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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 310 (September 27, 2010)

Saturday, September 18: Up at 7.30am to walk Pinot before breakfast in order to leave the condo at 9:20 for a flight to Philadelphia, en route for Greece. Flying US Airways. Philadelphia has the best airport lounge. Had lunch there – hummus, tapinade with pita, raw vegetables, cheese and crackers, prosciutto, salami, dried tomato. Artichoke heart salad with two vintages of Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulchiano d'Abruzzo (2007 and 2005). Then on to the Athens flight. Nine and a half hours, didn't sleep a wink. Maybe I should have ordered wine. Watched The Karate Kid and some dumb Tina Fey movie and a lot of TV programs.

Sunday, September 19: Arrived in Athens at 9:10 am. Dino Souchleris and his wife Helen met me. Dino will be guiding me around Greece for the next week. We hustled onto an earlier flight from Athens to Thessalonica (otherwise we would have had to wait till 3 pm). On the Olympic Airways hop of 50 minutes the stewards offered us hard candies (haven't seen that in years – but it was a turbo-prop plane). Dino rented a small Mercedes at the airport and we drove to Drama for about two hours. Our hotel is the Kouros, four kilometers before the town of Drama. We had lunch at 1:45 pm – moussaka and Greek salad with a glass of Tucani Alipias Sauvignon Blanc/Assyrtiko 2009.

Back to the room and slept for 2½ hours. Then Dino drove us in to the city of Drama, where we stopped at an outdoor café where I had a Kaiser Pilsner. Then we decided we'd drive the 30-minute drive into the port city of Kavala. This fishing port is frequented by Egyptian fishermen. The town rises steeply from the quay in a series of tiers surmounted by a dramatic castellated fort built by the Venetians.

We dined at Tsipouradiko Apiko on the esplanade overlooking the moored yachts and fishing boats in the harbour fringed with palm trees. The restaurant, housed in the old fish market building with tables spilling out onto the cobbled esplanade, is owned by a Greek who used to live in Toronto and Guelph. We ordered a local wine in 500 mL screwtop flask, called Ampelirinous, no vintage. A simple, grapey wine grown in the hills above Kavala. The waiter brought me a glass of another local wine which tasted similar but with a slightly resinous flavour. We ordered grilled calamari stuffed with roasted red pepper and cheese, grilled air-dried octopus, a local fish lightly battered and fried and a sublime eggplant salad (the eggplant is grilled over charcoal then refrigerated, sliced in half and topped with diced tomato, fried onion, feta cheese, dill, thyme and parsley, then drenched with olive oil). We were back at the hotel by 10:30 pm.

Monday, September 20: Drove to Domaine Costa Lazaridis, about ten minutes away from the hotel. Dino and I were joined by Nick and Petros, a film crew who drove up from Athens last night. They will be making a film of our trip. Costa Lazaridis owns 250 hectares, 70 of which are on the estate in Adriani. This was the first modern vineyard planted in Drama, where they used to grow rice and tobacco. Now Drama is known as the best region in which to grow Sauvignon Blanc. Michel Rolland began consulting here in 2004.

Chariton Maronikolakis, the PR and Marketing Manager, showed us around. Costa Lazaridis started in the marble business. His company paved Mecca and made Sadam Hussein's bath. He now owns what Chariton describes as a "mid range winery with a boutique mentality." They produce 1 million bottles – 16 different labels with the emphasis on international varieties, as well as 6 different grape-based spirits and also three grades of balsamic vinegar. Tasting at Domaine Costa Lazaridi in the Margherita Room (based on the flower with six ante-rooms.) The central feature is a marble sarcophagus filled with 400 bottles of Cava Amethystos 1995 as a time capsule.

  • Chateau Julia Assyrtiko 2009: pale straw; minerally, stone fruit nose; fresh, white peach with a peppery note (88)
  • Amethystos White 2009 (a Bordeaux blend with a Greek touch – Assyrtiko added to Sauvignon and Semillon): grassy, fig, with a floral note, citrus finish (89)
  • Chateau Julia Chardonnay 2009: unoaked – banana, apple nose with a mineral note; well extracted fruit. (87)
  • Costa Lazaridi Amethystos White 2009 (oak aged): Bordeaux style – floral, fig and cut grass flavours; nicely integrated oak, clean with a long finish (89)
  • Domaine Costa Lazaridi Viognier 2009: straw colour; spicy peach, honey suckle flavour; full on the palate, clean finish (89)
  • Amethystos  Rosé 2009 (Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot): deep pink; sulphur note, dry, strawberry flavour; good acidity (86)
  • Chateau Julia Merlot 2008: dense purple-ruby; leather, floral, blueberry nose; mouth-filling, full-bodied, floral, chocolate flavours, port-like intensity, ripe and full on the palate. Soft tannins. (90)
  • Amethystos Red 2008 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Agiorgitiko and "some other things"): dense ruby-purple; toasty, blackcurrant, floral note; well extracted fruit, plum and currant flavours, sweet fruit; firm finish (88)
  • Amethystos Cava 2004 (100% Cabernet Sauvignon): dense ruby colour; cedar, blackcurrant, lots of dry extract firmly structured, savoury dry finish (89+)
  • Enotria Land Cabernet Sauvignon and Agiorgitiko (10%) 2006: dense purple-black; savoury, herbal, pencil lead, floral note; sweet and porty, concentrated. A huge wine. (90)
  • Enotria Land Syrah and Agiorgitiko (10%) 2006: dense purple; graphite, blackberries; violets; intense, perfumed, blackberry, concentrated blackberry and plum flavours, well integrated oak (91)
  • Domaine Costa Lazaridi Syrah 2006: dense ruby; medicinal, blackberry nose; rich and ripe, blackberry and floral flavours that linger to a herbal finish (92)
  • Chateau Julia Refosco Agiorgitiko 2006: dense purple-black; baked plum tart nose; floral, black fruits, firm with a black licorice finish. Needs time for the tannins to soften. (89+)

Lunch: cheese aged in olive oil, cured beef, tomato and feta in puff pastry, olives followed by beef and mushroom casserole in tomato sauce. I opted for the Syrah to accompany the meat dish.

Then we tried Costa Lazaridi Tsipouro (Greek grappa), plain and flavoured with anise. This was followed by a tasting of the balsamic vinegars they make – aged for 2, 4 and 8 years. Finally, yogurt with nuts, honey and figs in syrup and berries accompanied by Costa Lazaridi Cabernet Sauvignon Eau de Vie.

After lunch we drive for two hours to the costal town of Ouranopolis in Chalkidiki, where we are met by the general manager of Tsantali, who leads us up to Mount Athos, where we will be spending the night in a Russian Orthodox monastery. Tsantali leases 100 hectares of vines from the church called Metoxi Chromitsa. You need a permit to enter the area and no women are allowed on Mount Athos; even the female president of Tsantali, the daughter of the founder, has never been up here. We park at the base of the property and are driven up by van along a tortuous dirt road to a stone cabin with a flagstoned patio, where we watch a gorgeous sunset before checking into out rooms. Mine is a cell with a queen-sized bed, a rocking chair and two small Persian rugs.

Tstantali farms organically Assyrtiko, Athiri, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Roditis in whites and, in reds, Xynomavro, Limnio, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon (the latter they will begin harvesting tomorrow). The monastery is the official supplier of a red and white wine called Metoxi Chromitsa to the Kremlin, and when Putin was sworn in as President of Russia in 2000 the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church presented him with a bottle of the wine. A photo of this event hangs in the sitting room of the monastery. Tsantali produces 70–80,000 bottles a year here and for the last fifteen years they have concentrated on reds. The grapes have to be shipped by boat to their facility, although they are in the process of building a winery on the property. Mount Athos, known as the "garden of the Virgin Mary," is an area of 60 kilometers by 15 kilometers within which there are 20 Orthodox monasteries – 17 of them are Greek, one Russian, one Serbian and one Bulgarian.

Before dinner we sit out on the balcony overlooking the vineyard and the sea beyond, drinking Tsantali Metoxi Sauvignon Blanc Assyrtiko 2009, an easy drinking wine with peach and crab apple flavours (86). Dinner: deep fried smelts and calamari with French fries and tomato and cucumber salad. They also make olive oil on the property and a large bowl of it is put on the table with bread for dipping. With this we drink Tsantali Metoxi X 2009, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Athiri (with some barrel age: well balanced lemony peach flavour. (88)). Then we switch to Tsantali Metoxi Red 2007 (Limnio and Cabernet Sauvignon): deep ruby colour; floral, blackcurrant nose with a sweet note; full on the palate with flavours of plum and currants; soft mouth feel (88). Perikles Drakos, Tsantli's Export Director, tells me, "Our belief is the future of Greek wines is in Greek grapes." Next, Tsantali Metoxi X Red 2005 (Limnio, Cabernet Sauvignon and Xynomavro): not as deeply coloured as the previous wine but more elegant – cedar and blackcurrant nose with a floral note; a seamless wine with ripe tannins and a cocoa powder finish. It reminded me of Chateau Musar (89).

Over glasses of Tsipouro, the company of men started telling jokes in Greek so I left at midnight for my cell to sleep.

Tuesday, September 21: Up at 7 am. There is a magical light here in the morning, reminiscent of Tuscany with the sun on red tiled roofs. After a breakfast of herbal tea and a cookie, we drive up to a Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard and witness the harvest. Then down the mountain and drive to the Tsantali winery at Agios Pavlos Halkadiki. After touring the winery, a tasting:

  • Tsantali Halkadiki Assyrtiko-Sauvignon Blanc 2009: straw with a green tint; pear and grapefruit flavours (86)
  • Tsantali Agiorgitiko 2009 (Assyrtiko, Athiri, Roditis): light, fresh, grapefruit flavour and almond; easy drinking (first Vin de Pays in Greece) (87)
  • Tsantali Halkadiki Assyrtiko 2009 (organic): straw colour; white peach, quince, minerally, good fresh acidity (87)
  • Tsantali Kenenas 2009 (Muscat of Alexandria, Chardonnay) (from Maronia in NE Greece): straw; aromatic, apple; a light spice and apple; good length (87)
  • Tsantali Halkadiki 2008 (Limnio, Merlot): ruby; plum, cedar; spicy, sweetish plum, good acdity (86)
  • Tsantali Metoxi X White 2009: Assyrtiko, Athiri, Sauvignon Blanc – straw colour; light, fresh, peach with a floral note, lively lemony  acidity (88)
  • Tsantali Kanenas 2007 (Mavroudi, Syrah): dense ruby: blackberry-blackcurrant, cedar, woody; firmly structured, dry, with supple tannins (87)
  • Tsantali Naoussa Xynomavro Reserve 2006: dense purple-ruby; violets, vanilla oak, black fruits; firmly structured with ripe black raspberry flavour, tannins giving structure; medium to full-bodied, with a fine dry finish (88)
  • Tsantali Rapsani 2007 (Xynomavro, Krassato, Stavroto – field blend); dense ruby-black; savoury, black fruit nose; sweet plum and chocolate with lively acidity and a firm finish. Rustic but very enjoyable. (88)
  • Tsantali Rapsani Reserve 2006: dense ruby-black; cedar, currants on the nose; dry, medium-bodied, plum, black cherry with evident tannins. Needs time. (88+)
  • Tsantali Rapsani Grand Reserve 2003: dense ruby; cedar, forest floor, cherry nose; dry, elegant, firmly structured, dry, cherry flavour; firm tannins; full on the palate with a long savoury finish (90)
  • Tsantali Metoxi Chromitsa 2008 (Limnio, Cabernet Sauvignon): dense purple; floral, blackcurrant, cedar note; sweet blackcurrant, soft and supple with a firm finish (88)
  • Tsantali Metoxi Chromitsa X 2005: dense ruby; vanilla, milk chocolate; elegant, Bordeaux-like, firmly structured, red berry flavour, seamless (90)
  • Tsantali Halkadiki Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (organic): dense ruby; cedar, vanilla, blackcurrant; fine mouth feel, firmly structured, ripe fruit with a sweetness that finally turns savoury on the finish (89)

A lunch is served in the tasting room of souvlaki, steak, salad and French fries. Perikles tells me that Greeks drink considerably more white than red and great quantities of Retsina. They will even mix Retsina with Coca Cola!

We drive two and a half hours to Amyntaio, where we check into the Ateron Hotel. When I go to plug in my computer I find that I have left the adapter in the outlet in the monastery. Damn.

At 8 pm Kostas Arvanitakis, from the export department of from Alpha Estate winery, comes to the hotel with Alpha's owner/winemaker Angelos Iatrides to take us all to dinner at Thomas Taverna in Sklithro, a 20 minute drive from our hotel. The restaurant is regarded as one of the best in northern Greece and specializes in traditional dishes. Plates of red peppers in olive oil, fried cheese, eggplant and grilled mushrooms arrive on the table and then a succession of meat dishes – pork cooked in onions, oregano and tomato sauce, pork sirloin in pepper sauce, goat meat balls, rib eye steak and a plate of grilled peppers, zucchini and mushrooms cooked in wine. With this we consume Alpha Estate Pinot Noir 2007 and Alpha Estate Red 2007 (a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Xynomavro). We will be tasting these wines tomorrow when we visit the winery. For dessert: tomatoes cooked in syrup that maintain their solid shape by being prepared in what I'm told is asbestos. With this dish, ice cream and chocolate sauce.

Wednesday, September 22: Just a cup of tea for breakfast – still full from last night. We drive over to Alpha Estate, about five minutes from the hotel. The co-owner and winemaker, Angelos Iatrides, takes me out to the vineyards. He has a very old Xynomavro block, some vines dating back 100 years. In total, 69 hectares planted. The new blocks have underground irrigation and micro-camera sensors to measure the sugar in the leaves. A 14-million-euro investment in the property with another 7 million to come. Like many Greek winemakers, Angelos studied and worked in Bordeaux. Also in Madiran, where he fell in love with Tannat. Tasting at Alpha Estate:

  • Alpha Axia 2006: Xynomavro, Syrah: deep purple-ruby colour; leather, blackberry with a cedar note; creamy oak and blackberry and cranberry flavours with a lively acidity (87)
  • Alpha Syrah Turtles 2007: deep ruby; blackberry with a herbal note; smoky, charred oak, clean fruit with fresh acidity (88)
  • Alpha Pinot Noir 2007: ruby; minerally, violets and black cherry; fresh black cherry flavour carried on lively acidity with just a hint of oak (90)
  • Alpha Xynomavro Hedgehog 2007: ruby; sour cherry, leather, crisp and firm, medium-bodied (88)
  • Alpha Xynomavro Old Vines 2007: deep ruby; cedar, vanilla oak, cranberry, perfumed note, very youthful (88+)
  • Alpha Xynomavro Reserve 2007: deep ruby; earthy, cherry with a light floral note; ripe cherry fruit with lively acidity, a sweetness at the core and firm tannic finish (90)
  • Alpha Estate Red 2006 (60% Syrah, 20% Xynomavro, 20% Merlot): dense ruby staining the glass; floral, blackberry, licorice; mouth-filling, sweet blackberry with a herbal note, lively acidity, great balance (91)
  • Alpha Estate Red 2006: dense ruby; creamy, blackberry and rhubarb; sweet fruit with a smoky note, beautifully balanced with great structure and length (92)
  • Alpha Estate Red 2008 (to be released next year): deep ruby; tight nose vanilla oak, blackcurrant with a floral note; seamless; firmly structured (not as generous as 2007 but more restrained and elegant) (91)
  • Alpha Estate Tannat 2007 (first time as a varietal – vines planted in 1994): dense purple, stains the glass; great extract – briary, black fruits, vanilla oak; chunky, fruity, blackberry; tannins kick in early; full-bodied. Needs 3 years at least. (89++)
  • Alpha One 2006 (a winemaker selection of 17 barrels – the last year using Tannat in this label) (100% new oak 9 months + 9 months): dense purple, vanilla oak, blackcurrant nose; sweet fruit, slightly rustic, smoky-tarry, firmly structured (90)
  • Alpha Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2009: light straw; grassy, green fig nose; floral, creamy mouth feel; beautifully balanced, clean, lively on the palate (89)
  • Alpha Sauvignon Blanc Fume 2009: medium straw; spicy clove and green plum flavours; exotic spicy passion fruit and orange flavours (89)
  • Alpha Rosé 2008 (Xynomavro, Syrah): deep pink with a blue tint; raspberry; floral raspberry candy flavour, off-dry strawberry-raspberry and water melon flavours. A very pretty wine. Great length. (89)
  • Alpha Omega 2007 (Gewurztraminer and Malagousia): pale straw; lychee, rose petal; concentrated, toffee and lychee flavours. Full in the mouth with an apple purée finish. (89)

Lunch of cheese pie, wonderfully fresh tomatoes and feta cheese, with a glass of Alpha Estate Red 2006.

We drive to Thessalonika to meet Perikles at his favourite fish restaurant, The Seven Seas. He has ordered a series of tapas, which we consume with Tsantali Metoxi White 2008 and Tsantali Kanenas 2009. The dishes come rapidly – sea bass tartar covered with trout caviar, flounder salad, tuna carpaccio. Scallop and prawn in a champagne sauce with caviar and mushrooms, hard fish roe with fig paste flavoured with nuts and anise, mussels covered with grated parmesan and parsley, grilled sardines with diced tomatoes, Portobello mushrooms stuffed with shrimp, cheese and small mushrooms, sea food risotto. By this time I'm ready to cry "Uncle." But the desserts arrive – cinnamon-flavoured semolina with ice cream and prunes and strawberry ice cream with honey and Turkish Delight and millefeuille with crème anglaise topped with slivered almonds. Then the digestifs – Mastica from Chios and Tsipouro.

Then we get up from the table at 5 pm and embark on what becomes a five-and-a-half hour drive to Athens. Petros gets stopped for speeding. He was doing 163 km in a 130 km zone. There's a full moon tonight. I am staying at the President Hotel. There is free wi-fi if you sit in the bar. I order a glass of red wine. They have no Greek wines in the bar, only a bottle of Chilean Cabernet which must have been open for two days. Catch up on emails until 12:30 am.

Thursday, September 23: After breakfast Petro, Dino and I drive to Nemea to visit George Skouras, whom I last saw 15 years ago. I remember his Viognier well. En route we stop at the Corinth canal with its gorgeous turquoise water.

Tony at Corinth Canal

Winemaker George Skouras

At the winery there is an exhibition of the works of Ona B, the Austrian artist who works exclusively in red. In the main hall of the winery hangs a 15-foot-high red dress.

  • Skouras White 2009 (Roditis 70%, Moscofilero 30%): pale straw with green tint; minerally, fresh, orchard fruits; lively on the palate with lemony acidity and wet stones flavours (87)
  • Skouras Moscofilero 2009: straw; aromatic, honeysuckle, white peach; spicy, beautifully balanced with a rose petal note, guava with lovely acidity. Good length. (89)
  • Skouras Almyra 2008 (Chardonnay Musqué, 30% barrel-fermented): light golden colour; spicy, apple, peach, white floral note; round on the palate; ripe, elegant, beautifully integrated oak with zesty acidity and buttery finish (90)
  • Skouras Dum Vinum Sperum 2006 (Chardonnay Musqué): 100% barrel fermented, 8 months sur lie; deep straw colour; toasty, peach, floral note; soft melon flavour, seamless flavours of vanilla oak, cream, peach, orange. Mouth-filling, great mouth feel and lingering finish (92)
  • Skouras Viognier 2008 (30% barrel-fermented): straw; honeysuckle, peach with a touch of oak; ripe, caramel, peach, full-bodied and mouth-filling with a roasted hazelnut finish and great mouth-freshening acidity (90)
  • Skouras Viognier Eclectique 2008 (bunches are twisted on the vine before full maturity; aged in oak with last year's lees): golden straw colour; rich, vanilla, creamy peach pie with a spicy-floral note; full-bodied, tropical fruit flavours carried on lively acidity to a hazelnut finish (91)
  • Skouras Red 2008 (Aghiorghitiko 90%, Cabernet Sauvignon 10%): ruby-purple; nose like a Moulin-a-Vent – strawberry-cherry nose and redcurrants; fresh, fruity with racy acidity. Clean, soft tannins (87)
  • Skouras Saint George Nemea 2007 (Aghiorghitiko): deep purple; floral, cherry, spicy oak; ripe fruit, spicy red berry and cherry flavours; ripe tannins, well balanced and firm (88)
  • Skouras Grand Cuvée 2006 (Aghiorghitiko, high altitude vineyard at 1000 metres): deep purple-ruby; cedar, blackcurrant, red berries; very fresh, redcurrant, cranberry flavours; firmly structured with a mineral thread; ripe tannins (90)
  • Skouras Megas Oenos 2007 (Aghiorghitiko 80%, Cabernet Sauvignon 20%): deep purple; cedar, blackcurrant, vanilla oak with a spicy note; firmly structured, ripe red berry fruit with lively crab apple acidity. A wine that will age. (91)
  • Skouras Synoro 2006 (Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Aghiorghitiko): vanilla oak, black cherry, mineral; rich, mouth-filling sweet fruit, Bordeaux-style with a Greek twist; great structure, firm but pliant on the palate. Carries its 14.2% alcohol very well. (90)
  • Skouras Labyrinth 9906 (Aghiorghitiko 80%, Cabernet Sauvignon 20% – solera blend of 1999 to 2006; 400 litres drained off and replaced every year – 500 bottles produced): deep ruby; cedar, red berry , floral, cinnamon; very fresh on the palate with layered flavours of red berry, dried cherry and new leather carried on lively acidity. Firm finish of mellow tannins. (92)

Lunch in the town of Nemea, the birthplace of Hercules. Ate at 4 pm in a typical country restaurant called Sofos where the mother of the owner cooks. I order a Kaiser Pilsner since they don't have any Retsina. Two emaciated cats hover around the tables, meowing, waiting for anything that drops. Salad, feta with olive oil, meat balls with French fries, beef casserole with French fries and rooster cooked in red wine and noodles.

Then we drive to Semeli, set 550 metres in the mountains. (Semeli was the mother of Dionysus.) Fifteen years ago when I visited the winery it was in Stamata in the mountains above Athens. Subsequently bought by a banker who built a California-style winery in Nemea. Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are still made in the old winery.

  • Semeli Oreinos Helios 2009 (Moscofilero 85%, Roditis 15%): pale straw; minerally, peach pit with a white pepper note, reminiscent of Grüner Veltliner. Light-bodied (86)
  • Semeli Mantinia Nassiakos 2009 (Moscofilero): minerally, aromatic, peach; spicy, light-bodied, fresh lemony finish (87)
  • Semeli Oreinos Helios Rosé 2009 (Ahgiorgitiko): deep pink with an orange note; raspberry, minerally nose; concentrated raspberry candy flavour with an earthy note. A little bitterness on the finish. (86)
  • Semeli Oreinos Helios Ahgiorgitiko 2008: ruby; rustic, strawberry nose; firm on the palate, dry red berry flavour with a brittle finish (86)
  • Semeli Red 2007 (Ahgiorgitiko 80%, Cabernet Sauvignon 20%): ruby, strawberry and blackcurrant with a cedar note; dry with a herbal note; firmly structured, good middle palate fruit with a savoury finish (87)
  • Semeli Nemea Reserve 2007 (Ahgiorgitiko): deep ruby; oaky, creamy strawberry flavout; mouth-filling and firmly structured with evident tannins. Needs time. (87+)
  • Semeli Domaine Helios Grande Reserve 2004 (Ahgiorgitiko): deep ruby; mature, barnyard, spicy, dried red berries; rich mouth-feel; sweetish strawberry and prune flavours; firm finish. Drink soon. (88)
  • Chateau Semeli 2006 (Cabernet Sauvignon 90%, Merlot 10%): deep ruby colour; cedar, currants, woody note; herbal, medicinal blackcurrant flavour with obvious drying tannins (88)
  • Semeli The Spirit of Semeli (Moscofilero, Roditis, Ahgiorgitiko aged for six months in French oak): old gold colour; honey, vanilla oak; hot and spirity with lingering flavours of honey and oak (88)

Drove back to Athens. There is a railway strike on at the moment and an ongoing strike of truck drivers who are blocking certain highways. We have to detour to get onto the Athens highway. Back at 9:30 pm. Not hungry. Get online and answer a myriad emails while drinking Costa Lazaridis Cava Amethystos 2004.

Friday, September 24: Today we are driving north to the village of Pagaration to see the world's oldest grape vine. We stop at a great wine shop, Cave Athidis, 76 Kifisias Avenue, to buy a corkscrew. I buy a bottle of Santos Wines Nykteri Reserve 2008. Nykteri is a local Santorini term for "staying up all night." It's a blend of Assyrtiko, Athiri and Aidani.

Souvlaki cook in Corinth

At the Corinth Canal we stop for some souvlaki and French fries and feta in an open air restaurant adjacent to the canal. At a gas station near Tripoli we stop to wait for a delivery of Tselepos wines for a tasting later today. While waiting I read my brochure about Athens: the word gastronomy, it says, comes from the Greek "gastros" meaning stomach and "nomos" meaning knowledge or law. It then goes on to say that we should match the colour of the wine to the colour of the meat (!).

The old vine, reputed to have been planted 150 years before the birth of Christ, is located in a wooded area by a newly-built church in Kleitoria, Peloponnese. It's known as the Pausanias vine tree after the historian Pausanias, who referred to it in his history of the Peloponnese, estimating it to be 150 years old then. We are joined by some of the villagers, including the local priest, who wears camouflage pants under his black robes. Vassilas Statonopolous, a retired farmer, tells me that he used to play hide and seek under the trunk as a child and remembers picking its grapes sixty year ago. The vine which climbs the trees no longer bears fruit. Probably because Italian soldiers cut down portions of it for firewood during the Second World War.

World's oldest grape vine

Under its swooping canes as thick as my arm we have a tasting with the priest and three villagers of Avanti Syrah Viognier 2007, Spriopolos Nemea 2007, Tselepos Dryopi Reserve 2005, Tselepos Merlot 2006.

Wine under the vine with the local priest and villagers

Then we drive to Dino's village, stopping for a very late lunch in Vitnia at Taverna Klimatria – navy bean soup, fried saganaki cheese, zucchinis in olive oil, braised goat a chips, braised beef with noodles and baklava. The accompanying wines, Santo Wines Nykteri 2008 and Chateau Semeli 2008. Dino's village Alonstena is 9 kilometers up into the mountains. In the summer Dino's daughter was married here; an outdoor wedding in the village square.

Dino Souchleris nearby his village

We stop in at a restaurant called Katalpis for a cup of mountain tea, made from a local herb (tastes like a soapy chamomile). Back at the hotel by 10:30 pm.

Winemakers Apostolos and Lenga Mountrichas of Avantis

Saturday, September 25: Awoke to rain. Shopped for some jewellery for Deborah. Dino bargained with the store owner. Petro picked us up and we drove an hour to Avantis Estate in the Evia region. Apostolos Mountrichas and his wife Lenga are both oenologists. They produce 200,000, half of which are red. They had twins a year ago. Apostolos's grandfather's stone house is now the winery.


  • Avantis Estate Malagousia 2010 (tank sample – to be bottled in one month): spicy, white flowers, grapefruit peel nose; medium-bodied, lively acidity, tangerine and pineapple flavours; aromatic (89)
  • Avantis Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (tank sample): grassy, gooseberry nose; sweet gooseberry, white peach  and passion fruit (89+)
  • Avantis Estate Lenga Gewurztraminer 2010 (tank sample): lychee, rose petal; ginger; lovely mouth feel, sweet lychee, rose water, ginger note (90)
  • Avantis Estate White 2009 (Assyrtico and Sauvignon Blanc): light straw colour; green fruits; fresh, lively lemon-lime and white peach flavours. Good length. (87)
  • Avantis Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2009: medium straw; oily, vegetal aromas; lively acidity, green fruit flavours; good length (88)
  • Avantis Estate Malagousia 2009 (4 months in untoasted barrels): medium straw colour: honeysuckle, peach; spicy peach, white flowers; elegant with just a hint of oak on the finish, mandarin-like acidity. Great length. (90)
  • Avantis Estate Syrah 2008: deep purple; peppery blackberry; full-bodied, blackberry and plum flavours, lively acidity, firmly structured; full-bodied, ripe tannins (89)
  • Avantis Estate M Mavrokoudoura 2007 (an ancient local variety, unique to this winery; 1000 bottles a year): dense ruby; rustic, plum and dark chocolate nose; full-bodied, earthy, licorice, plum and blackberry flavours. Intense and rich on the palate with a warm alcoholic finish. (88)
  • Avantis Estate Agios Chronos Syrah Viognier 2007: dense purple black; floral, blackberry, herbal note; rich, full-bodied, intense blackberry, firmly structured; well integrated oak; sweet fruit, dark chocolate. A big chewy wine with mellow tannins and great length (91)
  • Avantis Estate Collection Syrah 2007 (400 – 1000 bottles each year, from a single vineyard): dense purple-black; toasted herbs, blackberry, vanilla oak; concentrated blackberry, peppery and dark chocolate; rich and full on the palate. Cinnamon and floral notes. A big, powerful wine. Needs time. (90++)

Apostolos and his wife Legna have arranged a fish lunch at Akrogiali restaurant by the shore of the Eroikos gulf, the only tidal waters in Greece, Dino says. We drink Avantis Estate Malagousia 2009 with a series of dishes – sea snails in vinegar, and olive oil, oysters, clams, steamed mussels and mussels in lemon sauce, sea urchins and finally steamed lobster. With the lobster, Avantis Estate Malagousia 2009 aged 4 months in oak. For dessert, which Petros bought for me to taste, a true Greek sweet, galaktoboureko (phyllo pastry with a sweet creamy filling made with eggs, butter, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and milk (delicious)). With this, Avantis Estate Melitis Muscat Blanc (N/V) and  Avantis Estate Melitis Collection 1996. Back to Athens and change into a jacket and shirt for a tasting at Dionysus restaurant under the Acropolis (stunningly illuminated). Tasted: Alexakis Malvasia 2009 from Crete, Alexakis Biviano 2009, Hatzidakis Assyrtiko 2009 from Santorini, Hatzidakis Oak Fermented Assyrtiko 2008, Hatzidakis Aidani Assyrtiko 2009, Katima Argyrou Assyrtiko 2008, Argyrou Assyrtiko 2009, Nostos Alexandos 2008 Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Nostos 2006, Alexakis 2007 (Kotsifali and Syrah) and Nostos Syrah 2007. And so to bed.

Sunday, September 26: Up at 7 am to pack. Dino picks me up from the hotel and drives me to Athens Airport, where I am given two body searches. Flying to Toronto via Philadelphia. A fascinating trip. Compared with my visit 15 years ago Greek wines have improved immeasurably and so have their vineyard practices.




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