We were getting towards the end of our trip in North Greece now, the last full day in fact, and were now in the heartland of Xinomavro. To be more precise, we were visiting Alpha Estate in Amyndeo, one of the two PDOs that require 100% Xinomavro, the other one being Naoussa,
Alpha Estate’s export manager, Konstantinos Arvanitakis, showed us around the vineyards and winery. The Amyndeo region lies on a plateau at 615m above sea level, between three mountain ranges, and the lakes on the plateau moderate the continental climate. The estate was founded with 33ha of vineyard in 1998, now 120ha. It contains vines of 14 different grape varieties, including some unlikely international varieties such as Tannat, and experiments with varieties and the most suitable terroirs continue.
Amyndeo is one of the driest regions in Greece, and thus irrigation is very important to Alpha Estate. To achieve this, they use 19 wells as water sources, and many filtration units scattered around the estate treat the alkaline water obtained from the wells. The irrigation is sub-soil – it was the first in Europe – and controlled by underground sensors and leaf measurements. They also have a vineyard weather station, and use satellite imaging, to monitor the state of their vineyards. Experiments with drones will commence next year. On a smaller scale, their WineScan machine can analyse over 50 grape samples a day, and is used to check on the grapes’ development to help plan work in the vineyard.
Above left is one of their newer cordon-pruned vineyards, with the winery in the distance. To the right is a vineyard with pre-phylloxera bush vines, in a sandy soil that is hostile to the phylloxera bug. Historical records show that this is at least 93 years old, and it is one of four old vine blocks on the estate.
In the winery they had all the usual kit, and also these cool-looking rotary fermenters which are used with Ximomavro. A recipe for a tannic monster of a wine you might think, but we were reassured that they were programmed to rotate only very infrequently. Oh, and Alpha Estate is the biggest importer of French barrels in Greece.
The Alpha Estate pursuit of excellence extended to the tasting room. I have posted before how tastings could be improved, and this one implemented all six of my suggestions and went even further. We had 13 wines in 13 glasses, each glass being selected to show off its particular wine. The reds were poured before we entered the room, and the whites immediately before tasting so they were at the correct temperature. Note the differently shaped glasses, including an Oregon Pinot Noir glass for the Xinomavro Old Vines Reserve! Note the detailed data sheet for each wine, including label image and space at the bottom for notes. Note the map showing what wine is in each glass, and even where to find the “ancillary water glass” and “spittoon glass”. The tasting proceeded in blissful silence, allowing us to concentrate on the wines themselves without marketing spiel to affect our impressions, but if we had any questions oenologist Katia Beli was on hand to help.
So with the perfect tasting conditions I have a fantastic set of notes to share with you, right? Well, not really. Although I occasionally make exceptions, I like to get to know wines better than is possible from a single tasting sample before giving my opinion. But how about a list of my favourite wines? Here they are: Axia 2012 (50% Xinomavro, 50% Syrah), Syrah Single Vineyard Turtles 2011, Ximomavro Old Vines 2010, Utopia 2011 (Tannat), Malagouzia 2014, Omega Late Harvest 2012 (85% Gewurztraminer, 15% Malagouzia). Alpha Estate has pretty good availability in the UK, and I already have a bottle of the Xinomavro Old Vines Reserve 2010 waiting to be picked up, so I might be posting tasting notes at some later date.
Alpha Estate delivers excellent wines now, but is a relatively new producer that is very much still striving for improvement, so definitely a producer to look out for. And do drop by if you are in the region – we were told that they have an open door policy, and offer anyone who visits the same 13 wines we tasted. But not necessarily in 13 different glasses.