WanderCurtis Wine

Wine tastings, corporate events, reviews and recommendations


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The Many Faces of Zweigelt

Full disclosure, I have a very soft spot for Austrian wine.  It is undoubtably through my partner, who is Austrian, that I have grown to love the many and varied delights that the country and its people have to offer. It’s fair to say that family Curtis pulls its weight when it comes to consumption of Schnitzels, quaffing of Greuner Veltliner and bashing of mogul pistes. Oh, and it goes without question that Semmel are the best bread rolls ever and nobody makes better ryebread.

Anyway, we’ve written at length about Austria’s fabulous white wines: Greuners and Rieslings from the Wachau, Kamptal and increasingly from Traisental along with the characterful Sauvignon Blancs from SudSteirmark, but not enough about the country’s excellent red wines.   My suspicion is that a lot of Austrian red wine just doesn’t make it out of the country because demand at home is so healthy. So, I was delighted be invited to a lunch spotlighting Zweigelt and the grape’s many faces organised Neusiedlersee DAC.

Zweigelt is the most planted red grape variety in Austria, second only to Gruener Veltliner in terms of vineyard area. It is a cross between Austria’s other two main red grapes, Blaufraenkisch and St. Laurent, the former, late ripening with high acidity and firm tannins and the later early ripening with delicate fruit and moderate tannins.  The result, it is argued, is a wine that displays the best of both and is fruit forward, with gentle acidity and soft tannin. It can be made in a forward fruity style at a great price point or through selection and sometimes aging in barrique as a more structured reserve wine capable of many years bottle age.

Neusiedlersee DAC (designated area of origin) is located to the east of the Neusiedlersee a large lake on the boarder between Austria and Hungary.  The designation is only for the production of Zweigelt and sweet wines although most of the winemakers in the area also produce a variety of other wines too.

Some nice Burgenlaendlisch drinking slang!

To demonstrate this the aperitif served before lunch was a Welschriesling Voll Freude 2021 by Georg Preisinger.  Fresh with citrus and apple served gespritzt.  The perfect refresher: half wine and half sparkling mineral water.

Next a young 2021 Zweiglet by Preiner Wein, served with an autumnal mushroom risotto. 

Very fruit forward with accessible berries and a whiff of spice on the nose. A nice midweight body, soft tannins and good freshness. Well balanced and a collaborative partner to the delicate risotto flavours. Tasty!

The main course of grilled sweetbread was served with single vineyard Zweigelt by Gebrueder Nittnaus, Zweigelt Golser Ried Luckenwald 2004.

The wine demonstrated how well the variety can develop in the bottle in the right hands.

On the nose cut strawberries, damp forest floor, a touch of vanilla from the Barriques. It retained a lovely juiciness on the palate with complex tertiary notes of mulch and mushroom.  Great length. Excellent and it held its own against the richness of the sweetbread.

Finally with a desert of baked apple and vanilla cream a TBA Welschriesling Siddartha 2018 by Johannes Muenzenrieder.  Wow a delicious nose of peach, roasted nut and honey, more of the same in the mouth, lovely balance and length. Sweet wines from near the Neusiedlersee benefit from the morning mist and afternoon sun and somehow retain great freshness.

The line up of Zweigelts on the free pour table displayed a spectrum of wines most of which were juicy and tasty from the off with some cellared samples that had developed lovely complexity. There were nice examples by Artisan Wines, Weingut Kummer, Keringer, Preiner Wein, Hannes Reeh, Salzl Seewinkelhof and Allacher.

Hopefully we’ll start seeing some of these lovely Zweigelts appearing in shelves in the UK soon!


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Veritas Vineyards and Winery, Virginia ‘as happy as it can be’

The magnificent vista from the sauvignon plots on the high ground at Veritas

I was very keen to visit Veritas. Andrew Hodson, the owner like myself is also an English Doctor. There is a long historical connection with physicians and wine. Amongst many examples is the founder of Penfolds in Australia by Dr Christopher Penfolds who was a member of the society of Apothecaries in London. For more information about this I strongly recommend reading ‘Wine & Medicine: An Enduring Historical Association

Andrew and Patricia bought the land at Veritas 23 years ago and have transformed it into one of the go to destinations in Virginia wine country. Alongside producing supreme quality wines they have onsite luxury accommodation, a lovely restaurant and manage events and weddings. It’s a magnificent property.

Emily Hodson, Winemaker, Veritas Winery

I was lucky enough to be hosted by Emily Hodson, winemaker and daughter of Andrew. It is very much a family run business. Emily’s brother George the general manager also popped in to say hello. We sat over lunch and tried a series of Veritas wines.

After the tasting, Emily took us to explore the land in her 4WD. This led us to the peak of the property at over 1000 feet and to panoramic views over to the blue mountains of the Appalachian range. The Appalachians stretch thousands of miles parallel to the East coast of the United States.

She showed us the Afton mountain gap. This is one of the few gaps in the mountain range which allows for a flow of wind. This helps decide the orientation of the vines on the hilltop. The air flow provides not only a cooling effect from the heat of the Virginian Summer, but also helps to suppress disease which would be prominent in the humid conditions. The Sauvignon Blanc vines were thriving in this environment.

Wines tasted- whites

Veritas Scintilla 2015 sparkling wine

Traditional Method

100% Chardonnay Blanc de Blanc, dosage 7 g

Aged On lees 7 years. This was the First vintage

Brioche toasted almonds marzipan fresh apple and lemon crisp and refreshing.

Veritas Sauvignon Blanc 2021

Aromatic style, passion fruit. Reductive, cool ferment

Fresh some pyrazine

Grown at higher altitude and benefits from air flow through the Afton mountain gap

Veritas the momentarius collection 2019

Monticello white blend, no rules on what grapes to use or the vilification process

Petit manseng, chardonnay, viognier and sauvignon blanc.

Aromatic Sauvignon Blanc feels the most predominant. Nice balance.

Veritas the momentarius collection 2021

More restrained than 2021 and the petit manseng characteristics come through

Could not make a 2020 vintage as frost destroyed much of the crop in this part of Virginia

Wines tasted -reds

Veritas Cabernet Franc 2009

Bordeaux nose of cedar, tobacco and some aged character coming through, also effects of barrel hints of smoke and chocolate

Soft tannins nicely integrated, fruit dropped out

Initially slight Smokey and sulphurous but this blew off and complexity developed.

Veritas. Cabernet Franc Reserve 2017

As Benoit at Pollak had found the 2017 was a Great vintage. Emily’s description made me laugh out load!

‘As happy as it can be

Delicious ripe cherry a fruit Bomb.

Pot pourri, floral, dry petals, and some dried herbs such as thyme really seductive nose, fabulous.

Veritas Cabernet 2021 franc

Plenty of fruit raspberries, nice balance of oak

More simple candied fruit but delicious easy drinking a bit more Pinot like

Veritas 3 2009

3 winemakers 3 vineyards 3 grapes a collaboration with Veritas, Pollak and King Family

A blend of 3 grapes Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet franc

Fruity fresh, lively, balanced with a Savoury salty mineral element. Chocolate pudding on the finish

Veritas Reserve 2019

Their Flagship wine

Can’t use ,vintners reserve, name due to name protection rights. I suggested Emily’s Reserve which went down well.

Violet chews, floral elements came through.

Veritas Petit Verdot 2019

Aromas of blueberry , Intense colour, deep ruby

Chunky dark thick skinned berries

A bit tight closed needs a decant nice rounded tannins, food wine, some violet notes

Lilies floral improved. Tried over the next few days whist in Washington DC and became more complex.

Veritas Petit Verdot 2017

Blueberry jam lots of delicious fruit a great top vintage clearly evident

Veritas Petit Manseng 2014

Dessert wine Great retention of acidity

Nuttiness slight oxidation 85g/l per litre sugar

Lovely complex most of candied pineapple and hazelnuts very ripe apples beeswax

Really well made, Jurancon like dessert wine

This tasting highlighted the potential in Virginia to establish some novel grape varieties such as Petit Manseng.

This grape in many ways is highly suited here. It ripens late leading to high sugar but retains its acidity

The thick skin helps with disease resistance and the high skin to pulp ratio intensifies flavours.

The 100% petit Verdot rarely found in the Old world seems to work here with the warmer climate.

It was interesting to try along with traditional varieties some more unusual wines such as dry Petit Manseng and 100% petit Verdot.

I managed to pick out some of Emily’s personal characteristics in the wines, such as the violet aromas from the Cabernet Franc and the blueberry in the 2009 Petit Verdot which has parcels of grapes grown on heavier clay soils.

It was also lovely to see the collaboration and friendliness between the winemakers exemplified here by the Veritas 3.



Matthieu Finot, Winemaker, King Family Vineyards

French winemaker Matthieu very kindly networked me in with local winemakers which facilitated my arrangements in Virginia.

I really like the way the winemakers join forces in the wine industry. This is something I have found throughout the world and is a joy to see. In so many walks of life people work against each other, more interested in bettering their own aims. Not so in the wine industry. It’s about sharing ideas, sharing innovations and helping the industry as a whole.

Matthieu was a shining example of this. He is from Northern Rhone and has a vineyard with his brother. He has worked in Bandol, Rhone and also Burgundy.

Matthieu proudly showing off his magnificent range of King Family wines

The wine industry is still relatively new here despite the planting of vines dating back hundreds of years by Thomas Jefferson at his Monticello estate. Matt is carrying on with developments and is planting Nebbiolo here. His favourite wines are Pinot and Syrah, but it’s too warm and wet here and the Clay soils don’t lend to those varieties Cabernet franc red does best being more resilient. The Soil is not right for Cabernet Sauvignon You can also do a lot with Cabernet Franc, such as Rose dessert wine, light style red and more full bodied red. It doesn’t have the acidity of the Loire and doesn’t show the methoxypyrazines shown in the old world. Matthieu wanted to produce a dry rose when he first came here. There was Some scepticism doing a dry rose now it’s the biggest seller.

Wines tasted, reds

King family Crose

100% merlot medium colour 1 day skin contact

Their biggest seller, Sold in cans too

Nice red fruits and balance

King family Petit manseng

I tried a dry petit manseng at Veritas too

High acidity, some honey and nutty notes and candied pineapple nicely crafted

Kings family vineyard Brut Blanc de Blanc 2015 100%Chardonnay

7 years ageing on Lees

Chalky Lemon apple crisp fresh

Kings family vineyard Viognier 2021

Watermelon apricot bitter finish

Not same oily texture as others. Harvested a little early so a fresher style

Kings family vineyard Chardonnay 2021

Barrel fermented with malolactic 25% new oak light citrus fruits fresh smokiness oak

Kings family vineyard mountain plains 2021

A blend of Chardonnay petit manseng and viognier, third each

Petit manseng does well in the Basque Country humid and clay in Jurançon

Works well here too maintain acidity and high brix. Very high acid good

18 months barrel, pineapple nuts some oxidation

Kings family vineyard Viognier Orange wine

Skin contact Viognier orange wine

Fermented like a red wine with punch down and malolactic

Very interesting complex nose Spicy nutmeg saffron orange, clove

Tannins but soft, served at room temperature fine but bitter tannins

Big wine interesting

Kings family vineyard Cab franc

Light style

Harvest early 12.3% wants fresh light style

Tuesday evening pizza night wine simple fresh light fruity

Bit savoury slightly vegetal

Kings family vineyard Meritage 2019

Flagship red which sells the most

18 Months in barrel

Merlot, petit Verdot, cab franc and Malbec blend

Needs time to develop slight bitter

Kings family vineyard Meritage 2008

Matthieu pulled something a bit older out of the cellar, Unfiltered wine

Showing some Bret horsiness with some fruit and good structure

Kings family vineyard Petit verdot 2019

Blue fruit, deep colour lots tannins full bodied

This tasting highlighted how well some varieties are doing here, such as viognier and petit verdot

I like the style of Cabernet Franc less pyrazined and more fruit forward which can be very green and herbaceous in places such as Chile and also Bordeaux but here seems to be a nice balance between new and old world. In the hands of gifted winemakers such as Matthieu it was also interesting to see the range of wines made and the embracing of new styles such as the viognier Orange wine.


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What’s trending in the Virginia? An exploration with five talented winemakers in Monticello AVA.

Monticello AVA, view from Pollak Winery with the Blue Mountains of the Appalachian range in the background

Blind Mondays in London was the fabulous concept of Guillaume Raffy. A team of wine lovers would meet on Monday evenings in a pre selected London restaurant and bring along hidden wines, following a theme.

I’ll never forget the Nebbiolo evening.

One wine stood out. More full bodied and fruit forward than Nebbiolos I’d had before, but with that lovely seductive perfume and classic structure.

The wine was revealed – Barboursville vineyards, Virginia, Nebbiolo, part of the Zonin family.

That was about ten years ago and I’ve been planning to visit Virginia since.

To further whet my appetite the book ‘Billionaires Vinegar’ helped set the scene.

A bottle of Lafite, with the initials of Thomas Jefferson, dated 1787, was offered to Christie’s by Hardy Rodenstock, a German wine collector . He refused to say exactly where it had come from. Allegedly a hidden cellar in an unidentified 18th century house in Paris, possibly part of a Nazi hoard.

Jefferson spent time in France and was an avid wine lover. He regularly sent wine back to Monticello, his home in Virginia. He set up some of the first Vineyards in Virginia in the 1800’s.

Bottle of Chateau Lafite from Jefferson’s house in Monticello

There are now 1200 hectares of planting and 220 wineries. The AVAs are Eastern Shore, Monticello, Northern Neck, North Fork of Roanoke, Rocky Knob, Shenandoah Valley.

I will focus on Monticello AVA and have chosen five wineries to visit based on reviews in Decanter Magazine and from personal contacts in the wine trade.

Accommodation

Suggested places to stay in the area include – The farmhouse at Veritas winery, Afton mountain Vineyards and Boar’s Head Resort, near Charlottesville.

Benoit Pineau – Pollak Vineyards

The supremely talented Benoit with degrees in Oenology and Viticulture from Bordeaux Blaqufort

Winemaker Benoit Pineau took me on a mini safari around the 100 acre property, planted with 34 acres of vines.

It’s a beautiful property with a large decked tasting room overlooking a lake with the blue ridge mountains providing the backdrop.

Benoit discussed the disease pressures here in Virginia. They have high humidity and high rainfall in summer. Up to 900mm to 1000mm annually make it a relatively high rainfall region for viticulture.

Note the mounding at the base of the vines to protect the graft site for the winter

They can’t grow organically as pesticides are required. Furthermore there is a frost risk. In 2020 most of the vine growth was wiped out. Then there’s the small matter of hurricanes, which can wipe out a harvest. Not to mention Deer and Bears necessitating the perimeter fencing . Oh, and netting to prevent the birds stripping the grapes.

It’s a wonder they can make wine here at all!

The soils are mainly clay with silt so Merlot and Cabernet Franc do well here but there’s less Cabernet Sauvignon which ‘doesn’t like it’s feet wet’. They are planting their first Nebbiolo vines which explained the mounds of soil surrounding each vine base to protect the graft sites throughout the winter as in the photo above.

Wines tasted – white wines

Pollak Sauvignon Blanc 2021

French style Sauvignon, French clones, restrained

Neutral oak Crisp fresh

Served a bit cold and then opened up.

Lovely balance

Pollak Chardonnay 2020

Hints of peach, banana apples pear

Beautiful balance again

Pollak Viognier 2021

Floral and apricots.

Lovely texture, Viognier typically has lower acid

Difficult to press as skins thicker often giving a Rich oily texture

Very smooth with good length. Lovely

Pollak Pinot gris 2021

Delicious, ripe pear on the nose

Mouthfeel Is rich and slightly oily, balanced, alive, Skin thicker, Lees 4 months, Little battonage

Award winning wine. Beautifully crafted

(Vin pair voted in top 50 wines of the world)

Wines tasted – red wines

Red wines. Benoit generously served one of their best vintages 2017 which he described as perfect.

The ‘perfect’ 207 vintage selection

Pollak Cabernet Franc 2017

Fantastic with a nose of blueberries, raspberries

Tons of fruit, No greeness No herbaceousness

Delicious ripe soft tannins. Really enjoyed a Cabernet Franc without all that Capsicum greeness.

Pollak Meeitage 2017

CF 60% merlot 24% petite Verdot 16%

Beautiful balance, 18 months 40% French oak

Bordeaux blend

I didn’t realise they have to Pay a dollar case to use the name Meritage!

Ripe delicious tannins, smooth and well balanced.

Pollak smuggler 2017

Merlot 56% cf 24% CS 20%

Slightly more pyrazine and black currant

Beautiful balanced too

More structure more tannic than Meritage

Pollak Mille fleur

100% petit manseng

Petit Manseng is Popular in Virginia following Horton winery winning a competition in California.

It is however difficult to grow, has high acidity but can lose acid fast in the heat.

This was fortified and stored in barrels for 5 years

Really complex, Brazil nuts, Prunes.Delicious

A wine transfusion? Benoit’s creativity demonstrated here with bag of red wine connected by tubing to maintain full barrels

This was a great start to my exploration of Virginian wines. Benoit is passionate and focused and brings experience from working in France, California Australia and even a spell making rum in Guadaloupe! The wines tasted were top quality. It’s a shame I can’t get them at home in the UK!


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Domaine Foivos, Cephalonia

Assos sunset

The late afternoon breeze begins to dissipate the heat of the day, the sun gently sinks over the sea, islands in the distance emerge in silhouette as the sky shades pink and purple. Evening time on the Greek islands.  Hard to improve on that I hear you murmur? 

Well actually there is a way to dial up the experience: make sure you are enjoying a glass of chilled Robola on the island of Cephalonia!

In Captain Corelli’s Mandolin the bottles of Robola that the drunken priest downs while hiding from his flock would bear, I imagine, little relation to the excellent wines the island currently produces.  However, the storey does serve to illustrate the very long tradition of wine making on the island which stretches back over centuries of Venetian influence.

Wine is produced on several of the Ionian islands but Cephalonia is known as the home of one of the best Greek white wines Robola. Perhaps not as famous as Santorini’s Assyrtiko but definitely worth searching out particularly if you enjoy fresh, crisp and minerally wines with elegance and structure. The best are grown in poor limestone soils high up on mount Ainos.

Grapes drying at Sclavos Wines

Robola is not the only show in town though indeed there is a bewildering array of grape varieties grown on the island. The other main grape varieties are Mavrodaphne and Muscat Blanc.  Mavrodaphne is a red grape traditionally used to produce a sweet red wine, thanks to the Venetians love of the Passito method of sun drying their grapes, but now also made into a delicious dry reds too.

Local wines are widely available in all the tavernas, many stocking the excellent entry level Robola produced by the Cephalonia Cooperative which arrives in a cloth sack. Also, sometimes some more premium higher altitude and even single vineyard Robolas by the Cooperative and wineries such as Gentilini. Do try the various alarmingly coloured rose wines (think Aperol Spritz) that are made on the island too!

Sadly, I only managed to visit Sclavos Wines and Domaine Foivos whilst on the island and as Adam has recently reviewed Sclavos Winery here I will focus on Domaine Foivos.

Domaine Foivos

Domaine Foivos was formed when Theodore Orkopoulos bought the Matzavino family winery which is one of the oldest wineries in Greece. In fact, Theodore believes that Homer mentions the wines in the Iliad!

The estates vineyards are located in different parts of the island and contain a large range of very old indigenous grape varieties many of which are pre-phylloxera.  Since the phylloxera louse killed off most native European vines by attacking their roots nearly all modern vines have been grafted onto American vine roots which are resistant so it is unusual to find old ungrafted vines that have survived.

It became evident during our three hour long tasting that Theodore possesses just the sort of boundless enthusiasm and a relentlessly enquiring mind needed to fully grasp the wine making opportunities that this precious library of vines presents.

Theodore Orkopoulos winemaker at Domaine Foivos

We started with a master class on Robola show casing different wine making techniques applied to grapes from the vineyards on mount Ainos.

Black Label Cephalonian Robola, 2021.

The vines are fully pressed and allowed a bit of skin contact.

The nose is a little floral with a touch of pink grapefruit. On the palate nice fruit, good balance and freshness and a pleasant prickle from the skin contact. A very nice wine that has tension and character.

Blue Label Cephalonian Robola, 2021.

This wine is also made with a full press but without any skin contact.

A refined nose of peach and wet stone. In the mouth a slimmer body and softer acidity with good length.  This wine is available in the UK.  It would work well as an aperitif to go with the sunset followed by the black label with dinner at the local Taverna.

Barcarola Cephalonian Robola, 2021.

This version of Robola is made with only the first free run juice of a selection of the grapes.

It has quite a different nose, much more perfumed, floral with delicate citrus notes.  Theodore describes it as more pure expression of the grape. Again, a lighter body, very nicely balanced with a long lingering finish. This is a more premium wine.

Orange Robola 2021

This wine is made with 5 days skin contact which is relatively restrained by natural wine making standards so it is not very ‘orange’ in appearance. Possibly why I liked it so much! Ripe fruit on the nose, white peach, rounder on the palate with more ripe fruits and a nice prickly sensation. Very tasty.

Amphora Robola, 2021

This wine is made in small clay amphora.

On the nose more herbal notes over the top of peach, wet stony notes and something floral like lilac. Also complex in the mouth with a very nice texture and length.

East – West Robola + Assyrtiko, 2020

This wine is a 50:50 mix of Robola from Domaine Foivos and Assyrtiko from Zanthi.

It has a rich nose of peach and other tropical fruits and on the palate a lovely a mix of peach fruit and salty citric notes from the Assyrtiko.

Asteris Robola Rose, 2020

A bit of mavrodaphne is added to give a splash of juicy fruit to layer on top of the peach and citrus profile of the Robola. This is not one of the alarming coloured roses mentioned in the introduction, looks very respectable.

Lemona Sun dried Robola, 2012

Grapes are dried in the sun for up to 20 days. Then pressed to make this amazing sweet wine.  Around 10kg of grapes are needed for each half bottle!

On the nose sweet fruit, caramel. In the mouth complex flavours of lemon, nuts and honey. Very long, great balance with real lift and length.

Appropriately named after Lemona goddess of the environment.

Foivos is one of the few wineries offering so many versions of Robola and it’s a result of Theodoros’ continuing search to discover all aspects of the grape.

The masterclass of Robola over, Theodore explained what had prompted him to start to experiment with using amphora. It’s understood that the ancient Greeks heavily watered their wine down and Theodore wanted to find out why.  He set about making wine using clay amphora in the way that the ancients did, which included adding wooden staves and found that the results were good. However, Theodore realised that storage of the wine in clay amphorae over weeks and months would cause the wine to oxidise badly.  So, the theory is that by the time the important religious festivals came around in the new year the wine from the last harvest would have needed to be heavily diluted to make it drinkable.

Theodore also believes that the ancient Greeks stored wines under water possibly to try and prevent it spoiling through oxidation and this has also led Foivos to carry out some very interesting experiments in aging wine under the sea.

Nautilus White, 2021

Made from blend of Tsaousi, Vostilidi, Muscatel and Muscat grapes this wine is bottle aged for 6 months in the winery aquarium which creates and environment of total darkness, constant temperature and lack of oxygen. On the nose lemon pith, lemon peel, fresh green herbs and a floral note. In the mouth round, medium acidity, more pith and citrus notes with a pleasant slight bitter bite at the end. Very vibrant and long. Available in the UK.

Nautilus Rose, 2021.

Mavrodaphne, Muscatel, Muscat, Tsaousi and Vostilidi grapes. Also bottle aged in the winery tank.  Very aromatic, wild flowers and wet stones.  On the palate soft red fruits, super dry with a fresh lift and a dry salty finish. Very nice in deed.  Exported to British Columbia amoungst other places.

47 and 47 Undersea

47, 2017

The wine is a remarkable blend of 47 varieties: 41 whites and 6 reds to make a rose. This is where the field ‘library’ of indigenous grape varieties comes in.

Mineral, stony notes on the nose with fresh cut soft red fruit. On the palate strawberries, raspberries then baked lemon, very fresh.  Complex with waves of flavours, long.

47 Undersea, 2017

As if 47 wasn’t extraordinary enough the same 47 varieties have also been bottle aged for 18 months under sea. The wine is stored in cages at depth of 22 m. As with the Nautilus wines this ensures, darkness, constant temperature and lack of oxygen but in addition higher than atmospheric pressure and a saline environment.

This wine has a different nose to the straight 47, with less obvious fruit, the fruit more integrated with the mineral notes. In the mouth tangy fruit salad flavours, complex with a stony and salty edge.  Amazing to see the difference to the non-sea aged version

Red varieties.

Myesis, 2017 (initiation)

Made of 3 grapes mostly Mavrodaphne but with Cephalonian varieties: Theiako and Araklino.

A nice whiff of marzipan oh the nose with a bit of spice. A good medium body with soft rounded fruit and subtle barrel notes. 

Daphne Daphne, 2016

This is a dry wine made from 100% Mavrodaphne. On the nose, plums, farmyard, smoke. In the mouth medium body, a bit of lift, dark fruits and savoury notes, medium soft tannins.  Very tasty.

Amphora Red, 2021.

Another dry red mostly Mavrodaphne with 15% Vostilidi. The clay amphora gives the wine an overdose if oxygen for about 2 weeks while it ferments. Also, the amphora mean that the fermentation temperature is uncontrolled.

Nice balance, medium acidity, soft but mouth coating tannins. Lovely.

42, 2016

Another remarkable blend this time of 42 red varieties from heritage vineyards. Theodore says the grapes compete in the glass to come out on top, a continuing battle with new winners presenting themselves at each stage of the wine’s development. A rich nose of dark and red fruit and smoke. Medium body, a kaleidoscope of fruits, toasty notes, complex. Delicious!

Methyse, 2004.

Named after a follower of Dionysus the god of winemaking.

This is the traditional sweet wine of Mavrodaphne.

Super dark in colour, nose of chocolate, Kirsch, dried oranges and Christmas spices. Sweet but with enough freshness to lift it, complex and very long. A real treat!

Tasting the Foivos range of wines with Theodore at his cellar was a fascinating experience! It is wonderful that way he takes inspiration from the past, cherishes local heritage and yet continues to explore and experiment with new ways of expressing the wines. Do seek out the wines and try them.


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Kefalonia, Ionian Islands, Greece

Asos village North West Cephalonia

After recent visits to Santorini and Crete, I was keen to continue exploring and increasing my knowledge of Greek wines. I could not miss the famous Robola of Cephalonia, the largest of the Ionian Islands. Other important grape varieties found on the Island are Muscat of Kefalonia, Vostilidi, Zakynthino, Tsaoussi and Moschatella, and the red grape Mavrodaphne.

I chose to visit Sclavos wines on the Paniki peninsula, following recommendations from the excellent ‘Wines of Greece’ recently published by Yannis Karaksis MW.

Yiannis Papadimitrakopoulos at Sclavos

Sclavos Winery, Lixouri, Paniki Peninsula, Kefalonia

I am grateful to Yiannis Papadimitrakopoulos from the winemaking team who gave us a fantastic introduction to Cephalonia and Sclavos wines.Yiannis has a degree in Oenology from the University of Athens and a Masters degree in vine, wine and terroir from the university of Burgundy in France. He has gained great experience in wineries across the world.

The history of Sclavos commences generations ago. Sclavos’s great grandfather made wines in Odessa.

Evriviadis Sclavos runs the business and is a professional viticulturist and adopted the system of biodynamic agriculture. In 2014 they had to seek investment following extensive damage to the winery following an earthquake.

Biodynamic farming

The concept of Biodynamics started in the 1920’s with an Austrian philosopher, Rudolph Steiner.

Biodynamic winemaking involves a set of farming practices that views the vineyard as one organism. Everything in the universe is considered connected including the moon and planets and stars.

It is important to follow the calendar and lunar cycles. There are particular fruit days for harvesting grapes, root days for pruning flower days to leave the vineyard to rest and leaf days for watering. It is a holistic and homeopathic approach to viticulture.

Natural materials, soils, and composts are used in the vineyard. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides are forbidden. Animals such as horses, chickens and sheep roam around helping create a more natural fertile environment. Biodynamic farming seeks sustainability aiming to leave the land in as good or better shape as it was found it for future generations.

Whilst touring the winery we witnessed one of the many natural products used. A crate of dried horsetail. This is made into a form of tea which is diluted many times to create a homeopathic spray to use in the vineyard against disease.

Other more bizarre practices involve burying cow horns filled with manure over the winter preferably from a lactating cow. It is then diluted and sprayed on the soil.

Many of these practices may appear wacky and bizarre. They certainly require a deep passion to follow them.

I have to admit to buying into biodynamism.

Some of the best wines I’ve ever had are biodynamic such as Felton Road, Zind Humbrecht ,Chateau Pontet Canet and Chapoutier.

Views from Sclavos, Kostilidi old vines in foreground Mount Ainos in the distance

Sclavos also practice minimum intervention wine making and produce natural wines with no sulphur added and Orange wines often with long aging on lees which protects wine from oxidation

They have 14 hectares of  their own vineyards all over the Island including Robola on Mount Ainos

Some grapes are purchased which may not be biodynamic.

Total production is 160000 bottles

They are fortunate enough to have some 100 year old ungrafted phylloxera resistant vines.

Sales are widespread including France and Europe and USA

We were lucky to catch the Last day of the harvest. A  team of workers were bringing in the Roditis grapes when we arrived. Interestingly there were red and green grapes. Ioannis explained that they were from the same vines but Roditis can have both colours on the same vine.

I couldn’t resist pinching a few from the sorting table. The pink were decidedly sweeter.

We were led through the process of wine production. First the crates were emptied onto a vibrating conveyer belt with perforations in it so debris falls through.

Then a multitude of workers meticulously picked out  debris and any damaged or diseases grapes. At the latter end of the conveyer belt a couple of people snipped the larger bunches into more manageable sizes. They were then fed onto a steeply sloped shelved ramp and fed into the destemming machine.

It was mesmerising watching the destemmer in action. Whole perfectly formed bunches became individual slightly macerated berries and the stripped stems were neatly piled aside ready for composting or feeding to the local goats.

The berries were then pumped via a large bore tube into the hydraulic pressing machine. This is a cleverly designed bit of apparatus.

Once in the metal cylinder a bag inflates inside gently pressing the berries and free flowing juice is pumped off into tanks.

No yeast is added at Sclavos. fermentation begins with naturally occurring yeast.

This method is more risky but leads to more complex wines and is a more natural process.

We followed Ioannis into the winery

I spotted a 1500 litre vat of red grapes. They were releasing a heady aroma of alcohol. They were nearing the end of their 30 day natural fermentation and maceration and needed  a daily Pigeage (pumping down)

I was fortunate enough to be allowed to do the manual punch down. I did this with great enjoyment but perhaps not great effectiveness as I didn’t correctly wet the cap on the final motion of punch down.

My first attempt at Pigeage!

More expertise in the winery is needed until I can ever produce my chosen cuvee.

Wines tasted outside surrounded by the wineries cats and dogs.

Alchimiste 2021

Natural yeast, low sulphite,Good sales in Canada.From the Peloponnese high altitude

Mixture of 4 varieties tsaousi, vostilidi, moscatella, rhoditis(50%)

Citric orange, Bitterness on finish,fresh.

Robolla in a Cephalonia

Robola is indigenous to Kefalonia and is restricted to a specific zone, the Robola zone. Robola of Kefalonia VQPRD. The zone extends from the Omala Valley up to the Paliki peninsula and the surrounding of Mount Ainos Natural Park. Robola nose is often described as citrus blossom , peach and green apple.

Recommended to keep for at least 1 year to develop complexity and mineral notes. Ideal 5-7 years. Mostly grown in a bush traditional system. Bush protects grape from wind and sun via shade.

Robolla vino do Sasso Wine of stone

800 meter altitude high vineyard

Nice floral minerally nose, medium body, fresh acidity citrus and riper stone fruit. Stoney finish. Lovely long.

Efranor 2021 Meaning – fills the heart with joy

Muscat of alexandra 70% 30% Vostilidi, 100 year old. Before phyloxera so ungrafted.

Muscat nose, elder flower, grape, nice mouth feel, fresh herbal green twist to the finish.

Alchymiste rose

Mavrodaphne 80%moscatella 20

Medium pink colour, slight orange hue from oxidation but doesn’t affect taste

Characterful rose, some complexity and texture with fruit.

Metagitnion

Biodynamic natural wine, from kostolidi 15 hl per hectare low yield ungraded old vines

Nutty honey complex can age 8 years Urea, clementine very full bodied

Floral develops spice with time good length

Very interesting wine

Muscat orange

Made in same way as a red wine whole grapes destemmed in tank. Natural Orange wine

Concrete eggs nil added unfiltered no sulphites no additives, 30 day maceration

Press and take wine, then concrete egg 1 year

Marmalade, musty, dried apricot geranium leaves, dried herbs old sports socks.

Tannins palate back teeth

Gamey fatty lanolin good persistent acidity

Alchimiste 2020

Non oaked stainless steel

Light fruit all Mavrodaphne

Crushed raspberries, chalk with a smokey slightly gamey nose. Medium all through soft powdery tannins

Monambeles

Organic grapes Mavrodaphne 100%

70 year old vines 250 meters, soil is calcareous (marly limestone – Maltese slate) fermentation with native yeasts, aging in five hundred litre French oak Allier barrels and also in a three ton oak vinifier for at least twelve months.

Black fruits soft long tannins some spice

Quite long concentrated some savouriness

Thiniatiko

From Thinia 2 grapes from grandfather of the new investor. Naturally made with log maceration natural yeast biodynamic

Good black fruits round tannins spice savoury

Needs some time to develop

Vin doux du soliel 2019

Made with passito method dried in vineyard Mavrodaphne grapes

Intense concentrated fruit, good acidity, very long delicious


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Barbaresco Weekend: Annual Barbaresco a Tavola 2019 Vintage Blind Tasting Dinner notes

Casa Nicolini, Barbaresco May 27th 2022

Introduction

The WanderCurtis team were delighted to have been invited to attend our first Barbaresco a Tavola dinner on Friday May 27th 2022. For the unacquainted, this is an annual tradition held by the region’s winemakers to showcase their latest bottled vintage. Held over three successive weekends in different restaurants, wine makers from across the area bring and pour their latest bottled vintage to other wine makers, members of the trade, journalists and others, to give a sense of how the vintage has turned out.

For those who have yet to encounter the Barbaresco region, well, the best thing to say is that what is commonly referred to as one region is comprised of the three regions of Barbaresco, Neive and Treiso, that collectively work under the single communal name of Barbaresco DOCG. While the star of the show must be made from 100% Nebbiolo, aged for a minimum of 12 months in oak with a further 9 months of bottle ageing, the region is also widely planted to Barbera, Dolcetto, Arneis and many other international varietals that can be bottled and sold under the Langhe DOC label. This affords the local winemakers an opportunity to honour more ancient traditions of blends, provides an outlet for the wines made from young vines and gives opportunities to experiment with more international varietals such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot.

We attended the third of the three Tavola dinners, held at the restaurant Casa Nicolini in Tre Stelle. Set on one of many sensational ridges that run across the top of the vineyards, we were greeted with breath-taking views of key Barbaresco vineyards such as Asili, Rabaja, Rio Sordo and Martinenga. The potent aromas of ripe jasmine, although enticing, made it difficult find some of the finer edges of the aromas in these very young wines. We were the guests of Jeff Chilcott, Kiwi cellar master of Marchesi di Gresy, who we visited on Sunday for an amazing tasting (more on this later).

The format of the dinner is simple: 20 wines are set up on a central table, labelled 1-19, and you are invited to taste and score your way through the wines. Later in the evening, the wines are revealed, and you find out that most of people pouring the wines are the wine makers themselves. Over the course of the evening, we were served a typical and delicious multi-course regional meal. As the light faded, our palates tingling from the young vintage’s tannins and acidity, we left feeling full, fortunate to have taken part and maybe just a little tipsy.

The wines uncovered

Impression of the vintage

The 2019 vintage has been described by many as pure, energetic, and authentic with good fruit expression, fine abundant tannins and elevated levels of acidity – all typical characteristics of strong vintages. Our tasting left an impression of a vintage of balance, elegance and with good bones for the long haul. We would caveat this to say that with many having been bottled within a few weeks of the dinner, there was a high degree of wood on show, with many wines showing baking spice characteristics of cinnamon, and nutmeg, with a muted fruit expression. There were a range of wine making styles on show, with many made in the traditional neutral oaked manner and some showing the signs of flashy new barriques. We scored all the wines fully blind on a scale of 1-20, and frequently returned to wines that, on discussion, proved either hard to understand or sparked an interest.

I have put our scores together in a table by wine, with our average, maximum, minimum and standard deviation scores listed (for those who like a bit of statistical wine geekiness).

Casa Nicolini Barbaresco

Tasting note comments

On balance, you will see that our average across all wines from the evening scores a 16.2 out of 20, which one could normally interpret as representing an average to good vintage. In context, however, given the extraordinarily young, freshly bottled wines, and examining the structural characteristics (acidity and tannin) and winemaking styles on show, I believe these wines will be showing beautifully in the medium term, and will reward the patient given their exquisite balance and structure.

In terms of individual wines, there was much debate on which of these was our favourite on the night. Initially, we were besotted with number 18 (Pelissero), a producer that clearly likes the full barrique approach, creating a ravishing, fuller bodied version of Barbaresco. On reflection and discussion, we marked it down on the basis that vanilla is not something that we feel belongs so overtly in Barbaresco of any age.

While our collective scores of number 12, the Marchesi di Gresy Barbaresco Martinenga, was rather low, our tasting on Sunday showed just how wonderful their wines are with a bit more age, and we therefore conclude that this wine was being a little shy. We would say the same for number 3 from Ada Nada, which split opinions, and whom we visited the next afternoon and had a wonderful tasting.

Our clear favourite, number 2 from Silvia Rivella, shone out as both an approachable yet structured newer style barrique-aged wine with potential to age into something truly beautiful. Other strong showings included the Castello di Neive (6), the ever-dependable Produttori del Barbaresco (10) and the Francone (8) which all stood out.

Stuart Grostern


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Vassaltis Winery, Vourvoulos Santorini

Vassaltis Vineyards

When my good friend Richard, founder of Wanderlust wines knew I was off to Santorini he insisted I go to Vassaltis. ‘Best wines on the Island’ he told me. Started by Yannis Valambous a former financier in London. It is Santorini’s newest winery, outside the village of Vourvoulus. The winery is sleek modern light and spacious with excellent views over his vineyards to the sea.The first wines from Vassaltis were released in 2015. We were lucky enough to meet their two highly talented winemakers, Elias Roussakis and Yiannis Papaeconomou.

Richard was bang on.

The wines are fabulous. The restaurant menu excellent too and the vibe atmosphere and service of the staff lived up to all expectations. Definitely a highlight of our vinous tour of Santorini

Tasting notes below courtesy of Kiran

Aidani 2020

Aged for up to 2 – 3 years

The label design is shape of a volcanic stone.

Nice floral nose.

Fresh with peachy and citrus notes some jasmine florality and medium body with high acidity but less than Assyrtiko A lovely aperitif style wine. 

Nassitis 2020

A blend of 3 whites Aidani, about 30% Assyrtiko and Athiri.

Lemon sorbet and wet stone on the nose.

More lemon zest, mineral and lovely salty tangy phenolic bitter finish.  A great food wine. 

Santorini 2020

100% Assyrtiko  a blend of grapes from different vineyards all over Santorini 24 eur. 

12 months on lees then bottled.

Immediate hit of dried herbs, rosemary thyme etc. then some lemon zest.  Then emerging hyacinth quite floral. 

Quite full bodied tannins felt on gums  high cripsp acid  nice long salty finish.

Gramina 2019

Gramina means field so this is a single vineyard wine from Vourvoulos the village nearby. 100% Assyrtiko grapes are handpicked early morning and the wine spends 12 months on lees and 12 months in bottle. 

On the nose an attractive petrolic whiff with an undertow of herbs and wet stones

Full bodied, smooth texture with dried green herbs, fresh acidity and a long lingering salty stony finish. Excellent. 

Santorini 2016

Darker richer in colour than the 2020.

A much more complex nose: petrol, honey, baked lemon, over ripe honey dew melon then salted almonds, really interesting. 

Lovely silky texture, very complex ripe with some sweetness and nuttiness the saltiness is still there but less aggressive softened out by the other flavours and age. A superb wine showing how well Assyrtiko can age. 

Santorini barrel aged. 2019

Smokey lemon and lime sorbet hint of petrol faint tarragon

Taught and almost austere structured wine herbs minerals and sea salt. Long. 

Santorini barrel aged 2017

On the nose smoke a bit of vanilla and over ripe mango AKA petrol.

The nuts honey, increasingly complex.

Lovely full body with a silky elastic texture, sweet notes, complex softening out the austerity found in the 2019 Gramina. Very long and persistent. Another fantastic wine.

Laterals would be an aged Riesling or a grand cru Chablis with a few years. In other words, premium wines of complexity and character. 

Open to debate but generally the non oaked versions seem to retain more of a unique assertyko character although the oaked versions are extraordinarily well made wines. 

Plethora 2018

The outstanding Plethora from Vassaltis- a truly remarkable wine

Late harvest Assyrtiko 6 months on lees then 8 months in old vinsanto barrels which are 60 years old then 2 years in bottle. A gap is left on top and sometimes flor grows. 

This closest to Nykteri approach that Vassaltis has.

Nose is reminiscent of a vinsanto, roasted nuts, smoke, hint of caramel, touch of balsamic. Very complex, a hint of Christmas.

Rich mouth feel, spices, orange peel and a characteristic sea salt and wet stone tang. Very very long. An outstanding wine, extraordinary.


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Domaine Sigalas – Santorini, Oia region

The view of the vines from Sigalas outdoor tasting area (harvest was August the earliest in Europe explaining the vines appearance)

Domaine Sigalas is the closest winery to our base in Oia, the Northernmost point of Santorini. It is a very pleasant walk via the village of Finikia with its excellent restaurant Meze Meze.

Sigalas was founded in 1991 by Paris Sigalas a maths teacher.It has been sold recently.

They predominantly make Assyrtiko and other indigenous whites like Athiri and Aidani. Red varietals include Mavrotragano and Mandilaria. More recently they have been exploring the subtle terroir variations of seven individual villages of Santorini.

Paris is seen as  a visionary and established the first vertically trained vineyards on the Island, almost heretical at the time.

They have almost 40 hectares of vineyard and produce nearly 200,000 bottles.

Santorini 2020

The wine spends six months on lees in stainless steel barrels.

2020 is apparently great year previous years from 2017 to 2019 suffered heat waves.

A nose of lemon rind and sea salt.

Medium body high acidity, great balance. Lively fresh pithy flavours with a tangy salty nice lingering finish.

Epta (7) Villages

One of a series of seven single vineyard wines exploring the terroir of different regions of the island.  Made in stainless steel barrels but aged on lees through to next harvest. 

Floral blossom notes some citrus underneath.

Some tinned peach at first followed by ripe lemon pith and characteristic herbal salty finish like rosemary salted fries! Again medium body high acid. Great length. Lovely!

Santorini Barrel 2020

Aged6 months in French oak barrels on lees. One in six are new oak and the rest second and third year.

Subtle vanilla and toast on the nose tiny hint of nice petrol. 

In the mouth nice blend of oak and lemon peel, lovely full silky mouth feel, full bodied but with lift and long. 

Nychteri. 2019

A truly massive white wine, more like a red, a real heavy weight with a price to match!

Kiran-

Traditionally late harvest, 18 months in oak. 6 grams residual sugar l so only just dry. 

Nose of perfume spicy, sweet, nutty and of course vanilla – Coco Channel like!

Round and full bodied a definite sweetness.

Rich spicy fruit, medium plus sweetness, and endless length. Extremely complex. 

Adam –
From select grapes picked during the night

Aged for longer on lees

Rich highly textured deeper colour

Honeyed feels like a hint of residual sugar

Really smooth and complex, length++

Delicious +++++

Spyros Recommends aging 6-7 years. Salty mineral character keeps building and fruit falls away. 

Reds

Mavrotragano 2019 

Kiran -Mavrotragano was traditionally grown in the same way as Assyrtiko trained into low but struggled to ripen evenly. Sigalas and Hatzidakis began to train the vines in low linear runs and to irrigate to help ripen the grapes fully and demonstrate the potential of this indigenous grape.

On the nose lots of berries, blueberry and a little smoke then also some red berries and perhaps a bit of cheesecake. 

Very appealing and tasty, medium plus body, medium acidity, medium soft tannin experienced upper lip.  Ripe Fruity flavours with lashings of toast and vanilla but not overwhelming.  Drinking beautifully. 

Adam- Sigalas red 18 months in oak Mavrotragano 3 percent vineyard area

First vertical vineyards on island,

Plums, berries spice complexity

Lots of fresh red fruit and blueberries

Good Length a hint of spice, cumin.

Mavrotragano – Mandilaria 2019

Mandilaria blend with Mavrotragano.

18 months in oak Mandilara has high acidity but high tannin so good for a blend. 

Nice chewy mix of strawberries and cream with a savoury herby bite. 

The food from the restaurant at Sigalas is a fine match with their excellent wines.

We highly recommend the seafood risotto which you must call in advance and reserve as limited amounts made. It was also interesting to taste the caper leaves and stems which were slight aromatic and more delicious than capers themselves.

Santorini is not just about white wine. This red Mavrotragano was fruit packed and delicious


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Santorini, Megalochori- Gavalas and Venetsanos Wineries

The passionate Vagelis Gavalas stands proudly with his father George

Gavalas winery

Gavalas was established in 1895 making it one of the oldest in the Cyclades. It is still family run with the fifth generation Vagelis taking on the realms. It is situated in the very beautiful hilltop village of Megalochori.
Our Toyota Aygo almost ended up wedged into a tiny narrow street.
We would recommend parking up and exploring the delights of Megalochori prior to tasting.
We were fortunate to be hosted by Vagelis Gavalas who if he’d had his way would have kept us there all day! They have a broad range of styles and have some lesser known varieties such as Katsano

Wines tasted with Vagelis Gavalas

Aidani 2019

In the past vineyards used to be mostly assyrtiko but other grape varieties mingled in including Aidani. So many wines labelled Assyrtiko were effectively field bends. However, although the PDO still allows a percentage of other varietals all the serious wine makers now select to bottle 100% assyrtiko wines.  At least as far as possible.

So as a result there is a fair amount of old vine Aidani and a 100% bottling appears on a number of wine makers lists.  Its not made for aging and is best at around 2-3 years

The winemaking includes a cold soak, fermentation in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and 3- 4 months on lees with batonage , typical for aromatic type grapes.

Indeed, the wine is more aromatic and less acidic  than assyrtiko.  There is an aroma of rolling tobacco and ripe honey dew melon.

It has medium body, medium acidity, flavours of stone fruit, mineral, citrusy with a bitter lemon pip finish. 

Vagelis Gavalas the wine maker explains that Aidani does have a bitter characteristic which the lees aging softens out. 

Katsano 2020

This wine is a blend of two rare local grape varieties Katsano 85% and Gaidoura 15%. Made in a similar way to the Aidani and at 12% alcohol a lighter wine.

A floral nose, hyacinth with a green tinge of dried herbs, potpourri quite delicate

Lighter body, higher acidity, floral, green and refreshing.  Similar profile to a gavi di gavi

Santorini 2020

100% assyrtiko in a distinctive blue bottle.

Blend of different parcels from across the island all vinified separately 

Classically austere in style. Lemon sorbet, a green florality, wet stone and citrus pith.

This is my type of wine, fresh and clean with crisp acidity. More lemon, lemon pith and with a phenolic, herbal tingling finish on upper gums. Great balance the freshness masks the 14% alcohol. Really lovely!

Santorini Natural Ferment. 2020 14%

Made from old vines of 50 plus years and with wild yeasts. Slightly riper grapes with a bit more residual sugar. Some of the harvest matured in old oak barrels then a proportion blended back in. 

A wine with a richer flavour and more texture from the longer lees aging.  Lime, lemon pith, wet stones, fresh green herbs. A lovely characteristic salty tang on the finish. Excellent!

Nykteri 202014.5%

This is a barrel aged Assyrtiko using the best late harvest grapes using first run juice from grapes treaded into the night. 

Vagelis explains that the old style Nykteri were heavy and oxidative wines made from the last batches of grapes, made in often partially filled barrels and intended for the wine makers own consumption.   But now better more controlled wine making techniques are used to prevent over oxidation.

A smoky, volcanic nose with a hint of vanilla.

Ripe stone fruit, mineral salty and intense, full bodied but nicely balanced. 

Enalia Santorini 2018

Even older vines at 120 years plus 18 months lees aging.

A pleasant whiff of petrol on the nose, more dried herbs.

A very intense palate, concentrated baked lemon, with a focused sweetness followed salty wet stones, goes on for ever wow!

Full body well balanced by high acidity which masks the alcohol level of 14.5%.

Vinsanto 2013

280 grams residual sugar.

Vinsanto is aging a minimum of 6 years, this one actually 7 years. 

A real Corker!

Figs and dates with a hint of crème caramel on the nose.

Luscious velvety mouth feel with more soft dried figs and medjoule dates with faint toffee notes. Obviously sweet but with great lift and balance. Surprisingly low alcohol at 11%.

This lasts and lasts. Complex and delicious!

We could easily have stayed all afternoon, such was the quality of the Gavalas wines and the passion of Vagelis but we were already an hour late for our booking at the highly recommended Metaxi Mas restaurant .

Venetsanos Winery

Venetsanos winery perched spectacularly on the edge of the Megalochori Caldera

Venetsanos is one of the oldest wineries in Santorini founded by George Venetsanos in 1947. The winery was excavated vertically inside the volcanic rock. They used gravity for the wine making process. The wine flowing down pipes more than 300m down, to be loaded in the ships in the port of Athinios. The wine was exported to France, Russia and Egypt.The tasting was held on on a rocky terrace with the stunning caldera below and overlooking the port
All wines are single vineyard with low production and high quality.


Santorini

Assyrtiko 100%,Crisp acid lemon grapefruit lingering bitterness and salinity

Nykteri

Vanilla whisky creamy texture Rich wine, Nykteri harvest at night, late harvest with oak ageing

Anagallis

Rose wine deep pink colour ferment with 2 white grapes and mandilaria red.

Delightful perfumed red fruit candied strawberry and red cherry nose

Hint of residual sugar. A crowd pleaser more American in style
Mandilaria

Red grapes not overly complex drying tannins all over mouth reminders of an Italian wine possibly Barbera

Vin Santo

Assyrtiko10 to 15 days drying grape, Luscious very sweet some oxidation nuttiness, fig, date, prune and vanilla

View from Venetsanos restaurant overlooking the port of Athinios


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Sensational Santorini

I first tried Assyrtiko at Pete Barry’s home in the Clare Valley, Australia. It was early November 2016. That day he launched Australia’s first Assyrtiko from vines he brought back from Santorini many years before.
I was struck by its vibrant, crisp, fresh, citric qualities, superbly made wine as you would expect from the Jim Barry wines.
Pete talked sentimentally about Santorini and it has been on my list of places to visit since.
It has taken a few years, with other priorities and of course Covid! Five years later I have made the trip and will review some of the best wines and wineries one the Island. Those who appreciate all things vinous also seek the best cuisine. So I have included restaurant tips and a few other general recommendations.

Firstly a bit of factual background –
Santorini is the southernmost Island out of the 33 Cyclades islands in the South Aegean Sea.
The vineyards are over 3,500 years old, among the most ancient viticultural regions in the world.
The volcanic soils have protected the vineyards from the phylloxera, so the vines survived the epidemic of the late 19th century.
Historically Santorini was renowned for its sweet dessert wine “Vinsanto”.
More recently, with modern winemaking techniques and preferences, Santorini is known for producing highly-regarded, complex quality wines. It is most famous for its dominant variety Assyrtiko– which which along with Athiri, Aidani , constitutes 80% of the vineyard area. The remaining 20% are red varieties Mandilaria and Mavrotragano

We arrived early October. On the drive from the airport to the Northern most tip Oia we passed through a harsh dry unforgiving landscape.
Harvest had well passed, being of the earliest in Europe. The vines appeared sad dry and dejected.
I wondered how anything could grow here given to dry arid heat and hard stony volcanic soils. This harsh environment creates a low yield, highly prized harvest which reflect the terroir.
They have developed a innovative pruning system the Kouloura. This is a basket-weaved shape close to the ground to minimise wind damage during flowering and to protect against sunburn. It also helps collect any moisture from the rocks on the ground.

Another method used is Kladeftiko (small ring). This method is slightly higher off the ground allowing more aeration.

What to expect from the Assyrtiko variety?

Previous wines I have tried displayed the characteristic citric, high acid, mineral salty notes with a distinct phenolic bitterness of the finish. Other elements were of a herbal smoky nose. Only one way to find out…

By chance, Kiran had chosen to visit the same week, on the same Island, in the same town! We chose five wineries to visit from recommendations and personal contacts. Tasting notes are a mixture of mine and Kiran’s.

Estate Argyros

Wines tasted

Wine production at Arygyros dates back to 1903. I had been drinking their introductory Atlantis range red from Mavrotragano .Served slightly chilled as an aperitif. It was a lovely way to watch the sunset on our terrace at Oia Mare villas.
I was particularly looking forward to the Vinsanto, the longest aged in Santorini and one of the best sweet wines in Greece. Argyros have a stunning new modern winery. Very spacious clean and bright near the village of Pyrgos. They own some of the Island’s oldest vines two hundred or more years old The fourth generation of the family produces three Assyrtikos, an Aidani, a full-bodied red from the Mavrotragano grape. We were lucky enough to be hosted by the delightful and informed Elisavet Loukaki.

Estate Aidani 2020
Spends 3 months on lees in stainless steel from 40 year old vines. Retails at 25 eurFloral nose, peach and herbs, lovely.On the palate, stone fruit, lemon rind, medium body, medium plus acidity. Nice length.A nice aperitif wine to sit in the autumnal sunLess acidic and more aromatic than Assyrtiko .
.
Estate Assyrtiko 2020

A blend of vineyards with 100 year old vines, spends 3-4 months on lees.Stone fruit, sea air and an undertone of herb, tarragon or cut grass.Ripe stone fruit, cooked lemon with a salty tingling long finish in the mouth.Fuller body and high acidity.This wine is made for food especially Greek dips, fetta and grilled fish.
Estate Cuvee Monsignori 2018
From 200 year old vines and spends 11 months in stainless steel vats on lees with batonage. 14% alcohol retails at 30 eurA pleasant whiff of petrol, apricots and ground hazel nuts honeyAgain ripe fruit, concentrated, full bodied but balanced by high acid. Nice tension from a green note underneath, very long. Delicious. A lateral would be a minerally full bodied Austrian Smaragd from the Wachau.


Estate Cuvee Evdemon 2017
From two parcels 150 year old vines near Pyrgos biodynamically cultivated. Fermented in 25% in French oak barrels then blended and aged for 30 months in stainless steel vats on lees. 45 eurToasty smoky notes with apricot jam, baked fruits and a note of cream. Intense.Very concentrated with full body, high alcohol but balanced by high acidity. Again a salty finish Very long. Again a ripe Gruner Veltliner comes to mind as a lateral such as the oaked Brundelmayer Ried Lamm
Vin Santo 2013 13.5 %
Mostly Assyrtiko but some other grapes in the blend. Assyrtiko 80 Aida I 10 athiri 10Grapes are sun dried grapes for10 days. The wine spends 3 years in cement vats and 4 years in barrels.The nose is complex a mix of figs, nuts & dates and spices.Great balance sweet 220g/l but with great freshness.
Vin Santo late release 2001
For this wine the grapes are sun dried for 14 days. It spends 3 years cement vats but then 16 years in used barrels. Topped up in a kind of solera system Brown tinges are clearly visible showing the wines 20 years.The nose is rich with raisins, dates,hazel nuts and dried ginger. 
The palate is complex with figs dates and nuts and a spicy gingery tang. The sweetness is perfectly balanced with the fresh acid zing and it is very long and delicious. Outstanding

This was an impressive introduction to the wines of Santorini. The Vin Santo 2001 clearly something very special. Wines available in the UK via Clark Foyster. We were keenly anticipating the rest of the week