Just an hour’s drive from Thessaloniki, right in the heart of Macedonia, beautiful Naoussa is a food and wine lover’s paradise. Full of tasty mezes and specialties made of pork and veal, as well as amazing pies, the local cuisine has evolved with the wine and tsipouro culture of the area. Vineyards are located all around Naoussa, climbing the eastern slopes of Mount Vermio (6,730 feet) and lying at altitudes of 500 and 1,100 feet above sea level, exposed to mostly continental climate, with icy-cold winters and hot summers cooled down by light sea breezes from the Aegean. This was the first area in Greece to receive an appellation back in 1971 and has served as a model for the Greek appellation system since.
The undisputable king of Naoussa and Northern Greece is the xinomavro grape. A dark-skinned variety with typically high tannins and high acidity, xinomavro (ksee-NOH-mah-vroh), whose name translates to “acid-black,” is, along with assyrtiko, responsible for Greece’s growing international reputation as a producer of premium wines. Top wines from the region rank among the best in the country.
Typical Naoussa xinomavro wines feature a flavor profile of olives, sun-dried tomato and red and black fruits with intense tannins and acidity, and they generally require aging before being enjoyable. New-generation wines are more fruit-forward, with softer, rounded tannins and a velvety feel in the palate.
A group of young, very talented Greek winemakers has recently taken the world by surprise, in the process changing the Greek wine industry for years to come. Among them is 29-year-old Kostis Dalamaras, the sixth generation in his family to carry on the winemaking and distilling business since 1840. He completed his studies in Burgundy and worked in Alsace, Roussillon and Catalonia before returning to take over the family business in 2010. Dalamaras was recently named one of the 30 most promising young winemakers in the world by Wine & Spirits magazine. His signature red, Paliokalias, is made of 100 percent xinomavro and ranks among the top wines of the region and of Greece in general. We had the opportunity to speak with him recently about his work.
CB: What have you brought to traditional xinomavro winemaking with your studies and experience abroad?
KD: My studies in oenology set the theoretical basis. They helped me understand and interpret scientifically the winemaking techniques my father and my ancestors used empirically for so many generations before me. My work and travel in various wine regions of Europe have allowed me to see many different styles of wines and the way they are made. So I gained knowledge that helped me to adapt easily in difficult situations and identify our weaknesses. I do not think there is anything specific that I’ve changed. There is much changed but everything is just details. I guess the details make all the difference, then!
CB: What is the typical character of xinomavro, and how much should modern xinomavro comply with it?
KD: I think when we talk about xinomavro we’re talking about aromatic finesse, acidity and tannins. Somewhere in the middle we confused the aromatic finesse with the monotony of “tomato aromas.” We mistook the elegance added by the acidity of the wines of the Mediterranean for the sharp acidity and strong tannic structure that just add richness and aging potential with a very dry finish.
The new generation of winemakers in the Naoussa zone has come to redefine all these, not by doing some great overthrow or using some innovative modern method. We just treat the xinomavro varietal as simply as possible. The “modern” xinomavro wines maintain all the dynamics of the varietal but are more accessible flavorwise to consumers, even at a younger age than we were used to in the past decades, and personally I think they will age even better than before.
CB: Many think of xinomavro as the Greek nebbiolo or the Greek pinot noir. Do you agree?
KD: Yes, it is something that we hear a lot, and even we ourselves use it often as a tool to describe xinomavro more easily to wine lovers abroad. We have now begun to avoid it because nowadays xinomavro defines itself as a very special and particular variety. It is almost natural to say so. Regarding good tannic structure and evolution over time, we are very close to nebbiolo and some dynamic pinot noirs, such as the ones of the Côte d’Or region.
Aromatically, there are certainly differences between them, but one finds similarities when the wines age and begin to acquire earthy aromas like truffles in nebbiolo or aromas of the forest’s leaves – the so-called sous bois – in pinot noir. So perhaps the most important similarity among the three varietals is their relationship with time. All of them take time to unfold all the magic of their character and to excite wine lovers.
CB: How does it feel to be listed among the 30 most promising young winemakers in the world?
KD: Sure, I got excited initially, but quickly I realized that I had to prove my worth every step of the way, so I threw myself into it. It is definitely very good motivation to always try for the best.
CB: Tell us about the legendary Triadique 2007 – of which just 300 bottles were made – which has become something like a myth among winemakers. Every now and then a bottle pops up, and it usually comes from another winemaker’s cellar!
KD: We are constantly experimenting with various blends and methods. Some of them, such as Triadique 2007, were very successful. It was a blend of xinomavro from older vines (more than 100 years old), xinomavro from young vines and the local indigenous variety negoska. This sounds like the classic Goumenissa blend, but it’s different because it’s made in Naoussa and because we use different age vines for the xinomavro.
Wines like Triadique 2007 speak for themselves. They can’t be described in words. Just pour it in your glass and let it reveal its story! More will follow…