But its best wines, both a pure assyrtiko (white) and mavrotragano (red), are clearly a step above most wines from Greece. The current-release T-Oinos Mavrotragano Cyclades Clos Stégasta Rare 2019 shows super depth and intensity yet remains linear and precise with impressive plum and dark berry character buttressed with granite, iodine and oyster shell undertones. Meanwhile the other top current release, the white T-Oinos Assyrtiko Cyclades Clos Stégasta Rare 2020, shows so much minerality and vibrancy with sleek fruit that it could be a ringer for grand cru Chablis.
James Suckling – Greece Annual Report: A Vinous Evolution to Classic Quality
James Suckling recently released his Annual Report on Greek wines after almost 15 years since his last one. T-OINOS wines were praised in particular:
“It was almost hard to remember that the spectacular hillside vineyards of the winery T-Oinos, which arguably makes Greece’s greatest wines, are just a 30-minute speedboat ride from the high-energy, party world of Mykonos. Its Clos Stegasta vineyard is on a high plateau, 460 meters above the sea, in the heart of Tinos Island, which is over two times the size of Mykonos. The vineyards of T-Oinos struggle through the growing season from poor, mostly schist soils and variable maritime climate with its often ferocious winds.
“I feel a special energy when I am here in Tinos,” admitted Frenchman Stephane Derenoncourt, the cool and chilled consulting enologist who is best known for his decades of work in Bordeaux making such great wines as La Mondotte, Domaine de Chevalier and Pavie-Macquin. “I may be the most proud of the wines I make at Clos Stegasta than any other wine place.”
It’s easy to understand his comments after seeing the vineyards in their rocky, often granite and schist soils and desolate surroundings with the blue sea in the distance. But the wines are really exceptional. The normal bottlings of white and red Clos Stegasta have competition in Greece, but the tiny-production wines with the addition of “Rare” on the labels, which equals just over 1,000 bottles each, are truly exceptional.
Tasting the new releases for the first time in August reminded me of some of the first times I tasted bottles of Spain’s modern legend, Pingus, in the late 1990 – just when it started. They both have the uncanny energy and clarity with superb depth and definition.
Unfortunately, the word is already out on the rare wines of Clos Stegasta, and they sell for about $150 a bottle, if you can find them. But they are worth seeking out.
The fact that these wines even exist at all are an indication of how Greece is finally making its mark in the fine winemaking world. Associate Editor Claire Nesbitt and I traveled to Greece two weeks ago and we tasted almost 400 wines from about 70 producers, and we were impressed with the quality. It wasn’t that we found numerous classic quality wines – those that are over 95 points – but we discovered a very constant and outstanding quality for almost all the wines. And considering their unique character from literally dozens of different grape types and special locations, they are fascinating and satisfying bottles to taste and drink. They are also mostly made in a way to emphasize their drinkability and crunchiness, which makes them all the more attractive. Plus, they mostly cost between $20 and $30 a bottle.
MAVROTRAGANO AND MORE
It’s hard to generalize about Greek wines, particularly after tasting a few hundred this year. Our top reds were those from T-Oinos, but we also tasted other outstanding wines from mavrotragano, mainly from the Cyclades islands (including Tinos) and Crete. What stood out was the minerality in many of them, often with iron and granite combined with red fruit, with undeniable freshness. In fact, we found that many of our whites were fuller-bodied with riper fruit, compared with the reds.
We found some outstanding reds from xinomavro, such as the Papageorgiou Winery Xinomavro Siatista Magoutes Vineyard 2018. Many we tasted were juicy and balanced, the best with supple and creamy tannins, without any hardness or dryness. Those below 90 were lacking in intensity rather than freshness or drinkability.
Other top reds included the blend Kir-Yianni Imathia Ble Apelou 2019, and Ktima Biblia Chora Pangeon Biblinos Red 2015made from an old, unidentified variety, both structured and polished with wonderful depth. Wines from agiorgitiko, too, showed excellent fruit character, some of the best with delicious balsamic and spice notes. And for a fascinating wine made from liatiko, look out for the Karavitakis Winery Liatiko Crete Indigenous Yeast 2019, an aromatic, refined red with a light body and delicate tannins, but showing complexity and elegance.
We tend to prefer assyrtiko for whites (eight of our top 20 wines overall) because it makes high-energy wines with a common thread of salty, flinty and sometimes smoky complexity. Tangy acidity balanced out a significant number of whites on the higher alcohol spectrum of close to 15 percent. Both dry and sweet wines from assyrtiko excel from Santorini, but quality can be found throughout Greece, from southern Peloponnese to northern Florina. Its versatility can also be seen in blends with moschofilero, malagousia and other local varieties, as well as with some international varieties like sauvignon blanc, chardonnay or muscat, making both fresh, fruity wines and dense, oily expressions.
As for retsina, only a handful were tasted: these were very drinkable, perfumed and not overpowering. We were more impressed with sweet wines, notably Vinsanto from Santorini (three of these were in our top 20 wines overall), and also from Domaine Sigalas and Estate Argyros, including a 2001 late release, all of which had fantastic complexity and intensity. We also tasted an excellent late-harvest blend of gewurztraminer and malagouzia from Alpha Estate – the Alpha Estate Florina Omega Late Harvest 2018.
The tasting was so much more enjoyable and thought-provoking compared with what JamesSuckling.com encountered about 10 years ago when we did a similar tasting in a wine shop in Mykonos. Granted, it was only about 100 wines but it was so disappointing to taste so many overdone and over-extracted wines, with so many overly wooded and difficult to drink. Maybe the winemakers were in a time warp or the local market still wanted those wines? But the other parts of the world were already moving toward drinkability and balance in wines, particularly reds.
It makes the fact that we found so many natural and low-sulfur wines appealing in our tasting even more fascinating. Apparently, at least from what T-Oinos winemaker Thanos Georgilas said, a new generation of young winemakers in their 20s and 30s is spearheading this vinous evolution in Greek winemaking and producing cool, drinkable and delicious low-intervention and skin contact wines as well as more classic bottles. And after a wave of planting international varieties 30 years, ago, Greek varieties are back in trend, according to Eleni Blouchou, the marketing manager for T-Oinos.
“The ones producing Greek varieties are getting more serious,” Blouchou said. “You can taste a good result in the bottle.”
Alexandre Avatangelos, the owner of T-Oinos, believes that winemaking techniques in Greece have blossomed and that now, producers need to focus on the terroir: “To make great wine, you have to work the land.”
There’s so much more to learn about Greek wines. We enjoyed almost every minute of the tasting in Greece. And the top wines of the tasting, such as the new and recently released Clos Stegasta Rare wines, convinced us that next year’s tasting should be even more extensive.”
– James Suckling, Editor/Chairman; Claire Nesbitt, Associate Editor
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