Perhaps the most exciting variety for red lovers from Greece is the Xinomavro (Ksee no’ ma vro.) While traveling through Greece as a guest of New Wines of Greece we went north to the area of Naoussa, thought to be the home of Dionysus’s mother, Semele, is planted completely with Xinomavro (meaning acid-black in Greek), and we are lucky for it. The deep black grapes flourish in the semi-mountainous area known for its full-bodied, intense wine that need time to age to truly let their flavors shine, but when they do the well-aged Xinomavro could be easily mistaken for an earthy Barolo or Nero d’Avola. Also almost exclusively planted with Xinomavro is the region of Amyndeo, just over Mount Vermion. The Xinomavro from Amyndeo tends to be slightly lighter, more fruit forward and approachable early than those from Naoussa, helped by the regions cooler climate and higher elevation. Though I think the most traditional (and delicious) representations of the grape came from Naoussa, I did find a few good every day type options from Amyndeo if you don’t want to wait 5-7 years to open the bottle.
Ioannis Boutaris was the first to bottle wine in the area beginning in 1879, and is credited for rebuilding the region’s wine industry after the catastrophic outbreak of phylloxera in the years before World War I. Today the Boutari Winery in Naoussa still produces some of the most highly regarded and traditional wine from the region. The Boutari Grande Reserve Naoussa is barrel aged for two years (minimum), and then bottle aged for an additional two years (minimum), though Boutari says they age theirs longer. I had a chance to try their 2000 Grande Reserve, and after the first taste it could have easily aged another 5-7 years and was filled with dried red fruit and chocolate with spice and dried tomato notes.
Kir-Yianni Winery was founded in 1997 by Yiannis Boutaris, great grandson of Ioannis, after 30 years of of owning a controlling stake and running the operations of Boutari. Yiannis decided to spin off two of the best Boutari vineyards and created Kir-Yianni. Today his two sons, Stelios and Michalis, run the winery. In addition to being the dedicated and skilled winemaker, Stelios is an enthusiastic advocate for all Greek wines, especially the redevelopment of their indigenous varietals throughout the country. He acts as a consultant to W.S.Karoulias, one of the largest distributors of wine & spirits in Greece. After one conversation with Stelios you feel his passion and his pride in the wine of his country; after one taste of his one you want to come back for more.
Kir-Yanni has estates in both Naoussa and Amyndeo now. From the Amyndeo vineyard he makes a simply incredible Rose of Xinomavro called Akakies. Xinomavro really works as a Rose, as the highly tannic varietal mellows with just a few hours on the skins creating a structured, well-rounded Rose filled with strawberry and fresh citrus. Kir-Yanni also produces a sparkling Akakies of 100% Xinomavro, one of the few sparkling wines we saw on the trip. Filled with vibrant red cherry and strawberry with whimsy and zing, a refreshing bubbly.
Their Xinomavro from Naoussa is where the real beauty of this grape shines. Kir-Yanni Ramnista comes from select vineyard blocks of 100% Xinomavro, aged 16 months in French and American oak and some in stainless steel tanks, and is then bottle aged for another 6 months after blending and bottling. An intense and highly complex wine with structure and balance; filled with dried currants and caramel notes, with layers of sun-dried tomato, black olive and a hint of truffle. This is a wine that can easily age 10-15 years; in addition to the current 2008 release we tried a magnum of the 1999 Xinomavro and was blown away by the elegance and depth the wine had, and that it could easily have aged 5 years more.
If Kir-Yanni and Boutari look to traditions in their winemaking, Alpha Estates takes a step the other way into a more modern style of very approachable, easy to drink wines that highlight the indigenous varieties while blending with more widely known varieties to create wines that will appeal to many palates, including one of the only 100% Pinot Noir wines we had. Located in Amyndeo these award winning wines were named for the first letter of the Greek alphabet and means “new beginning,” symbolizing a new era of Greek wines. The Alpha Red, a blend of 60% Syrah with 20% Merlot and 20% Xinomavro, fills the palate with spice, smoke and leather followed by ripe red fruit and a slight earthiness. Alpha Estate Hedgehog Vineyard Xinomavro is aged for 9 months in French oak, then 14 months in the bottle before release. Filled with baking spice, pepper and leather notes with blackberry this is a wine that will continue to soften as it ages, but is also delicious right when it is released.
These wines are available at various locations throughout Dallas including Spec’s.