Journal » Greek wine
Arriving by ferry on Kefalonia just as the sun is setting over its steep, dark green mountains with cliffs that fall straight into the sea gives it a faintly magical air. This first impression is reinforced as we make our way across the island on tiny, windy roads through villages with crooked bell towers and buildings abandoned after one of the large earthquakes that delineate Kefalonia’s history. It’s an hour’s drive from the port to the main town and we’ve barely crossed half of it.
The next morning we once again enjoy a seafront view from our hotel balcony and then jump on an empty ferry across the bay. Travelling out of season really has its benefits and as today is a national holiday (25th of March – a double celebration of the victory in the war of independence against the Ottoman empire and the Annunciation) it’s extra quiet.
Waking up view
The mystic charm of travelling off season
Crossing the bay and arriving at Lixouri, Kefalonia
Our first stop is Domaine Foivos – a producer who has really embraced a lot of the obscure local varieties, resulting in a total of 17 labels. Slightly daunting first thing in the morning with no breakfast or coffee! The Robola (the main white variety of the island) really stands out as do the sweet wines, one of which the French call liquid gold.
Sweet Muscat of Kefalonia or "liquid gold"
Theodore, the winemaker, and his wife, who is an archaeologist, have also researched ancient Greek wine-making techniques and attempted to follow these to make a mavrodaphne in large clay amphora.
The must (i.e. crushed grapes and juice) is first fermented and then added to the amphora along with wheels of cedar and myrtle that had been cut and dried in the sun for a year. These perform the same function as an oak barrel on the wine – imparting flavour and texture. One difference is that they didn’t seal the amphora so a quantity of wine leaked before the impurities in the wine gradually sealed the pores. The ancients would have usually sealed the vessel with resin – which is where the pine-resin flavoured retsina comes from. The results of an early bottling of the 2015 vintage is a wine that seems to have matured very quickly and is very supple.
Next we go to the Haritatos Estate, a beautiful stone house, with its origins in the 1860s surrounded by a patchwork of not only organic vineyards but citrus orchards, olive groves, veg patches and amongst it all sheep, chickens and turkeys. A real self-sufficient paradise. The vines are Muscat and Mavrodaphne planted from 1997 onwards, which produce just two labels, both dry. Both lovely, elegant and balanced – perfect for a lazy day on this island. Refusing the invitation to lunch with the wonderfully eccentric Haritatos family and their friends and peeling ourselves away is very difficult.
On our way to Haritatos Estate
Haritatos Estate, a real self-sufficient paradise
Time is running out to catch the last ferry of the day back to the mainland so we cut straight to our last visit of the day – Melissinos Winery. This is a seriously boutique winery with very small productions of each label, including not only excellent Robola, including a natural label, and Mavrodaphne but the intriguing Zakynthino too. All wines are organic and some of the best of the day.
On the road (again) to Melissinos Winery
Melissinos Winery, another paradise on earth
Our time is up so we catch the ferry to Peloponesse. As this is the 25th of March, there is only one option for lunch – the traditional Bakaliaros Skordalia (Stef ate his too quickly so no photo)
Leaving beautiful Kefalonia behind
And some office time..
Eh, slight change of scene today.
Having arrived back in Athens a day late from Crete, we set off very early for the Peloponnese – the four-fingered peninsula to the south of mainland Greece. The weather is bleak and as we leave the main road and start climbing into the mountains and the clouds, sunny Crete seems a world away.
Waiting for us at the top are some high altitude vineyards on a plateau 800-1000m (2,7000 - 3,300 ft) up. Many Greek varieties don’t reach maturity in this microclimate but those that do, such as Moschofilero and Agiorgitiko, produce elegant wines with high acidity. Another effect of the altitude is more rounded, mature tannins so these are smooth wines that go down a treat. Alongside these varieties we find grapes more accustomed to the climate – Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris (a less aromatic Sauvignon), Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a great example of the huge range of terroirs to be found in Greece.
Wine PDO map Peloponnese. Credit: New Wines of Greece
Turning back down towards the Northern coast of the Peloponnese and slightly further down the mountains around 650m (2,000 ft) you find the home of the Roditis variety. Roditis is a reddish-pink grape and surely the most underappreciated Greek variety. It is the most widely planted yet is either blended or hidden in cheap wines. In fact, the right clone – Roditis Alepou (meaning fox) – in the right area can make wonderful, refreshing, crisp, lightly aromatic whites that are incredibly enjoyable to drink, which probably explains its ubiquity. And the great thing is that even the best examples are still very affordable.
Continuing all the way down to the coast you go from the most planted to one of the rarest Greek variety in cultivation – Sidiritis. The name derives from sidiro (iron), a reference to minerality perhaps or the particular spicy zing it gives wines. Sidirits doubles as an eating grape and has quite a thick skin, which can be a challenge during vinification.
The day rounds off with a late lunch and jumping on the ferry to Kefalonia…
Easy lunch while waiting for the ferry to Kefalonia