The Greeks have been at it for six thousand years, and the presumption is that they’ve learned a trick or two. Something that has eluded them, however, by intention or intractability, is making wine names that un-Greeks can pronounce.
Of course, having invented everything from democracy to the screw, the notion that some uppity wine drinker from, say, Kankakee is going to have trouble with Aghiorghitiko or Xinomavro has not been high on the marketing roadmap.
Perhaps, borrowing a strategy from stadium building, which they also invented, winemaking folks in Greece are operating under the ‘Ferment it and they will come’ presumption.
Vangelis Gerovassiliou, who redoubles the concept in his thirteen-letter name, is among them. And his products, unlike major league baseball, are always worth the price of admission.
Take his bush-league-prospects white, Ktima Gerovassiliou, a blend of Malagousia and Assyrtiko: It’s like finding Hank Aaron playing for the Toledo Mud Hens. Multi-syllabic tongue-twisters be damned; this wine, at $20 a bottle, offers a fiercely floral profile typical of white grapes grown in sandy soils; it’s bolstered by tropical fruit notes—mango and pineapple—and a sprinkle of fresh herb, thyme and ginger.
Malagousia ($23) was nearly extinct as a varietal until Vangelis Gerovassiliou, a young winemaker from Epanomi in the northeast part of Thessaloniki (the second oldest establishment in Macedonia), began experimenting with it in the 1980s. Distinct perfume of jasmine and pear, with a unstoppably unctuous mouthfeel; slightly buttery and filled with candied citrus, honey and nicely balanced fruit sugars and natural acidity; miles long on the palate. But don’t necessarily take my word for it: The 2013 vintage took a trophy at the Decanter World Wine Awards in London and nailed 92 points in Wine & Spirits.
‘Avaton’ is loaded with fresh summer berries you can’t quite identify but suspect exist—maybe on some Macedonian hillside. A triumvirate of Limnio, Mavroudi and Mavrotragano, the explosively fruit sweet, parching with ripe tannins, bitter as black tea with slight leafy tobacco tang, like tobacco, and a full-bore red that’s hung between rustic and elegant. The pedigree is intact, however: Limnio is mentioned by Aristophanes in the 5th century BC, making it the oldest attested Greek grape variety.
These wines are as ready for supper as they are for the cellar; they’re splendid now, but display the sort of fruit, acid and tannic backbone associated with wines you could expect to improve with age. Proof may be in Ktima Gerovassiliou’s Evangelo, the window-dresser of the portfolio, pushing $70 a bottle on wine-searcher. For his top end red, Gerovassiliou co-ferments Syrah and Viognier—choosing a Northern Rhône varietal that is hard to pronounce just to rub our noses in it. But it’s a good nose rub; Viognier blended with Syrah is a trick that originated in the Côte-Rôtie. The floral and stone fruit notes in Viognier add distinct sparks of brightness to brooding Syrah, but more than that: Due to a strange chemical phenomenon, colorless compounds called ‘cofactors’ that exist in Viognier bind and stack between colorful anthocyanins in Syrah, so that rather than diluting the color, the blend actually increases the intensity of the purple/red in the final product.
A certain, odd tasting descriptor that sometimes appears in warm climate red wines is some variation on the concept of ‘barnyard’. In large doses, this flavor is off-putting and is likely caused by a bacteria called Brettanomyces. In judicious (read: miniscule) doses, it adds a note of intrigue; a contrivance of complexity. At these PPM, I love it in a Mediterranean red, and it is here in the 2008 Evangelo in the precise portion to be provocative.
High doses of Brettanomyces claussenii is not only a flaw in wine, the word itself—despite having a lot of letters, is Latin in derivation, not Greek, so any suggestion therein would be a double smack in the kisser of winemaker Gerovassiliou.
I’ll opt instead for a brief word, one which succinctly and completely describes the Ktima Gerovassiliou portfolio. And although it is only comprised of a single letter, it can be repeated ad infinitum, and I am pleased to note that said letter is derived from the Phoenician ‘Mem’ and… wait for it… the Greek letter Mu: