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E - 39: Greek Wines from the North (1)

Am not an expert in Greek wines because I did not like the wines made and sold in the seventies and eighties . To me they were cheap mass production with neither taste nor quality. But I always thought that Greece should be able to produce excellent wines. If Turkey can do it across the Aegean, so should the Greek.

Indeed, many of my Greek friends confirm my guts feeling. They insist that Greece now produces high quality wines. Thus asked them for some help in writing this blog. The following lines are the result of their input. Can't wait to taste these wines this summer. Luckily, our boat is departing from Athens before picking us up in Malta. Chef Konstantinos promised to buy six bottles of each wine before he leaves Greece - provided he can get them!

The modern Alpha Vineyard in Amyndaio during winter time

The first wines on the list are from the northern part of Greece close to the border triangle of Albania, North Macedonia and Greece. The grapes grow on a plateau in Amyndaio about 600 meters above sea level. The summers are warm, the winter quite cold but the regional climate is buffered by the two lakes nearby. The modern 180 hectare estate is the brain child of Makis Mavridis and Angelos latridis. Am supposed to introduce you to two of their wines:

The first is the "Turtle Vineyard" made from Malagouzia, which is called the Cinderella of Greek grapes. The variety was virtually extinct but rediscovered in the mid seventies. It conquered the heart of many wine makers quickly and is now the back-bone of modern Greek white wines. The "Turtle Vineyard" achieved a Vivino rating of 3.9 and is described as a dry, crisp white wine with some stone minerality. It is floral and fresh with notes of tropical fruits and a citrus finish. Best served chilled - goes well with fish - sounds good to me!

The 2nd wine to talk about is the red "Xinomavro" made from a Greek grape with the same name. It is a local variety from Macedonia and often compared to Nebiolo from Italy. Many people say that a good Xinomavro reaches the quality of a top Barolo. It also achieved a 3.9 ranking on Vivino and clearly has its fans reading their comments. The nose has a note of cranberry, sour cherry and a touch of clove. Thanks to its acidity and tannin the Xinomavro apparently ages beautifully. It stayed in oak for 12 months.

Xinomavro grapes from northern Macedonia

The next vineyard, Kir-Yianni, is located 45 km to the east on the foot hills of Mt Vermio but only 120 - 280 m above sea level. The estate was established in 1997 by Yiannis Boutaris, a famous man in Greece's traditional wine business. But he wanted to try something new. His Tesseris Limnes is a blend of Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer, which I thought one could never blend. It is said to come with an intense aroma of petals, peach, apricots and lychee blended with the vanilla, buttery nose of the Chardonnay. It stays in oak for 6 month. Raters on Vivino call it a "crazy blend, nice result" and gave it a 3.8. Definitely worth trying.

The estate of Kir-Yanni in the Macedonian hills

There is also his "Blue Alepou" blend of Syrah, Merlot, Xinomavro and Cabernet Sauvignon, which deserves attention. According to Yannis, this full bodied blend shows the full potential of the Ktima terroir where Kir-Yanni is located. The wine is intensely red and combines notes from forest fruits and spices with the vanilla, oak and chocolate from the barrel. He has a good level of tannin and a well balanced acidity. The wine has a rating of 4.3 on Vivino and is always out of stock. Some call it the best Greek wine. Let's see whether Konstantinos can get us a few bottles.

The last two wines we cover today are from Ktima Gerovassiliou, the peninsula which hems in the Bay of Thessaloniki from the south. Vangelis Gerovassiliou started in 1981 to rebuild his family's old vineyard and planted over the following decades many forgotten old Greek varieties but also grapes from abroad

The Ktima Gerovassiliou Vineyard is just south of Thessaloniki and a few meters above sea

One of his signature wines is his Sauvignon Blanc which achieves an amazing 4.3 rating on Vivino. People call it an unexpectedly superb Greek wines or say "I tasted balance". The nose is peach, slight oak taste, tropical fruits and a vanilla aftertaste. The vineyard writes that "length, complexity and structure are some of the oak's benefits. Sounds like another white we must taste!

The last wine for today is Vangelis' Syrah, which is the oldest wine on the estate and goes back to his parents. But he completely changed the way he works the harvested grapes. As the company writes on their site: "Extended maceration of the skins and alcoholic fermentation last about 20 days, followed by malolactic fermentation and barrel ageing in French oak barrels..." The fruity flavour and tannin makes is perfect for meat or shashlik. Given its tannins, the wine ages very well and is said to last 20 years. Raters give it a 3.8 in Vivino.

Only managed to describe wines from Northern Greece in this blog. The ones from the south will follow in a few days. When writing these lines I learnt one thing about Greek wines - they are very different from the ones I remember from my first visit to the country. I guess I have to put my prejudice away and start learning from scratch.

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