Young Winemakers Leading the Revolution in Greece’s Wine Industry
Thirty years ago, France’s Burgundy region was stuck in a rut. The well-known, historically-acclaimed estates continued to make the same superbly complex, age-worthy and sought-after wines they always had. But the second tier was moribund, dominated by negociants more concerned with volume than terroir character and by ageing winemakers following dogma and local tradition in their winemaking techniques, often to the detriment of quality.
But in the late 1990s, commentators noticed that a new generation had taken over the region – better educated in their winemaking, more conscious of the importance of the environment in their vineyards - and more aware of the quality demands of international fine wine buyers.
And a similar revolution is now taking place in Greece – younger winemakers are replacing the old-guard’s old-fashioned, rustic winemaking, with international experience and a much better understanding of the techniques needed to create world-class wines.
We’ve picked out a few of the talented young people we’re calling Greek Wine’s New Wave – the young winemaking vanguard, who have been shaking things up, leading the revolution and, in the process, creating some of the most delicious and characterful wines available from any country in the world.
Returning to Greece, he took up a position at T-Oinos Vineyards on the Cyclades island of Tinos – in modern times an unheralded location for wine, but containing one of the highest potential and most unique terroirs in the world at the 450 metre altitude Clos Stegasta vineyard, planted with the indigenous Cycladic grape varieties Assyrtiko and Mavrotragano.
Whilst the granite boulder-strewn scrub of Tinos Island’s mountainous interior seemed an unlikely place to grown vines, the ruins of an ancient wine press adjacent to the vineyard proved that it must be possible to produce wine there – at the same time however, the vineyard’s marginal climate, high altitude and steeply inclined slopes suggested that it would be extremely difficult.
A recent visit to the estate by a group of British Masters of Wine gave a fascinating insight into the potential of this incredible terroir now being realised – acclaim was universal amongst the MWs, with any question of quality settled immediately on tasting the wines. Whilst debate ensued over the best style of Assyrtiko for the estate, Spyros’ feeling was that this was a good problem to have:
“While I was confident in my winemaking and the quality potential of Clos Stegasta, it’s easy to develop a cellar palate and lose perspective on the wines you create.
“To have a group of international wine experts come to the estate, from one of the most competitive world markets in London, taste the wines and be comparing them to the best of France and Italy, reassures me that we really do have something special here in Tinos.”
Also Available: Handford Wines, Maltby & Greek, Philglas & Swiggot, The Surrey Wine Cellar
With one of the most stylish and best equipped wineries on the island, Valambous’ estate creates an appealingly modern version of the famous Santorini indigenous grape Assyrtiko, with overly austere minerality toned down in favour of greater succulence, silkiness and food-match versatility.
Valambous: “Santorini has been famous for its Assyrtiko for many years and, whenever I used to bring back wines from the island to drink with my friends in London, they were always amazed at the quality. When I told them that we weren’t using my family’s land to produce wines, they were even more amazed!
“But this was a common story across Greece; people had turned their back on the land and its agricultural production, despite the incredibly high quality of its produce. When the financial crisis hit in 2008, I felt that it was time finally to put my money where my mouth was and make use of our land.
“Together with my winemakers Elias and Yiannis, who have also returned from long periods abroad, we’re fighting to show that Greece is still a country that can do great things.”
Also Available: Handford Wines, Noel Young Wines, The Wine Reserve
Vinified from Cabernet Franc and Merlot, La Tour Melas looks to the great estates of right-bank Bordeaux, Tuscany and California for its inspiration, as opposed to the traditional rustic reds vinified by many older winemakers from Greece’s indigenous varieties.
Elsa Picard: “the estate’s owner Kyros Melas has always been a lover of fine Pomerol and had the ambition to make something of the quality of Chateau Lafleur and Petrus at his estate in Greece.
“I got involved with La Tour Melas because Kyros had been looking for someone with experience of working with these grape varieties, which are alien to most winemakers in the country.
“With average temperatures and annual sunlight hours far in excess of what they experience in Bordeaux, we have no problem with our grapes reaching perfect ripeness, so the challenge is always to ensure that the ripeness of the fruit is matched by velvety tannins and sufficient potential to take on complexity with age.
"We're managing this with greater success as each vintage goes by and I truly believe that, at La Tour Melas, we're now producing a world-class Bordeaux-blend here in Greece."
Also Available: Bottle Apostle, Hedonism, The Surrey Wine Cellar, The Wine Reserve
Ready to dive into Greek Wine's New Wave?
If it's been a few years since you last tasted a Greek wine - and especially if your previous experience has been with the country's more old-fashioned wine styles - there's never been a better time to dive back into this ancient wine producing country's thoroughly modern wines.
Whether you're looking for unique indigenous varieties, or for international-class international blends, Greek wine's new wave has something distinctive and delicious for you.