Wine tastings are a fabulous way to discover new wines and varietals from around the world. In the case of the Greek wines of Naoussa, visiting this area, meeting the winemakers and their families, sharing a Greek family-styled meal and touring the vineyards and wineries only enhanced the quality by offering a different perspective on the wines. It also provides a better appreciation of Greece and Xinomavro, the signature grape of this region of Macedonia.
Before highlighting a recent visit, one must understand the Xinomavro grape and the region. Xinomavro means acid black in Greek. This grape with its black skin produces a very dry wine. The wine has characteristic flavors of figs, olives and dried tomatoes, making it an extremely desirable wine to accompany Mediterranean food. Xinomavro might be described as Pinot Noir meets Nebbiola.
History tells us that the region of Naoussa was plagued with phylloxera in the 1930s. In the 1960s and 1970s the area was replanted with Xinomavro, a grape variety chosen for its resistant to diseases.
Naoussa is a PDO, Protected Designation of Origin for Xinomavro. This means that the wines produced from the Xinomavro grape have been grown in a certain way and the vines bare a particular yield. Under the guidelines of the PDO if a label designates the wine as Naoussa Xinomavro, aging is 12 months. A label with Naoussa Xinomavro reserve means it has been aged for 24 months. If a Naoussa Xinomavro specifies Grande Reserve it has aged at least 48 months.
When Xinomarvro is blended with perhaps Syrah or Merlot, the wine becomes a PGI, Protected Geographical Indication. Many wineries have created their own fabulous interpretation of Xinomavro using other blends.
The Naoussa region lies in a valley along the foothills of the Mount Vermion. Encompassing a total of 15 miles and located 75 miles from the sea, the terroir differs from the northern to southern portions of Naoussa; therefore each individual winery’s wine is characterized by subtle differences.
There are roughly 20 wineries in Naoussa. Twelve belong to a group called Wines of Naoussa. This group was established to promote Ximomarvro throughout the world, and especially the United States.
Many of the wineries are very established with long standing family ties. Winemaking is definitely a family affair in Naoussa. Many have been growing grapes for several decades. The latest generation is a group of winemakers between the ages of 30 and 40. Winemaking is handed down from father to son except in the case of Chrisohoou where the daughter took over the winemaking practices.
Vaeni is not only one of the biggest wineries; it is the largest cooperatives in Greece. It was established in 1984 and today has 220 members representing about 50% of the grape growing region of Naoussa. Vaeni is named after the barrel that was used long ago for crushing grapes with bare feet.
There is a vast range of wines produced at Vaeni including Dogmatikos, a Blanc de Noir made from white Xinomavro that shows the diversity of this grape. Imeros means unfulfilled love, desire that develops into passion, is an apropos name for Vaeni Rosé, which combines both the white and red Xinomavro grape with some Syrah. Aged in smoked oak barrels, Damaskinos is Vaeni’s most popular Xinomavro.
One impressive winery for both its beauty and its winemaker is Chrisohoou. Located in the center of the Naoussa appellation and closest to the city of Naoussa, this is a family owned winery began in 1948 and is now in its third generation. It was challenging when Nana Chrisohoou became the enologist in 2004. In Naoussa winemaking is for men. Having a female at the helm is scarce in this region as well as throughout Greece. Nana confronts her obstacles and using her femininity puts a marvelous touch and elegance into the wines she creates. Nana is recently married and about to have her first child. Her exuberance for her new life comes out in the wine.
Known mostly for their Xinomavro, their version is characterized by rich textures, complexity and a marvelous dark color. Nana describes Xinomavro “ like the cousin of Nebbiola.” Chrisohoou’s has their version of Xinomarvro Blanc de Noir a crisp, fresh, and bright wine.
Domaine Diamantakos is a very small family owned winery in the Mademi area. The area, its orientation to the sun and soil that combines stone with calcium and magnesium offers a high Ph level, giving the wine a softer quality. The winery was planted in 1981 and 1984. Starting as growers, their first vintage was in 2000. George Diamantakos is the winemaker. During a visit George’s mother served some wonderful homemade Greek pastries, which added to the ambiance of this wine tasting. George describes the Xinomavro as “the Greek version of Chianti.”
Another boutique winery is Karyda. The winery was built in 1994 and the vineyards are 35 years old. Started by Konstantinos Karydas and now run by son Petros, the winery sets out to produce a single vineyard Xinomavro that sees little human intervention.
Thymiopoulos is a biodynamic winery. The philosophy of this winery and vineyard is not to stress the vine. This can be difficult when the grapes are grown in rocky mountainous soils. The winery has two labels, Young Vines, where the grapes utilized are from 7 – 10 years old and Uranos with 42 years old vines. Explaining the significance of his label design, winemaker, Apostolos Thymiopoulos says, “the circle stands for oxygen, the line equates to the soil and the wave of the line is the water that is necessary to grow the Xinomavro grape, while the dot represents the light or sun that is needed to ripen the grape.” All these facets play a role in biodynamic practices.
Enjoying a luncheon at the winery watching the various animals and fowl of the winery graze and squawk as they entertained us with their antics highlighted our visit. In addition to their Xinomavro that is reminiscent of a Pinot Noir, Thymiopoulos creates a exceptionally fresh Epherphsans Xinomarvro Rosé.
Dalamaria is an organically certified winery since 1996. The family has been in some form of the wine business since the 1840s. With vineyards on the eastern foothills of Mount Vermion, today the sixth generation is focusing on innovation by bringing their wines to a new level of winemaking and knowing the marketplace better.
This winery is more diverse in the types of wines they create. The Agnhechoros, an elegant soft wine is a blend of Merlot and Xinomavro. The Paliokalius makes Dalamara’s statement on a 100% Xinomavro.
Kir-Yianni is the largest winery in the Naoussa area. Founded by Yiannis Boutaris, the winery represents both Naoussa and Amyndeon, two regions that straddle either side of Mount Vermion. Kir-Yianni is Naoussa equivalent of Mondavi with its range of wines and the tours it offers.
Because of its larger scale, the vineyard blocks are managed and vinified separately thereby creating diversity in the character of the Xinomavro grape. There are 25 clonal selections. Kir-Yianni creates five different versions of Xinomavro including a single vineyard designation.
Finally a picnic at the Elinos Vineyards could only be characterized as the highlight of a visit to Naoussa. Traveling along a bumpy gravel dirt back road to the vineyards with the Tzitzikas, a locust type bug chattering their song in the background and you will find yourself in the most rural yet lovely spot of Elinos Vineyards for an enchanting afternoon picnic that included all foods made from grape leaves.
Elinos is a family owned winery run by the exuberant Christos and Nikoletta Tarala, a brother and sister team, who happen to be twins. Christos is the winemaker and Nikoletta is the sales manager. The family purchased the vineyard in 2006. The vineyard is located at the Eastern end of Mount Vermion. The vineyards utilize organic practices and are certified DIO.
Elinos’ style represents the energy and vitality of this younger generation. Christos signifies the new world approach found with many of the current winemakers in the area.
These are just a few of the wineries that make Naoussa an outstanding region for growing Xinomavro. The wineries and the the beauty of Naoussa, which can be seen in its restaurants, parks, cherry groves and The Multicenter Museum of Aigai — a captivating underground museum displaying the royal tombs while honoring Philip II, Alexander the Great, and his son Alexander IV — make this area a worthwhile addition to your “want to go” list.