There is no denying that Greece is a global hotspot these days. After a two-year lockdown, people are once again flocking to the picturesque Southeast European country to explore all that Greece has to offer. And along with stunning beaches, picture-perfect villages and some of the freshest, most delicious food, there is something else that makes Greece so special: the wine.
Greece is one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world and while the various varietals produced there may not be as well-known as, say, ones from Italy or France, Greek wine is having a moment — one that is sure to stay.
“Greece is a country that has been producing wine for thousands of years, and wine has been of cultural significance for millennium,” explains Johnny Livanos of Diamond Wine Importers. “While Greece is a relatively small country, there are dozens of unique regions that focus on a variety of indigenous grapes, each with their own distinct qualities and flavor profiles. This immense history and diversity of the country makes it a wine region where exploration is constant. There is always something new to explore.”
Next up, we explore the Amyndeon region, an appellation in northwest Macedonia. The high-altitude vineyards — they sit on a mountain plateau that can be as high as 2,300 feet above sea level, with the Vermion, Vitsi and Voras mountains surround Amyndaio, protecting the vineyards from maritime influences as well as cold winds from the north — surrounding the town of Amyndaio are mostly planted to the Xynomavro grape variety, which is the only variety permitted under Amyndaio’s appellation law. Despite this, a variety of wines are produced, from fruity, light reds to dry rosés — both still and sparkling.
“The Amyndeon region is one of the most famous wine regions in Greece,” explains Angelos C. Iatridis, Winemaker for Alpha Estate. “Wine making history of the area goes back to 2700 BC, with ancient pots for must conservation from that era and loppers from the Hellenistic period being discovered by archeological excavations in the area.”
The Wines of PDO Amyndaio
The unique region captivated the team at Alpha Estate — for good reason. “We were intrigued by the region’s possibilities, with its sandy clay loamy topsoil covering the limestone subsoil,” Iatridis continues. “Amyndeon has become the leading appellation regarding Xinomavro variety. Though the climate is semi-continental, the cold mountain weather is mitigated by five prehistoric shallow lakes, leading to a diurnal difference of + -17 degrees and creating a long and slow growing season. It is the cool temperate part of Greece, but also one of the driest, with low rainfalls during the harvest season. The “real taste” of the wines produced at Alpha Estate, apart from the balance, is the crispy “pure” expression of Xinomavro variety of and the long aftertaste that result from the Amyndeon ecosystem.”
The climate in the PDO Amyndeon is one of the most continental in Greece, with temperate summers and cold, rainy winters. During the growing season, warm sunshine during the day is followed by colder nights that shut down the production of sugar in the grapes, lengthening the ripening period. As a result, acidity is preserved as the berries reach phenolic ripeness, and the Xynomavro from PDO Amyndaio is often brighter and fresher than that from other parts of Greek Macedonia. This retention of acidity is important for the production of sparkling wine, and PDO Amyndaio is one of only two sparkling-wine appellations in Greece (the other being Zitsa in Epirus).
“Being one of the most northern regions of Greece, Amyndeon has a more continental climate where the rest of the wine regions are more Mediterranean,” says Livanos. “The red wines from this region have softer tannins and made with a bit more finesse and the cooler climate creates reds with a more elegant nature; fantastic reds to drink while young, but they still develop with tremendous complexity.”
Several lakes surround Amyndaio, offering some cooling influences, and the region is characterized by its sandy, alluvial soils deposited by the movement of water over time. Heavy rainfall during winter provides enough water in the ground to keep the vines hydrated throughout the dry summers, although the rapid drainage of these soils ensures this is not excessive. This lessens the vigor of the vines, leading to smaller, more-concentrated grapes.
While Xynomavro is the only grape permitted in the PDO appellation, several other varieties are planted throughout the region. These include native Greek varieties such as Roditis and Malagousia and international grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc and Tannat. Syrah has been particularly successful in the vineyards of Amyndaio and has proved a good blending partner for Xynomavro.
“Xinomavro is a very old Greek indigenous variety, the only Amyndeon PDO variety,” says Iatridis. “Amyndeon appellation became the largest Xinomavro vineyard in the world after the establishment of Alpha Estate, which gave impetus to the cultivation of this variety. Xinomavro is a versatile indigenous variety, producing from medium to medium-full body wines, with a small forestry red berries character which, with aging, develops into a character of dried fruits and herbs. A fascinating factor is Xinomavro’s bouquet, subtly aromatic, the bouquet of the forested hillside, intriguing and mysterious.”
At Alpha Estate, “balance, finesse, elegance, structure, and minerality are key elements deriving from the synergy of ecosystem’s qualities (human factor, altitude, climate, soil constitution, time evolution) and uncompromised team work into the vineyard and winemaking,”Iatridis offers. “The philosophy of the estate is based on social sustainability, circular economy, low carbon fingerprint practices, fair employment, 100% Estate Grown, Produced & Bottled. Cover crop is used on the sandy loamy soil, and each block is treated separately according to its rootstock and grape variety.”
Since its establishment, Iatridis explains, Alpha Estate is focused on quality and innovation. “Alpha Estate was the 1st vineyard in Europe, back in 1995, to install subsoil irrigation and to incorporate this into the practices of precise viticulture and regulated deficit irrigation, following all the latest international technological developments in vine growing and winemaking. Grapes arrive in the fridges within 40 minutes of picking, optical sorters are used and grapes are destemmed before being vinified. We wisely maintain deeply rooted traditions in the world of wine by facing future with determination. Nevertheless, up to date technology does not replace people nor the art in winemaking but strengthens our creativity spirit.”
So, how should a newbie to Greek wine from the Amyndeon region pair these delicious varietals?
“Juicy, red barbecued or grilled local beef is the region’s typical pairing to Xinomavro,” says Iatridis. “Furthermore beef stew, braised lamp on feta cheese or on the slightly saltier batzos goat cheese is an ideal match for Xinomavro Old Vines.”
Jordi Paronella, Wine Director for Jose Andres’s Think Food Group is equally excited about the wines from this region.
“Amyndeon is probably one of the most promising wine regions in Greece,” says Paronella. “Due to the global warming, altitude is becoming a huge quality element in winemaking. What makes Amyndeon special is that it’s one of the coldest wine regions in Greece, starting in 500m up to around 800. Not only that, soils are poor, on a calcareous bed rock. Due to all this characteristics, high acidity will be a key in the region, seeing a lot of potential for Xinomavro red wines.”
“Vieilles Vignes Reserve Xinomavro wine produced by the grapes of Barba Yannis have earned countless awards and is probably the best proof that old vines should be considered as a heritage and as important as the history of a nation,” says Iatridis. “A nation that, despite its unstable past, can look to the future with optimism, through the eyes of our vision and bring up to future the magic of the past.”
Wines from PDO Amyndeon — and other Greek regions — can be ordered by visiting shop.diamondwineimporters.com.
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