Northern Greece’s Xinomavro: Burgundian Pinot Meets Italian Nebbiolo

Northern Greece’s Xinomavro: Burgundian Pinot Meets Italian Nebbiolo

Posted on Jan, 24. 2015 by

Categories: Wine

It’s no secret that Greek wine is a maze which few of us can truly make sense of. Despite tasting plenty of wines from the place that is largely considered the birthplace of wine, I still stumble through even pronouncing most of the varietals and regions on the bottles. And yet, I’d like to think I know greatness when I see (and taste, and smell) it. To wit: not too many years ago, I was introduced to the red jewel of Macedonia (northern Greece), Xinomavro, and it’s henceforth been my focal point and standard-bearer when it comes to Greek reds.

Part of my affinity comes from its, well, its familiarity. This is not to say that it is necessarily boring or well-worn; instead, it’s that I have reference points for it: Burgundian Pinot Noir and Italian Nebbiolo. It doesn’t hurt that those two grapes from those two regions are amongst my favorites (and, let’s be honest, produce some of the best wines on the planet). When I tried my first great Xino, I kept thinking, I could throw this out as a ringer at any Pinot or Nebbiolo tasting and blow everyone’s mind. So I did, and it did. The best part is that, like most Greek wine, these are relatively undiscovered (for the time being) on the international market and thus remain very reasonably priced relative to the quality in the bottle.

Xinomavro is not an easy grape to grow, nor is it easy to make good wine from its juice. And yet the generous folks in Naousa (Naoussa) still see fit to try, and to make world-class wine for us, and charge but a song for it compared to similar quality in France or Italy. If your yields per hectare are too great, it will produce watery, acidic juice. If you go too far in the other direction, it doesn’t really make it much better (law of diminishing returns). And so you have to strike a perfect balance with your yield, and then be a master in the winery to coax out the intrinsic beauty of this grape. Starting to sound like Pinot or Nebbiolo to anyone?

Okay, Xinomavro lesson is over; let’s get to what you came for. This is not the first time I’ve offered Xinomavro, but it’s been long enough that I’ve been able to actually try some of my old stuff from those early offers, and as expected, it’s aging like its brothers-from-other-mothers in Burgundy and Piemonte. Well, I thought, it’s time. You all need more of this stuff! I tried a few, and actually came up for air with a couple of bottlings from the same producer – one from younger vines for drinking now/soon, and the other from older vines for, well, drinking now or cellaring.

The estate is (don’t worry about pronunciation, I’m sure I’m saying it wrong) Thymiopoulos. Situated in Naousa, they’ve been doing the biodynamic thing for a few generations now, and only use wild yeast (though their wine is not noticeably “funky”). I tasted two of their wines, and both are bottles you absolutely must have if you like great reds:

The first is the Thymiopoulos Xinomavro “Young Vines” 2012
This wine starts with a “wow”: You notice right away that it has depth that no wine at this price has any business with; bright fresh violets and sunbaked rocks give way to savory meat and garrigue spice, with blueberries and cherries coating everything. The palate is just weighty enough to be satisfying, while the finish is wispy and magical like Santenay on a cool night. Perhaps most striking is its composition and balance, which makes me think that despite the price it will age very well for 5 years or more. It’s drinking so well right now, though, you’ll have to hide a few bottles from yourself
Thymiopoulos Xinomavro “Young Vines” 2012
Member Price: [private_member] Grand Cru: $13.19 • Premier Cru: $13.79 [/private_member]
Retail Price: $18.00
Buy Now!

The second is something that should be in your cellar for a decade (or more, if you have the discipline): the Thymiopoulos Xinomavro “Uranos” 2011  Where the Young Vines was more in the realm of Burgundy, this is pure Barolo. Inky, ripe, but still bright and lively. Big red fruit and dried herbs and licorice and wet stones, impressive weight, impeccable balance and electricity. The sheer energy and depth here, coupled with the naturally tannic grippiness, promises a decade or more of improvement in our cellars…and at this price, you can go 6 or 12 deep and not wince when you look at your credit card statement. Pass this up at your own risk – this is a truly amazing, world-class wine, for a fraction of what it should cost.
Thymiopoulos Xinomavro “Uranos” 2011
Member Price: [private_member] Grand Cru: $21.99 • Premier Cru: $22.99 [/private_member]
Retail Price: $30.00
Buy Now!

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