Saturday June 3: Arrived in Thessaloniki and was met by a taxi driver who took me to the Thessaloniki-Makedonia Palace, where I met my three American travelling companions, Rachel, Vickie and Craig from New York.
5:30pm depart from Makedonia Palace to Kechris winery for a vertical tasting of Kechris Retsinas. Stelios Kechris took over the winery in 1984 and specialized in Retsina. Their Kechribari won an international award, first Retsina to do so. They produced the first retsina fermented in oak. They are the only winery who produce a rosé retsina.
The grapes for Retsina: Roditis (20% of Greek vineyards) and Assyrtiko (1.5%), Xinomavro (3.5%). Resin: Pinus halepensis, age of the tree and time of harvest are factors in the selection of the resin. Difficult wine to produce, two processes that happen at the same time: fermentation and extraction of the fresh resin. Retsina is not a vintage-dated wine. It accounts for 10% of Greek wine production. Yiorgos Darlas of Kechris tells me: “You have wines that give you an impression of terroir; but Retsina gives you an impression of a whole culture.”
Kechris Retsina cart
The meal finishes with a green walnut liqueur and one made from cornelian cherries.
- Kechris Kechribari (100% Roditis): pale straw, pine needles, lemon nose; light-bodied, dry, fresh and lively, crisp with a mouth-watering finish. (88) 2.3 euros.
- Kechris Afros (100% Roditis): pale straw with evident spritz; pine needle, green tobacco nose; light-bodied, fresh, spritzy. (87)
- Kechris Tear of the Pine (100% Assyrtiko; fermented in oak, French and American oak, mostly new): pale straw; spicy, vanilla, pine resin with a note of rosemary; light-bodied, crisply dry with lemony, vanilla oak with a herbal note. Good length. (89) 15 euros.
- Kechris Roza (100% Xinomavro – first rosé retsina, oak fermented): pale pink colour; earthy, strawberry nose with just a hint of resin; light to medium-bodied, dry, wild strawberry flavour with fresh acidity. (89) 10 euros.
Then into the fermentation cellar, where five tables were set up with wines from Northern Greece: Katogios Winery, Avroff, Domaine Glinavos, Zoinos Winery, Ktima Voyatzi and our hosts, Kechris Winery. Dinner followed with the same wines on the table.
Sunday June 4: 8:30 am start for Goumenissa for a tasting of local wines at Chatzivaritis Winery:
- Domaine Tatsis Angel’s Peak White 2016 (87)
- Domaine Tatsis Xynomavro Xiropotamos 2014 (Blanc de Noirs – 87)
- Domaine Tatsis Chardonnay 2007 (88)
- Domaine Tatsis Negoska 2016 (87)
- Domaine Tatsis Roditis Orange Wine 2014 (88)
- Domaine Tatsis Negoska 2012 (87)
- Domaine Tatsis Xynomavro Old Roots 2013 (88)
After lunch a vertical tasting of wines from Domaine Goumenissa, beginning with 2002 and working through 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2013.
En route to Alpha Estate in Amyndeo we stopped at the waterfall in Edessa in northern Macedonia, the most northerly of Greece’s appellations.
Angelos Iatrides of Domaine Alpha
Good to see my old friend Angelos Iatrides. Angelos has 9 clones of Xynomavro planted here. The tasting:
- Alpha Xinomavro Hedgehog Single Vineyard 2014 (88)
- Alpha Xinomavro Reserve Vieilles Vignes “Barba Yannis” 2013 (91)
- Alpha Axia Syrah-Xinomavro 2014 (88)
- Alpha Estate Blend SMX 2014 (60% Syrah, 20% Xinomavro. 20% Merlot – 91)
- Alpha Rosé 2016 (88.5)
- Alpha Malazgouzia Turtles Vineyard 2016 (87)
- Alpha White 2015 (50% Assyrtiko, 50% Sauvignon Blanc – 87)
- Alpha Etsate Assyrtiko Aghia Kiriaki Single Vineyard 2015 (87)
- Alpha Esate Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (89)
- Alpha Sauvignon Fumé Blanc Kalyvia Single Block 2016 (90)
- Alpha Mavrodaphne Late Harvest 2006 (90)
After the tasting we drove to Nymfeo, a charming village situated at 1350 meters in the densely forested Verno mountains. All the houses have tin roofs.
Nymfeo in the Verno mountains
We booked into Hotel Nymfes, where our hostess Helen greeted us with her homemade strawberry and redcurrant liqueurs. Each of the five rooms is named after a nymph from Greek mythology. Mine was Eurydice.
Drove to Xino Nero for dinner at Thomas Tavern in Sklithro, which has 365 Greek wines on its list. The owner pulled out a 1991 Boutari Assyrtico from the Seladia Estate on Santorini. A veritable feast arrived: smoked aubergine, Greek porridge with wild mushroom ragout, Florina red pepper with grilled florinella cheese chicken with Florina peppers, wild boar pasta, pork loin with potatoes, tomahawk steaks, finishing with chocolate ganache, salted caramel and vanilla ice cream. Then Greek Mountain tea made from a local wild herb. The wines were from Alpha Estate.
Breakfast at Hotel Nymfes
Monday, June 5th: We departed for Vergina, a small town in central Macedonia, where we visited the archaeological excavation of King Philip’s tomb. It was here in 336 BC that Philip II was assassinated in the theatre and Alexander the Great was proclaimed king.
King Philip’s tomb excavations
Then on to a tasting of Naoussa wines at Kir Yianni Estate in Naoussa. Present were Argtia, Boutari, Estate Foundi, Katogi-Averoff, Stavros Kokkinos and Domaine Karydas. My top wines here were J. Boutari 1879 Xinomavro 2007 (90 – tasted like an old Barolo) and Kir Yanni Ramnista Xinomavro Clycamina (Block 15) 2011 (90) and Kir Yanni Ramnista Xinomavro Limni Block 5 2011 (90).
After the tasting and lunch we drove to Rapsani and the slopes of Mt. Olympus, which we toured in 4x4s. Rapsani’s 90 hectares make it the smallest appellation in Greece. Apparently, there are more wild boars in the vicinity than the population of Rapsani, a picturesque village perched at 600 meters. We tasted wines grown at three different altitudes and visited the early-eighteenth-century church of St. Theodore.
St. Theodore’s church
Dinner with Tsantali in Rapsani on the terrace of Krasmona Rapsani – dined on hare, Greek salad, beetroot, veal and pork patties, fried potatoes and lamb cutlets, accompanied by Tsantali Rapsani Reserve 2009 and 2004.
Drove back to Thessaloniki to book into the Thessaloniki-Excelsior Hotel.
Tuesday, June 6: This morning we drove to Domaine Gerovassiliou in Epanomi. We toured the winery and the wine museum with its huge collection of corkscrews (2,600 pieces) and then settled into a wine tasting with Vangelis Gerovassiliou:
- Gerovassiliou Malagousia 2016 (90)
- Gerovassiliou White 2016 (a blend of Malagousia and Assyrtiko – 89)
- Gerovassiliou Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (90)
- Gerovassiliou Viognier 2016 (92 – the best white I’ve tasted from Greece on this trip so far)
- Gerovassiliou Museum Collection White 2016 (Malagousia, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Assyrtiko – 89)
- Gerovassiliou Red 2015 (a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Limnia – 88.5)
- Gerovassiliou Syrah 2013 (89)
- Gerovassiliou Avaton 2014 (Limnia, Mavroudi Mavrotragano – 88.5)
- Gerovassiliou Evangelo 2013 (Syrah with 8% Viognier – 91)
- Gerovassiliou Museum Collection Red 2014 (Syrah, Merlot, and the Avaton blend – 89)
Vineyard at Gerovassiliou
Lunched outside on the terrace of the ultra-modern tasting room, overlooking the vineyards with their strategically placed sculptures. Had Greek salad, deep fried octopus, sea bass en papillote, rare beef, yoghurt with chocolate and nuts, with Malagousia.
Sea bass en papillote
After lunch we drove to Porto Carras – a huge resort with a casino at Sithonia in Chalkidiki. The hotel, from the outside, resembles an ocean liner. Spent some time on the beach before visiting Porto Carras’ vineyards.
Villa Galini, with its 27 bedrooms, is set in the grounds of some 450 hectares of vines (one of the largest vineyards in Europe). A magnificent retreat – Salvador Dali was a frequent guest here. This winery was the first to plant Assyrtiko outside Santorini. A tasting at the winery:
- Chateau Porto Carras Athiri Muscat 2016 (86.5)
- Chateau Porto Carras Athiri Assyrtiko Rhoditis 2016 (87)
- Chateau Porto Carras Malagousia 2016 (88)
- Chateau Porto Carras Assyrtiko 2016 (88)
- Chateau Porto Carras Le Grand Blanc 2015 (Assyrtiko, Malagousia, Limnio (a red variety) – 90)
- Chateau Porto Carras Rosé 2016 (88)
- Chateau Porto Carras Limnio 2015 (88.5)
- Chateau Porto Carras Ruby Heart 2014 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Limnio – 88)
- Chateau Porto Carras Magnus Baccata 2013 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah – 87.5)
- Chateau Porto Carras 2007 (Bordeaux blend – 89) and 2006 (88)
- Chateau Porto Carras Syrah 2006 (88.5)
- Chateau Porto Carras Poem 2015 (sun-dried Limnio – 89)
Salvador Dali enjoying Porta Carras wine
Dined in the hotel: dolmades, seafood and fish platter, pasta with kavourmas (a pork confit) and goat cheese, beef in tomato sauce with eggplant puree and finally baklava.
Wednesday, June 7: A three-hour drive to Drama for a tasting at Pavlidis Estate of wines from this region. Top scoring wines of the 15 I tasted: Domaine Costa Lazaridi Amethystos Cava 2013 (Cabernet Franc – 89), Kitma Pavildis Emphasis Syrah 2013 and Amethystos Agriogitiko 2013 (89), Wine Art Estate Plano Malagousia 2016 (89) and Idisma drios Assyrtiko 2016 (89).
Souvlaki and a beer
Greek ice creams
After lunch we drove back to Thessaloniki to catch a 7:20pm flight to Athens and another to Santorini. Booked into Nikos Villas in Oia. A gorgeous view of the village from my balcony.
Nikos Villas, Oia
The village of Oia, Santorini
Church in Oia
Thursday, June 8: Drive to Pyrgos for a tasting of Santo wines and a variety of Assyrtikos. Lunched at Selene Meze with Santorini winemakers and later that afternoon a visit to the newly constructed Argyros winery for a tour and tasting.
Selene restaurant in Pyrgos, Santorini
Puppets in Oia
Dinner with Argyros & Santo Wines at a restaurant called Red Bicycle in Oia. The village was full of tourists taking selfies. The meal started with Santo Sparkling Assyrtiko Brut 2012. Delicious Santorini tomatoes, green bean salad with shrimp, tuna tartare, then sea bream and vine leaf puree.
Label depicting map of Santorini
Oia by night
Friday, June 9: After breakfast we visited Domaine Sigalas for what turns out to be the highlight tasting of the trip. Paris Sigalas is a real poet. He took us into the vineyard and showed us the “basket” vines and the soils.
Assyrtiko “basket” woven from vine canes
Paris Sigalas shows the structure of his ancient vines
Then we settled into the tasting. Sigalas has created a series of seven village wines to highlight the terroir differences of Santorini Assyrtiko:
- Sigalas Megalochori Assyrtiko 2015 (90)
- Sigalas Imerovigli Assyrtiko 2015 (91)
- Sigalas Fira Assyrtiko 2015 (90)
- Sigalas Akrotiri Assyrtiko 2015 (89)
- Sigalas Argos Assyrtiko 2015 (89)
- Sigalas Oia Assyrtiko 2015 (88.5)
- Sigalas Vourvoulos Assyrtiko 2015 (91)
Sigalas’s seven single-village Assyrtikos
Next, Sigalas Kabalieros Single Vineyard 2015 (90). These were followed by a vertical of his estate Assyrtikos – 2011 (91), 2008 (93 – came on like a Montrachet!), 2005 (89.5). Finally, the late-picked Sigalas Nykteri 2013 (91) followed by Sigalas Mavrotragano 2015 (89) and the amazing Sigalas Vinstanto 2009 (93).
Lunched with Yiannis Paraskevopoulos of Gaia Wines. Enjoyed the Gaia Estate Agiorgitiko 2013 (89).
Entrance to Gaia Winery
Flight at 5:05 pm to Athens and checked into the Sofitel Hotel at the airport. The group moved in two parties to Kokotou Estate in Stamata. Here we had an outdoor tasting on the lawns of the estate of wines from Attica, Crete and the Aegean Islands: Aoton Winery, Domain Evinos, Idaia Winery, Kitma Kokotou, Lyrarakis Wines, Mykonas Winery, Oinoforos Lesvou, Domaine Papagiannakos, Domaine Paterianakis. Fittingly, perhaps, the wine enjoyed most was Aoton Retsina (89).
Saturday, June 10: Flew back to Toronto.