Avantis Estate, Greece

It could, of course, be coincidence, but I have recently been tasting an extensive range of wines from Greece, thanks to importers and retailers who have recently begun to feature wines from one of the oldest wine cultures on earth, but one which has struggled to gain real traction in the UK market.  Future parts II and parts III of this mini-series on the contemporary wines of Greece will feature a selection from retailer The Daily Drinker, no strangers to exploring the further corners of winedom, and from importer Hallgarten and Novum Wines, which is no surprise given that Director of Novum Wines is Steve Daniel, the man who for many years led Oddbins, specifically during the period when he introduced the first wave of modern Greek wines to the UK in the 1990s.

Evia mapSince that flurry of interest among wine geeks 20 years ago, Greek wine hasn’t really grabbed our attention, save perhaps for the crisp and saline whites of Santorini, which have amassed something of a cult following. For this part I of my Greek odyssey I focus on a half-dozen wines fron Avantis Estate, a producer based on the island of Evia, and named after the Avantes tribe, described by Homer in The Illyad as “Brave Avantes inhabitants of Euboea coming from Chalkis, Eretria as well as grape producing Istiea and Kirinthos by the sea, and even high up from Dion, Karistos and Stira, all were commanded by Helephinor, fearless in battle. Fast, long haired warriors carrying long spears, always willing to attack and beat the enemy.”

ApostolosWhizz forward three thousand years and Avantis estate is a small winery growing both indigenous and international varieties, owned by generations of the Mountrichas family since 1830. Winemaker Apostoles Mountrichas is in charge today, assisted by his wife Lenga. Twenty hectares of vineyard lie at between 250- and 500-metres on the hilly Evia island, mostly on clay and gravel soils.

All the modern toys of the winemaker grace their cellars, with pneumatic presses, temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks and a ‘Ganimede’ system, which I last saw in action in a winery in Cyprus, an interesting double-tiered fermentation tank that uses the natural build-up of carbon dioxide trapped within the system’s special design, to automatically and continuously pump the gas back through the top of the tank, submerging the cap of floating skins and pips. This theoretically negates the need for ‘punching down’ or ‘pumping over’ to do this job, in a gentle, methodical fashion.

Avantis Estate WinesThe family also farms on the island of Santorini, where the Assyrtiko grape is renowned. Their ‘Dolphins’ white wine reviewed below is a pure Santorini Assyrtiko, though other wines in the range also use Assyrtiko in the blend, and indeed a variety of very localised grapes including Mavrokountoura and Vradiano, often blended with a proportion of international varieties including Syrah, Greanche, Viognier and Muscat.

This is a fine, modern range of wines that are modestly priced. The whole range launched in the UK only this year, and all of the wine below are being sold by Borders Wines, who deliver for free locally in the Scottish borders, but who also ship nationally with free delivery if spending £120 or more.

The Wines

(2018) I've recently been tasting lots of Greek wines and a full report will appear on wine-pages soon, but to kick off, a fine example of an island white, which Greece seems to do so well, capturing terrific freshness and a saline tang of mineral acidity. Based on the island of Evia, Avantis Estate has blended the local Malagousia with Italy's Trebbiano, to produce a fine, modestly priced example, only 12% alcohol ensuring plenty of zippy acidity and fruit brightness is retained. Apple, blossom and a touch of nettle moving through to fully-flavoured palate, sweet and ripe fruit notes sit against that bracing acidity to give this mouth-watering appeal. Watch the video for more information and food-matching ideas.
(2018) In many ways I enjoyed this blend of Viognier and Assyrtiko (with 5% Muscat) as much as any in the Avantis range, so full of vibrant luscious fruit, but never losing that typically saline edge of acidity. From the island of Evia, the Muscat gives a charming floral nuance to the peachy-ripe, quite exotic Viognier aromas, then there is real weight and creamy texture on the palate, those tropical fruit tones squeezed into a long citrus and salts acidity in the finish. Long, tangy, aperitif wine or seafood friendly yet again.
(2018) A terrific Assyrtiko from the island of Santorini, brimming not just with ozone and saline tang of the sea, but a delicate blossom and lightly herbal character, fresh pea-shoots and lime leaves too. In the mouth it is super-tangy and fresh, riven by its mineral and lemon juice squeeze of acidity, but stone fruits and grapefruit, a fabulous intensity flesh out the mid-palate and give this immense shellfish and seafood appeal, or oily fish and octopus perhaps.
(2018) This rosé from the island of Evia is made from 100% Mavrokoudoura, a new variety for me, and is a medium- to pale-coloured peachy-pink with intriguing aromatics that are quite ripe and lychee, or passion fruit-like, but something stony and gravelly too. In the mouth it is bone dry and grippy, a big grapefruity hit of sour citrus and acidity, this has mouth-watering presence, some pulpy strawberry character soon swept along in the acidity of the finish. Different, and plenty of personality here.
(2018) From hilly regions of Evia and Viotia, this is a blend of Merlot with Vradiano, an indigenous variety particularly associated with the island of Evia. Soft, not terribly aromatic, but with a plummy depth of fruit and a little herbal twang. In the mouth pleasantly sweet-fruited, though a little short, the finish just a touch abrupt as acidity and roughening edge of tannin bites.
(2018) A Rhônish blend of Grenache and Syrah, this has a really polished and appealing nose, a subtle creaminess to black fruit and a sour cherry depth suggesting it will have some edge to it too. In the mouth a little charriness, but a lovely sweet and full fruited palate, black fruit creaminess but also enough tart cherry raspberry freshness, a bittersweet touch of endive to the acidity, and a finish that's considerably longer than the 'Harmony' red. Very nice, substantial, yet refined.

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