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(Synonyms: Kalabaki, Kalambaki, Kalampaki, Lembiotiko, Lemnia, Lemnio, Lemniotico, Lemniotiko, Limniona, Limniotico, Mavro Limnio, Ntourou Kara, Ntoyrou Kara—see the discussion below about "Limniona")
Limnio is a red-wine grape originating on the Greek island of Lemnos, and not yet found outside of Greece. Though little known yet in the wider world of wine, it is widely regarded by such expert critics such as Jancis Robinson and Oz Clarke as one of the dozen and a half or so of world-class red-wine grapes (those in boldface in the varietals list to the left of the page). That it is still virtually a "mystery grape" in the U.S. is not a situation likely to persist much longer: grapes of this quality will, in today's interconnected world, make themselves known. Winemaker Nikos Vakirtzis' observation that If Limnio belonged to Italy or France, it would be world famous is by no means braggadocio.
If little known today, Limnio is nonetheless storied. It is widely believed—a few scoffers notwithstanding—that it is the Limnia remarked on by Aristotle (who more than once mentioned its herbaceous flavors of oregano), Hesiod, and Polydeuctes. Today, Limnio is now mainly grown and vinified in the the Halkidiki Peninsula of Greek Macedonia, but also in Thessalia.
Limnio grapes are late-ripening and thus tend to produce juice with high sugar levels, which in turn would lead to high alcohol level in the finished wine. Moreover, if harvested late, the juice also contains certain phenols that tend to impart a definite herbaceous quality to the wines. Thus, the grapes are often harvested relatively early.
The resultant wines are typically large, full-bodied, and strongly flavored, having at least moderate tannins and acidity, and a notably mineral nose, which appears to be its single most distinctive quality, followed by herbaceousness, then dark red-berry overtones.
There appears to be some dispute over whether a wine (and grape) called "Limniona" is or is not the same thing as Limnio. Some sources (notably but not exclusively those making "Limniona" wines) assert that they are definitely distinct. Other sources say that "Limniona" is simply a synonym for Limnio. Yet a few others say that they are slightly different (perhaps different clones?). Till someone does a DNA analysis, it's all guesses and opinions. (We have included here the only "Limniona" available in the U.S., which is also one of the very few in the world.)
(We rarely put a personal oar in the water on these wine-variety pages, but having tasted both of the only two available, one of which is a Limniona, we found them hugely different stylistically—which may, of course, reflect the vinification as much or more than the grape's inherent characteristics. The Limniona was definitely a "big" wine, while the Limnio was equally definitely a "delicate" wine.)
Factoid: Though some Limnio is still being produced on Lemnos itself, it is not utilized in any appellation wines produced on the island.
Some Descriptions of Limnio Wines
"Limnio produces full bodied wines with moderate tannins and acidity levels and a distinctive mineral aroma. When blended, Limnio adds color, weight, acidity and an herbal aroma which Oz Clarke describes as reminiscent of bay leaves."
- New Wines of Greece
"Limnio wine is moderate in color, elegant in aromas and flavors, dominated by fresh, aromatic herbs and elegant, red berry fruits. On the palate it displays medium acidity, medium and very silky tannins, breadth, and moderately high alcohol. . . Limnio is an excellent wine for wine drinkers who want to get away from the heaviness of international wine varieties. It is a grape that delivers interesting flavors, with a discreet tannin structure and brightness. . . All single Limnios and blends are ready for consumption on release, but pure Limnio can develop for four to seven years, and blends can develop for significantly longer."
"Limnio is full-bodied wine with moderate levels of acidity and tannic and a distinguishable mineral tone and aroma, making it highly suitable for blending with other varietals, to derive a completely new color, acidity, herbal tones, acidity levels and aroma. Limnio grapes - the main varietal used in this wine, is known for its hardiness and adaptability to survive the toughest drought conditions and late ripening characteristic, which offers and enhances herbaceous tone to the wine. Limnio wine is ideally blended with Grenache, Merlot and Cinsaut. Limnio displays a striking resistance not only from dry weather conditions but also from different types of diseases - often described as a sturdy grape."
- Wine Dog Boy
"Why I loved it: The fragrant, sensual and extremely complex nose of aromas reminiscent of ripe strawberries, black cherries, pomegranate, dried rose petals, exotic Indian spices, black pepper and notes of cedar and dark chocolate. Dry on the palate, with a mouth-watering acidity and well integrated, fine grained tannins; full yet elegant, with flavours of sweet dark cherries, plums, spices, dark chocolate, roasted coffee beans and a long black pepper finish."
- ine Searcher
"As a varietal wine Limnio is full-bodied, high in alcohol and very herbaceous, with a distinctive taste of bay leaves."
- Uncorked Adventures
"So how do you most easily pick [out] Limnio? There is a distinct mineral aroma, which comes from almost no other vine on planet Earth."
- Wines From Greece
"[It] produces lovely, silky red with the exotic perfume of wet violets and cherries."
Some Limnios to Try
(About this list.)
There are apparently only two sorts available at all in the U.S., and neither of them is widely available.
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.
- Domaine Porto Carras Limnio, $15 - $19.
Some quotations and facts:
On the nose there is a salty red fruit character. This wine is animalistic and gamy. It offers bricky fruit tannins with dried red fruit and a tarry leather quality intermingled with paraffin wax and very rich red spiced fruit. Very delicious and quite a serious wine!
Dark red violet color; juniper, herb, dried currant nose; tart currant, juniper, herb palate; needs 2 years; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)
2006 – light ruby; spicy, cedar, raspberry and bay leaf nose; light, fresh, fruity.
Its characteristics involve a deep red color with spicy scents of pepper and cinnamon. It fills your mouth easily without stiff tannins.
This  light colored wine, was soft with lots of cherry flavors. Another easy drinking wine, this was like a light and simple Pinot Noir. . . The 2009 seemed even bettere than the prior vintage, with a more alluring, fruity nose and brighter fruit on the palate as well. An easy drinking and fun wine.
- Domaine Zafeirakis Limniona Tyrnavos, $15 - $30.
(Don't mistake their Rosé for the red Limnonia.)
($19.34 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).
Some quotations and facts:
It is not clear whether "Limnonia" is the same as "Limnio" or a distinct grape type. Caveat emptor, though clearly they are at least much alike.
Zafeirakis Limniona speaks of red fruits, freshness and elegance. The large and thick-skinned berries give a vivid ruby colour with medium intensity. On the nose, layers of cherries, strawberries and pungent spices are supplemented by subtle oaky notes and earthiness. Definitely this is a wine expressing fruit grown in a certain place rather than being about French or American oak flavours. On the palate it’s all about freshness provided by firm acidity levels in great balance with fruit extract and powerful, yet not astringent, tannins.
Beautiful fruity nose of pomegranate sweetness, ripe strawberries, raspberries, red currants, cherry stones; earthy notes, slightly dusty. Vibrant juicy acidity, soft velvety tannins. Sour cherries, red currants, Indian spices; touch of lavender or rosemary? Mineral. Very long length. Centred on elegance and richness in flavour. Fine textured. Tight structure that suggests a beautiful development. Seeks food to shine.
[It] had a red violet Bordeaux like color, but the fruit seemed slightly cooked on the nose. The palate was cleaner if showing hints of asphalt. Overall a straightforward red but lacking much expression.
2008 Domaine Zafeirakis Limniona is a rustic red wine, with notes of plum, black cherry, and herbs, and would pair well with hearty but simple Mediterranean food.
The wine is silky and ever so elegant, a true original.
[A] deliciously balanced red with boysenberry and cherry notes on the nose followed by dark blue fruit and juicy, well-integrated tannins.
deep plum - tart - mineral - cherry - lingering mouth-feel - smooth
The grapes were initially fermented in a large wooden vat and then aged in second and third fill French oak barriques. Vivid medium-dark, not unlike a great Burgundy. Blossoming into a fruited spice. A new to me aroma; so far nothing remotely like it in the Greek vineyard. A nod of herbs. Creamy. Classy. Despite the 'heat' of the vintage, a refreshingly present acidity. Lacey. At this stage, a little facile (young vine playfulness) on the finish. With bottle ageing, it will open up
Stylish Boysenberry syrup nose lifted with a floral complexity. Spiced jammy red fruit flavours and textured tannins ending with a delicate florality. ****
The extra time in bottle has allowed the wine to completely absorb the oak, and vibrant strawberry, strawberry jam and red licorice dominate the palate with tinges of orange zest. Lovely.
For a Splurge
There is nothing generally available in the U.S. beyond the two above. For a splurge, buy a case of the Zafeirakis.
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