It seems there’s a resurgence of interest in Greek wines currently, and I have filed a few reports recently from retailers specialising in the wines of Greece, including Borders Wines and The Daily Drinker. But one name is synonymous with the modern wave of Greek wines coming to the UK and that is Steve Daniel. Today Steve is Head Buyer for Hallgarten & Novum Wines, but he is also the man who for many years led Oddbins at their peak, when he introduced the first wave of modern Greek wines to the UK in the 1990s.
Now, Hallgarten & Novum Wines is once again a major force in importing and distributing the wines of Greece in the UK. A few months ago they put together a touring roadshow of some of their top producers, where I caught up with representatives of the estates below.
A relatively new name, Bibla Chora’s organically-farmed vineyards were planted in the foothills of the Pangeon Mountains in 1998 and its first wines released in 2001. Today 48 hectares of vines grow at an altitude of 380 metres in the rocky soils of this district of the northern Greek mainland.
(2019) Sauvignon Blanc 60%, Assyrtiko 40% and super-fresh and citrussy, good pure Sancerre-like Sauvignon aromas. Lovely running-water clarity, peach and nectarine verging into pineapple. Deliciously appealing style, so much sweet fruit but excellent acid balance.
(2019) A 50/50 blend of Assyrtiko and Semillon, which was barrel fermented and aged in oak, 50% of the barrels new. The barrels give a creamy and lightly minty character, then some green and passion fruit notes. The palate has more texture, and a real keen lime fruit and lime acidity. Long and the limpid texture and freshness, that works beautifully with food.
Represented at the tasting by Evangelos Gerovassiliou, winemaker for this famous estate in the south of Thessalonica where 72 hectares are planted on sandy soils over clay. The winery was founded in the 1970s with input from Professor Emile Peynaud of Bordeaux, and Evangelos says 2017 is “as great a vintage for white wines as we’ve ever had.”
(2019) Blending 50% Assyrtiko with 50% Malagousia, this is made in all stainless steel. Definitely some floral notes here, but a more citrus and green apple bite and freshness. The palate is very pure, with the touch of saline and plenty of citrus freshness.
(2019) Made from the variety Malagousia that was saved from virtual extinction by Vangelis Gerovassiliou who championed the variety. Twenty percent of the wine is fermented in seasoned barrels. Floral, Muscat-like aromas dominate, jasmine perfume and fragrant peach down and lemon zest. Lovely fresh and crisp palate, quite Sancerre-like in the mouth, with plenty of zest.
(2019) Viognier was planted here in 90s, and a percentage was fermented and aged in new, but neutral (low toast) French oak barrels. A little reduced at first, then good apricot and pear Viognier aromatics come through. Juicy and fresh, a blast of orange acidity streaks through the finish. A good expression of Viognier this.
(2019) A blend of three rarely-seen varieies, Limnio 40%, Mavrotragano 30% and Mavroudi 30% fermented in open oak casks, then aged 15 months in barrel. Deep, solid colour, spices and bramble jam fruity depth, some little floral notes too, and then dry on the palate. A touch of slightly resinous oak, but it fills out to help give a bit of flesh and breadth on the mid-palate through to the finish.
“We have an ambition to elevate the reputation of Greek wines,” say Gaia Wines and indeed they have set up operation in not one, but two key wine regions, Nemea on the Peloponnese peninsula and the island of Santorini. It’s also an experimental company, with wild ferment cuvées and even a project which is ageing wines under the Aegean sea.
(2019) A Moschofilero and Roditis blend, made in stainless steel, this is fresh and yet ripe with a fleshy fruit character. Fruity and bright, lots of elegant fat lemon and orange fruit, a hint of the exotic and I like the long and bright finish with a little weight and texture too.
(2019) Made from 100-year-old, pre-phyloxerra vines, trained into coils to guard against the wind and heat. This was harvested at the end of July, which perhaps accounts for the little thiol character, a touch of elderflower and herbs but there's a creamy depth to the aroma. Always fresh and bright on the palate with so much zing and zip, finishing mouth-wateringly dry and fresh.
(2019) Four months in a blend of Acacia wood and French and American oak barrels. Still a little of that elderflower, but clearly more complex, oatmeal and cream and floral characters. Dry and bold lemon and lime fruit and intense acidity power through to a lightly spicy and saline finish. Savoury, gastronomic and complex.
(2019) In terms of the export market this is Gaia's entry level red wine. It shows a little bit of cedary oak, and fresh dry flavours on the palate. Easy-drinking red, ripe with smoothing oak and gentle tannins into a spicy finish. Nice juiciness and freshness.
Though the estate was established in 1995, the first release was not until 2005 after experimention with many varieties – for example, Cabernet Sauvignon was abandoned as the climate was too cold, but Tannat thrived. Vineyards are planted at 600 metres on a plateau in the northwest mainland, in alluvial, sandy-clay soils.
(2019) Kicking off an impressive set of wines for Alpha Estate, this rosé has a pale, Provençal colour and character, spices, small, firm red berries and a touch of watermelon. The wine is a bleed-off from the press, of grapes destined for the 'Hedgehog' cuvée. A nice salt and bright red fruit freshness, this is long and nicely tempered, elegant stuff.
(2019) 50/50 blend of Syrah and Xinomavro, this is aged in French oak from Alliers, in this vintage 50% new. Bold and ripe fruit character, also some floral notes from the younger vines. Small red berries, sweet pot-pourri spices. Good length and a nice bit of structure here.
(2019) Hedgehog is the name of this single vineyard, planted 25 year ago. The wine spends 12 months in French oak, 50% new. Lovely cherry and floral fresh character, made in rotating horizontal tanks for gentle extraction. Lightly smoky and nutty and earthy, lovely juicy acidity and freshness with spice and medium body. Almost sneaked a score of 92.
(2019) From the Barba Yannis single block of 99-year-old ungrafted vines, this was fermented with wild yeasts. The soils are 90% sand at 650 metres, and this was harvested at an extremely low 20hl/ha and spent years in all new oak. Complex, elegant, has the wild herb and floral edge to rich black fruit. Spicy and textured, but has a red fruit elegance too, spices and so much fresh acidity into the finish against the refined tannins.