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E - 38 : Greek Wines from the South (2)

Thought I would continue the wine series in a few days but got so much feedback that I will write episode 2 today. As promised, we move from Macedonia in the North to the islands to the South and a far more arid climate. Grapes can cope however. They have deep roots tapping ground water far below the surface or leaves which absorb morning moisture. That is how to survive on sandy soils which do not retain water.

On Santorini, the leaves protect the grapes with their shade and prevent sunburns

We are first looking at two wines made from indigenous grapes in Santorini. The Argyros Estate dates back to 1903 but was thoroughly modernised in 2015 and is now under the leadership of the youngest generation. The Estate's winery is cutting edge.

We start with the white, made from the Assyrtiko grape which does well on Santorini's volcanic ash and sandy soil. Some of the grapes are over 70 years old and have been grafted several times. Confusingly, a few sources state that the grapes were introduced from California in 1948. But how could it have been resistant to Phylloxera, the great wine killer desease in the 19th century, when it came fro the US? We will find out in 2022 - Santorini is on the list of our sailing destinations. After the harvest of the Assyrtiko grapes, the winery ferments them in a cold steel tank and lets the juiced age for two months. People describe the crystal-clear, yellow wine as mineral rich (no surprise!), with slight acidity and a nose of peach, apricot and summer fruits. It scores on Vivino a good ranking of 3.9. I guess it is delightful to drink. It is the wine in the middle of the bottles below.

A selection of the wines produced by the Argyros Estate Winery

The second wine worth talking about is the deep, dark red Mavrotragano - also an indigenous grape from Santorini. The grape has a very long history and was also able to resist the Phylloxera disease. Mavrotragano covers its water needs mostly through its leaves which absorb the morning dew. The wine is fermented in traditional fashion, then aged for six months in steel before being put for 2 years into French oak barrels. It has a note of ripe dark and red berries and medium tannin and acidity levels. People write that it is very smooth to drink. Its Vivino ranking is also a nice 3.9.

The area west of Monemvasia (bottom centre) where Malvasia was traditionally grown

From Santorini we move west to the Peloponnese, or more precisely to Monemvasia, the "Gibraltar of the East". We visited the town in 2017 on our way to Anatolia, just before we hit the Meltemi storm. The region produced for centuries Malvasia, a very popular wine throughout medieval Europe and one of Venice's more profitable trading products. But it would not last. After 1453, the Ottoman Empire restricted wine production severely and the wines withered away. In 1997, a group of enthusiasts led by Mr Tsimbidi decided to resurrect the business and replanted the Malvasia grapes on the former estates.

Harvest of the Kydonitsa grapes (meaning quince) on the Tsimbidi Estate

The resulting Kydonitsa white wine is described as "aromatic and mouth-watering", has a nose of quince (now we know why the grape is called its name), apple, pear and other tropical fruits. It finishes on the palate with a "lean, bitter-sweet grapefruit acidity that leads to a creamy and long finish". Always wonder whether the poets who who write these dreamy lyrics actually know the wine or just made the stuff up. Who knows? Kydonitsa is fermented in steel and left in the tanks over its residue for five months before being bottled. On Vivino it scores a rating of 3.7. Like the other wines I presented so far, it is very affordable and costs below EUR 15.-

Kydonitsa from Tsimbidi Estate in Monemvasia

The last two wines I am going to introduce are from the Argos region, the fertile plane just north of Nafplion. The former Venetian Fortress was once Greece's first capital before it was moved to Athens. The two wines are made at the Skouras Winery, another modern winery that dates back only to 1986. It is famous for its Viognier which it adapted to Greek climate and its Cabernet Sauvignon blend called Cuvée Prestige.

View from the Venetian Fortress over Nafplion towards the Argon plane in the background

The Viognier is made 100% from Viognier grapes, fermented and aged in steel tanks before put for two months into oak barrels. The wine thus retains the freshness of its grapes and develops a nose of peach, apple, mango and orange underpinned by a pinch of oak from the time the wine spends in the barrels. People comments on Vivino are quite concise: "fruity and buttery" or "dry while being fruit-forward" or simply "Good would get it again". The wine scores a lovely 3.9 on the rating scale from 1 to 5.

The Skouras Estate in the northern part of the Argos Plane - quite close to Mycenae!

The last wine for this blog is the Cabernet Sauvignon blend from Skouras. The grapes for this wine grow in the hills behind the estate at an altitude of 500 meters and thus benefit from a more temperate climate. The blend is made from 90% Agiorghitiko which grows on clay and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon from sandy soils. It is fermented in steel and only left there for a short time - one of the beautiful not-oaked wines. The wine has a strong purple colour, tastes of blackberry, black cherries, plums and dried herbs. It is medium bodied with moderate acidity and tannins. The wine scores a 3.3 on Vivino - maybe related to a comment I found there "gets better and better as it breathes". Also very affordable.

This closes my short, eclectic tour of Greek wines. Common to all of these wines is the entrepreneurial spirit they represent. Not happy with mass produced low quality wines a young generation of winemakers changed the game. Can't wait to verify what I wrote - am sure my friends were right - they said "YOU MUST WRITE ABOUT THESE WINES!"

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