Monemvasia Winery: Rediscovering Peloponnese’s Vinous Past

The Byzantine Island City of Monemvasia

As far back as the 12th century, Monemvasia was renown for its sweet white wine called Malvasia, but production ceased in the 16th century during Ottoman rule. Almost seven centuries later, in 1997, Giorgos Tsimpidis, just graduated from the University of Patra, was inspired to recreate the legendary Malvasia.  He and his wife Elli created a winery, located near picturesque Monemvasia, and sought out local grape varieties like Monemvasia, Kydonitsa, Asproudi and Mavroudi.  Today, Giorgos and Elli are joined by their daughters, Marialena and Anastasia, and enologist Andreas Andresakis as they recreate the wines of yesteryear.

As part of our preparation for the upcoming report on The Wines of Peloponnese, we recently had the pleasure of visiting the Tsimpidis family at their winery located north of the Byzantine town of Monemvasia.  Their nearby vineyards are located 10 km from the sea at 250-300m altitude. Yields are kept very low, and all farming, including harvest, are done by hand.  As you can see in our reviews, the average quality of their wines is excellent. Continue reading

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IWR’s Visit to Greece

IWR recently returned from a two-week trip of winery visits and tastings in Northern Greece, the Peloponnese and Crete.  We also conducted a comprehensive tasting of the wines of Central Greece, including Epirus, Thessaly and the Ionian Islands.  In this brief report, we would like to share with our subscribers and readers, some of what we learned on our visit.  We also share plans for our future work on Greece.

Although Greece has produced wine since antiquity, most of the wineries operating today were established during the past three decades.  Thus, the Greek wine industry is relatively young, but it’s learning fast how to craft high quality premium wines.  We tasted many fine wines that are as good as any in the international market.

In many of the wineries we visited we met a new generation of young and enthusiastic winemakers like Evangelia Palivou in Peleponese, (pictured right)  who have been trained in Bordeaux, Beaune,  Montpelier, and UC Davis as well as Athens and other wine schools in Greece. Many are the sons and daughters of veteran winemakers who have passed the baton to their children or are sharing responsibilities for winemaking with their children.  A quiet revolution is taking place both in the vineyard and the winery with the introduction of new techniques and a firm commitment to quality and authenticity.

Greece is producing exciting wines from its indigenous grapes.  In every major region in Greece, we visited growers and winemakers are focusing on their indigenous grapes.  Some of these grapes are unique to their region, while others have been adopted from neighboring regions.  The indigenous grape varieties we found most promising include whites like Assyrtiko, Malagousia,  Roditis, Savatiano,  Moschofilero, Mavrodaphne and Vidiano and reds like Xinomavro, Agiorgitiko,  Limniona, Kydonista and Mandilaria.  In addition, wines are being made from numerous other locally indigenous varieties.

Many of the wineries we visited are successfully blending indigenous grapes with international varieties.  For example, Assyrtiko is being blended with Sauvignon Blanc, Malagousia with Chardonnay, and Kydonista with Syrah.  Local varieties such as Xinomavro and Negoska are also being blended.  In addition, owing to the variety of microclimates in Greece, indigenous grapes take on interesting and often unique nuances from their terroir which can be different from their original terroirs (e.g. Assyrtiko from Santorini.

Many of the wineries we visited are experimenting with Greece’s indigenous  varieties to determine how well they grow under local conditions and what kind of wine they make.

Pre-Phylloxera Xinomavro at Alpha Estate

Research on Xinomavro appears most advanced with the identification of several promising clones identified through field trials over the past several years.  However, experimentation is underway with many other local varieties.  This involves selecting the best sites, managing the varieties in the vineyard, and selecting the best methods of vinification.  Likewise, some wineries are experimenting with the use of amphoras to produce orange wines from indigenous grapes.

We also found noteworthy that virtually all the wines produced in Greece today, with the exception of some big reds, have low to moderate  alcohol levels and are high in natural acidity.  This is due to the growing conditions in Greece, which offer high elevations or cooling seaside breezes.  Most vineyards are cultivated by sustainable and organic methods.

While most Greek wineries mainly produce for the domestic market, an increasing number are exporting their wines to Europe, Canada and the United States.  The highest quality producers export a high percentage of their production. Regional producer’s association like the Wine Producers of Northern Greece assist their members to develop contacts in export markets.  The Wines of Crete association helps its members to attend major international wine fairs like Prowein.  The Association also recently organized a visit to Cyprus for its producers .

Winemakers Gather to Show us Their Wines in Crete

We owe a debt of gratitude to the Greek Trade Commission in New York and to the well-managed producers associations in each major region of Greece.  These associations, with the support of the Greek Trade Commission, helped develop our itinerary, put us in touch with their members, and facilitated our visits to the wineries. These producers’ associations have also established wine routes for wine tourists in their region and organized domestic wine events to promote the wines of their members.

Within the coming months, the IWR will be producing reports on the wines of Greece covering Central Greece, the Peloponnese and Crete.  We will also publish articles updating our previous report on Macedonia and Thrace.  The principal goal is to enhance our readers’ understanding and appreciation of Greek wines; there are many wines worthy of consumers attention and regard.

These report and articles will be helpful to the producers in Greece and their importers and distributors in the US and Europe to educate their consumers and market Greek wines.  As we’ve already noted, there are many exciting wines being crafted in Greece today, and wine enthusiasts will receive them enthusiastically if given the opportunity to taste them.  Greek wines are also quite affordable.

 

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Pence Vineyards: Crafting Wines with Passion

Pence Vineyard and Winery is part of a 200 acre working ranch within the Sta. Rita Hills located along route 246.  It is owned by Blair Pence, a successful Los Angeles realtor, who purchased the property some 20 years ago and has converted part of the ranch to vineyards for producing premium estate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Thus far, some 50 acres have been developed with more under development. Continue reading

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Alma Rosa: Small is Beautiful in the Sta Rita Hills

This small winery was started in 2005 by Richard Sanford and his wife Thekla to produce high quality wines following organic and sustainable agricultural methods. In 2014, the estate and winery were sold to Bob and Barb Zorich, both graduates of UC Santa Barbara and residents of Houston where Bob built a successful private equity company. El Jabali, the estate vineyard planted with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Grenache, totals 28 acres and is certified organic. Alma Rosa also buys grapes from other Santa Rita Hills vineyards. Continue reading

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Barden Wines: Sourcing Sta Rita Hills’ Finest Vineyards

Winemaker Doug Margerum has developed this label for his super premium wines sourced from the finest vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. Barden white wines are barrel fermented, aged mainly in new French oak, go through battonage in 225 to 600 liter barrels, and are bottled unfined and unfiltered. These wines are outstanding and will likely improve with aging. Continue reading

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More Interesting Grapes and Wines from Italy

Italy has a mind-boggling number of indigenous and international grape varieties and wine appellations. In this article, we review some of the more interesting ones recently sent to us for review.  They include well-known indigenous varieties like Grillo and Nero d’Avola in Sicily, Aglianico in Campania, and  Sangiovese in Chianti Classico; less well known varieties like Ruché from the Piedmont, Piedirosso from Campania, and Pignolo from Friuli; and international varieties like Tempranillo from Tuscany and Bordeaux varieties from the Maremma. The reviews below complement our earlier article on wines made from Nerello Mascalese, Carricante, Nerello Cappuccio, and Catarratto in Sicily. Continue reading

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Milbrandt Vineyards: New Releases from Washington State

Milbrandt Vineyards was founded in 1997 by brothers Butch and Jerry Milbrandt. Today, Butch owns the Milbrandt Vineyards brand  while Jerry owns  the vineyards which total nearly 4,000 acres across 23 vineyard sites within the Wahluke Slope and Ancient Lakes AVAs of the Columbia Valley.   Over 20 French, German, Italian, and Spanish varietals are grown. Canadian Kendall Mix is the  current winemaker. He graduated from the University of Alberta with a degree in microbiology before studying viticulture and enology at UC Davis.  Previously he worked for Butch Milbrandt ,

Butch Milbrandt

Chateau Ste. Michelle and Goose Ridge Vineyards.  The winery produces red blends, red and white single varietal wines and rosé across a variety of price points. The quality of these new releases is excellent with many enjoyable wines offered at reasonable prices. Continue reading

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Tyler Winery: Growing Fast in the Sta Rita Hills

Justin Tyler Willett began the Tyler Winery in 2005 at age 24 after working with winemaker Joe Davis at Arcadian.  His wine trajectory since that time has been steep.  In 2011 He established the Lieu Dit label with sommelier Eric Railsback to focus on varietals of the Loire Valley grown in Santa Barbara County.  He later purchased a site on Hwy 246 in the Sta Rita Hills and began planting 28 acres of mostly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the newly named Mae Vineyard. And  last year he purchased Fiddlestix, 100 acres of mostly Pinot Noir planted by Kathy Joseph in 1998 near Santa Rosa Rd in the Sta Rita Hills.  In addition, he has several other projects in the works, including with French winemakers Etienne De Montille and Rodolphe Péters.  We recently visited the Tyler estate on Hwy 46 and tasted the 2019 releases from the Mae Vineyard as well as wines from such classic vineyards as Sanford & Benedict and La Rinconada.  We reviewed the 2017 vintage Tyler wines in last year’s report  Sta. Rita Hills: A New Look. Continue reading

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Flora Springs of Napa Valley: New Releases of Soliloquy and Trilogy

Flora Spring is a family-owned and operated winery in Napa Valley producing superior quality, handcrafted wines.   The two wines reviewed here are their flagship white wine Soliloquy and red blend Trilogy.  In our review of the previous vintages of these wines we were impressed with the depth of flavor and fruit-rich character of these wines and recommended them to our readers.   Happily the two new releases are equally good, if not better, as we indicate in our tasting notes below. In addition to the wines reviewed here, Flora Springs makes several high end, single varietal Cabernet Sauvignons, which we hopefully will review in the future. Continue reading

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Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile: Quality and Value

Chile produces more Cabernet Sauvignon than any other varietal. With extensive plantings, Cabernet can be found in a variety of sites and terroirs from the foothills of the Andes through the central valley and further west.  Some of the wine made from these vineyards is of world class quality, while a large amount also makes its way into inexpensive bulk wine and entry level bottled wine. In this article, we review Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon at several price points, although most fall in the $20-25 range.  As a group, wines in this range offer delicious drinking and excellent value. For more in depth coverage of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, read our report on Chile’s Premium Wine Revolution. Continue reading

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