Continuing his trek across Northern Greece to discover some of the country’s greatest vinous treasures, Michelin-starred chef Roger Jones visits Biblia Chora. This is the winery responsible for making the highly regarded white blend Ovilos, that has become such a sommelier’s favourite. Not only did Jones try a vertical of Ovilos but found many more great wines here, using a mix of indigenous and international varieties.
Ancient grapes found on the foothills of neighbouring mountains, a classy Merlot, even the unique and rare Landau du Val from one of Franschhoek’s oldest vineyards – and what was that doing in Greece?
Our journey now takes us from the outskirts of Thessaloniki (after our visit to Ktima Gerovassiliou) across the peninsula to the coastal region of Pangaia. Here we visit Biblia Chora at Kavala, an organic winery run in partnership with Vangelis Gerovassilliou and Vassilis Tsaktarli. Set up in 1998 this winery now extends to over 350 acres of vines.
With the striking Paggaio mountain directly behind Biblia Chora and the sea breeze of the Aegean Sea in front of it, this provides an ideal Mediterranean climate, characterised by mild winters and cool summers. Important too is the wide diurnal range with the chilly nights, influenced by the mountain ranges, encouraging the slow maturing of the grapes. Also important to the winery is the area’s flora and fauna.
Both Vangelis (who restructured the Malagousia grape at his Gerovassiliou vineyard) and Vassilis take viticultural research seriously and have experimental vines of numerous Greek varieties (some 27 different varieties) being tested on their land, many of these are still unidentified indigenous varieties that were discovered on the slopes of the Paggaio mountain.
Currently their commercial production is based on two Greek varietals, Assyrtiko and Agiorgitiko and international grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Semillon, Gewurztraminer, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
The winery is, as one has come to expect in Greece, modern, clean and (on our visit during harvest) a hive of busy production, with staff bussed in on their own ‘School Bus’. Having established the vines in 1998 the construction of the winery started in 2001 and was completed in 2007. Historically this region in the time of the Phoenicians produced the grape variety Biblos which made the famous ancient wine Biblino Oeno.
So what are the wines like and which were my favourites of the visit?
Biblia Chora White 2016
Blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Assyrtiko
The aromatics of the Sauvignon Blanc lift the full bodied Assyrtiko, giving tropical fruit and pink grapefruit aromas, richly textured with a clean, crisp, citrus finish.
Biblia Chora Sole Vidiano 2016
This is a one-off wine made with 92% Vidano (a Cretan grape bought in) and 8% Assyrtiko. Apricots, pears and quince on the nose, rich on the palate, golden yellow in colour, waxy and lingering.
Biblia Chora and Semillon
The Ovilos is Bibla Chora’s most recognised wine, wining awards not only in Greece but on the international market, a blend of Semillon and Assyrtiko.
Interesting too that both Gerovassiliou and Tsaktarlis had previously invested in a winery in South Africa producing wines from old vine Semillon, I even managed to get into their private cellars and see some of the unique and rare Landau du Val from one of Franschhoek’s oldest vineyards, a rare achievement to get hold of this wine, even rarer to find it in Greece.
We also tried the Ovilos vintages back to 2003, here are some of the highlights:
Clean fresh and vibrant, drinking superbly now, opulent, textured, lingers beautifully on the palate, certainly a nudge towards Hunter Valley.
Biblia Chora Ovilos 2011
Apricots, honey, citrus, richly textured, all balanced in harmony, the wine glows with a yellow golden colour, on the finish there is a creamy texture, spiced up with passion fruit and bright acidity from the Assyrtiko.
The latest vintage is quite superb with a luscious exciting fresh fragrance that highlights how good this blend is. Lemon, nutty, vanilla, pink grapefruit, apricots – a gorgeous blend.
Areti White 2016
100% Assyrtiko, yellow/green colour, vibrant nose of citrus and clementines, full flavoured, good mineral backbone, fresh and fruity but balanced.
Whilst with age it was interesting to see how the wine evolves, the Areti 2013 had a much more pronounced Riesling nose, with a honeyed crispness integrated with a luscious bright acidity.
In comparison to the Santorini style of Assyrtiko, these wines are more restrained, softer in acidity and more textured.
Plagios White 2016
Mostly Chardonnay with a small amount of Assyrtiko to establish its Greek pedigree and more importantly add a little bit of sparkle to the wine. Ripe yellow stone fruits, delicate praline in the background, fresh citrus overtones, cedar, fruit and vanilla linger on the palate.
One Central Character – Assyrtiko
Interesting that Assyrtiko is used as the ‘backbone’ to all these white wines, which creates ‘one central character’ highlighted in all these lovely wines from Biblia Chora.
What struck me about all these white wines was their ability to be matched with food, and not just Mediterranean food. The Assyrtiko lifted the wines with its freshness but then each wine has its own identity whether it is Sauvignon, Semillon or Chardonnay, culminating in a perfectly balanced finished product.
And so onto the red wines of Biblia Chora
Biblia Chora Red 2015
A classic Greek Bordeaux blend! Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and a small percentage of Agiorgitiko. The Agiorgitiko grape was originally found in Nemea in the Peloponnese region, but has successfully been grown here by Biblia Chora and is characterised by its tannin, intense colour and fruity aromas, particularly of cherry. Aged in French oak barrels, this wine is clean, focused, fresh, vibrant with an inky, savoury and fruit-filled finish. There is a very pleasant silky finish to the wine.
With age these wines evolve wonderfully and a Biblia Chora Red 2008 was a stunning example, enthusing a long lingering fabulous fruity, cedar wood and meaty (sweet lamb) flavour and texture.
Merlot led with 15% Agiorgitiko, 16 months in French oak barrels, aromas of plums and ripe red cherries, on the palate it is very delicate with a bright precise cassis dominance, soft cedar tannins and a lovely freshness on the finish. With age these again evolve well and the 2006 was still fresh and clean, highlighting the delicate fruit.
Ovilos Red 2001 – 2011
Made from Cabernet Sauvignon, sourced from the foot of the Paggaio mountain and aged in new French oak for 16 months. We tried numerous vintages…
The 2011 combines both intensity and delicate flavours together in harmony, from blueberries to milk chocolate, cassis to soft cedar, drinks well now but will evolve. The 2001 had a touch of brett, but held it well and the fruity cassis flavours had evolved beautifully, showcasing how these wines age.
Biblino Oenos 2012 – The unnamed warrior
The wine is made from a local ancient grape found on the slopes of Mount Pangeon, found by a shepherd in 2005, who then brought the plant to the winery. Voluptuous, big and dark violet berries, aromas of blueberries, pomegranate, rose petals, warm spices, black olives, a wonderful juicy wine. First vintage made in 2009, and they still await full clarification of the grape variety, which may take quite a few decades, as the authorities in Greece are not the quickest.
Sole Pinot Noir 2015
This was certainly a surprise, from the oddity of the bottle to the quality of the wine, a New World, Walker Bay-style of Pinot, cherries and mulberries on the palate, contrasted with a very pleasant savoury backbone.
The reds, whether they were single varieties or blended with Agiorgitiko, all show clarity, texture, and a fine balance, contrary to the clumsy heavy reds that some may have had on that Greek holiday in the 1990s.
Again, the reds showcase their value to lighter styles of food whether it is racks of young lamb with the Merlot or grilled sea bass with the Pinot Noir.
We were escorted throughout our visit by the charming Annegrat Stamos, a German chemist who followed Vassilis Tsaktsarlis from his previous work at Domaine Costas Lazaridis in Drama, joining Biblia Chora back in 2001. She has lived in Greece for over 30 years and is married to a Greek man whose cousin is married to Tsaktsarlis, (are you keeping up?!).
Today she is still involved in the chemistry of the production and is also the export manager, whilst her daughter studied oenology in Germany and married a Chilean oenologist who both now work at Biblia Chora.
Next up Roger heads into the highlands and mountains of Amyndeo, to visit one of Greece’s most modern vineyards, 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.