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There seemed no better way to preview this weekend’s London Greek Wine Festival at Kings Place, London N1, than to make this refined, ageworthy and distinctively Greek red my wine of the week. On Tuesday morning I was interviewed alongside Theodore Kyriakou, the instigator of this unique event, on Radio Soho. One topic that cropped was the problem of Greek names – of grape varieties and producers.
Only on the way home did I think of a good answer: if you fell in love with someone with an unsual, hard-to-pronounce name, I doubt the name would be the slightest deterrent and I am sure that you would commit that name to memory.
Xinomavro, pronounced ksee-NOH-mah-vroh, is a name worth remembering. At the beginning of this year, for example, Jancis wrote about Alpha’s Hedgehog Vineyard Xinomavro from Amyndeo in north-west Greece. My wine, Dalamara, Paliokalias Xinomavro 2012 is from Naoussa, the historic wine region and official appellation most closely associated with the variety. Even though both regions are in the north west of the country, the styles are distinct, thanks mostly to differences in elevation, topography – there's a mountain range between the two areas – and soil.
The Dalamaras family have been making wine and distilling spirts in Naoussa since 1840. Sixth-generation Kostis Dalamaras took over in 2010. The 6 hectares of vineyard are farmed organically, planted mostly with Xinomavro, and here in the Paliokalias vineyard (pictured), at about 240-300 m elevation in the foothills of Mount Vermio, the oldest vines are 85 years old, summers are warm and dry with plenty of sunshine, winters are mild.
The wine is fermented in stainless-steel tanks (using ambient yeast since the 2009 vintage), taking around 10 days, although the total time in the vat is about 15-17 days. Malolactic conversion usually starts as the alcoholic fermentation comes to an end. The wine spends a year in 300-litre French oak barrels (just 15-20% new) and then a year in bottle before release.
The result is a wine that demonstrates all the promise of an ageworthy Xinomavro from Naoussa – showing some oak spice at the moment but also plenty of lively red fruit and aromas of wild scrubland, just slightly earthy, with the variety’s typically fresh acidity. On the second day, a more floral character starts to appear and the wine reveals more of its complexity. True to the variety, at this stage the tannins are pretty firm but not aggressive and they’re deliciously dry. There’s also a light smoky/mineral quality combined with plenty of gentle cherry fruit. It’s a serious wine that really needs more time to show the elegance that Xinomavro can achieve with a little longer in bottle. You could broach it now but you’d need to drink it with food. The alcohol is 13%.
Many writers have likened Xinomavro to Nebbiolo or Pinot Noir. My view is that is it a lot closer to the former, the tannins and acidity being very present early in life but giving a highly distinctive silky complexity as it matures, and losing its youthful colour at a relatively young age. However, it has a character all of its own: well structured and mainly red-fruited in youth, with more savoury aromas of olive, dried tomato, tobacco and dried fruits as it ages. I’ve tasted bottles that go back to the 1970s and they can be scented, elegant and silky. Having tasted the 2009 and 2008 vintages of this wine, I am confident the 2012 will repay further bottle ageing.
According to Wine-searcher, the wine is available in Greece, Germany and in the United States. In London, it is available at £18.70 per bottle from The Greek Larder, King’s Cross, Kyriakou’s latest London venture, which will be hosting a variety of events during the festival. Outside London, it is available from the importer Southern Wine Roads at £100 for six bottles. Email email@example.com or phone 01689 822 294. Southern Wine Roads also have limited stocks of some older vintages (again there's a six-bottle minimum and prices range from £19.50 to £22.50). The 2012 is also stocked by Meli deli and cafe in Cowley Road Oxford.
There will be plenty of opportunity to fall in love with Xinomavro at the London Greek Wine Festival. I've included several benchmark examples, not least the 2009 vintage of this wine, in my tastings over the weekend (regional on Saturday and varietal on Sunday). See the festival website for the programme and to buy tickets (£21 in advance, £26 on the door). Jancis and I will also be there on the Saturday to sign copies of the brand new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine.