In a special three-part focus, Michelin-starred chef Roger Jones visits the key wineries that have been responsible for the modern renaissance in Greek wine. In part one Jones visits Ktima Gerovassiliou, tastes through its range of wines and finds out first hand how its owner Vangelis Gerovassiliou was one of the key figures in saving the almost extinct Malagousia grape.
Indigenous Greek grapes, international varieties and blends of both are some of the impressive wines tasted at the Thessaloniki-based winery
Greek wine? Well to most people the response is that the Greeks make nice Assyrtiko but, ladies and gentlemen, let me take you on a journey of discovery, that will not only enrich your mind on the quality of Greek wine, but educate you on the precision and expertise they are putting into their viticulture.
Our journey in early September took us to Thessaloniki in Northern Greece.
The hospitality that we received by our hosts was as spectacular as was the scenery, luckily I had visited this area earlier in the summer to take in all the charms and sites and could therefore concentrate fully on the wine and, unlike most wine trips, we were allocated a whole day for each winery, spending not only the day at the winery but afterwards with the family and key personnel.
Our trip had been organised by Steve Daniel through Hallgarten, Druitt & Novum, the man who has been on the Greek bandwagon for decades from his youthful years at Oddbins, through Novum and now Hallgarten, Druitt & Novum. Daniel has without question done more for Greek wine in the UK than any other person or body.
Ktima Gerovassiliou, one of the pioneers of modern Greek viticulture
Vangelis Gerovassiliou is a gladiator in terms of his status in Greek viticulture from his early tenure at Porto Carras (1976-1999), where he produced the historic Chateau Carras, under the guidance of the legendary Emile Peynaud with whom Vangelis had worked with in France.
In 1981 he started reviving his own family vineyard, planting not only Greek but foreign grape varieties too. His piece de resistance, however, was to plant the near extinct Malagousia grape, which has now become so fashionable in Greece.
Ktima Gerovassiliou is a very modern winery (with underground air conditioned cellars) amidst perfectly cared for vineyards, surrounded by the sea on three sides and with the backdrop of Mount Olympus. The sandy sea deposits of the area along with mild winters and temperate summers create an ideal ecosystem for vine cultivation.
Interestingly there are 28 bird species on the estate and none of them seem to like grapes, so no netting is ever needed. There is also a fabulous historic museum on site, highlighting the story of wine, with a collection of winemaking, bottling and cooperage tools from around the globe back to Roman days, and an outstanding collection of over 2,600 corkscrews, tracing the history of this instrument, from the sublime to the oddity of a walking cane with a concealed corkscrew.
Mostly stainless with a small amount of vinification in French barrels, the wine is left on its lees for a few months. The wine has a perfume of Cyprus lemons, the palate is textured, layered with a ripe stone fruit and racy purity, it is fresh but mouth filling, great with both Asian and classic Greek seafood.
Estate White Malagousia/Assyrtiko 2016
100% stainless steel, this is a wine to drink in its youth, vibrant, clean, bright, delicate exotic fruit, some soft spices and jasmine. There is a bright lemon zing to the finish. This would be great with creamy dishes whether pasta or turbot with a chicken and cep jus.
Fume Sauvignon Blanc 2016
Complex multi-dimensional taste experience, bright yellow gold colour, tropical fruit on the nose, toasty spiced vanilla, cumin, and exotic nuances, fabulous now but will excel with age. This is old world Sauvignon Blanc but with attended zing.
Vibrant, clean and fresh on the palate, ripe juicy fruit, pine needles, then a creamy balanced mouth feel, stone fruit and a touch of toasted brioche on the finish. This is a luscious Viognier that delivers not only with texture but freshness and vibrancy as well. Perfect with Asian or Chinese dishes.
Sourced from vines first planted in 1983, good intensity to the palate, honey and citrus, textured but dances on the palate, nutty and clean white stone fruit.
Museum Collection White 2015
Combination of the above 5 grape varieties, aged in oak barrels. White peaches, white currants, victoria plum crumble, honey, pineapple, passion fruit, freshness from the Sauvignon, balance from the Viognier, depth of the Chardonnay, and excitement from the two Greek grapes turns this into a wonderful wine. A rare wine to seek out.
Estate Red 2014
Syrah, Merlot and the Greek grape Limnio (nearest similarity would be Cabernet Franc). Instantly one notices the bright freshness and clean acidity in this wine, it has a clean delicate perfume of cherries and spices, the tannins are soft, the palate full of juicy fruit with a light spice to the finish.
Sourced from some of the oldest vines on the estate, with each batch vinified separately. Spiced and aromatic perfumed nose, black berries and dark cherries on the palate, cinnamon and Christmas spice, deeply textured but with a lovely fine delicate finish, a cross between new and old world Syrah. Drinks well now but will keep for decades.
Aged in French oak it has a dark sultry colour, with a complex layered structure, with blackberries and spice to the fore, Vangelis explained that separately these grape varieties can be harsh but, together with special blending, they perform majestically. A wine to age.
Syrah with a small percentage of Viognier (8%), fermented in 40 hectolitre Burgundian oak tanks, prior to ageing in French oak barrels, this is a subtle wine that has a lovely precise cassis flavour, balanced with soft cedar and clean spices, a Petit-Syrah style, drinking beautifully. It is concentrated but gives out a delicate balance and the fruit dances on the palate.
Museum Collection Red 2014
Collection of five grapes, the three Greek varieties in Avaton plus Syrah and Merlot. Made for ageing this rich and complex wine is evolving – bright, clean, purple colour, savoury perfumed bouquet of wild herbs and cherries, cedar wood, cigar. This is a complex wine but still has a lively acidity and will age well.
Malagousia Sweet Wine 2010
In their words “grapes are left to over ripen on the vines, then aged for three years in barrels,” clean straw colour, Tutti-frutti, pears, apricots, mango, good acidity to keep the sweetness fresh.
Meet The Gerovassiliou family
Following our day in the vineyard and a refreshing beer and swim at The Sheraton Hotel in Thessaloniki we headed into town to taste some amazing seafood from sea urchin to ‘dancing langoustines’, it was a delight to see so many Greek folk enjoying quality Greek wines.
The care and attention that the whole Gerovassiliou family and team put into their vineyards and wine is a joy to see and having spent just a day with them it became clear how passionate these guys are not only about their wine but Greek wine and the development of this across the globe.
In the next instalment Roger Jones will be going down to the coast to visit Biblia Chora before heading into the mountains and visiting Alpha Estate.
A Guide to the indigenous Grapes of Greece
Greece’s most widely planted red grape that originates from Nemea. Soft tannins, characters from strawberry to sweet spice.
An ancient variety believed to be a major ingredient of Malavasia. This is an aromatic white variety that hails from the slopes of Monemvasia, produces balanced floral wines with some tropical nuances.
A rare, indigenous grape that has re-emerged in the last decade from the Laconia region. White grape that produces wine with intense aromas of ripe quince, again it is one of the components of the Malavasia wine, very few bottling’s in single format.
Aromatic white grape originated in Western Greece, saved from extinction by Vangelis Gerovassiliou. Rich and elegant.
Greece’s signature wine, bone dry white wine, with citrus and mineral characters. It’s home is in Santorini where the vines are cultivated in low basket formation to protect the vines from the sea wind.
A rich smooth red wine often compared to Nebbiolo, complex earthy aromas. From North West Greece, characters of black olive and spice and red fruits.