30 Dec Getting to know Greek wines: Naoussa and the Grape Xinomavro
Located in Macedonia in the north of Greece, approximately one hour west Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, is the wine region of Naoussa. Naoussa was one of the first regions in Greece to receive protected denomination of origin (PDO) status in 1971 and is the home to the native grape Xinomavro.
Xino, which means “sour,” and mavro, which means “black,” is the single grape variety permitted under the PDO Naoussa. Xinomavro is one of two red varieties of Greek wine that puts the country on the international wine map.
The vineyards of Naoussa are at 1,150 feet. Influence from the Aegean and Ionian seas has resulted in a mosaic of soils, including rocks and clay, throughout the region. The region experiences a Mediterranean climate with strong continental influences. The days reach high temperatures and the nights reach low temperatures. The climate, combined with humidity and high fog, makes Xinomavro the last grape to harvest each vintage.
Xinomavro is a well-structured, full-bodied red wine but can also be made into a white wine, rose wine, sparkling wine, passita and grappa. Xinomavro is a terroir expressive variety that changes character as it changes locations. Typical aromas include spices, ripe tomatoes, black olives, violets, wild strawberries, dark chocolate and leather.
Xinomavro is not an extracted varietal; it is a wine that has high acids and tannins but is also elegant. It has great aging capabilities and is often compared to Nebbiolo from Piedmont. Stylistically there are many similarities but price-wise, xinomavro from Naoussa is very affordable, starting as low as $15.
Meet some of the producers of Naoussa:
Vaeni is the largest wine cooperative in northern Greece. Founded in 1984, they have 250 members and produce 52 percent of the wine in Naoussa.
Nana Chrisohoou, the only female enologist in Naoussa, is the third generation in her family’s winery. Together with her parents, her brother Yannis and her husband Statis, they produce 350,000 bottles from 18 hectares. In addition to xinomavro, they also make a sparkling blanc de noir from xinomavro and a passita, in which the grapes are left to dry in the sun.
Kostas and Maria Kelesidis, and their children Yannis and Mirto, are organic producers. They live and produce wine in the same house built by Kostas’ parents in 1930.
George Diamantakos has been making wine since 2006 from the vineyard his father and grandfather first planted in the 1980s. The 35-year-old vines are planted in soil that consists of soft stone that cracks in the hand. George explains that “the vine takes what it wants from the soil” and the calcium magnesium in the soil gives his wine a high Ph and adds character. George producers 12,000 bottles of xinomavro and is also starting to make white wine from the indigenous white grape preknadi.
Kostas Karydas planted the vines with his father 35 years ago on a three hectare hill. Producing exclusively xinomavro, Kostas and his father started making wine in 1992 and produce 1000 cases, 400 of which come to the U.S.
Located at the border of the Naoussa appellation, Thymiopoulos has vineyards in two villages — one in the highest altitude with granite quartz soils and one on the flats with stones and calcareous soil. With 28 hectares, Apostolos Thymiopoulos has been a biodynamic producer since 2009 (however the certification does not exist in Greece yet). With their first vintage in 2005, Thymiopoulos produces 160,000 bottles and exports 97 percent of their wine. The Young Vines Naoussa is made with grapes that are 1-15 years old and the Uranos is made with the oldest vines, approximately 42 years old. Thymiopoulos also makes a rose of xinomavro.
Stavros Kokkinos started the winery in 2000. He had cultivated peaches but pulled out the trees and planted vines because he had always loved grapes. He is from Naoussa, but is a first-generation winemaker. In 1998, when he was 25 years old, he bought his first vineyard, which had 25-year-old vines on 1.2 hectares. Stavros made local table wine only until 2009 when he started making high quality wines. Today, he produces 30,000 bottles of xinomavro from 4.5 hectares.
Kostas Dalamara is the sixth generation in his family to make wine and took over winemaking in 2010. He studied enology and viticulture in Beaune, Burgundy and has worked in Alsace, Burgundy and Roussillon. Certified organic since 1996, Dalamara has six hectares, all on slopes with a variety of soils ranging from travertine, chalk with iron, clay and limestone. Dalamara produces 25,000 bottles a year and Kostas wants the wine to be “as faithful to its soil and grape character as possible.” In addition to xinomavro, Dalamara has cinsault that was planted in the 1920s, which is blending with the xinomavro to soften it without changing its character.
Located in Yiannakohori at the highest point of Naoussa, the vineyard was bought by the Boutari family in late 1960s. In the early 1970s, 50 hectares of xinomavro was planted, and the vines were trained in vertical shoot positioning for the first time in this zone. The vineyard is at an altitude of 1000 feet and 40.3 out of 58 hectares are planted, with 40 different blocks, each managed and vinified separately, within the vineyards. The goal at Kir Yianni is to make a wine you can age 10-15 years but that you can also drink after a few years.
Elinos comes from the Odyssey and has multiple meanings — wine, crushing grapes, the top of the vine (helix), Greek wine. The vineyard, situated at an altitude of 1000 feet, is located on the eastern edge of Naoussa, at the highest point of Mount Vermion, in the Imathia region of Macedonia, Greece. At 25 acres, it is the third largest single vineyard in Naoussa. Dimitrios Taralas retired from banking and purchased the vineyard in 2006 and today the certified organic vineyard is run by his twin children Christos and Nikoleta. Christos, an agriculturist and food techonologist with a Masters in food legislation, is the winemaker, and Nikoleta is the sales manager.
Read the read the original story in the Napa Valley Register.