Nuances of Naoussa

Matthew Horsley, buyer for The Wine Society, presented this tasting of six wines from Naoussa, on offer from the Society at time of tasting. Naoussa is a wine region of the third most mountainous country in Europe: Greece. The mountains play a vital role, giving shelter from weather systems and providing irrigating water from run-off. Soils in general are clay and limestone.

Matthew describes the grape of Naoussa – Xinomavro – as ‘a bit of a diva’. It is a thin-skinned variety and high in acids and tannins, tending to produce pale-coloured wines. In a similar way to grapes like Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo, the wines can be made in very different ways, in terms of picking ripeness and use of oak for example, to give a variety of characters. Though four vintage were represented here, it was also striking that alcohols ranged from 12.5% to 14.5% from this one area.

Matthew gave a short-hand introduction to the vintages featured:

2018 – sweet fruited, ripe wines, higher alcohol and a certain ‘fat’
2017 – “a wonderful vintage,” with ripeness and structure
2016 – like 2018, with ripe and plump wines not quite so ripe as 2018
2015 – produced light wines, with a more fragrant character.

See also wine-pages’ 2017 article on Xinomavro: Red-discovering ‘Sour Black’.

The Wines

(2021) From quite high altitude vineyards at 350 - 450-metres in the south of the Naoussa region. It was fermented with wild yeasts and spent 18 months in larger, 500-litre older barrels. Some ruby warmth and lightness to the colour, the nose nicely lifted, incense, florals and spices, something of red liquorice too. Abundant sweetness on the palate, a really juicy, racy burst of juicy fruit, the acidity is punchy and the tannins give a nicely sandy grip. The oak underpins giving a plummy, creamy layer in a fairly large-scaled but fruit-filled wine.
(2021) Only 12.5% alcohol here as opposed to the Thymiopoulos at 14%, so quite a different style. It's a 2015, but the colour is dramatically lighter, maybe just a touch of brick-colour on the rim. It is made in stainless steel, though the final 12 months of its 26-month ageing is in Hungarian oak. More truffle and and undergrowth, light fudge-character, again, the floral lift to the red fruits is there. In the mouth it has softness to the fruit, although the Xinomavro acidity and dusty, fine tannins add plenty of savour and grip. Very elegant and nicely balanced.
(2021) Vineyards at 280 - 330 metres, 80% of the blend spends 16 months in French and American oak barriques, the remainder in larger 500-litre barrels. Medium ruby red, light on the rim. There's a crushed raspberry and juicy black berry fruit here, boldy fruity with some background spice and that characteristic floral/violet lift. At 14.5% this is warmed by the alcohol, filling the mouth with substantial sweet fruit, maybe feeling the tiniest bit pruney to me, but the freshness of the acid and tannin does balance.
(2021) From a winery seen as a bastion of traditional, more tannic Naoussa, this spends 12 months in French oak, 40% new, but fully 30 months more ageing in bottle before release. More brick and amber to the colour here, some leafy, slightly green-flecked aromas, herbs and seeds and plummy, olive-touched fruit. On the palate the 2016 fruit is really sweet, creamy and forward, though it butts against strident tannins and acidity, the sides of the mouth drying, but that holds the fruit together in a powerful, structured food wine.
(2021) A very small production for this wine, from a winery producing a total of 13,000 bottles annually. Vines here are 40 years old, it spends two years in French oak, 40% of which is new. A slightly deeper ruby colour again, lots of pencil shavings and dustiness on the nose over black fruits, a little bit of old rose perfume somewhere in there. The palate has lovely fruit: supple and ripe, that cedary quality is on the palate too, the tannins grippy and dry adding an edge. Arguably slightly austere acidity might be too much, but the fruit weight and suppleness really does make for a big, satisfying wine.
(2021) Organically certified, this comes from a winery founded in 1840 and one of the oldest in the region. It was made in stainless steel, then aged only six months in French and Hungarian oak, a variety of barrel ages and sizes. The current winemaking member of the family trained in Burgundy. Ruby with a broad rim that is slightly faded. A very fragrant wine, with all sorts of exotically floral, incense-like notes, some herbaceous twigs and briar and pomegranate fruit. In the mouth there's a sweet, soft and enveloping pool of spicy fruit. It has medium length, crunchy tannins and good acidity, and is a distinctive wine indeed.

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