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"That Useful Wine Site"
The Xinomavro Grape

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About Xinomavro

(Synonyms: Black Naousa, Xynomavro of Naousa, Xynomavro Naousis, Mavro Naoussis, Mavro Naoustino, Niaoussa, Popolka, Pipolka, Xyno Mavro, Xynomavro)

Background

Xinomavro grapes Map showing Greek Macedonia

Xinomavro (also often spelled Xynomavro) is a red-wine grape originating in Greece, more particularly in northwestern Greece, in the Imathia region of Macedonia, in what are now the monovarietal appellations of Naoussa and Amynteo; Naoussa is often regarded the best source. Xinomavro is generally considered 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).

Xinomavro is not a wine of our times (in any sense). It is a tricky devil in the vineyard: if the vineyardist lets it go, hoping to obtain quantity, quality takes a nosedive, and thin, acidic plonk results; but neither can it be made into the sort of huge Parkerized, internationalized, Shiraz-like red that is so popular today. It can only, made with care and skill, be itself, a red more like Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo in that it trades on delicacy and requires some nontrivial bottle age to get to where it should be.

Nor is it a fruit-forward "jammy" wine: its flavors are (as you will se below) variously described, but almost never in red-fruit terms. Tomato, olive, spice, and earthiness are the recurring descriptors. And it is high-acid and high in tannins (which is why it both bears and usually requires that bottle aging). If you are interested in wines that require some care from both the wine maker and the wine drinker, this will be your sort of wine; if you want a fruit bomb, look elsewhere.

At least one writer observes that there are now two distinct styles of Xinomavro emerging: "traditional", with high tannins and a need for nontrivial amounts of bottle aging; and "modern", vinified to be more fruit-forward and drinkable young. That last is relatively new, and it looks like many observers think it inappropriate for this varietal (though there are certainly at least a few successful versions).

Factoid: One obstacle to Xinomavro popularity outside Greece is the matter of how to pronounce it, which can embarrass some people. Fortunately, there are some videos on YouTube that can relieve your stress. (ksee-NOH-mah-vroh, if you don't like video links.)


Some Descriptions of Xinomavro Wines

  • Palate Press

    "Wines made from this variety lack primary fruit on the nose; instead one finds an intriguing combination of olives and tomatoes. But on the palate, raspberry flavours typically shine through. The colour is often pale and relatively unstable, and can evolve quickly into a tawny colour in the glass. The rim often looks mature even in young wines. . . Poorly made Xinomavro is an undrinkable, sour liquid. It is no mistake its name translates to “black acid.” It takes more than average winemaking talent to soften the harsh tannin structure. But the best winemakers are able to craft stunningly rich and concentrated wines that are truly world-class, able to develop and mature over many decades. It is a sublime pleasure to taste matured bottles of top Xinomavro. Its vegetal character increases over time, and the harsh tannic structure that Xinomavro often exhibits when young softens considerably, transforming the wine into a velvety pleasure. These wines gain a lot of elegance over time, losing all their roughness."

  • Quentin Sadler

    "What makes Xinomavro stand out from the crowd is its potential for elegance. The wines it makes, especially in Naoussa, can be very fine indeed. . . Some people like to compare Xinomavro to Pinot Noir and in terms of colour and tannin that contrast gives you a pretty good idea of what it is like. If I have to compare it to anything though, and it does make things easier if you have never tried one, then I think Nebbiolo might be a better bet. True it is less tannic, but everything else is bang on, body (not that full, whatever the books may say) and acidity, more importantly it has red fruit characters and a similar deeply savoury, umami nature. While Pinot always makes think of red cherry and raspberries, I see from my notes that Xinomavro for me is often very tomato-like in flavour and aroma. Sometimes the tomato feels fresh, other times more sun-dried or cooked and even occasionally just tomato stalk, but it is always there and makes the wines go superbly with the wonderful local cuisine."

  • Wine Making Talk

    "The Xinomavro grape has a rich tannin level and can age well. It possesses complex scents and aromas of fruits such as gooseberry, dried tomatoes, spices and olives. Depending on the vinification and ageing process, the Xinomavro wine may also possess a woody aroma with hints of redcurrant. Furthermore, the Xinomavro wine has a thin texture and high acidity."

  • Kerasma

    "One could compare Xinomavro to the more famous Pinot Noir, to the great red Burgundies, or to the Italian Nebbiolo grape and its benchmark wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. Like Xinomavro, none of these varieties is appropriate for making large-volume, everyday wines. Attempts to do so usually result in featherweight, characterless wines that range anywhere from charming, to easily quaffable, boring, thin, and aggressive. But the best examples are unquestionably among the top wines of the world. . . Xinomavro wines almost never have very deep color or bluish tints, and tawny hues are apparent, even when the wine is still in barrel. The nose is usually intense, even high-pitched, although bottle aging couples these "soprano" notes with more "contrabass phrases". One of the criticisms often heard about the Xinomavro variety is that it lacks vibrant, fresh, sweet-fruit notes, and leans instead more towards dried prune, cherry-tomato, and very often strawberry facets. But why should anyone miss the fruit when there is so much more going on in the wine? Sweet, exotic spices and finely powdered Mediterranean herbs are matched with haunting nuances of leather and wet earth. The palate has a crisp acidity and a firm tannin structure, giving more extract and density than body and broadness."

  • Fringe Wine

    "There are also many different clones of the grape which differ markedly from one another in virtually every way that you can think of. They flower and ripen at different times, have different bunch and berry sizes, have different vinous characteristics (fruit, acidity and tannin) and reach their peak ripeness in different microclimates. No one clone seems to have the magic combination so many different clones are grown on different sites and blended together in the winery. Once you get past all the growing troubles and issues in the winery (many clones have poor color stability and can create very odd aromas when vinified), the wine that you get tends to be fairly light in color and very high and acidity and tannin. In short, it is the polar opposite of the kind of wine that is very much in fashion right now in that it's not very accessible in its youth and tends to demand food. Needless to say, Xinomavro is facing several uphill battles in the world marketplace."

  • Vinaspora

    "Most often it is compared to Pinot noir and Nebbiolo and it matches their quality. . . [It] seems to be completely maladapted to today's market's reality. It's impossible to make large quantity of a light easy drinking beverage. You really have to limit the crop severely to get good quality wine. Otherwise... the name of the variety (meaning black-acidic or bitter) says it all. To make a big, dark, solid, full of extracts reminding you of most of today's so–called premium wines is not possible either. Extraction pushed too far doesn't improve it. But if you take care of it in the right way, you get a wine of outstanding finesse, complexity and potential. . . The wine looks like Pinot noir or Cabernet franc. It's got quite light colour, easily gets oxidised, looses it's purple hue already in a barrel. In it's nose you can find dried plums, sun dried tomatoes, strawberries, gooseberries, blueberries, raspberries, truffles, leather, wet earth, lots of aromatic herbs and spices. Quite high acidity is also characteristic, it helps to preserve the wine for a long time. Because it's not a wine to drink while it's young you should try to drink Xinomavro when it is at least five years old. However they are really at their top after about ten years of ageing. Some people say that you have to wait a quarter of the century to let them get to their optimum. But really before deciding for how long you are going to put your bottle in the cellar, it's worth checking where it exactly comes from."

  • Wine Searcher

    "The variety is highly regarded in its native Greece as the finest red wine the country has to offer. With its characteristically high tannin and acidity, Xynomavro is structurally one of the biggest red wines in the Mediterranean, and indeed Europe. . . In Naousa, where Xynomavro is extensively grown, winemakers boast of the completeness of their wine. In some circles the use of oak is frowned upon. Locally grown walnut is the preferred choice for aging since it imparts no discernible flavor. The ideological approach to the grape can be best illustrated by two Greek appellations' requirements for its treatment. In Naousa, Xynomavro must be produced as a single varietal wine, while further south in Rapsani it must be blended with Stavroto and Krasato. . . However exponents of the 'old school' frown upon any practice of blending Xynomavro. A grape, they believe, too noble to dilute. . . Vintage variation is a significant factor to consider with regard to purchasing decisions since the weather can play a large role in Xynomavro’s quality. Aged examples of 100% Xynomavro are often compared to the great wines of Burgundy and Barolo, though they have been also been likened to everything from the color of red Rioja to the mouthfeel of Chianti."

  • Wine for Normal People

    "It literally means "acid black" and when it’s badly made it tastes as bad as it sounds. When it’s good, it’s a really unique, tasty wine. I’ve only had the opportunity to try a few, but usually they taste like licorice, herbs, and even olives, and are earthy with big tannin. They tend to tip the scales in alcohol, which I don’t really dig, but not to the extent that they are undrinkable. The other attributes of the wine make it worth the burn."

  • Hayley Hamilton, D Magazine

    "The deep black grapes flourish in the semi-mountainous area known for its full-bodied, intense wine that need time to age to truly let their flavors shine, but when they do the well-aged Xinomavro could be easily mistaken for an earthy Barolo or Nero d’Avola."

  • All About Greek Wine

    "The wines made from Xinomavro are known for their superb aging potential and their rich tannic character. Their complex aromas combine such red fruits as gooseberry with hints of olives, spices and dried tomatoes."


Some Xinomavros to Try

(About this list.)

There were several more we could reasonably have included, save that each seems to be carried by only a very small number of retailers (at least per the big wine-search engines). There remains, however, a respectable core of accessible Xinomavro specimens (most from Naoussa).

But keep an eye out for monovarietal Xinomavro from any of Hatzimichalis, Pavlou's Klima, Foundis, Dalamara's Paliokalias, or Vaeni's Damaskinos (if you see at at a good price).
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.
  • Vaeni Naoussa Xinomavro, $10 - $16.
    (Naoussa; do not confuse this with their "Makedonikos" or "Grande Reserve" bottlings.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    The 2007 Xinomavro (which is listed on the front as just Naoussa, per appellation protocol) was oak aged for 12 months. This earthy wine smells more of tank and earth than oak. It is relatively traditional Xinomavro – lots of everything, tannins, earthiness, acidity. Despite its late release and its modest price range, it is quite powerful, still dusty, quite astringent on the finish. It is even more intense than the winery’s lower-level offerings (and they were no slouches). All caution aside, for a regular Xinomavro at a very modest price point, this is a lot of wine for the price. Have your expectations in order, though. In this price range, a consumer may be expecting easy, sweet and 'pop ‘n’ pour,' but right at the moment I’d say instead that it could well use some cellaring. In the long run, its modest depth and concentration may not balance out the tannins adequately, but there will be moments when wine geeks will think that this was a pretty fine deal. This will be a style that will make lovers of old style Nebbiolo happiest. That said, this does have something to prove in the cellar. It might even deserve an uptick.

    The [Vaeni] wines [regular & Grande Reserve] are great introductions to Xinomavro, the Naoussa 2007 offers high quality at very affordable prices; the Grande Reserve 2000 highlights the tremendous ageing potential of the variety. It was actually decided [2012] to bring in the 2000 vintage instead of the 2004, as the latter could still benefit from more bottle age. These Xinomavros are elegant and pure, leaning towards the more traditional style that is fashioned from this variety, with fine spices and a distinctive earthiness.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (date unknown), 85 points

    ♣ Wine Spectator (date unknown), 90 points

    In the glass, this was a deep, dark crimson color, but not opaque, with some signs of age around the edge (in the form of a brownish orange tint). The aroma was predominantly of black cherries and vanilla, with some raspberry undertones. Pleasant but unremarkable – until the elderberry chimed in: a big, dark aroma that reminds me of honey. The palate presented similar notes, with cherry and raspberry as well as a touch of that elderberry flavor. I perceived the vanilla on the nose more as chocolate here, along with a definite woody note (i.e., the wood from trees, not erections). Perhaps most impressive were the tannins, which were still firm enough to suggest the wine could benefit from a bit more age.

    The kirsch and boysenberry flavors are lively and a touch tannic, with lingering notes of dried cherry. The tight finish offers notes of dried herbs and hints of menthol.

    Rich, elegant and spicy, with creamy overtones to the raspberry, cherry and red plum flavors. Silky tannins and lush glazed citrus notes fill the plush finish.

    Clove, cinnamon and raspberry aromas are followed by bright red-fruit and spice flavors on the palate. A dancing minerality keeps the wine’s spice and tannins in check. A good everyday red for burgers and pizza. 87 points

    The 2004 Vaeni Naoussa Xinomavro delivers a mix of red and black berries, vanilla and some earthy notes as well. This has a really nice character and is an overall solid wine from start to finish. If you have and have never had a Xinomavro this would be a great option to explore the varietal. 90 points

    Mint, cedar and clove aromas are followed by pepper, clove and black fruit flavors. It’s not overly complex, but it offers distinctive indigenous character, and it will pair nicely with grilled meat.


  • Chrisohoou Xinomavro, $12 - $17.
    (Naoussa)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Earthy red with a kiss of orange pink in the rim too. Delightfully vibrant nose, with red cherry and leaf mulch forest floor sort of aromas. Plenty of soft fruit, red raspberry and deep cherry on the palate. Lovely almost creamy texture with some spice and oak characters like toffee and coffee and the acidity provides a balancing touch of freshness. The most Pinot Noir like Xinomavro I tasted on the trip, beautifully balanced and ageing very very slowly. 92/100 points.

    Sweet cedar, cigarbox and allspice lead the nose on this embraceable Greek red. On the palate, soft tannins, bright red fruit and spice offer a clean, dry character. The finish is smoky and lingering. Not overly complicated but definitely a fine Greek red. 87 points

    ♣ Wine Spectator (August 2010), 89 points

    Elegant and full of silky tannins. Dried cherry, fig, raspberry and Asian spice flavors are lush and broad in texture, with a long, minerally finish that features French roast notes.

    Domaine Chrisohoou located in the legendary Naoussa region of northern Greece is an outstanding producer of Xinomavro and Xinomavro-Merlot wines. .  Estate Chrisohoou . . . [is] aged 18 months in oak, then 2 years in the bottle. Estate Chrisohoou is 100% Xinomavro, and is rich, with complex aromas and flavors of cherry, vanilla and raspberry, balancing tannins and a long finish.

    Jammy,oak nose and dried fruit cake flavour on the palate.Pungent, old school style Xinomavro. 3*/5

    Surprisingly good, at its peak right now [1999 vintage tasted 2009] with a fairly dark color with some garnet-brick hues, ripe tomatoe and some red fruits on the nose, mid-bodied on the palate with very soft tanins, nice fruit and balancing acidity. Fairly long finish. Nicely aged. 88 points.

    Their vineyards are located in the south-eastern slopes of mountain "Vermion" at an altitude of 250 meters, in the region Strantza Naoussas. These conditions are perfect for the production of light Xinomavro wines (only 12.5% alcohol as you can see on the label), with a good structure and with a tomato leaf note that is so characteristic of the grape. Xinomavro as its best!


  • Thymiopoulos Vineyards "Young Vines" Naoussa Xinomavro, $12 - $23.
    (Naoussa; made in the "modern" style.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    [A] bargain priced bottling that is going to consistently offer great value if you like its style. Given the charm and the nice price point, I suspect a lot of folks will rightly make this one of their staple Greek red purchases. This young vines Xinomavro admittedly lacks the concentration and future complexity of its big brothers, but I won’t be surprised if many people like it as well. What it does do is be more expressive at a younger age and more exuberant. The fruit is much more open and intensely flavorful--even to the point of a sweet, slightly candied note on the finish that admittedly not everyone will care for. Still, while lighter styled, fruitier and sweeter, this Xinomavro retains powerful echoes of traditional Xinomavro, meaning that it executes its exuberant style especially well by including a real backbone and good acidity, not just being simple and fruity. It is as if one blended traditional Xinomavro with Gamay. Silky in texture, young and primary, it is awfully hard to resist. This is what I call a 'waiter with the water' wine after the Ella Fitzgerald novelty song. You know it is not quite as serious as it could be, but you can’t resist it anyway. This is a different vision of Xinomavro and being fair to it requires just a little palate adjustment. This has to be judged in its own context; it is its own creature, for better or worse. Most will think it is quite a deal.

    This could well be the best wine to try first, if you have never tasted a Naoussa. It is gloriously bright and seductive, bursting with cherry and raspberry fruit with fresh acidity and attractively chalky light tannins. Fresh tomato and tomato stalk characters provide the savoury notes to balance the sweetness of the red fruit. A lovely user-friendly wine that goes with all manner of lighter dishes and tastes good lightly chilled too, if you like good Gamay, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo or Barbera this is the wine for you – 89/100 points, it scores especially high marks for value.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (February 2012), 89 points

    Unique and engaging, this wine is earthy cinnamon red in color, like the underbrush. Briar. Slight essence of sherry gives way to juicy, refreshing wild berries on the nose. This continues on the palate with undertone of pure bing cherry. Notes of blackberry, red and black currant are tart and wild sweet. Spicy herbaceousness is present, with ubersoft, smooth mouthfeel and tannins that offer an ultimately dry finish. I love this style wine and found it absolutely delightful, with much finesse, even restraint. After some breathing time, depth and sensuality. One could also imagine enjoying it with a slight chill on, in warmer sunnier climes.

    The fruit is from 5-15 year old vines. It is fermented in stainless steel with indigenous yeasts, undergoes malolactic fermentation, then aged for three months with 70% in tank and 30% in used barrels which originally held the Uranos [Thymiopoulos' upscale] wine. The color is a light ruby with a garnet rim. There is a well-done, scented nose with floral and cinnamon-like aromas along with a sweet undertone. In the mouth there is light to medium bodied red fruit, some weight, and fresh acidity. The flavors follow the nose, with a cooler climate aspect, and a tart finish with pleasing tannins.

    The 2nd vintage of the single vineyard that has been bottled it is the younger sibling of the Uranos offering from the same winery that is only made from 15+ year old vines. Bright, brooding red cherries up front with fresh acidity and spiced cinnamon notes before soft, chalky, minerally tannins (the limestone shines through) take over on a dry, lingering finish. Smooth, pure and focused throughout. While good on its own this one shines with burgers. Perhaps a bit simple at $14 compared to some of its brethren that cost just a few dollars more but certainly an enjoyable wine… Rating: Worth Exploring

    Sourced from the estate's youngest, newly replanted organic vines, this vibrantly fresh, unoaked red offers an unexpected interpretation of the grape. A bit like Greece's answer to the top crus of France's Beaujolais region, the Young Vines is best served with a slight chill, which highlights its bright, wild-berry freshness. The wine's herbal kick, forward fruit and gentle smack of tannins make it the perfect partner for spiced dishes.

    This is only the young vines version, but it gives you an idea of how classy Xinomavro can be as a grape. It's part Nebbiolo, part Pinot Noir, part Nerello Mascalese, but also has a savoury note that is all its own. Scented red fruits, mid weight tannins, a whisper of oak and pine resin. Not many countries can deliver quality like this at just over a tenner.

    [T]his wine has a wonderful purple red colour. Complex, typical bouquet of red small fruits, cherry, blackberry, plum. Full mouth, rounded tannins, balanced acidity. Long and pleasant aftertaste.


  • Katogi-Strofilia Averoff Xinomavro, $14 - $18.
    (Naoussa)
         ($15.54 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Classically earthy on the nose, with a touch of mushroom, it has an elegant demeanor, with a modest mid-palate and very bright acidity around the edges. Purity of fruit is a hallmark here. It has no artifice. Tannins do pop out with air, so don’t hesitate to cellar this as it may well improve a bit with time. With air, this improved notably, fleshing out and showing better texture. It needed to do so, because it was a bit thin and sharp early on. This should make a great food wine, but note that it is not going to be your casual, easy sipper. It should seem like a lot of wine for the price, though, if you like its style (yes, traditional Nebbiolo admirers – I’m speaking to you.)

    [This] wine stood out head and shoulders [in a tasting of vintage 2000 Naoussas] for its colour, freshness, and ripe-tannin tasty structure. . . Tawny ruby. Strawberry scented. Attractive fruited ripe tannins. Earthy spice, succulence. Richer and sweeter than any other wine in this vintage. Keeps evolving in the glass. Focused austere finish. Serious. Worth ageing. The single vineyard character is a revelation.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (November 2012), 90 points

    A clean, mature, ripe and savoury example of xinomavro from Katogi-Strofilia, as is the house style, with earthy, sun-dried tomato, black olive tapenade and leathery fruit – all very inviting and engaging. The palate is mid-weight, firmly structured but not austere, with dusty tannins and crunchy acids, but quite fine length and depth overall. For fans of Italian-style, dusty reds, excellent with grilled proteins.

    Nose of dusty plum, blackberry eucalyptus, spice and slight smoke; ripe and berry-like but not overly fruity. Mouth-filling suppleness; balanced with some astringency on the finish.

    Dark ruby color. Rich craisin, roasted pepper and tomatoes, clay, and spicy gherkin aromas and flavors with a silky, dry-yet-fruity medium-to-full body and a juicy, sour cherry, mint, and peppercorn accented finish with fine tannins. Great flavors and sense of place.

    Deep ruby in colour with a slightly orange rim, a nose of red berries, clove and forest floor; full-bodied with a cedary note and dusty tannins. It reminds me of a Barbaresco. 3½*

    Lifted fruit aromas. Vibrant acidity and firmly structured tannin with fresh redcurrant fruit. Slightly puckering now [2001 vintage in 2005] but could develop well.


  • Boutari Naoussa Xinomavro, $14 - $20.
    (Naoussa)
         ($22.84 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    A pale ruby in the glass, this wine opened up with aromas of raspberry, cherry, plum, licorice, earthy and minerally notes. On the mouthfeel, medium bodied, dry, rustics in the best sense of the word with lively acidity and firm, dusty tannins. Medium length and weight on the finish, bright fruit flavours and a nice tannic grip lingering. For those of you who have never experienced Xinomavro before, this one reminds me of two Italian grapes: Aglianico and especially Nebbiolo. This wine is most interesting and a superb value, strongly recommended to fans of old world wines. It will need a little time to open up (1 hour decant would be a good idea), as recommended by the winery on its label, best serve at 16-18 °C. Final note, this wine was even better the next day, score 89 points.

    The wine had a light ruby color in the glass and and a generous nose of crushed red berries, stewed cherries, rich raspberry and some redcurrant with kind of a leafy, herbal edge. There was kind of a chocolate note in it too, like a chocolate covered dried cherry. The texture was a little thin and the wine had a very high acidity and very grippy tannins. I've seen a lot of comparisons between Xinomavro and Pinot Noir, but I definitely agree more with Konstantinos Lazarakis (in his The Wines of Greece) in that I think the more appropriate comparison is with Nebbiolo based wines from the Piedmont. This wine demands food (think meats and pretty much anything you'd serve with a Barolo) and has the structure to age for awhile yet.

    The color is an amber-orange on top of brick red. It’s not deep, but rather interesting. It has a really nice peppery, floral smell. The anticipation is killing me. The flavor is dry and sharp. It’s still quite light though. No one note overpowers. I taste a lot of herbs, mostly thyme. There are also notes of tobacco, maybe chocolate. The finish is long and consistent. To be honest, it smelled better than it tasted. Still, I really liked. The smell, however, had my expectations soaring. . . As far as the value, I paid $18.49. For something a little different from the reds I’m used to, I think it was money well spent. It can be found in the $15 range. That would be a great value. Rating: 86

    Color: The wine tends to be a little brown around the edges regardless of age, but this one is 5 years old so it was a deeper brown/garnet. Smell: Strong licorice/ouzo smell (yes, I was thinking of other Greek things I know), the wine had the same alcohol burn in my nose as the Greek spirit does. I also smelled like black cherry, dark bitter chocolate, dirt, herbs, prunes and a little bit goat-y or like tangy goat-cheese. Taste: I hated my first sip but loved my third. This is a wine that you may have to sip a few times to appreciate. It tasted like licorice, dark chocolate, and earth. Nary a fruit to be tasted, but lots of texture in form of strong mouth drying tannin and a big alcohol burn down the hatch. That said, I’d say the wine is more light to medium in texture, and it was pretty balanced. . . Unique and interesting, I liked that I hated it at first and then wanted more when the bottle was gone. . . If you get this, make sure that you’re ready to invest a little time in sipping it. It’s not immediately gratifying but if you want to dork out and give it chance, you may change from hater to fan in the span of 30 minutes…not a bad experiment!

    This integrated red from Greece’s premium red wine country offers all of the hallmarks of the variety but is still pleasing to the international palate. Aromas of tobacco, anise, cherry and smoke lead, followed by spicy but balanced flavors of coffee, smoke, dark berries and pepper. Can age but good to drink now. Pair with heartier dishes. 88 points

    This is a red wine is made from 100% Xinomavro, and appears as a pale garnet color in the glass. It is clean with developing characteristics of sweet spice, earth and leather. It is dry with a higher acidity, high tannins and a medium body. The palate is similar to the nose, but with more complexity: leather, spice, red fruit and tobacco. This is a good wine with potential to age. I think it would be best suited to enjoy with food though.

    Typical, classic wine of Naoussa. Deep red colour with an intense personality. It produces a rich bouquet of ripe red fruit, blackberry and plum, together with sun-dried tomato and the aromas derived from ageing, cinnamon and wood. A rich body, good balance and structure, soft tannins in its finish.

    [It] is traditional in style offering flavors of tomato, herbs and cedar with good acidity and firm tannins.

    A terrific bargain and a really excellent rendition of Xinomavro, this shows medium body and lots of nice little aromatic nuances, with sufficient stuffing to get even better with age.


  • Siatista Winery Dio Fili Dry Xinomavro, $17 - $19.
    (Macedonia)

    Some quotations and facts:

    This comes from a region about an hour southwest of Naoussa that had fallen off the wine map until Yannis Boutari (of Kir Yianni) lent a hand to his two friends (dio fili), Georgia Gkoutziamani and John Polyzou; they produced their first vintage in 2007. It's intensely cherried, sour and bright, with tobacco scents and mastika spice that leave it feeling cool and fresh. While the tannins are serious, the supple fruit washes over them, leaving the length of the wine the main evidence that they exist. 91 points.

    This red wine struck me as soft and subtle, and it was dry with potent tannins. It was listed as a wine that could age for several years. Some other tasters thought they'd prefer to let this wine age before opening another bottle. I liked it as-is.

    Grown at 3,116 feet, the Xinomavro is intensely cherried, sour and bright, with tobacco scents and mastika spice that leave it feeling cool and fresh. While the tannins are serious, the supple fruit washes over them, culminating in one of the most exciting reds we've tasted from Greece.

    Tannic yet juicy and deeply fruity.


  • Vaeni Xinomavro Grande Reserve Naoussa, $17 - $26.
    (Naoussa; the "big brother" of the standard bottling listed farther above.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    [D]elivers a compelling mingling of tomato, cherry, and tobacco aromas and a lean, slightly green, exotically complex flavor.

    The [Vaeni co-op Naoussa & Grande Reserve] wines are great introductions to Xinomavro, the Naoussa 2007 offers high quality at very affordable prices; the Grande Reserve 2000 highlights the tremendous ageing potential of the variety. It was actually decided [in 2012] to bring in the 2000 vintage instead of the 2004, as the latter could still benefit from more bottle age. These Xinomavros are elegant and pure, leaning towards the more traditional style that is fashioned from this variety, with fine spices and a distinctive earthiness.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (2009), 89 points

    I made sure to decant the wine for about an hour prior to serving. 12.8% alc./vol. Medium, transparent weathered-sumac/aged-garnet colour; strong formation of legs with swirling. Aromatically reticent at first but then opening up to reveal redcurrants, leather, wood and a bit of sumac. On the palate, it's all about structure, and very much in the style of a light Barolo - Vintages was spot-on. Properly dry and austere, requiring food. The moderate alcohol level is much appreciated at the table, and the wine is exemplary with roast beef and the mushroom sauce that was prepared to go with it. I think that the oxygenation achieved via decanting did help to flesh out the tannins and open up a more velvety dimension/texture on the palate, which was felt right into the finish. The finish was a tad terse, but all in all this is a very non-internationalized wine - and I greatly enjoyed it because of this. This style is all about restraint and austerity - qualities that are not appreciated by today's "mass palates", if you will. I am a believer in "drink what you like", but I will say that I feel that more table wines should retain this style instead of the vanilla-cough-syrup model that is all but inescapable in many table wines today.

    A minerally, mature-tasting red, with well-balanced dried fruit flavors of cherry, berry and plum. There's a clean finish of smoke and spice, with hints of orange peel.

    Violet, cigar box and smoke mark the nose of this distinctive Xinomavro. On the plate, spice, sweet cedar and clove give it a rustic but refined feel. Pair with aged cheeses or meat dishes for extra appeal. 85 points.

    A very pale colored wine with a cherry red hue, the aromas are straightforward showing sweet cherries, raspberries, black olives, cedar, undergrowth, and spices. The flavors are not overly complex yet they show great concentration revealing sour red fruits, intense mouth puckering acidity with a short woody and herbal finish. 88 points

    This had a light rose colour, transparent but was more full bodied on the acidic and mouth coating tannic palate. A nose of exotic spices with cranberry and some anise and strawberries. Very impressive for the price. Not a blockbuster but a well made wine that could age a couple more years. Interesting discovery for 14$Cdn. I'll definitely buy some more. 90 points.)

    An unusually soft Naoussa, this is plush and gentle with sweet tea and spiced cherry flavors, a loamy richness underneath.

    Shows quite a bit of oxidation on the nose, and plum color, with some movement toward browning at the edges. On the palate, quite tasty – a good blend of of oak, exotic spice, red fruit, leather, tobacco. Shows some age but still plenty lively and showing some tannin, and with these elements in an Old World oxidative style, this reminds of a traditional Rioja or a nebbiolo with some age. Perhaps my favorite red from this Greek tasting, and a terrific value at under $20. Impressions confirmed in a second taste from a bottle I purchased subsequently. 90-91+ points


  • Boutari Grande Reserve Naoussa Xinomavro, $18 - $29.
    (Naoussa)

    Some quotations and facts:

    The Boutari Grande Reserve Naoussa is barrel aged for two years (minimum), and then bottle aged for an additional two years (minimum), though Boutari says they age theirs longer. I had a chance to try their 2000 Grande Reserve [in 2012], and after the first taste it could have easily aged another 5-7 years and was filled with dried red fruit and chocolate with spice and dried tomato notes.

    [It] begins with a really enticing, delightful aroma of ripe blackberry, leather, cinnamon, vanilla and spice. Just a wonderful bouquet. The wine tastes smooth and succulent with mild but firm tannins and has great balance between fruit and oak. It gets even better as it has time to breathe. The delicious juicy fruit turns tart on the medium-long, dry finish and leaves you with some lingering olive notes. This is an extremely drinkable wine with great intensity of flavor -- really delicious stuff. I'm a fan of Xinomavro.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (date unknown), 90 points

    The 2004 Grande Reserve has powerful aromatics, a touch of funk and a touch of game, plus more intensity than the ’06 regular . . . Focused, complex and earthy, despite the time in oak, this is quite elegant in the mid-palate, has a crisp, somewhat astringent finish and develops slowly but beautifully in the glass. I think it will fulfill the promise I see. It is not for those who want smooth and sexy—at least not yet. It should hold very well, although it is quite approachable now.

    A typically savoury, earthy, sundried tomato, leather, dried red berry/cherry fruit and herbal/licorice-scented xinomavro from arch-traditional producer Boutari. The palate is juicy, dry, and mouth-watering, like old style Brunello or Barolo, and a terrific value as such. Lingering finish. 89 points

    Boutari is one of Greece’s older wineries, and their Grande Reserve Naoussa is one of their first and best known wines. It was also the first red wine from Greece to introduce the designation of limited and controlled production. Greece’s "Grande Reserve" designation may only be granted to wines that are barrel aged for two years (minimum), and then also bottle aged for an additional two years (minimum). This is 100% Xinomavro ("sour black"), a tannic and rustically gutsy grape oft likened to Nebbiolo, here sweetly softened by barrel. Fairly full bodied and structured, though worn gracefully with age. Mature notes of dried fig, cherry, cinnamon, cured meats and crushed rose petal. Lively finesse and a lingering finish in this Grecian beauty.

    Intricate, detailed aromas from ripe fruit, restrained oak and bottle aging make an exceptional wine, with a soft texture and a wonderfully symmetrical finish.

    Brilliant ruby, light orange rim. Wholesome aromas of bacon, dried tomatoes, dried plum/prune and mediterranean herbs. Expressive flavors, typically Xinomavro, of tannins and acidity. Characteristic, soft bitterness of black olive and ripe dark fruit. Not everybodies friend, but once you got acqainted, you will surely stick!

    Greece has apparently been making wine for 6500 years (according to the ultimate authority, Wikipedia), so by now, I'm thinking, that should have given them enough time to figure out what's good and what sucks, so this wine ought to be utterly fantastic, kick-ass, towering-home-run amazing, right? Well guess what, and to be honest, I was surprised by this, ...it is!! Think fine Barolo at a third of the price. At $16.95 [Canadan] this wine leaves me speechless. Medium intensity brick red colour, dusty dried berries, lingering smooth tannins, totally harmonious, absolutely gorgeous medium-bodied dry red wine. Never heard of the varietal Xinomavro before, but now that I have, believe me, i won't forget it any time soon. I suspect these wines are of limited production and mostly locally consumed, resulting in the rest of us usually missing out. Summary: Greece uses its 6500 years wisely to produce one big fat greek value. Score 92. Score with value factored in: 99.


  • Alpha Estate Hedgehog Vineyard Xinomavro, $19 - $33.
    (Amyndaio)

    Some quotations and facts:

    This adds a few octaves to the usually delicate character of xinomavro grown in Amyndeon's sandy soils, the flavors ranging from deeply fruity and darkly truffled into higher registers of roses and herbs. The acidity keeps it lively and fresh, making this a xinomavro you could open tonight with lamb chops, or age for another few years.

    Color: garnet red with color fading to pink/orange at the rim (it was purple in it’s youth… it’s now five years old). Smell: The nose on this wine is unique. It’s not loud yet full of fruit and earth. Fruity aromas of raspberry, black cherry, and blackberry mingle with dried flowers. This is balanced by leather, dried herbs, pepper, and dusty soil. The wine spends nine months in French oak casks that shows up as subtle vanilla and clove. Taste: The taste is also subtle and matches the flavors found in the nose, but the fruit is more restrained. It has a medium/large body, strong acidity, and balanced tannins slightly lower than the acidity. Finesse: A lot going on and none of it overpowering the others. This is a five-year old example so it shows that the wine can age. I don’t know if the wine would be fruitier or more tannic in it’s youth, so I would love to try a current release and find out! Who will love this wine: People who appreciate subtlety and don’t want a fruit bomb. This is an excellent food wine: it’s fun to smell but subtle in the mouth, has plenty of mouth-watering acidity, and has enough tannin to complement a wide range of dinners. Fans of Nebbiolo from Piedmont, Italy’s Barolo or Barbaresco regions will make quick friends with this acidic red.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (February 2013), 90 points

    The 2009 Xinomavro Hedgehog Vineyard is from a high-altitude site (690 meters), aged in French oak for 12 months and held back for another 12 months in bottle before release. If the Axia Syrah-Xinomavro is not the big bargain point in this lineup, this relatively new bottling surely is. I was not quite expecting the power – it actually seems more intense than the 2008. Earthy, bright and gripping, with both acidity and tannin on the finish, this has a charmingly rustic feel to it at a very fine price point. Like many of Alpha's wines, it will need a food matchup. It isn't a sweet, sip-on-its-own type of wine. But there is a lot of STUFF going on here for this rather modest price range. I loved its earthy complexity.

    [The winemaker's] best wines are complex and surprising. Alpha Estate Hedgehog Vineyard Xinomavro 2009 has a tangy, smoked orange peel top note on top of the precise red plum fruit you expect from his winery. The tannins give it good umami, and there's a mushroomy low note on the finish that comes in unexpectedly, demanding another sip to taste it happen again.

    Filled with baking spice, pepper and leather notes with blackberry this is a wine that will continue to soften as it ages, but is also delicious right when it is released.

    This deep colored wine exhibits aromas and flavors of dark-purple stone fruit and black cherries alongside brown spice, woodsy tones, subtle hints of graphite, and notes of vanilla and black pepper. The wine fills the mouth but is not overly weighty on the palate. Its ripe fruit flavors are balanced by good acidity with a round texture and mildly grippy tannins that persist through to a medium-long finish. This is an overall pleasant and moderately complex wine that can easily saddle up to the full and rich flavors of grilled red meats.

    Firm and savory, featuring dried raspberry and plum tart flavors, supported by powerful acidity. Long and well-spiced on the finish, with some ferrous and iodine notes.

    An unusual variety, native to Greece, with a lean, slightly acidic style and raspberry-like fruit. It's clean and bright with a medium red/brick colour, and an earthy, dusty aroma that builds red fruit as it airs. The firm tannin grip makes it seem a touch hollow but it's an elegant, lean, medium-weight wine of real charm.

    On the nose the wines shows pleasant aromas of dried cherries, strawberries and raisins. The palate brings a little more of a wild edge, with funky notes of fennel and leather lacing the plump black cherry fruit. Medium bodied, this is the perfect match for grilled lamb and a hearty greek salad. Style; Spicy, Earthy, Funky

    The nose on this red starts with a slightly medicinal cherry cola nose, and a touch of smoked meat. On the palate, cherry, red berry and cigarbox flavors are carried by a lively acidity. Fresh and balanced. 86 points


For a Splurge

Clearly, this needs to be a Naoussa. Curiously, the market dynamics are such (wines still largely unknown to the world, and not "internationalized") that really good specimens can be had for not much over our arbitrary $20 limit for the main lists. One that seems much recommended is Kir-Yianni Estate Ramnista, generally retailing for from $20 - $30. As is so often the case with splurge wines, you need to take care about the vintage year: this is not a wine best drunk in its youth; either be prepared to cellar it for some years, or to pay extra for the retailer's having done that for you (in early 2014, a 2000 bottle costs double the top price of a 2009).



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