Thursday evening this week saw the London launch of one of Greece's most exciting and dynamic new wineries: T-Oinos Estate, from the Cyclades island of Tinos.
Joined by Theodore Kyriakou of The Greek Larder and a select group of Wimbledon Wine Cellar clients, we tasted the incredible range of tiny yield, old vine Assyrtiko and Mavrotragano produced in T-Oinos' steep, rugged vineyards.
While vineyards have been planted in the harsh landscape of the hilly centre of Tinos for hundreds (if not thousands) of years, the twentieth century move of the island population away from traditional agricultural living into the towns and cities of the mainland, meant that it required the vision of a near-foreigner to see the true potential of Tinos' all but ruined vineyards.
T-Oinos Estate owner Alexandre Avantangelos was born in Greece, but moved away to France aged 17, first to study and then to set up and run his hugely successful business. This early exposure to French culture led to a passion for fine Burgundy wines and a 25 year friendship with Nadine Goublin, winemaker at Domaine Jacques Prieur since 1990.
Avantangelos' first foray into Greek wine was an investment with Domaine Sigalas, who he helped transform from a small, little-known local producer into the internationally-acclaimed darling of Santorini that he is today. But, with Santorini well-established and firmly on the island-hopping tourist trail, his dream was to renovate vineyards he regarded as having even greater potential, on the near-by, but much smaller island of Tinos.
As Avantangelos explained, "the best vineyards are usually planted in the harshest conditions; poor soil and low rainfall forces the vine to send its roots deep underground, where exposure to all the different soils creates profound complexity of flavour in the fruit."
"I'd never seen harsher conditions for vines than in the boulder-strewn vineyards of Tinos Island, so I figured they must be capable of producing great wines."
The La Tour Melas Connection:
We were first recommended to T-Oinos Estate by Kyros Melas of La Tour Melas; the oenologist who first planted Melas' estate, Panos Zoumboulis, is also the father of the present oenologist at T-Oinos, Spyros Zoumboulis, who also happens to be married to Melas' current winemaker, Elsa Picard. And they say the wine trade in London is a small world!
Aside from family connections, Melas recommended T-Oinos as the only other estate in Greece with a vision for the potential of Greek wines as great as his own. Avantangelos spares no expense in the production of his wines, taking minute yields from his vineyards and flying in his friend Nadine Goublin of Burgundy's Domaine Jacques Prieur to oversee winemaking.
And our launch tasting on Thursday showed that this vision is well on the road to being realised. Throughout the range, the depth and concentration of fruit was astounding. The Clos Stegasta Assyrtiko bursted with the minerality and salinity of Tinos' volcanic soils and maritime proximity, while the Mavrotragano showed massively brooding depths of dark fruit, leather, tar and liquorice - and these, plus huge ageing potential, in the Clos Stegasta Mavrotragano.
While the wines aren't cheap, it takes the fruit of three vines to produce a single bottle of T-Oinos' Clos Stegasta - and they truly belong alongside Europe's greatest fine wines.