De Toren: Current Releases of Bordeaux Blends from the Polkadraai Hills of Stellenbosch

De Toren is one of South Africa’s premiere producers of Bordeaux red blends. We visited De Toren last week, our first winery visit of 2018, to taste the current releases, including the new, ultra-luxury wines Book XVII and Black Lion. These two wines are made from very low yielding vines that are hand-harvested and hand-sorted,  They are then destemmed and fermented in new French oak barrels and 18 month aging in 200 percent new French oak barriques. The Book XVII sets a new standard of excellence (and price, selling for over $300/bottle in the US) for South African Bordeaux blends. Continue reading

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More Premium Wines from Bulgaria: Quality Meets Value Part II


This is the second part of a two-part review of Bulgarian wines.   In our first article in mid-November,   we  focused on the premium wines of  Bulgariana, one of Bulgaria’s largest producers in the Thracian Valley.   Here we turn our attention to  several additional labels of large and small producers  all of whom are making excellent wines of outstanding value.  As with Bulgariana, these wines are imported into the U.S. by Robert Hayk of Grapes and Barley in Beltsville MD, a leading proponent of Bulgarian wines. Continue reading

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The Exciting Wines of Northern Greece: Macedonia REPRINT


Mike PotashnikGreece is producing exciting wines that are little known outside its borders and Macedonia is one of its most important wine producing regions. In this report, we alert our readers to some of the leading wineries and wines of Northern Greece (Macedonia) —one of several major regions of high quality wine production in the country.

Macedonia is a region in quiet ferment (so to speak) with talented winemakers, improved vineyard and winemaking practices, and many new wines made of indigenous and/or international varieties. Although many wine professionals and enthusiasts are not yet familiar with these wines, is changing as word spreads around about the high quality and reasonable prices of many Greek wines.1

MacedoniaMacedonia is a large department with northern borders adjacent to Albania, Bulgaria, and former Yugoslavian and a southern border on the Aegean Sea. Driving across Macedonia as I did, one notes the varied topography and different microclimates. Western Macedonia is mountainous with a distinct alpine feel while the north and central areas have rolling hills and flat plains with a temperate and Mediterranean climate. According to some observers it offers “a soothing respite from the drama of southern Greece.” It is also apparent that while agriculture is a major economic activity in Macedonia, and wine has been made in the region for centuries, viticulture is only sporadically visible in some spots. Yet, viticulture in Macedonia is relatively easy, according to Konstantinos Lazarakis MW. Water is generally available and soils are for the most part suitable for grape growing.2

Like other emerging wine regions, Greece has a generation of modern winemakers, mainly in their who have been trained both within Greece (in Athens and Thessaloniki) and abroad in Bordeaux, Adelaide and UC Davis. Winemakers are experimenting and learning what grows best in which area and how to viinify indigenous grapes. Boutari has done important research over the years on the growing and vinification of Xinomavro while Evangelos Gerovassiliou has focused his attention on while white varieties. Significantly, virtually all of the winemakers whom I met on my visit, large and small, were all in the learning and experimenting mode which is what is needed if the quality of Greek wines is going to steadily improve.

Most Greek wine is consumed within Greece. Unofficial estimates are that 70% of all wine is consumed locally and 30% exported Most exports are to the UK, Germany, Netherlands, Canada and the United States. Larger wineries like Boutari and tiny ones like Katima Karyda export 50% of their wine to the United States. Most Greek wines in the United States are imported by small importers of Greek descent. However, some large producers like Boutari work through large national distributors in the United States.

The Grapes

Winemakers in Northern Greece, as elsewhere in the country, are producing wines from both indigenous and international varieties. There is a great deal of experimentation going on in the vineyard and winery to improve the quality of indigenous grapes, most notably reducing yields, planting new clones and cuttings, and producing new cuvees with blends and different oak regimes. In Macedonia, the most exciting wines are being produced from indigenous varieties, both white and red.

Most winemakers use three main indigenous white varieties — Assyrtiko, Roditis and Malagousia. They also use international varieties like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Gewürztraminer and Semillon. The three main indigenous white varieties are summarized below:

Assyrtiko is one of Greece’s best white grapes. It exhibits clean crisp aromas and flavors with notable acidity and light minerality. A reasonably hearty grape and prolific in the vineyard, Assyrtiko is at its best on the island of Santorini, but it is also grown in Macedonia and other regions. The variety is usually fermented in stainless steel and sees no oak, but some producers are keeping it on the lees while others are fermenting it in oak and blending it with other varieties. There are also sun-dried versions of the grape that are quite enticing.

Roditis is widely cultivated throughout Greece and one of the oldest indigenous varieties. It is a vigorous and high yielding grape that often produces innocuous wines. Different clones and cooler growing conditions can produce Roditis wines of greater interest and there are some in Macedonia.

Malagousia is a rare grape variety which has been nurtured by winemaker, Evangelos Gerovassilious. The grape is grown throughout Macedonia and elsewhere in Greece. Malagousia displays lovely aromatic qualities and flavors of stone fruit and is for early drinking. Gerovassilious produces a single variety Malagousia and a more interesting blend of Malagousia with Assyrtiko which takes on more secondary flavors the second year in bottle.

The major red grapes found in the wines of Northern Greece are Xinomavro and Agiorgitiko, although the latter is only significant in the wines of southern Greece.

Xinomavro is a traditional red variety, presents the biggest challenge. It is ripens late and is not easy to grow. It has tight clusters and is susceptible to uneven ripening requiring careful selection of fruit before fermentation. Some vignerons consider Xinomavro to be like Barolo or Barbaresco because of it medium ruby color and tannins. Xinomavro is high in tannins and most of the wines show lots of tannic grip. Aging can help moderate tannins, but old ones also have it. Taming tannins best accomplished in the vineyard, but it would seem that extensive skin contact during fermentation would also be a contributing factor.

Agiorgitiko is perhaps the best known of Greece’s indigenous red varieties. It is generally medium-dark ruby colored and displays spicy red fruit aromas and flavors. It has an affinity with oak, generally late ripening, not overly tannic, and is easy to drink. It is vinified in a variety of styles throughout Nemea, Attica and Peleponnese, but is not all that prevalent in Northern Greece. The best example I found in Northern Greece is Biblis Chora’s Areti, an attractive 100% Agiorgitiko.

The Wineries and their Wines: Tasting Notes and Ratings

My visits to the wineries and tastings were conducted in May 2009. Unfortunately, not all the wines reviewed here are widely available outside of Greece. In fact with the exception of the wines of Boutari and a couple of other wineries, consumers will have difficulty finding most of wines in their retail stores. However, the importers are noted and, if contacted, will be more than happy to recommend where their wines can be purchased. The web is another good source for locating wines, particularly Wine-Searcher at

The i-WineReview rates wines using the 100 point system. We do not write–up wines which receive a rating of below 85 points. Wines which are not imported in the US are described but not rated. The i-WineReview ratings are as follows:
95-100 A wine of distinction
90-94 A wine of outstanding or superior quality
85-89 A wine of good to excellent quality
84 and below Not recommended

Alpha Estate (Florina)

Alpha EstateAlpha Estate is owned and operated by Angelos Iatrides, a talented and passionate oenologist. Located in Northwestern Macedonia in the district of Florina, Alpha covers 70 acres of vines and has a state-of-the-art winery. The vineyards are situated at about 2200 feet in altitude, with a cool continental climate, tempered by the presence of two large nearby lakes. The estate was established by Iatrides in 1997, created with the purchase of small patches of land from absentee owners. The estate is planted with both indigenous and foreign varieties. Alpha Estate has an impressive portfolio of red wines that are among the finest in Macedonia and undoubtedly in all of Greece. Whereas Ktima Gerrovasiliou is the top producer of white wines, Alpha is distinguished for its reds.


Alpha Estate appears to be one of the only estates producing Pinot Noir in Greece and they are doing an excellent job at it. The 2007 Pinot Noir ($36) 88 is their second vintage and is a big improvement over the first. It is medium –ruby purple and exhibits delicate aromas of cherry and light plum and a silky palate of pure cherry fruit with spice and vanilla notes, good acidity and a long lasting finish. The 2007 Syrah ($38) 90 is beautifully crafted with rich aromas of cassis and blackberry fruit, cedar and light black pepper. It is a sweetly fruited elegant wine with rounded tannins and excellent balance. Although relatively high in alcohol 14.5 alc. is not jammy. The 2007 Xinomavro ($36) 92 is opaque ruby in color with perfumy dark red berry fruit aromas and a fruit-forward palate of mulberry, pomegranate and toasty oak. It is velvety smooth with round tannins that are not often found in wines made from this variety. The 2004 Alpha Estate ($35) 91 is a tasty blend of 60% Syrah, 20% Xinomavro, and 20% Merlot. Opaque ruby purple in color, it is rich in plum and black fruit aromas and is soft on the attack with flavors of red and black spicy fruit, notes of chocolate, and earth. It is also nicely concentrated with ripe mature tannins.

The winery has released two limited production wines (5,000 bottles) made from experimental varieties from outside of Greece. The first, Alpha One 2005 Montepulciano ($48) 90 is made from sundried fruit and has a dried plum compote /dried fig character that is thoroughly delicious. The wine also offers excellent concentration, beautiful balance, and has soft round tannins. The Alpha One 2006 Tannat ($48) is a French-inspired bottling, opaque ruby in color with aromas of black fruit, and complex and concentrated flavors of black berry, bacon fast, oak, tar, and graphite. The wine’s tannins are ripe yet firm.


Alpha Estate produces two major whites. The Alpha 2008 White, (only available in Greece) is made of 100% Sauvignon Blanc and offers fragrant aromas of ripe melon and pear with a touch of lime citrus. It is beautifully balanced with good acidity and a long finish. The Omega White 2007 ($30) is a blend of 85% Gewürztraminer and Malagousia. It offers fresh leeche and rose petal aromas with ripe fruit flavors such as guava and pineapple on the palate and some residual sugar.

Importer: Diamond Importers, Chicago, IL (773) 549-6211

Boutari (Noussa)

BoutariBoutari is one of the largest wine companies in Greece. Established in Noussa in 1879 by Ioannis Boutaris, it currently produces 40 different labels in six wineries throughout the country; a seventh is located in the Languedoc in Southern France near the city of Limoux. Boutari wines are produced from the indigenous grape varieties of each wine region where the company operates and from international varieties. The company has invested heavily in research on indigenous varieties and wine ageing and is credited with promoting the use of Xinomavro in Naoussa and other wines of Northern Greece. Today Boutari exports to 35 countries around the world. Most of the grapes for Boutari’s wines are sourced from independent growers, although the company owns several vineyards from which it produces estate-bottled wines.

Boutari produces a wide variety of reds and whites at different quality levels and price points. Most of the wines are modestly priced and offer good value. The Boutari wines of the Naoussa appellation in Northern Greece include a rose and several reds all made of Xinomavro. A 2008 Rose Sec ($14) 87 of Xinomavro reveals aromas and flavors of ripe apple and strawberry marmalade. A garnet colored 2006 Naoussa ($15) 88 of 100% Xinomavro spends 12 months in French oak and is traditional in style offering flavors of tomato, herbs and cedar with good acidity and firm tannins. The 2003 Grande Reserve ($20) 87 which spends two years in French oak and two years in bottle, has a profile similar to the Naoussa, but has less fruit and vibrancy and more earthiness. It reveals flavors of tomato, herbs and cedar as well as some cinnamon and spice. The most interesting wine of this lineup is the 2006 Domaine Filiria ($30) 90 which is made of Xinomavro and Negoska, an indigenous grape that has similarities with Syrah. Opaque ruby in color, it offers a lovely fruit rich pure cassis and vanilla nose followed by concentrated red black fruit on the palate and tannic grip on the finish.

Importer: Terlato Wines (201) 659-4712

Domaine Costa Lazaridis

Domaine Costa LazaridisDomaine Costa Lazaridis is a very large family winery located in Drama. Launched in 1992 it currently consists of 250 hectares (230 in Drama and 20 near Athens) a state-of-the art-winery and distillery, and a large handsome conference facility outside of Athens. The Domaine produces 16 wines under four labels beautifully designed by Drama artist Yannis Nanos. The two major ones are Chateau Julia, a label for single varietal wines, and Amethystos a label for high quality cuvées. Since 2004, the famed French consulting enologist Michel Rolland has overseen the blending at this estate. Both the white and red wines of Domaine Costa Lazaridis are well crafted and fairly priced.

Whites and Rosés

The whites consist of a tank fermented 2008 Château Julia Assyritiko ($20) 87 that is pale straw in color and offers aromas of lemon citrus with clean acidity and crisp minerals on the palate. More substantial is the 2008 Amethystos White ($19) 89 a delicious blend of 75% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Semillon and 5% Assyritiko. It boasts rich aromas and flavors of stone fruit and melon with a round mouth feel, medium weight, and excellent acidity. It pairs beautifully with seafood dishes and all kinds of Greek. The Château Julia 2008 Chardonnay ($20) 87 is a tank fermented Chardonnay which sees no oak. Light yellow-green in color it exhibits aromas of grapefruit citrus along with a steely character, clean crisp flavors, moderate acidity, and a dry finish. The Chateau Julia 2008 Semillon is light yellow green in color with aromas of honey, citrus and toasted oak. It is light on the plate and offers good crisp acidity on the finish. Domaine Costa Lazaridis also produces a fresh tasting dry 2008 Amethystos Rosé ($19) 87 a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with small amounts of Merlot and Syrah.


The 2006 Amethystos Red ($25) 89 is this winery’s biggest seller. It is a rich blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Limnio, a native Greek varietal. It has a dark ruby color with a very ripe nose of plum, blackberry and earth. Aged for one year in oak, it offers delicious red currant and blackberry fruit with good acidity and a long finish. The 2007 Château Julia Merlot ($28) 88is a big alcoholic wine (15% ac) and is just on the edge of being too ripe. It is soft and velvety smooth on the palate, revealing very ripe and concentrated black fruit with notes of chocolate and a big tannic grip on the finish. The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon-Agioritiko (€18) 89 is a big-shouldered blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Agioritiko. It is dark ruby colored and boasts concentrated red and black currant fruit flavors that are velvety smooth on the palate with earthy notes and a long firm finish The Château Julia 2005 Refosco-Agioritiko (€16) 90 is a blend of Italian Refosco and Agiorgitiko and is referred to by the winery as its “Mediterranean blend” Aged for 12 months in oak, it has lovely dark ruby color with dark berry fruit, medium weight with a touch of toast, red fruit, and spice on the palate. High in acidity, it is a delicious blend and a great food wine.

US Importer: Nestor Imports (212) 267-1133

Domaine Gerovassiliou (Thessaloniki)

Evangelos GerovassiliouEvangelos Gerovassiliou is a master winemaker producing some of Greece’s finest wines. His estate consists of 48 hectares in the village of Epanomi, which is located just outside the city of Thessaloniki. Since planting his vineyard in the early1990s, Gerovassiliou has been experimenting with native and international varieties. He is a modern vigneron who produces wines exclusively from estate vineyards. His wines have ripe fruit and spend varying times in new French oak, but you would never know it. Wines are not flashy, but beautifully balanced in terms of alcohol and acidity. Evangelos is a cultured man and a fervent educator. He has built a magnificent wine museum on his property and holds classes on wine for students and organizes lectures on wine for the general public in the prefecture of Thessaloniki.


Gerovassiliou produces two lovely white wines from Malagousia a native Greek variety which he has personally championed over the years. Malagousia is an aromatic grape with good acidity that makes fresh and attractive wines. Gerovassiliou crafts a pretty single varietal 2008 Malagousia ($30) 89 and a blend of Malagousia with Assyrtiko which is called White. The 2008 White ($25) 91 is a superb wine combining aromas of jasmine and citrus with flavors of crushed peaches and lime. It is a wine made for early drinking and is best in the first year. In fact, it changes considerably after a year in the bottle, taking on more secondary notes. Gerovassiliou’s produces three other noteworthy whites. A 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Fumé ($40) 89 made in small quantities, is fermented in new oak and exhibits fresh melon and tropical fruit aromas and flavors, with hardly a trace of oak, and has rich lush mouth feel with excellent acidity. A 2008 Chardonnay ($60) 90 is delicious with creamy pear, melon and sweet vanilla with toasty notes. He also produces a 2008 Viognier ($45) 88 which is yellow-gold in color and aromatic with delicate peach and apricot and smoky leesy notes.


Gerovassiliou also produces tasty reds from both indigenous and international varietals. The 2005 Avaton ($60) 91 is an attractive blend of the three esoteric indigenous varietals Limnio, Mavroudi and Mavotragano. Fermented in wood and aged for 23 months in new French oak and 12 months in bottle, it reveals an opaque ruby color with ripe and concentrated blackberry-like fruit aromas and flavors, a velvety palate and a long dry finish. Two ageworthy reds produced with international varietals are the dark ruby 2005 Evangelo ($90) 92 Rhone-like Syrah (with 10% Viognier) aged for 24 months in new French oak and revealing red and black fruit flavors, toasty oak and considerable elegance, and the 2005 Red ($40) 90 a Syrah-Merlot blend that is fruit forward, beautifully balanced, and easy to drink. Gerovassiliou is even experimenting with Peite Sirah and the 2008 from barrel is nicely concentrated and flavorful with varietal typicité and his trademark elegance.

US Importer: Cava Spiliandis (347) 529-5155

Ktima Biblia Chora (Kavala)

Evangelos Gerovassiliou has a second estate called Biblia Chora which was founded in 2001 as a joint venture with the talented oenologist, Vassilis Tsktsarlis. The project consists of a 35 hectare estate located in Kavala, in western Macedonia. It is a cool climate site situated at 350-500 meters with stony soils, low humidity and regular breezes from the sea. Biblia Chora produces eight wines from indigenous and international varieties.


There are two noteworthy whites: the 2008 Olivos ($50) 89 a delicious blend of 50% Assyritiko and 50% Semillon which is fermented in stainless steel and aged in oak for six months, and the 2007 Areti ($30) 88 an excellent 100% Assyrtiko (kept in tank on the lees for 6 months) which offers lemon citrus aromas and flavors, a honeyed texture, good minerality, and lingering high acidity. Biblia Chora also offers a White ($30), a blend of Assyritiko and Sauvignon Blanc, and a 2008 Chardonnay ($45) 90 that displays aromas of jasmine and rich melon, pralines and vanilla. It is probably the best produced in Macedonia.


Biblia Chora’s red wines include: the 2005 Olivos, ($57) a full-bodied and earthy Cabernet Sauvignon which spends 16 months in 100% new French oak, a 2005 Merlot which is also aged for 16 months in new French oak has an attractive red berry fruit character, the Red ($NA) 88 a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot which spends 12 months in new and used French oak and has a brambly red fruit character with prominent cedar notes, good acidity and tannic grip, and the 2007 Areti, ($NA) 89 a 100% Agiogitiko, with a lovely cherry aroma, combined with flavors of red berries, vanilla and cedar. The winery will also release its first Pinot Noir in 2010.

US Importer: Cava Spiliandis (347) 529-5155

Karyda Estate (Naoussa)

This small family winery produces one wine from Xinomavro, and it is outstanding. In fact, the 2005 Xinomavro ($25) 92 is perhaps the best Xinomavro produced in Greece today. Estate grown, it is a wine with a deep ruby color and rich aromas and flavors of black cherry and dark berry fruit flavors and toast. It is velvety smooth on the attack and beautifully balanced on the palate. Unlike most wines of this variety, the Karyda Xinomavro has well rounded tannins with good grip on the finish.

US Importer: Diamond Importers, Chicago, IL (773) 549-6211

Ktima Kir Yanni (Naoussa)

Ktima Kir YanniKtima Kir Yanni was established in 1996 by Yannis Boutaris (grandson of the founder) who left the Boutaris family winery to pursue his dream of producing high quality artisanal wines. The new winery was established at the Boutari Yianakohori estate in Naousa and currently consists of 45 hectares. The winery produces its wines from indigenous and international varieties from its low-yielding vineyards, newly adopted clones, and a barrel regime that involves the use of larger older barrels (300-500) for aging wine. The winery is currently run by Yannis Boutaris sons, winemaker Mihalis, and marketing manger, Stellios Boutari. Stellios has worked in the United States and is very knowledgeable of international markets. The wines are generally modern, well-made and fast improving.

US Importers:
Vos Selections, New York, NY Tel: (212) 967-6948
Dyonisus Imports, Manassas, VA Tel: (703) 392-7073

Whites and Rosés

The 2007 Petra ($17) 88 is 100% Roditis and offers aromas of fresh cut grass and honey. It is round and rich in the mouth with flavors of citrus and refreshing acidity through to the finish. The 2008 Samaropetra is a dry crisp and tasty blend of 65% Roditis and 35% Chardonnay (only sold in Greece). A 2008 Tesseris Limnes (88) is an aromatic blend of Chardonnay and Gewurtztraminer offering aromas lychees, Asian spice, and toasted oak with good structure and acidity. This is also a popular wine in Greece. The 2007 Akakies ($16) 87 is a 100% Xinomavro rosé displaying fresh strawberry and cherry aromas with spicy red fruit on the palate and some residual sugar on the finish to balance the high acidity. A pleasant quaffer for those hot summer days.


The reds at this estate are made of 100% Xinomavro and blends of Xinomavro and international varieties. The 2007 Paranga ($20) 88 is an easy drinking blend of Xinomavro, Merlot and Syrah with fresh and spicy red and black fruit aromas and ripe flavors. The finish is firm and slightly tannic with lingering Xinomavro character. The opaque ruby 2006 Dyo Elies ($38) 91is a blend of 60% Syrah, 30% Merlot and 10% Xinomavro and exhibits ripe aromas of blackberry and plum with nicely integrated oak. High in alcohol, it is fleshy and beautifully structured with a velvety smooth palate and round tannins on the finish. Kir Yanni’s top of the line 100% Xinomavro is called Ramista. The most recent release, the 2005 Ramnista ($30) 89 is a modern style wine produced using more fruit sorting, cold maceration, and oak aging for 2-3 years. It offers ripe aromas of red and blackberry fruit, pure black fruit flavors on the palate, with good acidity and tannic grip on the finish. The 2000 Ramnista ($30) 88, appears more traditional in style revealing flavors of tomato, black olives and leafy characteristics. The 1997 Ramnista ($40) 91 is from a fabulous vintage and is aging well. It is a delicate wine, soft and fruity offering delicious light cherry and raspberry fruit flavors, excellent acidity and balance and a firm finish. The 2008 Xinomavro (barrel sample) is a modern wine made in the new style from several clones of Xinomavro grown on different soils. It is currently dark ruby/purple and reveals aromas of earth and minerals with rich dense flavors and excellent structure. It is being aged in oak for 12-18 months to gain more complexity and to fill in the mid-palate.Fountis Estate

Fountis Estate (Naoussa)

This small family estate in Noussa is owned and operated by Nikos Fountis and has been commercially active since 1990 The wines are made by Nikos Fountis’ nephew, Dimitris Ziannis, a Dijon-trained enologist. The estate consists of five hectares mainly planted with the Xinomavro grape. Wines are estate grown with vineyards yielding 9-10,000 kgs per hectare.


Fountis produces two white wines from Xinomavro. The 2007 Blanc Foundi ($13) 87 is a Blanc de Noir with a light lemon color, fresh floral and citrusy scents, red grapefruit flavors, and a crisp refreshing finish. The 2005 Trigias Foundi ($14) 88 is a barrel aged white Xinomavro with aromas of white flowers and honey, rich fruit flavors on the palate, and leesy toasty notes. A third white, the 2007 Oneirikos ($NA) 88 is made of Malvasia Aromatica and displays aromatic intensity combining melon, flowers and tangerines. It is well-balanced with moderate acidity.


Fountis produces a traditional styled 2006 Naousaia ($15) 88 made of 100% Xinomavro. It is the first wine produced by Nikos Foundi and is his favorite. It is medium ruby with red and black spicy fruit aromas with a note of coffee. It exhibits moderate intensity of flavor on the palate with some herbal notes and aggressive tannins on the finish. Their 2004 Cuvée Olganos ($13) 89is a 50-50 blend of Xinomavro and Merlot exhibits a dark ruby color with aromas of plum, toast followed by chocolate and coffee on the palate. Rather tannic on the finish, but delicious, nonetheless. The 2003 Domaine Foundi ($15) is a rather earthy wine traditional in style with some barnyard notes and aggressive tannins. The 1995 Domaine Foundi we tasted revealed similar characteristics.

US Importer: Dyonisus Imports, Manassas, VA

Anetis Babatzimopoulous and Michael PotashnikBabatzimopoulou Estate (Thessaloniki)

This estate is produces wine and distillates, and is perhaps best known and appreciated for the latter. Driving to the picturesque new Babatzim winery from Thessaloniki is a treat and from the winery one can get a glance of the Thermaic Gulf below. Anestis Babatzimopoulos, who jointly owns this property, is a warm and authentic personality passionate about all things Greek. He is pictured here with the author, sharing some of his red wine.

Whites and Rosés

The winery’s most attractive white wine is a fresh tasting 2008 Malagousia offering fragrant floral aromas, white peach flavors on the palate and good overall acidity. They also produce a perfumy 2008 Rosé consisting of a blend of 40% Muscat, 40% Roditis, and 20% Xinomavro which reveals aromas of rose petals, red berry fruit on the palate, good acidity and a long lasting finish.


The Babatzim reds are all produced from international varieties. The 2005 Merlot and the 2003 Syrah are well made with good flavor, concentration and balance. The strongest red wine of the estate is a 50-50 Cabernet-Merlot blend called Kyrios or “Sir” in Greek. The 2006 Kyrios displays aromas and flavors of black currants, toast, herbs, earth and forest floor. Aged for 12 months in new French oak and 6 months in American oak, it provides a velvety attack, ripe fruit with nicely concentrated flavors, and round tannins on the finish.

Importer: Babatzim wines are currently not exported to the United States but are available in the UK and elsewhere in Europe.


I will be visiting Greece once again in early July to familiarize myself with the wines of southern Greece. The trip will include the wineries and the wines of the Peloponnese and Santorini. Those interested in learning more about Greek wines are should look for my next report in August or September. We will also very likely prepare one of our in-depth bi-monthly reports on Greece in 2010, so keep in touch and become a subscriber, if you aren’t already.

Mike Potashnik, June 2009


1 This report is based on a week-long visit to Macedonia in mid-May during which I attended a conference on food and beverages of the Exporters’ Association of Northern Greece (S.E.B.E.). Prior to attending the conference, I was given the opportunity to visit several of Northern Greece’s finest wineries where I met with winemakers, tasted their wines, and became thoroughly immersed in the wonders of Greek life and culture. For their help in organizing my visit, I wish to thank in particular, Natasha Th. Yaloglou, Annita Mavromichalis, and Stellios Boutaris. I also wish to thank the many winemakers who warmly hosted me (like only the Greeks can do!!) during my visits.

2 Konstantinos Lazarakis MW has written the definitive book on Greek wines called The Wines of Greece Mitchell Beazley, 2005. See also Niko Manessis Illustrated Greek Wine Book.

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The English invented sparkling wine, and now they’re making it, and the 15th century Gusbourne Estate in Kent is helping lead the way. South African Andrew Weeber purchased Gusbourne in 2003 and planted vines the next year with the aim of creating sparkling wines that compete with the best in the world.  Today, Gusbourne has 61 hectares of vines in Kent and another 32 hectares in West Sussex.  The maiden vintage was 2006; in this article, we review the current releases from the 2013 vintage.  Charlie Holland, formerly with Ridgeview and other wineries in Australia and California, is the winemaker.  The US importer is Broadbent.

History of English “Champagne”

While myth has it that Dom Perignon “saw the stars” and created the first Champagne at the end of the 17th century, the truth is somewhat different.  Spritzy wines were viewed as a defect by Dom Perignon, who devoted himself to preventing the refermentation in bottle that would create bubbles. The English, on the other hand, loved bubbles, and English merchants in the mid-17th century began purposely adding sugar to wine (i.e., liqueur de tirage), recorking it, and letting it referment, which is the Champagne making process.  An English scientist, Christopher Merret, documented this process in the mid-17th century.

Originally, Champagne was a still wine, but cold winters could stop fermentation before all the sugar had been converted, and in the spring, after the wine had been bottled, refermentation would resume within the bottle, resulting in a spritzy wine. Bottles at the time were not very strong, so the pressure from carbonation often led to exploding bottles.  After their forests became depeleted, English glassmakers turned to burning coal, which resulted in stronger bottles that could withstand the pressure of carbonation. Stronger bottles and the English preference for sparkling wine led to the creation of the world’s first sparkling wine industry in England.

For more on sparkling wine, see our Report # 53 American Sparkling Wine, Report # 34 Champagne Revisited, and numerous articles on Champagne and sparkling wine available at

Wine Reviews

Chef de Caves Charlie Holland

Gusbourne 2013 Brut Reserve 90  The Brut Reserve is very fresh and bright with vibrant acidity and lovely notes of citrus and orchard fruit complemented by hints of shortbread and spice. It has 9 g/l RS and spends 28 months on the lees.  It’s a blend of 55% Pinot Noir, 27% Pinot Meunier, and 18% Chardonnay.

Gusbourne 2013 Blanc de Blancs 91 The Blanc de Blancs is a fragrant and flavorful sparkler that offers a leesy mouthfeel with flavors of concentrated pear.   It is rich tasting and shows good depth with notable persistence on the palate.  It spends a minimum of 28 months sur lie and has 11 g/l RS.

Gusbourne 2013 Brut Rosé 90  This is a very dry sparkling rosé with a peachy color and aromas of light red cherry and apple.  It has a lovely mousse and is lively, fresh and vibrant on a very fresh palate. It shows bright acidity and a pleasing dry finish. It pairs beautifully with deviled eggs and stuffed red potatoes and caviar. The Brut Rosé spends about 30 months sur lie. It’s a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay with 8.2 g/l RS.


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Champagne: New Reviews of Top Producers

Champagne remains the gold standard for sparkling wines. We’ve written about it extensively over the years, including Report #34 Champagne Revisited, Report #40 Rosé Champagne and Sparkling Wine, and in several articles.  We continue to taste Champagne on a regular basis, and the list of reviews for 17 top producers that follows are some of the best we’ve tasted over the past twelve months. Continue reading

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Schug Winery: New Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon Releases from Los Carneros

In our Report #48 The Wines of Los Carneros we identified several  wineries crafting  outstanding Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and other varieties   One of these wineries was the Schug Carneros Estate Winery, the family operation of Walter and Gertrud Schug, originally from Germany.   Prior to establishing his winery in 1989, Walter had worked for Gallo and Joseph Phelps where he made Insignia and the single vineyard Eisele and Bachus wines.  In Los Carneros he was a pioneer of Pinot Noir, producing  wines of elegance and refinement and sourcing grapes from his own estate and neighboring vineyards.   Walter Schug passed away in 2015 at the age of 80, but his winery continues to produce excellent Pinot Noir and other varieties at amazing quality-price ratios,  as exhibited in these three releases. Continue reading

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New Releases from California’s Blue Rock Vineyard 2015-2016

These three new releases from Blue Rock Vineyard include their Baby Blue White, a delicious Bordeaux blend, a  barrel fermented Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast, and  Baby Blue, a delicious and easy drinking red blend, one of Blue Rock’ s flagship wines.  The wines were crafted by Kent Humphry, Blue Rock’s new winemaker who joined the team a little over a year ago. Continue reading

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The Farm Winery: 2014 New Releases from Paso Robles

The Farm Winery is one of a growing number of  new boutique wineries  in the Paso Robles AVA  that are producing limited quantities of outstanding handcrafted wines.  The winery is owned and operated by old friends and Stanford Business School alumni Jim Madsen and renowned Argentine winemaker Santiago Achaval, whom we met on one of our Argentina wine trips. The Farm Winery launched operations in 2009. After a long search, Jim and Santiago ended up negotiating long term-leases of several vineyards located in the westside hills of Paso Robles. These vineyards have mainly calcareous soils at an average  altitude of between 1700 and 1900 feet and are exposed to cool ocean winds, resulting in wide diurnal  temperature variations that contribute to high quality fruit. Yields are kept very low at 1.5-2.0 tons/acre, among the lowest in Paso Robles, and are reflected in the wines’  concentration of flavors. Continue reading

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Barolo and Barbaresco: Recent Tastings from Top Producers

The Langhe offers ideal growing conditions for Nebbiolo, and the producers we review here are among the finest at crafting both Barolo and Barbaresco.  Not only do they source from the finest vineyards in the region, they apply great talent and skill in their winemaking.  Most noteworthy is the manner in which they craft wines that display the unique characteristics of the vineyards from which they are sourced.  Their wines combine power and elegance and offer the ideal qualities for pairing with fine Italian cuisine. Continue reading

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Introduction to the Wines of Brazil

We recently had the opportunity to taste several Brazilian wines provided to us by Wines of Brazil. Brazilian wines are not as well known as those of Chile and Argentina, but it has been gradually gaining international recognition, especially for its sparkling wines. Most wine production is concentrated in the higher elevations of Southern Brazil, especially in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. All of the wines reviewed here come from the Serra Gaúcha growing region of Rio Grande do Sul (see map below). Continue reading

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