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The Agiorgitiko Grape

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About Agiorgitiko

(Synonyms: Aghiorghitico, Aigeorgitiko, Mavro Black, Mavro Dark, Mavro Nemeas, Mavronemeas, Mavrostaphylo Mavraki, Mavroudi Nemeas, Nemeas Mavro, Nemeas Mavroudi)

Background

Agiorgitiko grapes Map showing the Nemea region of Greece

First off, how to pronounce it: just pronounce the G's as Y's:

ah-yor-YEE-ti-ko

The name means "St. George", and that simpler English form is starting to turn up on bottle labels as more Greek winemakers target the American market.

Agiorgitiko is a red-wine grape originating in the region around Nemea in northeastern Greece (yes, the Nemea of Hercules and the Nemean lion). The grape is today grown principally in the same area, though there are lesser plantings throughout Greece. Any wine labelled "Nemea" must be of 100% Agiorgitiko. It is one of Greece's two "signature" red wines (the other being Xinomavro).

The grapes are grown everywhere from sea level up to high elevations. It is generally felt that the higher-elevation plantings yield better wine, but it is from difficult to impossible for the average consumer to know which wine came from what elevation vineyard. Agiorgitiko is a royal pain in the vineyard, for numerous reasons. Quite recently, new and supposedly rather better clones of Agiorgitiko have been released, and plantings are slowly being converted. Whether that will have any effect on the resultant wines is unknowable but not likely.

Published descriptions of Agiorgitiko tend to be short and vague, in good part because winemaker styles and vineyards of origin have especially huge influences on the final product, which thus varies considerably from brand to brand. Generally, however, Agiorgitiko wines tend to have clear and positive tones of fruit, but are neither high in acid nor heavy in body; and the tannin level can be all over the lot, depending on the winemaker's fancies. The wines are generally described as fruity and spicy; plum is sometimes mentioned as the fruit note. The better specimens, described by Oz Clarke as "burly, rugged" wines, can age well, but if care is not taken to avoid oxidation in the winemaking, or if the acid levels are weak, the wines need to be drunk young. (There is now talk of introducing a sub-classification system for Agiorgitiko, to help consumers sort out which specimens are likely to be worth what dollars.)

Agiorgitiko can be and ocasionally is used in blended reds, but is chiefly bottled as a monovarietal. Besides making red table wine, however, Agiorgitiko lends itself to the making of rosé and dessert wine, as well as lightweight versions made by carbonic maceration; that is the same technique used to make Beaujolais, and the resulting wines are generally similar.

Factoid: The grape name Agiorgitiko, "St. George", is likely from the name of one of the many towns in the region also so named, though it could derive from the chapel of Saint George in Nemea; in fact, Nemea was once known as "Agios Georgios".


Some Descriptions of Agiorgitiko Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "[T]he best examples of Agiorgitiko tend to have moderate to low acidity, with a deep, ruby color, red fruit aromas and a sweet spicy note. These examples tend to come from vineyards planted in the middle range of the hillside slopes around Nemea with grapes harvested near the top of the 900 metres (3,000 ft) hills being excessively acidic while those harvested from the very warm valley floor often being too 'jammy'." . . Wine expert Tom Stevenson notes that while Agiorgitiko vines can withstand heat well, the grape tends to produce better in higher altitude vineyards that are slightly cooler but still sufficiently warm to insure that the grape fully ripens. The altitude of the vineyard, in particular, seems to have an effect on how much of a 'spicy note' comes out in the flavor of the resulting wines. . . According to Master of Wine Jancis Robinson, some of the "most serious examples" of Agiorgitiko come from the higher altitude vineyards (up to 900 metres (3,000 ft)) of the Asprokampos plateau around Nemea and in the hills (between 500 metres (1,600 ft) to 600 metres (2,000 ft)) around Koutsi in Corinthia.

  • Gai'a Wines

    "The wines have deep red color and aromatic descriptors of red-fruit (ripe strawberries, black-current) and butterscotch when young. Older wines from the best plots have aromas of confected or dried fruit (fig, raisins, plums). Tannins are remarkably soft and evolve in time very slowly."

  • Berry Brothers & Rudd

    "The resulting wine can take on a diverse range of characteristics, from soft, easy-drinking and plummy to fleshy, robustly tannic and age-worthy, depending on the yields, the location (elevation/aspect) of the vineyards and the winemaking processes. The differences between low-yield, high-lying and high-yield, low-lying vineyards are so pronounced, that there has been a call for a super-appellation in Peloponesse, “High Nemea” (which rises to an altitude of 800 metres) to make these quality distinctions within the Nemea appellation zone more clear. At their best Agiorgitiko wines possess "good" tannins in abundance which make it an outstanding candidate for both barrel ageing and carbonic maceration. With respect to the stylistic expression and blending potential, Agiorgitiko compares most closely with Merlot. It can be vinified as a single varietal, though it is frequently blended with Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah. The hallmarks of the grape are low acidity, medium body, plush fruitiness, overlaid by notes of spices and ripe plum."

  • Wine Making Talk

    "[It] can display a wide spectrum of characteristics from very tannic and really soft which really depends on the growing and winemaking techniques employed. . . The red wine varieties made from this grape is noticeably spicy with hints of plum. Again, acidity is low but it has a nice fruitiness and an appealing color."

  • Greek Wine Portal

    "It is one of the richest Greek in color varieties. Used mainly for production of dry red wine OPAP [Appellation of Origin of Superior Quality] and table, which has a deep ruby color is characterized by soft tannins and be open to aging. The usual alcohol content, wine OPAP 'Nemea' is 12.5% vol. This directly affected by the altitude cultivation of vineyards. Ideal altitude to produce the best quality red wines suitable for aging, it is between 350 and 600 meters, and the most common level of alcohol is 13% vol. For wine OPAP (Nemea) required minimum years of aging in a barrel a year. Aging can be reached ten years where the wine remains in the grape marc with more than six days. In fresh wines produced from this variety are identified fruity aromas reminiscent of cherry. The aging of wine leads to the development of a rich bouquet dominated by aromas of spices (e.g. nutmeg), or even balsamic aromas (e.g. rosemary)."

  • The Savvy Drinker

    "This is the noble red of mainland Greece in Nemea (where Hercules killed the lion) and is responsible for wines that range from lighter and fruity (but still with tannic grip) to deeper and more brooding flavors."

  • The Morning Claret

    "Agiorgitiko . . . produces intensely fruity, if sometimes rather light red and rose wines."

  • Wine Taste at Home

    "This grape is a Greek varietal grown mostly in the Peleponnese that makes a low acid, spicy, plum-tasting red wine. As a varietal it is very susceptible to viruses which can explain its varying characteristics such as ranging from soft to tannic in structure. It can be made into dry, off dry, Rosé or sweet versions."


Some Agiorgitikos to Try

(About this list.)

As is too often the case, the list here is constrained by sheer availability (or rather, unavailability). Yes, a superficial search-engine look shows well over a dozen monovarietal Agiorgitikos each within our arbitrary $20 limit; but when we look for specimens available at more than one or two retailers, the list shrinks rapidly. Even our short list below contains a couple of relatively scarce bottlings, but here it is anwyway.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Skouras Saint George (Agiorgitiko), $9 - $17.
         ($13.24 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    A combination of intense raspberries and sweet spices. Quite full bodied, the oak integrates perfectly. This is a wine that is hard to not like, and recommended highly as an introduction to Agiorgitiko.

    This is always a solid buy, consistent, with elegance and purity, although never with much concentration or power. . . The silky texture, a product of the acidity, is quite sensual and the wine is fragrant and a pleasure just to smell. Its graceful mid-palate is part of its impeccable balance, along with the subtle tannins. The cherry nuances are cut by the acidity nicely. It doesn’t develop much and isn’t going anywhere, but for an early maturing, entry level wine it is quite charming, drinking beautifully now and at its best in the short term.

    Deep red color, hints of sweet oak on the nose. Rich damson plums, mid palate. Hard-edged tannins, frank and intense.

    Dark purple colored. Good viscosity. Well developed aromas of cherry, blueberry, plum, black currant (cassis), vanilla, and tobacco. Rich flavors of blueberry, blackberry, black currant (cassis), oak, and garrigue. The body is medium/full. Voluptuous smooth texture. The wine finishes Long. Surprising!

    Firm and juicy, with a tannic grip to the crisp dried berry and cherry flavors, which feature plenty of rich, dark chocolate accents. Finishes with red plum and mineral notes.

    Black cherry and cinnamon on the nose lead into spicy red berry and coca flavors. This is a clean, easy-drinking red. 85 points

    Bakery notes on the nose initially, a touch yeasty perhaps, with very ripe strawberry and cherry aromas. Sweet cola, copious amounts of nutmeg, a touch of generic earth, and gym floor round out the flavor profile. . . Incredibly soft mouthfeel—light on tannins. I would compare this wine to Gamay, the grape Beaujolais Nouveau is made from. Very deep garnet and purple tones—that is where it differs.

    It shows the grape's best side, with plush red cherry flavors that beg for a burger, gyros, or heck, even a cheese sandwich - anything that provides an excuse for another sip.


  • Gai'a Notios Red, $11 - $17.
         ($13.34 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    This wine is 100% Agiorgitiko sourced from the Koutsi subregion where the soils are marl and limestone. It underwent malolactic fermentation. On the first night this wine showed a fruity, easy-going manner perfect for warmer weather. On the second night this was a light+ ruby color. The young nose revealed lifted berries with cooler but ripe red notes and a floral aspect. The flavors become stoney with some red and blue fruit mixing with acidity that marked the sides of the tongue. There was good presence and it definitely became a more serious wine. It wrapped up with cherry flavors which bore some weight, ripeness, and texture. There were undertones of blue fruit in the aftertaste.

    This fruitier-style Agiorgitiko has an approachable, versatile character. On the nose, blackberry, cinnamon, spice and red berries lead, followed by a balance of fruit and dry spice on the palate. Balanced but has an earthy spin that speaks of its origins. A great go-to red. 87 points

    Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of mulberries and wet stones. In the mouth this wine is juicy and bright with mulberry and blueberry flavors and a wonderful crystalline quality that is disarming and begs to be gulped. Faint tannins linger with berry aromas in the finish. Quite delicious, to the point that it might be dangerous with dinner.

    [T]his wine certainly pleased me. It has a light red color with a delightful fruity nose. On the palate, it is a light-bodied wine with plenty of good berry flavors. An excellent, easy-drinking wine with plenty of character for this price point.

    The Notios was fresh and inviting with an aroma of cherries. The fruit was impressive, with enough of an acidic counterbalance to make it a great match for casual food.

    Notios (the name means "the Southerner") is completely different from [another Greek red] — it’s bigger and more intense, with a much deeper red colour and more tannins, too.

    Among several rustic and unfriendly Greek reds tasted for this report, this offering from Nemea stood out for its clean winemaking and vibrant fruit. Aromas are slightly floral, but also feature hints of strawberries and a bass note of leather; the fruit is lively and berry-flavored. It’s very easy to drink and would make a fine Beaujolais alternative. 86 points

    [A]n easygoing young wine in which the fruit and the softness of Agiorgitiko are beautifully expressed.


  • Tetramythos Agiorgitiko, $12 - $13.
    (Sorry, scarce.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Blackberry, black cherry and cinnamon aromas start this balanced, smooth wine. The palate follows with mellow flavors of vanilla, cherry and spicebox. An affordable red with versatile appeal. 88 points

    Made from organically grown grapes, this is one of my favourite Agiorgitiko offerings. It is fresh and fruit driven with depth on the palate, and expresses the grape variety in quite a serious way. I highly recommend this.

    Blue rim. Clove-like spiciness with floral complexity. Bright cherry with a green apple bite. Concentration. Beguiling fruit depth. Marked by texture and grippy fresh tasting concentration. Uplifting vibrancy throughout. An exciting source of all-Greek natural wine. Nemea revisited.

    Ripe and juicy summer berries and fresh black cherries on the nose and palate with velvet smooth tannins. 3 *

    [Google-translated from Portugese:] This wine was drawn with red Agiorgitiko planted at altitude, in the cooler climate of Nemea, creating a softer, delicate and elegant wine. And while it might seem incompatible, this wine could be a mild and intense red. Simple, pleasant and easy to drink, a beautiful wine for the day to day.

    Deep red color with violet, cherry and prune aromas. Velvety and rich in mouth. Aged until five years.

    Ripe and juicy summer berries and fresh black cherries on the nose and palate with velvet smooth tannins. 3 *

    Dark cherry flavors blend with just enough acidity and some nice earthiness.


  • Spiropoulos Red Stag Agiorgitiko, $13 - $19.

    Some quotations and facts:

    Ripe cherry, cedar, vanilla and spice aromas are followed by soft red berries, cinnamon and vanilla flavors in this appealing Cabernet/Agiorgitiko blend. Overall soft and rich, the wine has a chalky, clean finish and a spin of spice. 86 points

    Spiropoulos' most interesting red is its Red Stag, a 100 percent Agiorghitiko from Nemea. The 2003 Red Stag, made with very low yields, exhibits richly flavored, plump cherry and red berry fruit flavors. Red Stag is also a fine value. Enjoyable now, but it will age for a few years. 91 points

    Dark red color with a sweet ripe red berry aroma and spice to boot. Supple tannins and a dry medium body combine for a pleasing sipping wine that would also pair well with food, including roasted chicken or lamb. Forest berry flavors with a smoky undertones make this an interesting experience. Even though I love soft tannins and earthy qualities in my reds, this wine seamed to really beg for more tannins to balance the long woodsy finish. Overall though it's a thought provoking wine that makes me want to try more expensive Greek versions of this varietal. My grade: B

    Other wonderful wines from Peloponnese include the Merlot-rich "right bank" Bordeaux-reminiscent Domaine Spiropoulos 2004 Red Stag, which is made from 100 percent Agiorghitiko by U.C. Davis graduate Apostolos Spiropoulos.

    This wine seemed to be made in a more California fruit-forward style. It has bright cherry and vanilla flavors, mild tannins and is very easy drinking. It is a bit tart as well. I was not as impressed with this wine as some of the others I had been tasting as I was seeking a more Greek-style wine rather than an international style wine.

    At just 13 percent alcohol it manages to carry both power and voluptuous fruit in an ideal balance based on the agiorgitiko grapes grown in Nemea.

    This red made from agiorgitiko had an earthy aroma and flavor, with notes of mushrooms and cherries.

    As for the curiously named Red Stag 2009 from the producer Spiropoulos, at just 13 percent alcohol it manages to carry both power and voluptuous fruit in an ideal balance based on the aghiorghitiko grapes grown in Nemea.


  • Aivalis Nemea, $15 - $21.
    (Christos Aivalis's wines get written about a fair bit, yet there are few easily snipped quotations about particular bottlings; but they are highly regarded.)
         ($14.74 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    The next thing that stood out was the sheer density of his wines on the nose and on the palate. . . A word of caution though, I do not believe the Aivalis range are crowd-pleasing wines. They will not appeal to drinkers who look for easy satisfaction. . . It is a very good full-bodied Agiorgitiko. Although it is not quite as pronounced in style than the two single vineyard labels, it is a serious wine. It receives the shortest maceration, but with 20 days it is no featherweight. . . I have the feeling that even the basic Nemea will improve over the next 5 years.

    Made from 40-year-old vines of Agiorgitiko grapes, this dark ruby artisanal wine offers up aromas of dark fruit and vanilla spice. Dark fruit and assertive tannins characterize the palate.

    Also made with 100% Agiorgitiko, this wine was more complex with smokey, herbal and strawberry notes.


  • Semeli "Mountain Sun" Agiorgitiko, $11 - $25.
    (Also known in the Greek as Semeli Orinos Helios Agiorgitiko)

    Some quotations and facts:

    [T]his delicious and very refreshing red is packed with bright plummy and cherry-berry fruit, with hints of anise, dried herbs and a subtle earthy minerality. Medium-bodied, the tannins are supple, yet provide enough structure to frame the wine. Not terribly complex, but with sufficient flavor concentration that persists to a moderately long, savory finish.

    Dark red-violet in colour, aromas of ripe cherry, sweet thyme and traces of chocolate swirled about in my glass. Tart cherry and lush black currents were underscored by dry, toasty oak elements in the medium body. Spicy black pepper, earthy tobacco and bitter chocolate notes intertwined in the lengthy finish. Friendly and smooth, this is a mellow glass great for the table.

    Bright notes of ripe, dark cherry, plum and a hint of mocha with a spicy finish and although this isn’t a big wine, it does have some tannic backbone.

    This is yet another great introduction to the grape variety, smooth and vibrant with some earthiness.

    Dark ruby. Medium+ viscosity. Clear nose, red and black berries, dried vegetal and mineral traces, light roasted notes. Clean again on the palate, cool, elegantly juicy fruit, delicate spicy oak, dried vegetal notes and some mineral traces in the background, fairly fine, harmonious tannins, good persistence and has some depth, reasonably balanced, fairly elegant, good to very good finish.

    Bright, youthful, dark ruby red in colour. Intense on the nose, with ripe fruit, plums and cherries, chocolate and some spicy undertones. The palate is broad, with medium body, medium but velvety tannins, moderate acidity and vibrant flavours of red fruit.

    Earth and spicy nose. This is forward, bright, spice-edged with red fruit tannins, soft texture but falls off a bit but very pleasant. 3 *

    Medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a bright blueberry and mulberry set of aromas on the nose. In the mouth, leathery tannins wrap around a super juicy core of blueberry and mulberry flavors that contrast against the lightly woody earthy flavor that seems to accompany the tannins. Tasty. 13.5% alcohol, and a killer value.

    [R]uby; rustic, strawberry nose; firm on the palate, dry red berry flavour with a brittle finish. 86 points


  • Semeli Reserve Nemea, $16 - $25.
    (Sorry, scarce.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Another impressive point with Semeli Reserve is the beautiful integration of oak element with the wine’s intensely fruity character. Even the more suspicious wine-lovers that may expect wines bearing the words Reserve or Grande Reserve in the label to be over-oaked will be very pleased from Semeli’s balancing personality. The colour is deep ruby with youthful highlights, while on the nose red-berried fruits are intermingled with Asian spicy notes and dark chocolate aromas. The palate’s texture is lovely, juicy, with fine grained tannins, balancing acidity and fully integrated toasty notes. This is a benchmark style of a well made Agiorgitiko grape with aromatic complexity, elegance and persistent aftertaste. (89/100)

    Dark ruby. Medium+ viscosity. Vivid and youthful. Intense on the nose, cherry, blueberry, mushroom and wet wood. Dense spices, complex fruit and balanced oak. Full body, notable acidity, ripe and noble tannins, while the finish is persistent. Very pleasant!

    [D]eep ruby; oaky, creamy strawberry flavout; mouth-filling and firmly structured with evident tannins. Needs time. (87+)

    Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cola and sweet oak. In the mouth, drying tannins surround flavors of cherry and cola and cocoa powder. Nice acidity makes the wine bright. This wine spends one year in 75% new French oak (a little too much?) and then one year in the bottle before release. 14.1% alcohol.

    A lighter coloured wine that shows off pretty aromas of plum, fresh flowers, damson and blackcurrant. It has a good mouth feel, a creamy sweet texture, the finish starts out with plenty of dark cherry and spice, but it does dry out.

    Rich nose of raspberry, red cherry, and bay leaf with flavors of cherry and anise. Medium bodied with a balanced finish.

    Nice complexity of red berry, violet, liquorice and some leather notes. Velvety texture, with medium+ tannin and medium acidity. This can continue to evolve for at least 8 - 10+ years. A very elegant expression.

    Tart cherry nose; tasty, tart cherry, with mineral and cinnamon notes, tight yet; medium finish 88+ points


For a Splurge

The ebullient Christos Aivalis's best Agiorgitiko wine is his Aivalis Monopati, which can be had at the very reasonable (for a splurge) price of about $29.



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