The Greek spirit of kerasma —sharing gifts of food and drink with strangers—is alive and well in the heart of the ancient world, Nemea, on the Peloponnese isthmus. The wine producers are eager to share the remarkable wines that have emerged in the last decade, offering virtually unparalleled diversity and originality, coupled with the killer combination of quality and value.
|Did you know…?
The Peloponnese produces 35% of the country’s olive oil (almost 6% of the world total), most of which is the finest grade extra-virgin.
Nemea is a leisurely one-and-a-half-hour drive from Athens along a modern highway. The scenery is timeless: pine and cypress trees dot the skyline of the gently undulating landscape, punctuating neatly tended rows of vines and vast, sweeping olive groves.
The best is yet to come
Gaia Wines (pronounced ‘yea – ah’;) is a joint venture between Leon Karatsalos and Yiannis Paraskevopoulos. Their search for a great red wine terroir led them here in 1997 to the commune of Koutsi. The superb Gaia Estate Nemea, produced from old vineyards at the ideal altitude of around 1,800 feet, reveals the deft touch of Yiannis’ genius. “We are where Tuscany was with Chianti 20 years ago,” he says, certain that the best is yet to come. When they purchased the vineyards, their first move was to prune the vines to yield much lower amounts of fruit. The locals thought the pair was crazy. Yiannis remembers one local winegrower who even approached them to warn that low-yielding Agiorgitiko would produce “nearly black, tannic wine: far too concentrated.” Yiannis and Leon knew then they had chosen the right place.
The “Greek Chardonnay”
Stylistically different but equally compelling are the wines of veteran Thanassis Papaioannou. The strength of this winery lies in its parcels of organically-farmed vineyards, the crowning jewel of which is a small plot of ancient 70-year-old Agiorgitiko vines from which the outstanding Mikroklima Nemea is produced, a dense wine with great ageing potential. Several of the indigenous-international variety blends reveal modern styling, such as the highly aromatic Sauvignon Blanc-Malagousia white blend, and the Sauvignon-Roditis, a grape which George calls the ‘Greek Chardonnay.’
George Skouras’ new winery sits on the edge of the Nemea appellation. Chardonnay and Viognier are produced here alongside the native Moschofilero and Roditis, Cabernet and Merlot crafted alongside St. George. These are clean, fruity wines, and generally excellent value. His top wine is the ambitiously named Megas Oinos (‘Great Wine’), a blend of mostly St. George with some Cabernet Sauvignon. Whatever your preference, the winery promises to be a Mecca for wine tourists, with an impressive modern facility complete with tasting rooms overlooking the vineyards and a demonstration kitchen for megas meals.
The indigenous Agiorgitiko vine takes its name, “St. George,” from the former name of Nemea, Aghios Georgios. Grapes grown close to the valley floor exhibit full, fat, sweet fruit characteristics, while those grown nearly 2,300 feet higher up reveal a fine acid balance and fresh red berry fruit flavors.
The finest examples are in line with most modern wine drinkers’ ideal red wine: a deep purple-red color, aromas of ripe red raspberries, cherries, and plum lifted by sweet baking spices like cinnamon and clove. The grape has a great affinity for ageing in oak barrels, further adding to its appeal.