The Prima Donna
As a real ‘prima donna’Xinomavro is a very demanding grape presenting equal challenges to the
viticulturist and the winemaker. Controlling its high natural vigour and refining its intense tannic load are the key considerations. It has nevertheless produced some of the most thrilling wines that have emerged from Greece since the late 60’s. Xinomavro wines are not particularly striking in color; their magic lies in the aromatic complexity of small red fruits and rose petal floral scents. Noble leather, sun-dried tomato, black olives and sophisticated truffle notes complement the
bouquet of a particularly mature wine. Solid tannins call out for special handling and most
wines cry out for aging in order to develop secondary complexity.
If one winemaking stage is of the outmost significance, tannin management and particularly
maceration time should be highlighted for they determine the frame of the wine’s character.
With producers constantly experimenting to bring out the grape’s virtues, more and more are now exceeding 20-30 days of maceration where the skins are starting to reabsorb color giving a more structured, pale yet perfumed and long lived wine. With this style of wine many find a lot in common with Piemontese Nebbiolo. Another style with a shorter maceration period offers softer tannins and a far more modern approach.
Xinomavro appears in four PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) -certified areas: in Naoussa and Amyndeonas a single variety, and in Goumenissa and Rapsani as the dominant variety of the blend; It is however of great importance in a 5thnon PDO terroir: Siatista near Kozani.
The heart of Xinomavro
First comes Naoussa. Naoussa region is taking its name from the synonymous city located east of Thessaloniki on the foothills of the Mt. Vermio with vineyard altitudes ranging from 200 – 450m. It is considered the heart of Xinomavro. The wines are pure, medium bodied with high levels of acidity and a vertical tannic structure. They do possess the greatest aging potential that can reach
or even exceed, two decades. They are in sense the Gevrey Chambertin of Xinomavro.
PDO legislation permits only 100% Xinomavro which is cultivated from the southern parts of the region, Trilofos and Fitia, to the northern of PollaNera and Agia Marina with a huge diversity of
soils ranging from blue granite and schist to clay. Single vineyard bottling are the ultimate
expression of the variety which are highly sought after.
If Naoussa is Gevrey – Chambertin, then Amyndeon can only be Chambolle – Musigny. Light sandy soils, a distinctively cooler climate due to northern latidude and higher altitude rising up to 700 m with big diurnal difference and the effect of the lakes define its sensual and more immediate character. Phylloxera never affected the region so there is a big viticultural treasure here of very old un-grafted vines that are almost a century old; these produce the highest quality grapes and most ethereal wines of the zone. Red wines here are paler in color with bright acidity and less tannic load compared to Naoussa with a slightly fruitier character. Sparkling wines and rose production are really important with the traditional method giving supreme results.
Goumenissa and Rapsani
PDO Goumenissa is located north of the city of Thessaloniki with vines being planted on the
eastern slopes of Mt.Paiko. Xinomavro is the dominant grape which is complemented by a local grape called Negoska still very much unexplored but thought of providing more fruit and less tannin to the blend. Wines compared to Naoussa and Amyndeon may be richer, denser with rounder tannins and lower acid.
The southest zone for the grape is the ‘’Mountain of the Gods’ ‘area. Rapsanion the foothills of
Mt Olympus in Central Greece. Here, Xinomavro is blended with two lesser red grape varieties
of the region, Krassato and Stavroto. Planted on the eastern slopes of the mountain the vineyards are located in altitude rising up to 700m. Vines planted in schist soils show the quintessential
expression of Rapsani. The region is the warmest of all with the wines produced being rich with higher alcohol levels balanced beautifully from the acidity especially in higher altitude plantings. They offer the most sensual and perhaps most exotic side of Xinomavro.
The final – emerging terroir – of Xinomavro is Siatista a region with long standing tradition for sweet wines yet being privileged to have some ‘’out of this world’’ terroirs. These rise high up to
950 meters making Siatista one the coolest mesoclimates in the country. Old bush vines that can 60-80 years old and interesting soils capture the essence of this place.
The distinguished character of Xinomavro no matter where it is grown makes it really unique among the other great varieties and regions of Greece. The question however is if it is unique in
a global context. And I most definitely believe that this is the case with Xinomaro being a leading light on par with the most interesting varieties in the world such as Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir and Nerelo Mascalese.