It’s all Greek to Godello
Till I reach Achaia groundSept 4, 2015
by Michael Godel
Man I wish I was there right now. Have you recently pondered or are you considering a visit to Greece? Have the sensational media reports of the last months cast a shadow of doubt on your travel plans? Are you worried about economic crises, ATM line-ups, looting and civil unrest? Don’t be. Do not fall victim to dictum on such reports. You should go. Greece is just fine thank you very much. She welcomes visitors with open arms. This is what she wants and what she needs.
I am no John Maynard Keynes, have never rooted with Milton Friedman and can’t confidently say that my economic stars align with Paul Krugman, but on my recent trip to Athens and Achaia I saw nary a sign of unparalleled and utter economic disaster, of panic, anarchy or civil disobedience. I had many a conversation about government, taxes and the Euro. I learned that no is the new yes, “but whatever…” and that Greek wine aligns with the functions of the European union.
I am inclined to say, with indubitable and unequivocal doubt that Greece is the safest, most affordable and stupidly beautiful place on the planet. There is adventure, breathtaking vistas and scarcely, if commensurately discovered antiquity at every turn. And there is wine. Exceptional wine. Singular wine. Mythological wine. I can tell you five things I learned about the 21st century state of things Greece.
Athens is a busy, hot, labyrinthian metropolis that somehow feels like an ancient village. It may just be the most unassailable and secure Gotham I have ever encountered. It did not leave me tired, on the contrary, it fuelled invigoration.
Encounters with beautiful, nurtured and erudite folks along the course of a given day affords an equipotentiality to reaffirm faith in humans. Doors are always open.
Bad governance may lead to civil jeremiad and global media strategies built upon the inevitable crumbling foundations of sensationalism and hyperbole, but Greece’s main concern is just that. Bad governance. Business carries on as usual, albeit with a noticeable reduction in smoking and petrol usage, but restaurants, cafes, coffee shops and shopping are not on hold. Centuries have seen such woe and yet Greece persists, remains and progresses. “Believe only half of what you see and nothing that you hear.” America may have long ago entered its Last Great American Whale period but Greece? Not even close. “They say things are done for the majority” and in the case of Greece, that just may be true. In a time of crisis, there are many business opportunists. Hard times? Grow better grapes. Can’t sell them at home? Export more than before and make better money.
The combination of mountains, ocean, beaches and the symbiotic proximity of the appositeness is nothing short of mind-altering, awe-inspiring and soul-asservating.
Forget the idea that Greek wine offers up some of the best values, anywhere. Consider that sort of posturing a given and or inconsequential in consideration of the adage that good wine is good wine, period, regardless of price. The wine producing regions of Santorini (Aegean), Thessaloniki/Naoussa (Macedonia) and Nemea (Peloponnese) have made wide inroads on the global scene. Yet how many of you have ever heard of Achaia and Patras in the northern Peloponnese? It is on the verge of breaking out. Obscurity no longer. Uncertainty be gone.
At the pass
Greece has been mired in waiting, or depending on your level of positivity and how to spin, poised to break out. The Greek wine industry is securely fastened in a place somewhere between the relic glow of early period brilliance and the cusp of legacy defining, career opus penning compositions. It is a work in process and the best is yet to come. The wines of Achaia are entirely indicative of this intellection. Antiquity is an amazing tourist attraction and in Achaia, as in the entirety of Greece, you can’t blink without stumbling upon a metaphorical doric this or an allegorical ionic that. Cradles of civilization just have a certain den xéro̱ ti and Greece is the world super-power. The question begs. How does this apply to wine?
Like so many wine producing nations not called France, Germany or Italy, Greece is poised for modern greatness but it has one distinct advantage. It lays ownership to some absolute conditions that easily separate it from emerging and developing, New World regions, but also from European peers. The first is obvious and that of course is a centuries old tradition of making wine. The second may come as a surprise, especially as it relates to wine. Mythology covets a paradigmatic relationship with Greek culture, however intangible it can be quantified. A visit to Achaia offers tantamount proof of such a notion. This from New Wines of Greece: “The fascinating archaeological sites with the notable museums and the grape-growing and wine-making history directly tied to the myth of Hercules are just some of the attributes that will appeal to those who indulge in wine tourism in the Peloponnese.”
Then there is the confluence from the slopes of Egialia, said to form the centre of the triangle of Ancient Delfi, Olympia and Epidavros. It was not long ago that I connected the divine and the allegorical with Greek wine. I quote myself. “Me, I’ll concentrate on the divine mythology of Greek wine, of its place in the fractal world, how it can beautify and simplify, through recursion in dynamic systems, the bleak chaos of wine landscapes. Like the Morai, Greek wines are thread with motherly nurturing. For mere mortals, they direct fate from the birth of their drinking days to death. They are a highly independent bunch, unobstructed and driven by necessity.” It would be obtuse to ignore the hyper-reality of all these extraordinary things, to discount the divined revelation through profound symbols of religious myth. To see the analogy and pertinency with the mathematics of wine; pH, sugar, acidity and alcohol. Not exactly Pythagorean, certainly not Orphic, but mysterious somehow.
The Achaia advantage: From PGI to PDO and endemic varietals
The Peloponnese is located in the southernmost section of continental (western) Greece, its western and northern borders lining the Ionian Sea and the Corinthian Gulf. Homer called it Ampeloessa, meaning “full of vines.” The Achaian advantage is more than just a matter of slope and soil. The Nazi attrocities committed at Kalavryta will always be remembered as the darkest of Peloponnese days but neither war nor Phylloxera has truly interrupted centuries of growth and tradition.
Achaia is one of Greece’s largest wine regions and its 31 wineries accounts for approximately 10 percent of the national wine output. The mesoclimate of Achaia is determined by a combination of mountain and sea. Erymanthos, Panachaikos and Chelmos range for vines at up to 850m though in Egialia grapes grow as high as 1050m. There are slopes here with a northern aspect, a factor which is not lost on the winemaker in search of cool-climate viticulture. The mountain man of Eigalia Angelos Rouvalis points to the hills and talks of “a rare terroir, where facing north can achieve a significant drop in temperatures, creating specific vine balances, which is difficult to achieve in other places.” It is also here that the waters of the gulfs (Patras and Corinth) cool and temper the climate. Stronger winds ward off the warmer streams blowing up from Africa, creating a much cooler viticultural area than Patras.
The northern Peloponnese vineyards are divided into four distinct viticultural locales. In the east, in the areas of Egialia (Aegialia) and Kalavryta, the PGI Egialia wines are produced. Egialia’s temperate climate and northerly orientation on (250 to 850m) slopes are protected by the cool summer sea breezes of the Gulf of Korinthos (Corinth). Pausanias was a Greek traveler and geographer of the 2nd century AD, who lived in the times of Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. He referred to the villages of Egialia as ideal for cultivating vines. Egialia soils vary from white calcareous to fertile sandy loam with good drainage.
It is in Egialia that the endemic white and highly aromatic variety roditis ripens ever so gently. In the lower Patras vineyards (450 to 500m) the climate is similar but roditis grown here makes for wines of fully body. Lower Patras slopes are positioned for another indigenous grape, the red varietal mavrodaphne. Traditionally purposed for desert wine, modern usage of the “black” daphne is happening for dry table wine, as is the black of kalavryta (mavro kalavryta), from grapes grown on slopes close to the tourist town of kalavryta. The coastal flatlands between Patras and Rio to the east are dominated by the white muscat. The varietal watch is on for mavro kalavryta, a grape that performs like gamay or perhaps cabernet franc. In the hands of a winemaker like Panayiotis Papagiannopoulos it will be a wine to help mark the act of Achaia’s second renaissance. Konstantinos Lazarakis M.W. sees it as “the best gamay that is not gamay.” This is a grape that will define fresh and further down the Peloponnese road for red wines and begin to separate from itself from other red attempts. Its future will see the establishment of plots into crus, to make simple fruity reds to drink and also more serious wines, to experiment and to use some older barrels and to envision the future when it has been given some age.
The four officially recognized PDO‘s are Muscat of Patras, Muscat of Rio Patras, Mavrodaphne of Patras and Patras. The first three are produced in the central and western section of Achaia. The local muscat is known to the world as muscat blanc à petits grains and in Achaia as moschidi. Under the regulations of both Muscat PDOs the wines may be vin naturellement doux, vin doux or vin doux naturel. PDO Patras is made from 100 percent roditis, though there are several clones of this variety. Specific clones are generally chosen based on altitude, as each variant has been proven to work on particular slopes. The top wines are produced from a red roditis, also known as alepou. The PDO Mavrodaphne of Patras (fortified, vin de liqueur) can be fashioned with up to 49 percent dried and rehydrated corinthian raisin (black currant) in the mix.
Despite the fact that the predominant amount (almost 99 percent) of black corinth ends up in a pouch full of currants, its agricultural significance continues to play a role in the sweet red Mavrodaphne of Patras. Top quality vineyards have historically been cultivated with the black corinth because they fetch as much as 300 percent more money than wine grapes. The bizarre terroir-varietal-trade flow chart is changing for the better but the raisins remain a long way from extinction. Slopes that face the sun perpetuate the propagation. Then there is the unusual scenario of the earthquake factor. “In Patras we are either raisining or shaking,” quips Lazarakis.
Other white varieties grown in the region include the extremely rare sideritis (only two producers for the variety that shares a name in common with a flowering plant known as Greek Mountain Tea), malagousia, lagorthi, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Other red grapes cultivated include agiorgitiko, xinomavro, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah. The wines of Achaia are built upon an alcohol premise that keeps them stable, in balance and immune from oxidation. Their attitude fights the life work of Louis Pasteur and Jean-Antoine Claude Chaptal. If the wines lost some footing due to the trending towards bacteria and sugar mien, now, with the world peeling back from manipulated wines, the Achaian style is poised to grab their market share.
The variegated landscape of Achaia, from Selinous to Kalavryta, from Patras to Ano Diakofto, are to a winemaker a place of great passion, history and in many respects, a supernatural calling from the processes of human imagination. It is here where the great Greek paradox is lived, like mysticism and mathematics conjoined, in the attitude of Greek philosophical winemaking. The work is achieved through the dichotomy of platonic thought and Socratic character. Making wine from endemic or indigenous grapes is a calling to a higher love, in spite of harsh conditions, geographical difficulties and the relative channels of global obscurity.
The Achaian winemaker is a geometer and a mystic. They engage in rational winemaking coupled with the sound of an inner voice.
Winemakers do not worry or care about what stands in their way. Here they make wine because that is what they know from, but now it is more than that. Today the younger, aspiring viti-viniculturists have European oenology degrees and come armed with a profane, ecumenical arsenal to make clean and progressive wines. The whole consolidation is awesome and yet Greek wine will never be mainstream. The people just like to drink their own wine. They export less than five percent of their output and in Achaia, the number is even lower. It is high time for the world to sing bring me Achaia love.
The most modern facility in all of Achaia, re-built after a fire destroyed the property more than 10 years ago. Owned and operated by the brothers Aristos and Stathis Spanos.
Oenologist since 1999 is Panayiotis Papagiannopoulos, a winemaker who may just have been separated from twin Frank Zappa at birth. Located at Ano Diakopto of Egialia, on the slopes of Mount Chelmos, the 14 hectares of vineyards (450-1,000m) are farmed organically (and have been since 1997). Bush vines make up 80 percent and endemic varieties (85 percent) cultivated (plus some expatriates) are roditis, malagousia, sauvignon blanc, mavro kalavryta, agiorgitiko, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. The total production is 13,000 cases with export to foreign markets (80 percent) that exceeds peers by a wide margin.
Tetramythos Roditis 2014, PDO Patras
Tetramythos Roditis 2008, PDO Patras
Founded in 1974 by oenologist Athanassios Parparoussis who works as winemaker while daughters Erifili and Dimitra support on the business and marketing side. The winery is located in Patras and the property includes 10 hectares at Movri Achaias. Grapes are farmed organically and Parparoussis is one of only two vintners in the region making wines from the rare and indigenous sideritis. Parparoussis farms organically in principal but is not certified, nor is Athanassios concerned with the designation. It’s a matter of being devoutly pragmatic. “The soil is alive, so why kill it.”
Parparoussis Sideritis Dons De Dionysos 2014, Peloponnese, Greece
The 2014 “gift of Dionysus” is herbal, arid, directly unassuming and fixed with a very savoury, nearly resinous pastel palate. The wind blows rosemary and lavender and truthfully it’s like a naturally cured red feeling in a white package. All lemon citrus at the tail. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted July 2015
Eonologist is Angelos Rouvalis, a winemaker with an encyclopedic knowledge of every hill and slope in the mountains above Patras and where each variety grows best. Established in 1990 by Rouvalis, a Bordeaux-trained winemaker, recognized internationally as a pioneer in the renaissance that has taken place in the Greek wine industry in recent years. In 1994 Yannis Karabatsos, an agricultural engineer and expert in Greek viticulture joined the winery. “The Oenoforos winery consists of five levels on the slopes of Aigialeia in the village of Selinous. It combines monastic simplicity with state-of-the-art technology.”
Oeneforos Roditis ‘Asprolithi’ 2014, PDO Patras
Oenoforos Cabernet Sauvignon Ianos 2004, Peloponnese
The winery was founded by the late visionary winemaker, Constantinos Antonopoulos near the city of Patras in the northwestern of Peloponnese. Constantinos saw the vast, untapped potential of this diverse landscape, especially the mountainous region of Achaia and the unique winemaking opportunities it presented. A new up to-date winery has been built recently at Vasiliko, Achaia, where the majority of the winery’s vineyards are. Indigenous Greek varieties are the focus. All three Antonopoulos wines tasted at the winery Achaia Clauss were clearly achieved through very serious work. Though clean beyond the pale, they all exhibit slightly to more than leesy and all finish with so much salinity and limestone inflection. The only thing missing is the crustaceous accent.
Sosanna Katsikosta is Oenologist and General Manager while Katerina heads up business and marketing operations. The sisters are carrying on a winemaking tradition passed on to them from their late father. Konstantinos Katsikostas carried the torch from his father Luke who founded the winery in 1946 in the area of Palaiokamares of Aegio. Annual production of 2,000 cases. Katsikosta is desperately, passionately practicing, experimenting, trying to stir up vinous ghosts and find their way back to ancestry, to ways of elders, to bring to light what used to be and to establish an identity for the world to see.
Karelas Winery was founded in 1936 by Georgios Karelas. Using the native ‘mavrodaphne’ grape, the company is renowned for it’s sweet, dessert style Mavrodaphne wine.
Perhaps most famous for their local production of spirits, namely Tentura and Mastic, Loukatos does a bang up job with dessert wines, especially in their handling of Muscat from Patras.
Loukatos Muscat NV, PDO Muscat of Patras
Crisis? Let me tell you, no one’s going to bring Greece down. Now that I’ve experienced this special part of the Peloponnese I am already thinking about getting back there. For now I will raise a glass of roditis or mavrodaphne, ’till I once again reach Achaia ground.
For more on Michael’s trip to Greece, including many more wines reviews, visit godello.ca
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