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.
Since 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.”
Whizz 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.
The 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.