no sense for any growers to simply produce a ton of low-class grapes.

“But the biggest problem for the area – and this is what separates us from Tuscany – is clonal selection. We were planting the wrong clones. Or, rather, an unidentified blend of clones, good & bad! They were always virus infected. And these viruses will mean that you lose polyphenols and therefore grape sugars. What we need is to create a Nemea that is virus-free which is largely what they have in Tuscany. We have a unique plant – there is no other Agiorgitiko in Greece apart from some experimental plantings in Drama in the north.”

But things are looking up – and Yannis explains the reason for his optimism. “We have worked with a scientist called Kostas Bakasietas, who has collaborated with the Entav Inra nursery in France. Only he was capable of doing it. Our research institutions proved incapable. He has identified five different Agiorgitiko clones which are the Olympic champions of the variety. Just five. And only one of those clones is currently in operation. And there is only one hectare planted with this clone. And guess where that is. Here! In the whole of the 3,000 hectares of Nemea, the largest appellation in Greece, there is one hectare. Right out there!”

He pauses. “But. It took me this long to work that out! What was I doing for all that time, you might ask. Well, I spent all of that time trying to make the current vines better. I looked after the water stress management; I raised the canopy by two feet; I started early leaf removing to expose the flowers. So I made lots of adjustments. But the key will be the new clones. Kostas is the engine and we are the first on to the train.”

As we make our way down to the winery, Yiannis continues. “You know, what has also held us back is the cost of land, and the difficulty of getting permission to plant vines. The Government thinks us wine producers are rich and so they prefer to give the farming rights to “poor” farmers.”

Yiannis lets out a meaty laugh. “I have enemies. Nothing but enemies!”

As we begin tasting in a stylishly-designed barrel room, Yannis talks of his love affair with Sangiovese and Tuscany. “I have always been inspired by Tuscany,” he said. “And Agiorgitiko is stylistically very similar to Sangiovese. Neither of them are blockbuster wines. Both are supple and have very round tannins. If you were to blend a Merlot into a Sangiovese you would have an Agiorgitiko. I look to Tuscany for inspiration. For instance, I decided to plant Syrah. Why? Well, partly because I love Syrah, but also because I wanted to do what they did with Super Tuscans. To step outside the legal boundaries, do something different. And Syrah performs brilliantly down here.”

And it does! After a beautifully balanced 2017 Assyrtiko – fresh, lemony and lively – and a lovely 2017 Moschofilero – rose petals, amazingly fresh – we crack on with the reds, investigating first the 2017 Notios, an 85% Agiorgitiko/15% Syrah blend, showing rasping fruit and lovely soft tannins. The 2016 Gaia S, a 70/30 blend of the same grapes, has masses of sweet, dark unctuous fruit. Finally, the 2015 Gaia Estate, 100% Agiorgitiko from 40 year old vines, is a stunner, sweet vivacious fruit, raspberry coulis, grippy tannins, amazing length.

Over a lunch of grouper at a beachside taverna that looks like something out of Mamma Mia! Yiannis’ passion is infectious. “We need to move fast. We need different classifications to show the higher quality of hilly Nemea to valley Nemea. I want a different PDO for anything grown above five hundred metres but “they” won’t let me. We need to go higher to find the cooler nights. I am looking for longer ripening periods. Even at 15% alcohol you can end up with wines which are too jammy. But…” he leaves the sentence unfinished, a testament to his “enemies.”

Yiannis concedes that Greece’s reputation is built on whites. “But you can make great whites without taking great risks. With reds, you need to work harder. And even with our new good clones it is still a risk. We can learn from other peoples’ experience to get the learning period down from forty years to twenty years. But there is still a risk.”

He laughs. “But if we can get it right, then we can take on Tuscany. Yes, we have lost forty years. But I am positive. If you think that the wines of Gaia Estate are good today, then the Gaia wines of the future will blow your mind!”

#TryJanuary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marvellous Macedonia

In September, South Sales Director, Daniel O’Keefe, took a trip to Macedonia and Northern Greece to visit a selection of our exciting esoteric producers from the heart of the Mediterranean.

Joining Daniel on the trip was Roger and Sue Jones, owners of The Harrow at Little Bedwyn, a 1 Michelin  Star Restaurant in the Wiltshire countryside. Roger and Sue have been loyal partners of Hallgarten’s for about 16 years and we have become a central part of their restaurant . Over the years Roger has been highly influential, not only as a chef but also as a prominent wine writer and judge for Decanter, The Buyer and The Caterer.

Roger and Sue Jones, The Harrow at Little Bedwyn

Ktima Gerovassiliou

On the first day of our trip we met Thras at the Gerovassiliou restaurant which was house in the stunning winery.  We  started our tasting of the range mid-afternoon while as we had lunch due to Vangelis and Thras being tied up in the winery during the busy harvest period.

The Sauvignon Blanc was quite a hit and the new vintage of the Chardonnay showed amazing levels of complexity, especially when it opened up. The big hit here though was the freshness and viniousness of the Avaton and the Estate Red.

After the tasting we were taken to a fabulous and lively fish restaurant in a suburb of Thessaloniki, where the local seafood cuisine was almost as good as the wines we had previously tasted and later met with Vangelis’ wife, and the team from the restaurant.

Tasting at Ktima Gerovassiliou

Ktima Biblia Chora

The second day took us to Ktima Biblia Chora, established in 1998, the privately owned vineyard lies on the cool climate slopes of Mount Pangeon, at Kokkinochori near Kavala, Here we were  guided around the estate by the excellent Annagret Stamos who works as a chemist in the area. She provided us with a fascinating tour and insight in to the unique climate that dominates the area.

The Estate White 2016 was, as expected, showing very well and the Ovilos White was my favourite wine to date – fresher and with less pronounced wood.

Following this tasting, we went to a lovely, quintessentially Greek taverna near the beach with Annagret and tasted some older vintages.

Experimental vines at Ktima Biblia Chora

Alpha Estate

Visiting the Alpha Estate was truly an eye-opener! Located in Amyndeon, North West Greece. It is the brainchild of two visionaries, second generation vine grower Makis Mavridis and Bordeaux trained wine maker Angelos Iatrides. An immaculate Estate that almost feels as if it is high up  in the Andes.

To kick off the day, Kostas gave us a really comprehensive tour of the vineyards and an insight into the incredible investment they have made into infrastructure – underground irrigation in the vineyard and horizontal rotating vinifiers in the winery. Kostas gave a very clear explanation of the processes that were specific to Alpha and an exemplary rationale as to why Alpha are promoting Xinomavro as a key variety to watch.

The amount of energy put in to trials of different varieties and processes is very impressive. They have, in fact, donated a parcel of their land to the Thessaloniki Viticultural College. You get the feeling that the philosophy behind Alpha Estate is both long-sighted and very progressive.

The stand-out tasting of the trip (all of which were excellent) . We tasted the full range of wines and were even treated to to some of the older vintages. It was again the reds that really shone from this winery with the overarching theme of fresh, clean and beautifully structured vinious wines. Kostas was really able to make us understand the evolution of the winery and wines as they are now.

Later we went out to dinner at a traditional Taverna in the mountains near the Alpha Estate with 2 students who had recently been employed by Alpha, showing their commitment to supporting the local community.

 

Xinomavro old vines
Agiorgitiko at Ktima Biblia Chora
The barrel room at Alpha Estate
A corkscrew museum at Ktima Gerovassiliou

 

On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer and Jim’s view of Greek wine

Much have I travelled in the realms of gold

And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;

Round many western islands have I been

Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.

Oft of one wide expanse had I been told

That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;

Yet did I never breathe its pure serene

Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies

When a new planet swims into his ken;

Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes

He stared at the Pacific—and all his men

Looked at each other with a wild surmise—

Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

John Keats wrote On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer after reading Elizabethan playwright George Chapman’s translation of Homer. Although Keats was very familiar with Homer through previous translations, Chapman’s version had an enormous impact on him. He saw Homer through fresh eyes. The volta within the poem – “Then felt I like some watcher of the skies/When a new planet swims into his ken” – conveys his sense of awe at the discovery that he could transcend his role as a passive viewer of literature, and the knowledge that he, too, could create great works.

It’s a bit bonkers, but this poem came to mind during Saturday’s Decanter tasting at the Landmark Hotel, as I toured the Greek section and met up once more with Angelos Iatridis and Evangelos Gerovassiliou, whom I had visited the previous week on a tour of Hallgarten’s northern Greek estates. To say the scales fell from my eyes during my visit would be an understatement on a par with Keats’s conversion (though given that we are talking about Greece, something by Lord Byron might have been more appropriate.)

Of course, I’ve tasted them, written about them, sold them and discussed them with Steve for the last four or five years. But it is only when you go there and see what they are doing, how they are thinking, what a difference they have made, that you begin to appreciate how good they are. Ktima Alpha, Gerovassiliou, Biblia Chora, Manolesakis – all great producers. I must also get to Gaia and Monemvasia (and no doubt Steve has got another half dozen up his sleeve!)

So the scales have fallen from my eyes. Just like they did for the Cockney poet. But let’s face it, it’s a tad unlikely (just a bit!) that I’ll be able to come up with anything that matches Keats’s Melancholy, Nightingale or Grecian Urn, even with the best inspiration to hand.

Talking of which, where’s the nearest Malagousia?

Jim Wilson, Portfolio Director

Greece is the word

If you walked beyond the fountains of Granary Square, Kings Cross, on the weekend of 08 and 09 October you would have been met with an amazing array of the finest Grecian producers at London Greek Wine Festival 2017.

cuqjg5lw8ae7qvp

Hosted by Theodore Kyriakou of The Greek Larder, we attended the festival with a range of over 30 wines from our suppliers including:

  • Domaine Gerovassiliou, led by the godfather of modern Greek wine, Evangelos Gerovassiliou, who was the original winemaker at Chateau Carras in the late 1970s where he introduced the almost extinct Malagousia grape
  • Gaia Wines, offering its wines from estates in Nemea and Santorini, the latter boasting the oldest vineyards in the world, coupled with the unique Assyrtiko grape
  • Ktima Alpha, offering wines from its pristine estate in the cool highlands of Amyndeo, northern Greece
  • Monemvasia Winery, with its range of stunning single variety and blended wines from the indigenous varieties if the Peloponnese
  • Manolesakis Estate, showcasing two original and exciting blends from the perfect microclimate in Drama, north-east Greece
  • Ktima Biblia Chora, providing visitors with two delights from its estate, one of which is the most awarded Greek white – domestically and internationally
  • Idaia Winery, equipped with a collection of wines made from indigenous grapes in Venerato, a village in the heart of the vineyards of the Malevizi district

The collection of reds, whites, indigenous blends, international blends and even a sweet wine demonstrated the remarkable improvements in the Greek wine industry over the past decade and the varying delights that Greece has to offer.

The star wine of the festival was an extraordinary bottle of Thalassitis, from Gaia Wines, which truly embodied the power of Poseidon after spending five years underwater in the bottle in the caves of Santorini.

cuqdfcbwcaarvn9

In addition to the sumptuous food and countless bottles on offer to try, we were able to listen to inspirational host, Olly Smith, take us through past and present Greek wine, as well as our very own Steve Daniel guide us in all things authentically Greek.

An amazing weekend, with amazing people – one not to be missed in 2017!

WOTW: Kidonitsa White PGI Laconia, Monemvasia Estate, 2015

In a nutshell: Translates as ‘little quince’ from Greek displaying intense aromas and ripe quince characters, this is one of very few single varietal Kidonitsa around

The Producer: The appellation of origin Malvasia is referred to the Byzantine city of Monemvasia whose name was also given by the Franks to its wine. The vineyards were located at Dorieon Chora the region of the countryside of Epidavros Limiras which was a favourable environment for the vineyard cultivation. The mild coastal climate in combination with the terrain made up the exceptional features which gave a unique quality to the wines of Malvasia. This is where Malvasia was made prior to the 13th century when the local traders loaded it onto the ships from the port of Monemvasia. In the Byzantine era, the economy of fortified cities such as Monemvasia was based on trade. After the 14th century, these cities gained significant privileges and traded freely in all major trading centres.

The Wine: The grapes were carefully selected. The fermentation took place with selected yeasts, in stainless steel at low temperatures of between 14 to 16°C for a period of 15 to 20 days, preserving the quince aromatics of this variety and retaining the freshness of the style.

Tasting note: Elegant aromas of tropical fruits and quince, which follow through pleasantly on to the palate, crisp with excellent balance and a fairly long finish.

Steve Daniel’s Top Greek Picks

At this week’s ‘A Taste of Greece 2016’ wine tasting in London we will be showing our entire Greek portfolio, all 32 wines.

On hand to help guide attendees through the wines will be Steve Daniel, Hallgarten’s head of buying and Greek wine expert. Steve was the first person to bring Greek wines to the UK when he was working at Oddbins in the 1980s, and he is still as passionate about the country and its wines today.

Continue reading Steve Daniel’s Top Greek Picks