As one of the oldest wine producing countries on our planet, Greece has been cultivating vines for over 6 000 years. This essential winegrowing country with a rare heritage has around 300 autochthonous grape varieties (1), 61 500 hectares of vines, 1 100 wineries and approximately 2.5 million hectoliters produced in 2016 (2). Visit of a land full of promise, blessed by the gods according to legend, and which, in the time of ancient Greece, gave its origin to the concept of grands crus.
"Almost all the Greek islands produce wine(3)", I was told by Wines of Greece, the national wine organization, when I started organizing our trip.
I then dreamt of an extraordinary wine exploration, where we would wander from island to island for months. But as time is always limited, we finally set our sights on the island of Tinos, north of the Cyclades, in the heart of the southern Aegean.
Far from the hustle and bustle of its neighbor, Mykonos (twenty away minutes by boat), Tinos is above all a place of pilgrimage.
A holy island where people gather. On the wine side, Tinos is a granitic island with a unique microclimate, where Assyrtiko – a white grape variety from Santorini, usually growing on volcanic soils, characterized by large bunches, transparent golden yellow skin and juicy flesh – seems to blossom.
We had to climb to the summit of the island, at 460 meters above sea level, to understand the uniqueness of Tinos. This terroir is probably one of the most interesting we have seen so far.
Imagine a vineyard surrounded by giant pieces of granite, combined with sandy soils, allowing the cultivation of ungrafted vines (4).
The landscape was breathtaking! The mist that surrounded us made the moment almost mystical and surreal. With 20°C in the air and an omnipresent wind, the temperature was considerably cooler, compared to the 29°C displayed a few minutes earlier on the dashboard of the camper van, at sea level.
Welcome to T-Oinos estate, an exceptional wine project. The dream of two friends : Alexandre Avatangelos, a Greek businessman passionate about wine, and Gérard Margeon, the executive chief sommelier of the Alain Ducasse Group.
"There were no more vineyards when I arrived on Tinos", quoting Alexander, whom from the start never ceased to believe in the potential of the island and left nothing to chance to hoist T-Oinos wines to the top.
The key to success ? The equivalent of the work of a goldsmith in the vineyard. "Taking care of your vineyard is the only way to be able to claim the production of great wines".
Planted in 2002, with a density of 10,000 plants/hectare (!), the vineyard did not begin to produce until 2008. "For 7 years we made 100% green harvests (5) in the vineyard, so that the root system of each plant received all the energy needed to dig deep into the rock", Gérard Margeon explained. Impressive.
In total, the vineyard of T-Oinos is divided into four parcels, all with different profiles, culminating between 300 and 460 meters of altitude:
-Stegasta: 6 hectares of Assyrtiko, Malagousia (white) and Mavrotragano (red), planted on sandy and granitic soils, at 460 meters altitude;
-Rasonas: 2 hectares of Mavrotragano, planted on sandy, granitic and clay soils at 370 meters altitude;
-Sparveri: 0.25 hectare of Mavrotragano, planted on sandy and granitic soils, with a touch of clay;
-Agios Dimitrios: 1.5 hectare of Mavrotragano and Avgoustiatis (red), planted on sandy, granitic and clay soils at 300m altitude.
But what would a great terroir be without the expert hand of man? It is therefore a super team that is behind T-Oinos.
Viticulture is under the direction of Michalis Tzanoulinos, who was born here and knows the island like his own pocket and Thànos Gèorgilas, with his international experience, who takes care of the oenology part. Finally, Stéphane Derenoncourt and his team have been advising the estate for two years.
All these elements in the bottle literally gave me chills when I tasted the wines. Rarely have I been so overwhelmed by emotion during a tasting. Now I understand what the phrase "CAPTURING THE TERROIR IN BOTTLE" means. Especially after tasting the Clos Stegasta Asyrtiko, "Cuvée Rare" 2017. A pure wine of meditation.
Have you ever been to Epanomi in northern Greece? It is a must see, both for the nature (a "Natura 2000" site which hosts rare species of flora and fauna) and for its vineyards, with an undeniable charm.
Like the Gerovassiliou estate, located 25 km southeast of Thessaloniki. A 71-hectare family vineyard that was recommended to us by our friend Georgia PanaGopoulou (aka Wine Gini).
Enjoying a unique microclimate for growing vines – surrounded on three sides by the sea (3km), while its west side faces the Thermaic Gulf, Mount Olympus and the beaches of Pieria – Gerovassiliou has seduced us with the quality of its wines, both in white and red.
Here we met with Vangelis Gerovassiliou, one of the most talented Greek oenologists of his generation, whom in his youth was one of the collaborators of the legendary Bordeaux professor Emile Peynaud.
In 1981, Vangelis decided to revive the 2.5 hectares of vines that his parents owned.
Each year, he planted a few more vines and grew it little by little, meticulously reinvesting the profits of previous year’s harvest. First the cellar, then an extension, then the restaurant and finally the museum.
A self-taught man who is involving his whole family in the adventure, from the vineyard to the cellar, to the marketing, the sales and the administration. An adorable team.
Affectionately nicknamed the father of Malagousia – a native Greek grape that he has revalidated, with delicate notes of flowers and ripe white fruit – Vangelis produces wines in line with his image, elegant and delicious.
The other side of Vangelis Gerovassiliou is his devouring passion for collecting the traditional tools of viticulture, winemaking, bottling and coopering barrels from around the world.
A real treasure and a nice way of preserving the wine heritage, which you can discover at the Gerovassiliou museum ; next to the tasting cellar. You will discover a magnificent collection of corkscrews of all kinds, from the most aesthetic to the wackiest, that Vangelis began to collect in the 1980s. No doubt, he is a real helixophile(6).
The icing on the cake, the museum was designed and implemented in collaboration with the professors of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, to make the visit as attractive as it is amusing. We loved it!
We concluded our stay in the heights of the village of Delphi, overlooking the sea from the campsite Chrissa, sipping a glass of cuvee Avaton 2015 from Gerovassiliou estate (a blend of Limnio, Mavroudi and Mavrotragano), petanque balls in hand.
The opportunity to meditate, once again, on the beauty of the Greek landscapes. We must return here shortly to discover new vineyards ; especially when we know that the country only exports 12% of its production (2). An invitation to travel.
Thank you to T-Oinos and Gerovassiliou estates for their warm welcome. Thank you to Gérard Margeon for advising us to visit the island of Tinos. Finally, thanks to our friend Georgia Panagopoulou (aka Wine Gini), for recommending Gerovassiliou estate.
(1) The main grape varieties planted in Greece are Savatiano, Hamburg Muscat and Assirtyko in white; Agiorgitiko, Liatiko and Xinomavro in red.
(2) Figures given by Wines of Greece.
(3) In Greece there are about 6000 islands and islets. Of this total, only 200 islands are inhabited. And of these 200 islands, only 70 have more than 100 inhabitants. Only about twenty of these Greek islands are very touristic.
(4) Franc de pied means that a vine has not been grafted.
(5) A complete green harvest consists of cutting and removing all the grapes for each vine; representing a zero income for the upcoming harvest, since there will be no grapes to harvest.
(6) A helixophile (or pomelkophile) is a collector of corkscrews.