Paros’s wine, like Santorini’s, but unlike the other Cyclades’, is not a novelty. The inhabitants of the island have been producing wine for thousands of years, and now the entire island, along with its neighboring island called Antiparos, is part of the PDO Paros, which was established in 1981. It produces both white and red wines. However, because Paros is a popular tourist destination, construction and changes in the island’s occupational profile have had a significant limiting impact on viticulture over the last decades.
Winemaking in Paros: a Brief History
When Phylloxera hit the rest of Europe, many Greek islands, including Paros, were left unaffected due to their soil and climatic conditions. Consequently, they kept producing wine to export to Western countries whose production had fallen back due to the disease. By the mid-twentieth century, the island had a viticulture area of 10,000 acres and five wineries.
However, Paros saw rapid development in the field of tourism in the 1970s, and the remaining grapevines now covers only about 1,200 acres. The island was promoted as a viticultural location in 1981, with a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) for wines produced from the Mandilaria and Monemvasia grape varieties.
In addition, a Malvasia Paros PDO was established in 2011. It includes sweet wines made from sundried Monemvasia (at least 85% of the blend) and Assyrtiko (up to 15% of the blend). Before bottling, the wine must be aged in barrels for at least 24 months.
Paros is a flat island with strong summer winds (called Meltemia) and limited rainfall during the summer season, but it also has higher humidity levels than other Cycladic islands. The vines are grown on rich calcareous, sandy, and sandy-clay soil eroded from the slopes of Mount Profitis Elias. The central part of the island is mountainous, reaching a height of 724 meters (2375 ft.). The vines grow freely in bush form, with many self-rooting. The old wood spreads horizontally while young shoots grow vertically, forming a vine-covered floor, a system known locally as Aplotaries (from the Greek verb ‘Aplono’, which means’ To Spread’).
The vineyards are primarily planted with Monemvasia and Mandilaria grapes, but other indigenous varieties are grown that are not used in the blends of PDO Paros wines. These varieties include the rare Maloukato, the white Potamisi which can be considered as the star of the Cyclades , the slightly tannic early-ripening red Mavrathiro, the fruity and tannic Vaftra, and the Aidani Mavro, a light-skinned, very vigorous variety producing very soft, very fruity reds(or some of the most intriguing rosés).
The uniqueness of Paros wines
There’s something special about Paros wines that you won’t see anywhere else in Greece. Paros is the only PDO wine region where winemakers are permitted to blend red and white grapes. When it comes to wine legislation, the countries of the Old World, including Greece, can be very strict, so it may come as a surprise that this is permitted. White wines classified as Paros PDO must be made entirely of Monemvasia. But things are different for soft red colored Paros PDO wines, which can be made with up to 65 percent white Monemvasia and at least 35 percent red grape Mandilaria.
If you’re wondering why that happens, it’s because Mandilaria has very harsh tannins, but when blended with Monemvasia, they become softer.
The wineries of Paros : My Top Choice
When it comes to the wineries of Paros, there may not be many, but the wines they produce are high quality and made with great respect to the traditions of winemaking.
o Moraitis Wines
You can’t talk about Paros wines without mentioning Moraitis wines. The winery of the Moraitis family is located near the beach of Aghioi Anargyroi in Naoussa (not to be confused with the winemaking area of Naoussa in northern Greece). Manolis Moraitis founded it in 1910. He grew his own vineyards and gathered and vinified grapes from various vineyards on the island. The Moraitis Winery now owns 18,000 m2 of organic vineyards in selected vine cultivation areas of the island, primarily featuring indigenous Paros varieties such as Monemvasia, Mandilaria, Aidani Black, Vaftra, and Karampraimi. They also grow Assyrtiko and Malagouzia. Manolis Moraitis, a third-generation winemaker and tradition keeper, wants to preserve the character of the local vineyards while revealing the quality of their varieties. Don’t pass up their “Paros Oak Fermented” from 100% Monemvasia. This wine is aged in oak barrels for four years, producing a wine with floral and citrus aromas, as well as notes of vanilla and dry nuts. It has a full body and a long-lasting aromatic aftertaste. It is balanced and “oily.”
o Louridis Winery
Sofia and Nikos Louridis own and operate the Louridis winery. The winery’s history begins in 2008, when the winery, distillery, and bottling plant were established in Marpissa, Paros, Greece. Monemvasia and Mandilaria are planted in their privately owned vineyards on the east side of Paros, and are excellent raw materials for the production of top quality wine due to the sun and the sea of the Aegean. One white and one red PDO Paros wine are produced by the winery. The Louridis dry white wine shows a vibrant color, aromas of peach and wild flowers, a rich mouthfeel, and a refreshing finish. Their dry red wine is a typical Paros red, with a deep ruby color, aromas of red fruit and vanilla, a velvety mouthfeel, and a long finish.
o Domaine Roussos (Asteras Winery)
Domaine Roussos is a new winery in Paros’ Asteras region. The winery began with only 130 family-owned acres planted linearly with indigenous Paros varieties. The first large planting of vines was 40 acres in 2007, and another 30 acres were covered with vines over the next four years. The Roussos winery has established high standards and is committed to providing high-quality bottled wine for all tastes at a reasonable price. A must-try is their rosé wine, which is made entirely of Adani Mavro. This variety produces a distinct rosé wine with a soft orange color and a very rich aromatic bouquet of red fruits and flowers.
Within the Languedoc region, 30 kilometers north of Montpellier, sit the dramatic peaks of the “Pic Saint Loup” (Saint-Loup Peak) and the Falaise de l’Hortus (Hortus Cliff). Facing each other in the middle of a breathtaking natural scenery that only the South of France has a secret recipe for. This incredible décor becomes even more unforgettable at sunset when the last sunlight reflects on these two rocky limestone mounts, igniting them with a superb reddish color. This area is also the spot where locals go for peaceful hiking and Ceceles lake summer bathing. What about wines? Well, the Pic Saint-Loup area is undoubtedly one of the most underrated appellations in the world of wine today. So, if you are anything close to a wine enthusiast and are planning to take your next vacation near Montpellier, you have selected the right post! So, let’s just dig into it and give you more details about the region I am from, its wine production, the spots that you need to go to, and, of course, the wines to taste.
Pic Saint-Loup: a whole province’s emblem
This absolutely incredible scenery has been known since antiquity, with Roman writers and historians praising its charms. Of the two peaks facing each other, the Pic Saint-Loup (648 meters high) is the most famous and the most iconic. The reason for that is mainly because, of the two, it is the one that can be seen from miles around. Either from beaches or from boats navigating through the Mediterranean Sea, its unique shape is unmistakable and dominates the landscape. The Hortus Cliff (500 meters high) is hidden by the Pic-Saint-Loup at most viewing angles. This is probably the reason why the “Pic Saint-Loup” is the one whose reputation shines. These two mountains are located in the Occitanie region (formerly called “Languedoc-Roussillon” before the administrative merger with the Midi-Pyrénnées region orchestrated by President Hollande). They are on the border of the municipalities of Valflaunès and Cazevieille in the Hérault Département (i.e., Hérault Province).
If you have the chance to go for one of the many hiking trails around that end up on one of the tops of the Pic Saint-Loup, you will enjoy a great panoramic 360° view. From here, you will be able to look down on one of the many vineyards, horse stables, and wild bull husbandries that you should have crossed during your drive through the area.
The many hiking trails that end up at the Top
If you love hiking, this is a place for you. However, do not expect very sporty trails as none of the hikes are very difficult to do. They are almost all between easy and intermediate. Just make sure to have the appropriate shoes, some water, and some food. All the trails are well marked. My two favorite trails are the Pic Saint Loup Chapel and the Montferrand Castle.
Please note that there are many other very interesting treks to enjoy around here, like the Ravin des Arcs, Les Marches des Géants, Source de Gornies, etc. Some of the hardest treks are organized by some specialized local companies.
Cécélès Lake: the turquoise/emerald color lake at the foothills of the Pic Saint-Loup
At the base of the Pic Saint-Loup, lies a private agricultural water reserve called “Lac de Cécélès”. The lake, which can be the starting point for a stroll (30 to 40 minutes to travel around it), a day of swimming, or a picnic, depends on the light. The parking and access to the lake are free in the off season (from September to June). However, be mindful of the fact that you will have to pay 5 euros per adult and 3 euros per child in July and August to access the parking and the monitored swimming area. This is because the lake is a private area owned mainly by the restaurant “La Guinguette des Amoureux”. As a consequence, if you are a client of the restaurant, the parking fees will be deducted from your final check. However, if you are in the midst of the summer season and still want to enjoy a walk around the lake, you can, but you will have to walk. Just park somewhere in the city of Saint Mathieu de Tréviers (Parking de la Grenouille, Parking de l’Ancien Abattoir, Parking du Boucher…), take your Google Map, and get ready to walk a little (maybe slightly less than 30-40 minutes). This is possible because the main road access and parking to the lake may be private, but areas and hiking trails around it are public. Just make sure to take the D26 road until this point to turn left, then make sure to turn right on the little trail before the Dominicaines des Tourelles. If you take the larger trail after the Domaine des Tourelles, you will have to go up, and you are going to hate the experience of the many detours and having to cut through inappropriate trails to go down the lake. Once there, you will be able to pic-nic, take a tour around the lake, sun bathe… But, please take note that everything from dogs and horses to fires, camping, fishing, and motorized vehicles is absolutely forbidden. The policemen are very strict and you may be fined very easily, especially at summer times when they are scared of wild fires. They do it in order to protect and preserve this fragile ecosystem.
The most convenient solution is to pay for the parking and enjoy a great meal at The Guinguette des Amoureux, a very romantic restaurant with a great view of the lake. The food is good and there are many animations all year long (yoga sessions, concerts, famous DJ performances…). Just make sure to call first, as the restaurant is often fully booked.
If you are looking to enjoy another great lake spot around, you can try to go to the Claret Lake (i.e., Lac de Claret). If you take some small and sinuous roads, you will be able to park next to the lake and still enjoy a good view and setting.
Pic Saint-Loup Wines: the next big thing?
Traces of wine making in this area date back to the Roman empire. Part of the production was brought to the Roman port of Lattara (an inland city called Lattes today) to be sold across the Roman empire.
Between 1955 and 1966, the producers started to organize and became one of the founding members of the VDQS Coteaux du Languedoc (see my article on VDQS to learn more), which became the AOC Languedoc in 1985.
Prior to being granted its own AOC in September 2016, the Pic-Saint-Loup (also spelled Pic-St-Loup) was one of the most popular named crus in the AOC Coteaux du Languedoc (later renamed AOC Languedoc). This means that this renowned terroir was allowed to juxtapose its local name next to the regional appellation to distinguish its peculiarities from the rest of the region. Well before 2016, almost any local customer knew of these wines to the point that it was very common to order a “Saint-Loup” at some of the best restaurants around. This appellation is known for having very few (almost no) Carignan vines throughout the area, which is quite rare in the Languedoc. It is also historically known for its very low level of Caves Coopératives producers (jointly owned winemaking facilities).
This appellation only produces red wines and rosés. Consequently, white wines are produced under the local PGI (IGP) or the larger umbrella appellation (AOC Languedoc). They are usually a blend of Marsanne and Roussanne. The AOC Pic-Saint-Loup covers 15 towns in the Hérault and 2 in the Gard, all dominated by the sharp point of the Pic Saint-Loup, one of the most spectacular sites in the Languedoc vineyards.
“winegrowers have found that the Syrah grape was one of the best fits for the combination of the unique soils and micro-climate”
The Pic Saint-Loup vineyard, planted on predominantly limestone soils, is part of a landscape of scrubland and pine forests, a succession of ridges and valleys. The climate there is cooler and wetter than in the rest of the Languedoc. The rains, which fall in spring and autumn, allow the vines to avoid drought and water stress. This in turn allows planting at a high density, a factor of concentration. In August and September, the significant thermal amplitude between day and night promotes aromatic expression and acidity. These conditions are conducive to the syrah grape variety, one of the main varieties of the new appellation, alongside the grenache and mourvedre. This results in the infamous GSM blends (Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre), which are representative of red wines from the south of France. The other accessory grape varieties allowed for reds are carignan, cinsault, counoise, and morrastel. As for the rosé production, the gray grenache grape can also be added to the blend. Both the reds and the rosés must always combine at least two grape varieties, with Syrah (= Shiraz) being generally the most dominant (50% minimum for reds and 30% for rosés). Empirically, winegrowers have found that the Syrah grape was one of the best fits for the combination of the unique soils and micro-climate. This is why it plays such a key role in the wines of this area. They have, on the other hand, decided to plant Grenache and Cinsault in the driest areas. As per the Mourvèdre and the Carignan, they have shown better adequation in the hottest part of the Pic Saint-Loup production area.
“the common trait of all the wines produced in the appellation is the “garrigue” perfume”
Red wines derive from Syrah their dense texture, their intense aromas of black fruits and licorice, and their potential. They can live for 4 to 8 years without any problems. The rosés are also invigorating and fruity, but need to be consumed within a year of release.
The styles of red wine produced may be very different from one winery to another. They range from elegant with a medium body to a richer, stronger style. The more robust styles are probably made by wineries around the Claret area. The finest wines are probably made closer to both of the peaks dominating the valley. The most representative wineries of the latter style are: Chateau de Cazeneuve, Domaine de l’Hortus, Ermitage du Pic-Saint-Loup, Chateau de Lancyre, Château de Lascaux, Domaine de Mortiès, and Mas Bruguière.
By and large, the common trait of all the wines produced in the appellation is the “garrigue” perfume. “Garrigue” can be defined as a form of low scrubland ecosystem and plant community typical of Mediterranean regions. Accordingly, it is often possible to distinguish this distinctive rosemary-thyme-pine fragrance from these wines.
“crossed by a little river, nicknamed the “Emerald River” (Le Ruisseau de Vère) due to its particular green color”
It has to be noted that some vineyards located on the ancient plain of Corconne enjoy a unique soil called Gravette (75% limestone chips and 25% silty clay). This terroir is composed of little gravels (2 to 6 meters deep). This is probably one of the most exceptional Terroirs of the Languedoc, inherited from the melting of a Jurassic glacier which carried all these gravels to the plain. This whole area is crossed by a little river, nicknamed the “Emerald River” (Le Ruisseau de Vère) due to its particular green color. The cave co-operative of La Gravette de Corconne, located in the Gard province, is one of the rare historic co-operatives in the area and produces very high-quality wines. Its “Intégrale AOP Pic Saint-Loup” is definitely worth a try and will show every wine lover that co-operatives can also produce top-end wines when they decide not to produce mass-market wines.
Pic Saint-Loup: early adopter of Organic and Biodynamic winemaking techniques
If you visit the little towns all around the Pic Saint-Loup, you will see many official city road signs saying “0 Phyto” (meaning no pesticides and other synthetic products). In fact, the region has been one of the early adopters of both organic and biodynamic grape growing. This was greatly helped by the sunny conditions, the strong Mistral winds, and the high level of rocks in the soil. It dries grapes rapidly after any rain, preventing fungal diseases from occurring as well as draining water effectively into the soil to avoid damp and moist conditions.
Today, the area is also a bastion of natural wine making, which can be summarized as “nothing added, nothing removed”.
My Top-3 wineries to taste
o Domaine de l’Hortus
This is probably one of the flagships of the appellation. The Domaine de l’Hortus, belonging to the Orliac family, has made great choices in grape varieties, acquiring new land to plant vines on, and above all, in modernizing its wine making facilities. When you visit the facilities, you will immediately feel that many investments have been made to make the best wines possible. From the regulated stainless-steel tanks for precise fermentation to the best oak barrels to age wines. And the result can be clearly felt in the glass, with the “Grande Cuvée” red wine playing in the big leagues.
o Mas Bruguière
Located right next to the Domaine de l’Hortus, Mas Bruguière enjoys the same unique position of its vineyards sandwiched between the North flank of the Pic Saint-Loup and the South flank of the Hortus Cliff. This creates an ideal and unique micro-climate where Mistral winds are accelerated by this corridor, the sun disappears earlier, and soils are free-draining. Its red wine, called “La Grenadière” made from 90% Syrah and 10% Grenache is an exceptional value for money (only 29 euros for that!)
o Ermitage Pic Saint-Loup
The Ermitage Pic Saint-Loup‘s obsession with biodynamically grown grapes and natural wine making processes is an absolute pleasure in terms of results in the wine glass. Its Guilhem de Gaucelm red wine, made from 95-year-old Grenache vines (50%, the rest is from Syrah), is a true wonder.
My final advice: if you are planning to visit the region during the month of June, I really advise you to register for the “Vignes Buissonnières” festival (to be booked in advance). It is a renowned event where you walk around the area and can taste wines from over 70 local producers. Otherwise, you can go to the Maison Chabanol in Saint Mathieu de Tréviers and take some of their hand-made madeleines, my favorite: the honey one! Then go for a trek to the top of the peak. Enjoy eating them while they are still fresh with the 360° view. In the evening, just buy a good bottle of red wine (little aged if possible) at one of the many wine shops around. Finally, have dinner at one of the public picnic areas with a panoramic view of the Pic Saint-Loup and enjoy the sunset.
Let’s take a trip to the fabulous and picturesque fortress city of Les Baux de Provence to discover the wines made in this region. The old city of Les Baux de Provence is perched on a rocky hillside in the extreme west of the Provence region (near the end of the Rhone Valley). The region, located at the foothills of the French Alpilles, is known for its numerous Michelin-starred restaurants, local microclimate, and breathtaking scenery (especially at sunset). This highly praised wine region is famous for having been one of the first strongholds of organic viticulture, with prestigious wineries converting very early. So let’s dive into it.
The City of Les Baux de Provence: The Wine Region’s Icon
Let’s start with the city that gave its name to this beautiful wine region. In the old local language (i.e., the “Provençal”) a “Baou” is the name given to a rocky hilltop. This “Baou” is part of the label “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” (=”The Most Beautiful Villages of France”). If you have the chance to stop by to visit, you will have to park your car around and climb up to the old city by foot as it is inaccessible to vehicles. After walking up the stairs, you will be able to discover the tiny streets running around the old castle. They are full of small shops selling all kinds of handcrafted products and local specialties. Consequently, the streets are perfumed with a mixture of typical Provence made of olives, olive oils, dried lavender, dried thymes, dried rosemary, and dried sages. This really makes it a unique experience.
In terms of soil, the limestone rocks composing the hill on which it has been built are rich in “bauxite”, a particular type of limestone composition named after the city.
The “Carrières des Lumières”
Before going to the top of the old city, you can visit “Carrières des Lumières“, the impressive white limestone quarries dug to extract the rocks used to build the castle and the old town. If you have never visited them, I really advise you to go there at least once. The visit to the quarries starts with the monumental “Picasso Entrance” which will give you a glimpse of what to expect once inside. You will be able to take a walk in these monumental galleries dug under the mountain that are cut by the huge columns left by the quarrymen to carry the “ceiling”. Usually, children love the experience, especially since the quarries have been transformed into large natural screens for film projection with hundreds of different illuminations and art theme exhibitions.
Wines from the AOC Baux de Provence
Before the creation of the AOC Baux de Provence, wines produced in this area had to be labelled as AOC Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence. It was only in 1995 that this wine region gained access to its own independent appellation. One of the main reasons behind it was that the local micro-climate is warmer and wetter than the major part of the AOC Coteaux de Provence. The status of this relatively new AOC was changed in 2005 to make it far more stringent than the AOC Coteaux de Provence. As a consequence, red wines (57% of the total production) are mainly made from a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre (the infamous “GSM” blend). This GSM blend needs to represent at least 60% of the total blend. It can be completed by Cinsault, Counoise, Carignan, and Cabernet-Sauvignon (but only if together they account for a maximum of 20% of the final blend). Red wines from this appellation need to be aged for at least one year before being released. The average level of quality is high; wines are well made and can be aged easily. They are probably one of the most underrated quality red wines in France as they are hidden in the shadows of the Rhone Valley reds and Provence rosés. But, make no mistake, there will come a time when the wine world will realize the full extent of its true potential.
It was only recently that the white wines were allowed to be produced under the AOC Baux de Provence label. They only make up 5% of total production. They can be made through a classic local blend of Rolle (= Vermentino), Grenache Blanc, Clairette, and more recently, Marsanne and Roussanne (two grapes more specific to the neighboring Rhone Valley whites) were allowed to be incorporated into the final blend.
AOC Baux de Provence: the hidden bastion of organic and biodynamic viticulture
“the strong “Mistral” wind combined with its unique dry micro-climate that helps vines to be very healthy”
When you hear about biodynamic viticulture, you often hear producer names from Burgundy or even Nicolas Joly and his iconic and marvelous Coulée de Serrant. However, you scarcely hear experts talking about the AOC Baux de Provence. And yet, this AOC was one of the very early advocates of organic and biodynamic viticulture in France. For sure, this was greatly helped by the strong “Mistral” wind combined with its unique dry micro-climate (close to the “Val d’Enfer”) that helps vines to be very healthy. Another factor was the importance of the production of super-premium olive oils in the region, for which quality labels imposed very early the abandonment of pesticide use. As the vines were traditionally grown together with olive trees, the wineries had no choice but to suppress any agrochemicals in order not to lose labels for their pricy olive oils. As a result, this wine region was probably the first to exhibit the fact that organic and biodynamic viticulture can go hand in hand with top quality in the finished products. The quality of the wine production in the region was already high before this revolution, but the whole region jumped to another level after it, showing to the world that a large-scale endorsement of these disputed techniques was possible and viable.
Château d’Estoublon: when a picturesque setting fosters excellence in wine and olive oil production
Close to Les-Baux-de-Provence, between Arles and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, lies the Château d’Estoublon, a historical castle dating back to 1489. This estate covers 200 hectares, 120 of which are olive trees, and 20 hectares of vines. Its chapel, its parks, and its vineyards are all carefully kept. Its olive oil and wine production are both covered by their respective high quality Protected Denomination of Origin (= AOC = AOP = “Appellation d’Origine Protégée). On the estate, grapes and olives are grown and harvested while adhering to organic farming practices and using only manual and mechanical manufacturing methods devoid of the use of chemicals.
While the estate is highly prized for wedding celebrations, it is also known for excellence in olive oil making as being one of the first producers to produce single varietal olive oils that are highly prized by connoisseurs and gastronomic restaurants. The various olive varietals each contribute their own unique olfactory score, just like the wines. Atypical and complimentary, Bouteillan, Salonenque, Grossane, Béruguette, and Picholine are all available as monovarietals and in blends. The best thing is that, if you stop by the little shop, they will be very happy to make you taste the different olive oils. This experience will definitely change your perspective on olive oils and you will find a lot of astonishing similarities between the world of wine and the world of olive oils. Nonetheless, its wine production is not left out and does not escape the quality reputation of the estate, especially with its elegant reds.
Finally, it also offers a great restaurant, La Table d’Estoublou, that many international gourmets like to pay a visit to. The restaurant’s daily supply of produce from the Domaine’s vegetable garden serves as inspiration for the menu. A variety of aromatic plants, vegetables, fruit, berries, and flowers are available in the 24 organic vegetable patches… The chef uses all of his culinary skills to create dishes that feature seasonal ingredients, vibrant colors, and delicate scents.
My final word: the AOC Les-Baux-de-Provence has a bright future in front of him. If you are staying nearby and wondering which winery to visit, you can try the Chateau d’Estoublon as you may find a little something for everyone and every taste. The only downside is that its marvelous parks are not accessible to visitors due to past degradation.
Crimea is often mentioned in the news, but not for the right reasons. Because the Eastern European peninsula is surrounded by the Black Sea and has strategic and commercial significance, it is frequently a flashpoint for global conflict. Today, though, we’re talking about the wines of Crimea. The region might be at the heart of a political and military battle, but it has a rich vinous culture, so let’s focus on that. We can’t blame you if you’ve never heard of Crimean wine since it’s rarely seen outside the country — all of it is consumed in the region or shipped to Russia. However, the region is among the oldest wine-producing areas in the world! Here’s what you need to know.
Crimea, A Quick Recap
The region was once an Ancient Greek colony, part of the Byzantine Empire, and briefly a Mongolian territory. Eventually, Crimea became part of the Russian Empire, which evolved into the Soviet Union after the country’s civil war of the early 20th century. In 1954, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR led by Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea to the Ukrainian Socialist Sovietic Republic. After the fall of communist Russia, Crimea became its own country before becoming part of Ukraine with a special status for Sebastopol.
The region’s wine history is not nearly as complicated. Crimea is a stone’s throw away from wine’s ancestral home, the Caucasus, between Eastern Europe and Western Asia, so wine has been part of Crimea since the beginning of time.
Experts credit the Ancient Greeks for bringing most of the grapes found in Crimea today, including Limnio, Athiri, and Muscat. Grapes with immense prestige in the Caucasus feel right at home in Crimea as well, such as Saperavi and Rkatsiteli. Still, the country now has significant vineyards dedicated to international varietals, especially Cabernet Sauvignon.
Despite being a historical wine region, wine efforts in Crimea are relatively young. When the area was part of the Ottoman Empire, Muslim law prohibited the production of wine. The same thing happened with Mikhail Gorbachev’s 1985 Anti-Alcoholism Laws. The Russian annexation of the peninsula as well as the current so-called “military special operation’ have also made it difficult for Crimea’s wine industry to export. Is the wine any good?
“Crimean wineries make faux Madeira and Sherry, as well”
Crimean wine is the best of two worlds. Expect old-school sweet and semi-sweet wines made with Muscat, rustic reds made with Saperavi, and modern-cut oak-aged Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay.
Fortified wines, sometimes unlawfully labeled as Crimean Port, are relatively common, and the wines are reasonably pleasing. Crimean wineries make faux Madeira and Sherry, as well.
From afar, not everything in Crimea is as good as it seems. In terms of volume and quality, two of the most significant wine estates in the peninsula, Massandra and Novyi Svit, were both recently “nationalized” by Russia. According to an Interfax article: “After occupation of the peninsula by Russia, Massandra’s property was ‘nationalized’, actually expropriated, transferred to federal ownership – to the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation, then returned to ‘the ownership of the Republic of Crimea’, respectively, there was no military need for such appropriation and transfer of property. The auction of Massandra’s assets and its purchase by a Russian company confirm the fact that the occupation administration, in addition to illegally taking possession of this property, also illegally disposes of it”. Massandra Winery alone was estimated to be worth well over 20 million euros in 2014, probably excluding its unique enoteca of one million bottles.
o The Massandra Collection
This enoteca is in fact the result of the Massandra Collection, a collection of incredible wines from around the world. It was started by the Prince Golitzin, the first winemaker who helped founding the winery in the late 19th century (he received the permission to engrave his coat of arms on Massandra’s wine bottles). Almost 10,000 bottles were added each from the start with bottles already decades old at that time. Just to give you an idea of the importance of that collection, the decision was made to evacuate it (mainly in Georgia) ahead of the German occupation during the second World War. Of course, everything was back on time for the Yalta conference, so that Roosevelt, Churchill and Staline were served with the best bottles from that collection.
Today, Massandra’s enoteca is still famous for some of the best and oldest wine bottles from around the world (like a 240-year-old Jerez, for instance). It is regarded by experts as a treasure of tremendous historical value that need to be kept intact.
o Massandra wines
Located on the outskirts of Yalta, Massandra produces many sorts of wines. However, its two most famous types of wines are the Fortified wines and the Sweet Dessert Wines. These wines, especially the Sweet Dessert Wines, were highly regarded during the Soviet era and were served during diplomatic and important political meetings. Today, the Massandra winery oversees the production of many smaller satellite wineries. Its main building is mainly used for aging and bottling. The vineyards located on hills and mountains facing the Black Sea offer the best grapes to produce Sweet Dessert Wines (White Muscat of the Red Stone, Black Muscat Massandra, and White Muscat Lividia, just to name a few).
o Novyi Svet wines
The other very famous Crimean winery is Novyi Svet. Founded in 1878 by Prince Golitsyn, it produces a large variety of wines. However, it became rapidly famous for its sparkling wines. During the Russian empire, they quickly became “the” sought-after wines of the Russian aristocracy, to the point that they were served at the coronation of the last Tsar, Nicolas II, in 1896. Despite the Soviets’ efforts to eradicate all traces of Tsarist Russia, they were held in high regard by the Soviet intelligentsia. It probably saved them, but, unfortunately, made them inaccessible to many of the ‘regular’ citizens of the USSR. Facing the contradiction of communism, where the upper class had access to some luxury products while workers and peasants did not, Stalin asked Anton Frolov-Bagreev to create a process to make sparkling wines available to the masses. M. Frolov-Bagreev, a winemaker trained by Prince Lev Golitsyn, created a large-scale artificial sparkling wine through industrial use of large tanks, added coloring agents, and artificial flavors.
On July 2, 2021, Vladimir Putin amended the 345-FZ federal law, banning the use of the “Champagne” name on the label of sparkling wines made in the French region called: Champagne. Only Russian-produced wines can now be called Champagne (« shampanskoye »). Any bottle produced outside Russia (and Crimea) with a «shampanskoye» label will be considered a counterfeit product. As a result, you will probably find some Novyi Svet wines labeled as “Champagne”. Please note that Novyi Svet is now owned by Iouri Kovaltchouk, a powerful oligarch (sometimes nicknamed “Putin’s banker”) and close friend of Vladimir Putin.
The Bottom Line
Massandra and Novyi Svit now supply most of the wine consumed in Russia. Sadly, in history, no state-owned winery, from anywhere, has ever been recognized for its quality, which makes Crimean wine’s future uncertain. Crimea has the ideal climate for growing premium wine grapes and the expertise to make world-class wine. What the winemakers in the area now need is good-old freedom to craft the wines they want to make with modern standards and quality-over-quantity practices. The world of wine is more competitive than ever, and Crimea can become a significant player in the future if only they could export their production worldwide. But the dust needs to settle first and the current situation has to stabilize.
Do you want to know which Santorini winery to visit? This is your guide to the best Santorini wineries! Santorini is famous for its caldera views, whitewashed houses, blue domes, and beaches, but did you know that Santorini is also one of the top wine destinations in Greece? Santorini wines, famous for the grape Assyrtiko, have been compared to some of the world’s most expensive wines. The unique volcanic soils and grape-growing methods make wine tasting in Santorini an absolute must. When visiting Santorini, make sure to visit at least a few wineries, but since there are over 20 wineries on the island, making a choice can be difficult. Make sure to keep reading until the end to find out which ones to go to.
A brief history lesson about wine in Santorini
Around 3000 BC, the first inhabitants of Santorini arrived on the island, where they soon began growing vines and producing wine.
The vineyards of the area were destroyed in 1640 BC by a volcanic eruption that covered the island in a thick layer of lava. After about 250 years, in 1200 BC, a new soil was formed, and inhabitants soon discovered that grape vines were one of the few plants that could thrive in these conditions.
During the 19th century, an insect known as phylloxera made an appearance and destroyed nearly every vineyard in Europe. Surprisingly, Santorini’s vineyards remained untouched. The reason for this was that Santorini’s soil consists mostly of lava, pumice, and volcanic ash, in which the insect couldn’t survive.
Santorini has a distinct terroir that cannot be replicated or found elsewhere in the world. The relatively warm winters, with temperatures ranging from 8 to 10 degrees Celsius, are followed by warm, windy, and dry summers. The Aegean Sea acts as a “climatic buffer,” softening climates.
During the hot summer, the only source of water is the nocturnal fog that covers the island.
As previously stated, the soil is primarily composed of lava, pumice, and volcanic ash. Therefore, it is deficient in organic matter.
The island is also very windy, and trellised vineyards can be destroyed in a matter of minutes due to the strength of the winds. The only way for grapes to survive direct sun exposure and strong winds is to be protected by low-basket-shaped vines. This is the traditional “kouloura” training system.
“Assyrtiko is the main grape variety on the island, accounting for roughly 80% of total grape production”
Santorini is best known for its indigenous white grape varieties, Assyrtiko, Athiri, and Aidani, though there are some wines made from international varieties as well as indigenous red grapes such as Mandilaria and Mavrotragano.
Assyrtiko is the main grape variety on the island, accounting for roughly 80% of total grape production. It is a multi-dynamic variety that adapts well to various bioclimatic conditions. As a result, its cultivation has spread almost throughout Greece. Within the Santorini ecosystem, the assyrtiko variety develops a distinct expression, yielding wines with metallic character, a full body, and a high alcohol content, while still maintaining high acidity and freshness.
The PDO Santorini, which was established in 1971, only includes dry white wines made from Assyrtiko (at least 75% of the blend), Aidani, and Athiri, and sweet wines made from sun-dried grapes that are made from Assyrtiko (at least 51%) and Aidani (a small quantity of other native white grape varieties is allowed).
Also worth noting, are the dry wines labeled “Nychteri,” which require ultra-mature grapes and wines with a high alcohol content (a minimum of 13.5% ABV) that have been aged in oak barrels for at least three months. Its name, “Nychteri,” is derived from the Greek word “Nychta,” which means “night.” In the past, grapes were harvested during the day and pressed at night to take advantage of the lower temperatures.
Food Pairings with Assyrtiko
“keep in mind that the wine does not pair well with sushi”
Assyrtiko is one of the wines that proves the saying “what grows together, goes together,” as it pairs with almost anything from the sea, such as sardines, grilled fish, fried calamari, and grilled octopus with olive oil and lemon. Oysters and lobster go perfectly with Santorini Assyrtiko. For non fish-based dishes, you can pair it with a Greek salad, feta cheese, “lemonato” chicken with potatoes, or even roasted lamb with lemon. However, if you ever visit one of the many restaurants or wine bars on the island that serve sushi, keep in mind that the wine does not pair well with sushi and will leave you with a taste similar to aluminum foil. Assyrtiko is simply too delicate for sushi.
Santorini wineries you should visit
Gaia Wines is well-known in both Nemea and Santorini. The winery is located on the island’s east coast, at Vrachies of Exo Gonia, between Kamari and Monolithos, by the sea and close to the airport. It is open to wine lovers from mid-April to October. Gaia Wines has transformed a stone-built industrial building that was once used to produce tomato paste and sun-dried tomatoes at the turn of the century into a modern winery.
The winery visit includes a tasting of the entire range of Santorini and Nemea wines as well as a tour of the winery.
If you visit Gaia wines, make sure to try and ask everything about their “Thalassitis Submerged”, a wine made from 100% Assyrtiko that stays for 5 years submerged into the Agean sea.
Argyros Estate was established in 1903, but the Argyros family has had a long history in winemaking, producing wines for decades before opening their own winery. The estate is the largest private owner of vineyards in Santorini, with a current landholding exceeding 120 ha. The knowledgeable and expertly trained Estate Argyros staff can provide a memorable visit through a carefully structured range of options that cater to various needs. People looking for a quick stopover or a longer stay, casual wine drinkers or wine connoisseurs, will all find something to their liking, much to learn and much to enjoy. All Estate Argyros wine tours include time spent in the vineyards and on the winery’s production side, followed by a tutored tasting of world-class Estate Argyros wines, including the famous Vinsanto, paired with artisanal cheeses and cold cuts.
In 1997, Haridimos Hatzidakis and Konstantina Chryssou founded the Hatzidakis Winery. Konstantina first showed Haridimos her family’s neglected vineyard at an altitude of 330 meters in the village of Pyrgos Kallistis. The vineyard had not been cultivated since 1956, creating an excellent opportunity for organic farming. It was Santorini’s first organically grown vineyard, and it was DIO certified.
The winery continues to produce quality wines in limited quantities, always aiming for the expression of the island’s terroir through Santorini’s indigenous grape varieties and fermenting only with indigenous yeasts. These wines are made by young people who adhere to the Hatzidakis family’s philosophy. Their production is made for people who appreciate high-quality Santorini wines.
The winery offers guided tours that typically begin in the area of the winery where you find the stainless steel tanks and end in the barrel cave, where Vinsanto has been aged for over 14 years! Each wine is presented in detail during the wine tasting. All the visitors, no matter if they know about wine or not, have the opportunity to learn about Santorini’s grape varieties, wines, vineyards, and microclimate, as well as the organic farming that is practiced.
Artemis Karamolegos Winery
When Artemis Karamolegos invested in the production facility and privately owned vineyards in 2004, Artemis Karamolegos Winery made a dynamic entry into contemporary winemaking, producing, for the first time, protected designation of origin (PDO) wines. The winery proudly continues the family’s winemaking tradition on the Greek island of Santorini. The winery’s sommeliers will take you on a journey through the volcanic tastes and aromas of Santorinian wines in the specially designed wine tasting area. The staff of the winery have created a series of “interactive” wine tasting experiences, as well as food pairings that enhance the experience. The Karamolegos winemaking philosophy, combined with a presentation of each label, transforms the wine tasting into a priceless and unforgettable experience.
Venetsanos Winery is located directly above the port of Athinios, overlooking Santorini’s magnificent caldera. The Venetsanos family built the winery in 1947, making it the island’s first industrial winery. Its most notable feature was the structural design, which relied heavily on gravity to maximize energy efficiency at a time when access to electricity and other energy sources was extremely limited. The winery was built in an unusual way, starting at the top and working its way down. Venetsanos Winery now manages 15 hectares of vineyards, the majority of which are planted with the Assyrtiko grape variety. Athiri, Aidani, Platani, Mavrotragano, and Mandilaria complete the puzzle of the other indigenous grape varieties available for research and development in the region. The winery offers 30-minute to hour-long guided tours and wine tastings for both experienced wine lovers and newcomers to the wine community.
The hashtag #Roséallday is currently trending on social media, so let me take you to a sunny location where rosé wines have always rhymed with sea, vacation, sun, beach, food, olive oil, and breathtaking landscapes. This place is none other than the Provence region, which lies in the South of France. It is located between Nice and Marseille, and faces the Mediterranean Sea. Phocaeans, Etruscans, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Barbarians, Celts, Genoese, and so many more civilizations have settled here. Even the Allies landed here to liberate Europe in August 1944. This region has been producing Rosé wines for centuries. Here, the terms “Rosé” and “Cotes de Provence” are synonyms. It is the land of the “Crus classés de Provence” and of Saint-Tropez. Let me take you to the region of the Bourride, Escabeche, Pissaladière, Bouillabaisse, Pistou, Tapenade, Fougasse and the Tarte Tropézienne, just to mention a few local food specialties.
A little bit of History
“his region was producing wines with a clear color even before the Romans”
The Phoceans founded the city of Massilia, now called Marseille, around the VI century B.C. They started to cultivate vines almost right away, and, concomitantly, Massilia quickly became one of the main ports on the Mediterranean Sea. The Romans established the city and its surrounding region as the first Roman province outside of Italy around the second century B.C. They renamed that province “Nostra Provincia” which means “Our Province”. This is where the current name of the region, Provence, comes from. Strikingly, this region was producing wines with a clear color even before the Romans. It was known for its praxis, consisting of quickly separating the skins from the juice of the grape while pressing. That is probably where the characteristic and unmistakable color of the Côtes de Provence Rosés comes from.
More about the region
“one of the distinctive climatic features is probably the Mistral”
Sometimes it is wrongly reduced to the much smaller “Cote Varoise” (“Varoise Coast”). The Côtes de Provence region is not limited to the “Var” county. It goes way beyond toward the east, as you may find some vineyards north of Marseille. It also extends inland, as the Coteaux de Pierrevert (also part of the Côtes de Provence) are located beyond the Durance River. The whole region is very sunny, with an average of over 3000 hours of sunshine per year. It is the prime example of the Mediterranean climate, with hot and sunny summers and mild winters. However, when you go inland, you tend to find a cooler climate. Apart from its sunny characteristics, one of the distinctive climatic features is probably the Mistral. The Mistral is a strong northerly wind that funnels through the Rhône Valley (the region just north of Provence). It gives strong winds almost all year long, with very powerful peaks. As the locals say it, “the Mistral hunts the clouds”. However, it also imposes vine training systems to be kept low from the ground and traditionally bush-trained for better wind resistance (some trellised systems have been adopted recently). Some wineries also use row of trees and olive trees (the emblematic local tree) to protect vines from winds.
Destroying pre-conceived ideas about the Côtes de Provence
“the AOC Côtes de Provence covers over 20 000 hectares and 5 non-contiguous sub-regions that range from the coast to way inland”
While the Côtes de Provence are often associated with Rosés, you have to keep in mind that this region also produces very high-quality Whites and Reds. The AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controllée = Protected Denomination of Origin = PDO) is in fact an umbrella appellation that gathers local appellations. Hence, winemakers have the right to select either their local appellation (i.e., Cotes de Provence Féjus for Rosés and Reds) or the larger AOC Côtes de Provence for their wines. That seems quite complex when it is really not. You just have to keep in mind that the AOC Côtes de Provence covers over 20 000 hectares and 5 non-contiguous sub-regions that range from the coast to way inland. Consequently, in the same appellation, there was a lot of difference in terms of climate and soils, with the northern regions receiving more continental influence than those on the coastline. This is the reason why winemakers grouped into smaller and more homogeneous sub-regions (subappellations) called Dénomination Géographique Complémentaires (D.G.C.). Most of the time, these D.G.C. are added as an extension to the name Côtes de Provence.
Aside from the large AOC Côtes de Provence, the Provence region is also home to some very prestigious and separate AOCs (PDOs) like: AOC Baux de Provence, AOC Palette, AOC Cassis, AOC Bandol, and AOC Bellet. It is very important to note that they have nothing to do with what we call the “Cru Classés” of the Côtes de Provence (different appellations).
The “Crus Classés” of the Côtes de Provence: where “Rosés” become prestigious
“In Provence, either you are a “Cru Classé” or you are not, period”
The “Crus Classés” of the Côtes de Provence is a ranking system created in 1955 which distinguished the best 23 estates initially. Nowadays, there are only 18 estates remaining, and they are the only ones to be allowed to put the “Cru Classé” mention on the label. This ranking system differs from the other wine rankings in France as they do not have sub-levels such as “Grand Cru”, “Premier Cru” … in Burgundy or “Classé A” … in Bordeaux. In Provence, either you are a “Cru Classé” or you are not, period. It may be a little unfair to some other wineries that produce very high-quality wines but are just not ranked.
The current list
Below is the list of the 18 remaining “Cru Classés” of Provence:
Below is the list of the 5 estates that were part of the 23 initial ranking:
Clos de la Bastide Verte at Garde, Coteau de Ferrage at Pierrefeu, Domaine de la Grande Loube at Lorgues, Domaine de Moulières at La Valette, Clos du Relais at Hyères
Peculiarities of the ranking
“This distinction was put in place with the strong willingness to represent the highest level of production quality in the region”
Contrary to other ranking systems that may exist, the “Cru Classé” is based solely on the estate. It means that only the estates as they were in 1955 are ranked, and no new vineyards can be bought in order to be added to the originally ranked estate. This ranking has not been revised since.
This distinction was put in place with the strong willingness to represent the highest level of production quality in the region. The main criteria of judgment were (non-exhaustive list): the quality of the winemaking process; the quality of the vineyards; the quality of the finished wines; the ability to sell wines directly at the estate; and most importantly, the notoriety acquired by the estate before 1935 (date of the creation of the French Appellation System – INAO).
A production not limited to Rosés
At this point, it is really important to mention that, as the ranking is based on the estate and not on the wine, these “Cru Classés” have the right to mention “Cru Classés” on the labels for White and Red wines as well (when the other colors have been validated in the ranking). And they do it with quite a lot of success, as their production of Whites and Reds represents the epitome of what the region has to offer for these colors. The winemakers are investing a lot to produce excellent red wines that often surprise wine connoisseurs with their quality level.
“Cru Classé » Rosés: The pale pink color as a Watermark
“there are two main ways of making rosés wines from red grapes”
Now, let’s switch to the production of the dry Rosés of Provence, which are very distinctive when compared to Rosés made elsewhere. Indeed, the Rosés of Provence are known worldwide for their distinctive colors. Their color is very pale with very subtle hints of rose. But, apart from evoking summer and the sun prevailing in this area, where does this color come from? In fact, there are two main ways of making rosés wines from red grapes. The first consists of letting the juice macerate (for a short-controlled amount of time; otherwise, it gives a red wine) with the skin of the grape after crushing, which allows the juice to acquire a rose hue. The second way, called “rosé de presse” is where the grapes are crushed and pressed very slowly so that the skins of the grape are in contact with the juice enough during the pressing to produce this distinctive light color. In Provence, they mainly use the red-skinned Grenache grape in the process for its low levels of anthocyanins and its fruity character. As a fact, the color is probably closer to Whites than to traditional Rosés.
It is really worth noting that they are the only rosé wines to be ranked in the world. No other region in the world has created a dedicated ranking for rosés. That should really give you an idea of how serious this region is about rosé wines.
“Cru Classé”, a prime example of excellence in Whites, Rosés, and Reds: Chateau Sainte Roseline
Why this one? Because the efforts made to maintain Rosés production excellence while pushing Reds and Whites to another level deserve recognition. They wanted to raise the three categories to a gastronomic level, and the result is very convincing. Another point is their recent endeavor to convert to organic viticulture after a 3-year accreditation process. They also organize events open to the public all year long (concerts, exhibitions, After-Works, Christmas Market, Truffle Festival, Flower Fairs, etc.) which makes it a perfect place to visit for tourists and foreigners nearby. Additionally, the staff speak English, which can be quite convenient. Another original point, they made a collaboration with the famous singer Kylie Minogue to co-brand a a new line of Rosé.
Located just a 30-minute drive away from Saint-Tropez, Cannes, and Aix-en-Provence, it is very convenient to fit into your busy visiting schedule. The estate is composed of 110 hectares of vines planted with over 11 different grape varieties. This former Abbey benefits from an exceptional terroir with clay-limestone soils and the presence of a deep-water source. Its 12th-century cloister has been renovated and can be visited. As for the cellar, it exhibits the results of important investment to modernize the facility in order to produce the best quality.
My advice: if you ever buy a bottle of “Cru Classé” Rosé, try it with some local foods and make sure to pair it with some Aïoli sauce. The Aïoli is a sort of local “gralic-mayonnaise” that has a special relationship and affinity with Rosés.
Naoussa was known in antiquity to be the place of birth of the God Dionysus, the god of grape-harvest and wine-making, so, as you would expect, the area has a centuries-old tradition of wine production. During the 17th century, many notable foreign travelers wrote in their journals about Naousa. Pouqueville wrote that the wine of Naoussa is one of the finest that can be found in the area of Macedonia, and Cousinery stated that the region of Naoussa is for Macedonia, what Burgundy is for France. Unfortunately, in the early 20th century, the vineyards were destroyed due to an outbreak of phylloxera. Since the 1960s, when vines were replanted, the wines of Naoussa have been revived.
The vineyards of Naoussa are located in the Northern area of mainland Greece around the town of the same name on the eastern slopes of Mount Vermion (it must not to be confused with the port city of Naoussa located on Paros Island). You’ll find vines at altitudes between 150m and 350m (500-1100ft) above sea level. While Greece may be known as a warm and sunny country, there are regions in Naoussa where the climate is so cold that grapes struggle to ripen. The best spots for vineyards are on south and south-east facing slopes that get the most sunshine. The soils of the area are low-fertility and well-drained, which allow for the development of strong root systems.
As you may have guessed already, due to these specific soil and climatic conditions, not many varieties can thrive in Naoussa, especially native Greek ones that are accustomed to warmer climates. The most popular variety cultivated in Naoussa, which makes up 95% of the total production in the area, is Xinomavro. Roditis is another indigenous variety that expresses itself well in the cold climates of the area. When it comes to international varieties, you’ll find many plantings of Syrah and Merlot. The PDO Naoussa (Protected Denomination of Origin) was established in 1971 and refers to red-dry, medium-dry and medium-sweet wines made by 100% Xinomavro.
A few words about Xinomavro
The name of the variety (pronounced k-see-noh-mav-raw) literally translates into “sour-black”, although in practice, its grape skins are not particularly rich in pigments. However, Xinomavro surprises with its performance and versatile character, offering reds, dynamic rosés, aromatic sparkling wines, and even sweet ones.
“have rightfully given it the title “Greek Nebbiolo”
“Difficult” and demanding, Xinomavro needs suitable terroir, increased cultivation care, low yields, and ideal weather conditions to unfold its greatness. Due to its difficulty when it comes to cultivation, it has been compared to Pinot Noir, another notoriously demanding variety. However, you might find that Xinomavro is more reminiscent of the great variety of Piedmont, Nebbiolo, and people tend to confuse them during blind wine tastings. The ruby color, the magical bouquet, which includes aromas from violets to olive pulp and from tomato to tobacco and gooseberries, the high-grade, full acidity mouth, and the wild tannins, have rightfully given it the title “Greek Nebbiolo”. This charismatic variety justly holds a high position in the hierarchy of Greek varieties. With its uniqueness, it promises to offer powerful experiences to every true wine enthusiast, convincing them from the first sip that they are in front of something special.
Food Pairings with Xinomavro
“Aged versions demand complexity as well as finesse”
Reds go well with dishes that have tomatoes in them, such as braised veal and stew. They are also an excellent pair for stews.
Aged versions demand complexity as well as finesse: game dishes such as wild boar with dried plums, wild mushroom and truffle dishes such as risotto, and complex aged cheeses. Definitely avoid fish, as the tannins do not help at all and the result is a strong “fishy” and metallic taste.
The rosés are excellent with pasta, red sauce, stewed beans, but also with prawns.
The whites have a nice vegetality and acidity that would suit a “fishy” fricassee, but also steamed mussels, squid stuffed with grilled cheese, and chicken.
The parkling Xinomavro is a totally different category: from scallops to a rich caccio e pepe pasta, the combination will be enchanting.
Domaine Karydas (Ktima Karydas) is a small, boutique winery, created in 1990 by Konstantinos Karydas in the Gastra region, outside of Naoussa. The winery focuses on Xinomavro and, for 30 years now, the Karydas family has chosen to produce only one single label (named Domaine Karydas Xinomavro). All of their efforts focus on the quality of this one wine, so it comes as no surprise that Karydas is a household name in Noussa. Their wine has gained the attention of wine lovers all over the world, and now 50% of the bottles are sold in the U.S., the U.K. and France.
Thymiopoulos Vineyards is a winery that belongs to the Thymiopoulos family, which has been involved in agriculture and grape-growing in the village of Trilofos for generations. Apostolos Thymiopoulos, the man behind the winery, truly believes in sustainable viticulture and minimum intervention during the winemaking process. The winery produces 10 different expressions of Xinomavro, trying to reveal every aspect of the variety. Thymiopoulos winery makes the “Xinomavro Nature”, which is the purest, and at the same time, most typical expression of the beloved red variety!
The winery and vineyard of Kelesidis Estate are located in the heart of the winemaking region of Naoussa. The aim of the Kelesidis family is to create wines made from organic grapes that will stand out for their characteristics and unique flavor. Arothymies by Kelesidis Estate is a complex red wine made from Xinomavro, blended with Syrah and Merlot, proving that these varieties can not only coexist but blend harmoniously and create an amazing silky and smooth wine.
Although it produces some distinctive red wines, the Friuli Venezia Giulia region (the easternmost region in northern Italy) is renowned for its white wines.
Here is where a new wave of fresh, protectively-made varietal wines were first produced in Italy back in the late Sixties, when Mario Schioppetto introduced cutting-edge winemaking techniques, which are nowadays common for the vinification of white grapes.
And here is where, some thirty years later, a handful of producers from Oslavia and from the Karst plateau head back to the origins of winemaking, rediscovering long maceration times and amphora-ageing, thus giving birth to what we now know as orange wines.
Here is also where a new trend is spreading: Pinot Grigio Ramato (i.e., copper-colored Pinot Grigio).
What is Pinot Grigio Ramato?
Ramato, as it is often simply called, is definitely not new. However, there is an increasing number of cellars that bottle it today, which clearly indicates a growing interest in it. But how can we define this style?
“Pinot Grigio Ramato a difficult wine style to define theoretically”
Let’s start with the basics, the Pinot Grigio (“gray Pinot”) grape owes its name to the quite dark color of its berries’ skin. This iconic purple-skinned grape is part of a long-standing winemaking tradition and local inheritance in the Friuli region. And, when its berries are left in contact with their skins after crushing, even for a short time, even at low temperatures, it results in a copper-hued wine.
Anyway, Pinot Grigio Ramato is a difficult wine style to define so long as you stay only on the theoretical ground. Strictly speaking, it is just any wine made from the Pinot Grigio grape variety where the skins are left in the must to release some color. As such, it can range from fresh, clear, and protectively made wines dominated by primary aromas, to actual “orange wines,” long-macerated, deep tangerine in color, and hazy. At the far end of the scope, “orange wines” offer easily detectable secondary aromas given by oxygen contact, some phenolic grip on the palate, and more often than not, a yeasty character.
So, rather than a fixed style with strict boundaries, we can consider that Ramatos are the way winemakers of Friuli show their visions, wine-making skills, try innovative techniques, and exploit the potential of this variety.
Ramato, before Pinot Grigio
Pinot Gris was introduced in Friuli in the XIX century, long before the stainless-steel revolution, (i.e., when white wines were also made by skin contact in other types of containers with more difficult temperature control). These very traditional whites can be considered as the Ramato 1.0 version.
“it now attracts more and more consumers and seduces even the less educated palates”
What’s new now, is a lighter style of auburn-colored wine, that meets the demand for wines with a more adventurous taste in the final bottle. Although this color would have been seen as a clear default by consumers not so long ago, it now attracts more and more consumers and seduces even the less educated palates. This recent gain in popularity paves the way for “really orange” wines and prepares wine customers to understand even less conventional styles.
My top choice of Ramatos in Friuli
Vistorta is a renowned cellar in Sacile owned by the Bardolini family, mainly famous for its high-quality Merlot wines. They also produce white wines from local varieties, including two styles of Pinot Grigio, one definitely white and one briefly macerated, which pays its tribute to tradition without confusing consumers too much.
To produce the latter, an organic wine simply called Pinot Grigio Ramato, they soak the skins in cold must for just twelve hours, keeping the temperature around 8°C (about 46°F), then they let the must slowly ferment off the skins, approximately one week at 16°-17°C (61°-63°F).
This Pinot Grigio then matures in concrete vats for six months and owes its pretty round mouthfeel to a weekly “bâtonnage” (lees stirring, a process that mixes wine and sediments to help produce secondary aromas), while still being on the fresh end of the range.
The cellar itself suggests enjoying this wine with summer appetizers and light dishes, such as fish or white meat. It is due to its fruity character, which can range from peach to wild-strawberry notes, while it still shows some crispiness on the palate (thanks to the almost-neutral maturation vessel they use).
“Conversely, to what one might imagine, it is the long extraction that is the reason for such roundness”
Moving to a prestigious appellation, Friuli Colli Orientali, we meet Specogna in Corno di Rosazzo, a winemaker who has never tried a style of Pinot Grigio different from Ramato since its first vintage in 1973.
The nose of his Pinot Grigio Riserva somehow resembles a red wine, showing cherries and berry fruit aromas, together with a pleasant savouriness (attributable to the two years spent on its lees) that enhances its persistence.
It is definitely a macerated wine (left for two weeks on skins), yet it is not excessively phenolic in the mouth.
Conversely, to what one might imagine, it is the long extraction that is the reason for such roundness. Cristian, winemaker at Specogna and owner of the cellar together with his brother Michele, explains that longer extractions not only mean more tannins, but it also gives a higher number of polysaccharides, making polymerisation of tannins faster and more integrated. It is also to be noted that long and careful ageing in neutral barrels also plays a role in this final result.
Specogna fresher Pinot Grigios also show a clementine robe together with a more “whitening” nose, with tropical and pear aromas.
“aim of demolishing people’s certainties about the variety’s potential”
The wide spectrum of maceration time given by Pinot Grigio can be found in the production of a single winery: Scarbolo, a visionary cellar in DOC Grave, who can be counted among the pioneers of the return to this style.
Their XL was born in the early 2000s, just when crispy Pinot Grigios were flourishing in all markets, with the double aim of demolishing people’s certainties about the variety’s potential and keeping the tradition alive.
Nowadays, it is completely fermented on its skin for two weeks and aged for two years in wood. Its aromas, too, resemble more of those of a red wine rather than a white or an orange wine, and clearly reveal the variety’s close relationship with the Pinot Noir grape.
Salvadi is its “wild” (that’s the meaning, in the Friulian language) version, higher in volatile acidity because of less usage of SO2 and a little less elegant, but even more expressive and impressive. This Pinot Grigio will please those who look for some rusticity in wines. However, it is still balanced enough to be enjoyed by less tolerant consumers thanks to its full aroma concentration.
ILRamato – whose name plays with the word “amato”, (“il Amato” meaning “the beloved” in Italian) was created in 2006. It is the winery’s freshest expression of copper-colored Pinot Grigio. It only undergoes 24 hours of skin maceration, and indeed its texture and bouquet definitely resemble a white wine, yet richly mineral, and savory. It offers a longer-lasting and higher impacting impression on the palate than people could expect.
The Future of Ramatos
Whether the production of Pinot Grigio Ramato will go beyond the borders of Friuli may depend on the capacity of the rosé trend to last. Some twenty or thirty years ago, when the mass-produced white Pinot Grigios were trending, producers like Specogna and Scarbolo struggled to sell their “ramatos”, because uneducated consumers didn’t accept a wine with a pinkish color, when made from a grape variety they “knew” to be white.
Nowadays, thanks to the world’s increasing consumption of rosé wines, the same category of uneducated drinkers can more easily accept a salmon-colored wine, provided it’s protectively made and that not too much stress is put on the variety.
“progressively legitimizing such a color for a white variety“
Increased temperatures in northern Italy and drier growing conditions due to climate change, together with the relatively short maceration time needed, might allow mass producers of Pinot Grigios based on the Padana Plain (whose business model requires them to quickly distribute their wines on a large scale) to produce fresh “ramatos” wines, thus progressively legitimizing such a color for a white variety in the eyes of the end-consumers.
However, this would still be a very different product from the wines made in Grave, Colli Orientali, and Collio DOCs (Denominazione de Origina Controllata = Protected Denomination of Origin). Just as different today as artisanal-produced white Pinot Grigios from the area have always been (more than) a step ahead of industrial ones from the Padana Plain. Even if it would prepare the largest segment of consumers for its existence, the birth of a mass-market for industrial Pinot Grigio Ramatos could eventually be detrimental to the image of the hand-crafted ones found in Friuli.
In ancient times, the core of Nemea’s wine region was known as “the Land of Phliasia,” and its wine was popular with an “international” audience who traveled to the ancient Nemean Games, one of the most important spectacles in Greek history. Phliasion wines became known as Agiorgitiko over time. Today, Nemea is Greece’s largest PDO (Protected Denomination of Origin) wine production zone, and its lush grape cultivation demonstrates why Homer named it Ampelóessa, which means “full of vines.”
Nemea has a unique terroir, which distinguishes it from the other winemaking regions in the Peloponnese, where it is located. The vineyards are mostly found in the highlands, as the zone’s altitude ranges from 90 meters to roughly 1000 meters. Warm days and chilly nights work together to produce very good raw material throughout the ripening phase, which lasts from August to September. Nemean soil is made up of clay, stone, gravel, and sand. The soil’s unique composition holds all of the required moisture and feeds it to the plants.
For all those reasons mentioned above, combined with the extensive knowledge that winemakers in the region have, there are a lot of varieties grown in Nemea, both indigenous and international. Native Greek varieties include Asyrtiko, Malagousia, Kidonitsa, Malvasia, and Sklava.
“One variety, however, stands out the most and is the star of Nemea”
Kidonitsa is a unique and ancient Greek grape that was nearly extinct at one point. It was saved by several Peloponnese growers who recognized the grape’s exceptional potential to make aromatic white wines with a distinct character. Sklava is a rare and nearly extinct white-skinned grape variety grown in the eastern Peloponnese, particularly in Argolida, its birthplace, and Nemea. Sklava was traditionally blended with other grape varieties, but there are some examples of single-varietal Sklava wines made by producers attempting to revitalize the variety. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Gewurztraminer are some of the international varieties grown in Nemea.
One variety, however, stands out the most and is the star of Nemea. This variety is none other than Agiorgitiko (pronounced “eye-your-yee-tee-ko”). Agiorgitiko cultivations currently span approximately 2.5 hectares in Nemea. The Nemea PDO, created in 1971, is only for dry or sweet red wines made entirely of this variety.
The importance of Agiorgitiko
“known as a “versatile” variety because of its capacity to create a wide range of wines”
This charismatic variety is one of the noblest varieties in Greek vineyards and one of the richest colored varieties that we can find in the country. Differences in altitude, microclimate, and soil composition create different “expressions” of the variety.
Agiorgitiko is known as a “versatile” variety because of its capacity to create a wide range of wines, from fresh and rosé to powerful aged and dessert sweet. Agiorgitiko has an exquisite and highly fruity taste. It has medium to high acidity, silky tannins, and a medium body.
Young wines of the style have an intense purple color with purple highlights. On the nose, the aromas of red fruits stand out, such as cherries, sour cherries, plums, and raspberries, while their aftertaste is fruity.
Rosé Agiorgitiko can be found in colors ranging from pale to intense pink. It is delicate, with a wonderful fresh and cool character and the aromatic intensity of red fruits.
Aged Agiorgitiko is more complex. Ruby in color, with an exuberant body, aromas of red fruit jam, chocolate, sweet spices, tobacco, and wood with a long aftertaste stimulate the senses. Their tannins are, of course, prominent but at the same time soft.
The sweet wines of the variety are dominated by aromas of dried fruits, such as fig, plum, raisin, and caramel.
Food Pairings with Agiorgitiko
“An aged Nemea needs more exuberant sauces and meats”
Rosé wines can be combined very nicely with salads, pizza, pasta with light red sauces, or even with delicious vegetable pies.
A fresh Agiorgitiko highlights appetizers, meat or fish dishes with lighter sauces, and also spaghetti with minced meat.
An aged Nemea needs more exuberant sauces and meats like roast beef, sausages, traditional Greek moussaka, and even burgers.
Sweet wines from Agiorgitiko match with chocolate. A souffle (soufflé) with dark chocolate, a chocolate pie, a chocolate bar or chocolates with caramelized nuts create an explosive combination with sweet wine.
Nemean estates you should really know, visit and/or try
This winery was founded in 1994 on the south-western slopes of Koutsi, at an elevation of 650 meters, and has now become one of Nemea’s household names. Wines from Gaia are exported to 25 countries worldwide, ranging from Japan to the United States. Their production is guided by consistency and a commitment to quality. The steady increase in exports and the prizes that Gaia Wines has acquired demonstrate that this incredible journey best represents the aspirations and goals of the people at Gaia Wines, and it will continue to develop a thirst for new experiences and knowledge.
Semeli established their huge vineyard in 2003 at 600 meters above sea level in the village of Koutsi, just a short distance from Gaia. Their finest white, Thea, is aged on fine lees for a distinctive and almost Burgundian take on Moschofilero, earning winemaker Leonidas Nassiakos a gold medal at the 2017 Decanter World Wine Awards.
George Palivos founded the winery in Ancient Nemea in 1995. The vineyards are predominantly planted with Agiorgitiko, with some Roditis, Malagousia, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. It is worth noting that all of the grapes from Palivou Estate are farmed organically. Their vines are located in a range of altitude varying from 300m to 600m and cover a variety of soil types such as calcareous, clay, loam, sand, and gravel.
Nikolaou Estate was formed in 1984, continuing a family heritage of winemaking that began in 1936. The mountain air and the dampness of the mythological river Asopos create a one-of-a-kind microclimate for the 14-acre organic vineyard. Winery Nikolaou’s organic vineyard is located in Douramani and covers an area of 0.11 km2. Its farming adheres strictly to organic agricultural standards, with the goal of preserving the winery’s distinctive microclimate as well as the ecosystem of the surrounding region.
Thanasis Papaioannou, the founder of Organic Vineyards Papaioannou, was one of the first wine growers-producers in Greece to embrace and support the concept of true Greek terroirs and their wines, with regard for the environment and its balance. Thanasis Papaioannou has made sure to plant the optimum variety, native or international, depending on the particular mesoclimate, in their large, privately held vineyard in different regions of Nemea.
The AOC (“Appelation d’Origine Controlée” = Protected Denomination of Origin) La Clape is located in the South of France in the Languedoc part of the former Languedoc-Roussillon region (a region called Occitanie since the reform from president Hollande that grouped the Languedoc-Roussillon and the Midi-Pyrennées region into one larger region: Occitanie).
Noticeably, the AOC La Clape is recognized as a standalone appellation since June 2015 by the French INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origines, the state-led organization that oversees the whole French appellation system). Before that, this appellation was only a subpart of the larger umbrella appellation “AOC Languedoc” and needed to be called AOC Languedoc-La Clape. This point can be very confusing for foreigners and not to make things easier it is worth noting that this standalone recognition has nothing to do with the decision from the French government to create the larger Occitanie administrative region. It was really due to the sustained efforts for years by the wine makers in La Clape to improve the quality of their production and express the singularity of their terroir into their wines. It is an appellation nested on a limestone hill in-between the city of Narbonne, the Mediterranean Sea and the city of Gruissan. It is a very sunny and dry area famous for its windy conditions all year long which can make the wine growing process quite challenging.
Unlike in Burgundy the word “Cru” here does not carry an official value (yet), however, it is recognized unanimously as one of the very best “Crus” the Languedoc has to offer both in terms of wine quality and terroir.
Peculiarities of the AOC La Clape
“you can recognize these “garrigue” aromas in the best red wines from the appellation”
Besides its wonderful and well-known hiking trails that pass through many of the wineries in this hilly area, the area is distinguished by its “garrigue” (= scrubland) vegetation. In fact, apart from the garrigue, local trees and vines, nothing else can really grow in this area given the climatic conditions. Broadly speaking, the garrigue can be defined as a mix of various ground-level vegetations (rosemary, wild thyme, sage, lavender, boxwood…) covering limestone soils together with some adapted tree species (pine trees, olive trees, junipers, holly oaks, holm oaks…). This “garigue” produces a very characteristic smell that you have no problem recognizing when you walk the hiking trails around here, especially during summer. It smells like a blend of resin, pine tree aromas, and aromatic compounds derived from wild thymes, rosemaries, and sages. We generally consider that the higher the temperature, the stronger the smell is. This is of particular interest for the wine produced locally, as you can recognize these “garrigue” aromas in the best red wines from the appellation. These aromas, together with the typical level of minerality inherited from the limestone soils of the area, are what make these wines standout.
Winegrowing in the AOC La Clape
As mentioned earlier there is a warm, dry and windy microclimate. Consequently, the vastly dominant training system is the “Bush Training”, where vines are conducted as little bushes low to the ground and not trellised. This has two advantages. First, it protects the grapes from sunburn as leaves from the bushes provide shadows for the grapes. Second, it also protects the vines from being deteriorated by strong winds (if they were trellised, they would need to be trained higher from the ground, which would generate more surface exposition to the winds which in turn would deteriorate leaves, grapes and the trellising system).
“vines need to suffer to bring their best”
Another typical trait of local winegrowing is “Dry Farming”. Here, despite the climatic conditions, they do not irrigate their vineyards. Combined with these very stony soils, how is it possible to grow vines there? The answer is quite simple, they select drought resistant rootstocks in vine nurseries (also resistant to other diseases such as Phylloxera…) and graft them with drought resistant grape varieties (such as Grenache, Mourvèdre…) that happens to be widespread in the hot Mediterranean area (Grenache is called Garnacha and Mourvèdre is called Monastrell in Spain) for that exact same reason. Don’t mistake it, that is absolutely not synonymous with low quality. In fact, it is totally the opposite. Such conditions bring out quality in wines. There is an old saying in France that “vines need to suffer to bring their best” and it is totally the case here.
Grapes and Blends in the AOC La Clape
When talking about wines from the South of France, and those from the AOC La Clape make no exception, you will often hear the acronym “GSM” or the term “GSM Blend”. But, what does it mean? It is very easy, GSM means a combination of the three following grapes: Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. It is the typical blend or base blend of wines made in the Languedoc/ Languedoc-Roussillon/Occitanie region in the South of France. Schematically summarized, Grenache brings fruity aromas, Syrah brings spicy and peppery aromas, while Mourvèdre brings tannins, alcohol, more aroma complexities and helps toward a better integrated final blend.
“it is not a grape that is valued by wine consumers as they just do not know about it”
Another feature of this region is the autochtonous Bourboulenc white grape. You will find it in many wineries around, either as a standalone wine or as a major component of the local white blend. Most of the time they combine it with Marsanne, Roussane and/or Grenache Blanc. It is a very intriguing grape as it can give a very different tasting profile depending on the wine-making process selected and/or on the final blend. However, it is not really difficult to recognize its presence given its very singular combination of acidity, minerality, astringency and aromas. Unfortunately, it is not a grape that is valued by wine consumers as they just do not know about it so its potential remains far from being exploited to its true value.
Wineries that standout
Some names from the AOC La Clape such as Chateau Pech Redon (certified Organic since 2005) or Domaine de la Ramade (certified Organic since 2012) sound very familiar to wine lovers. I really suggest you give a try to the wines from the Chateau d’Anglès (HVE level 3 and converting to organic) directed by Eric Fabre. I really like their Grand Vin Blanc based on a blend including grapes from old Bourboulenc vines. Anyway, I really advise you to direct your choice toward biodynamic or organic wineries from this appellation, as I see no reason why some of the wineries have such wonderful results from organically grown grapes while others are pleased with pesticides usage and lower quality end results.
Finally, if you have only a very short amount of time to spend in the area and can visit only one winery, I would strongly encourage you to go to the Chateau l’Hospitalet owned by Gerard Bertrand. This wine estate was formerly owned by Jacques Ribourel who invested a lot to bring it to a high standard. Now, Gerard Bertrand and his team make a wonderful job in terms of wine quality and environmental care (Biodynamic – certified Demeter). You will always feel welcome with open arms to taste their best wines, such as l’Hospitalitas and Chateau l’Hospitalet Grand Vin rouge. You will also be able to taste wines from their other great estates such as Clos d’Ora. The site offers a great Hotel facility with Spa and restaurants. Last but not least, if you are a honey lover, I cannot recommend you enough to buy their Rosemary honey which is for me the best honey I have ever tasted so far. If you are a foodie, then buy one and go to take a tour of the city of Gruissan (starting around the Tour Barberousse for instance) or to the beach (you will find some fresh and crispy French bread on your way – it pairs perfectly with it, the crispier and the most toasted, the better). If you love hiking, then park (for free) near the Auzils Chapel (Chapelle Notre Dame des Auzils) and go for the easy hike to the Vigie de La Clape, where you will have a panoramic view on most of La Clape and the Mediterranean Sea.