Yiannis Tselepos is one of the great pioneers of winemaking in Greece. He received a degree in oenology from the University of Dijon in 1979 and went on to work for several wineries in Burgundy. In 1989, he established the Domaine Tselepos in Arcadia (Peleponnese) as a high quality boutique winery. The first varieties planted were Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Tselepos Estate, a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot, was released for the first time in 1994.
Since the 2000 vintage, single varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot joined the Tselepos Estate. The Cabernet Sauvignon was named Avlotopi, after the plot of land where the finest Cabernet grapes grow at an altitude of 760 metres (2500 feet). Kokkinomilos is a vineyard with a similar altitude that lends its name to the Merlot wine.
Other grape varieties grown at his Arcadia based estate are Moschofilero, Chardonnay, and Gewürtztraminer (Tselepos was the first grower in all of Greece to work with this variety).
In 2003, Yiannis established the Driopi winery in Nemea in a joint venture with two partners, whom he has since bought out. One of the best Agiorgitiko vineyards was purchased and the first crush took place in the same year.
Yesterday yet another remarkable tasting event took place as part of the HESTIA Vertical Tasting Series developed and organised by Konstantinos Lazarakis MW and the WSPC team. Yiannis and Konstantinos presented 11 vintages: Six Tselepos Estate wines covering “the early years” of 1994 through to 1999, and 5 Avlotopi wines covering the first half decade of the new millennium (apart from the poor 2002 vintage, in which none of the top wines was produced. Yiannis recalled that it had rained for 38 continuous days). Following are my tasting notes, please note that nearly all wines were medium bodied, so I chose not to add this to every single description:
Avlotopi 2005, 13.5% alcohol: Deep black cherry colour with purple tinges. Initially a little closed on the nose, aromas of dark fruit, sweet and ripe blackcurrant. It is rich in elegance and very expressive of blackberry. The tannins are sweet and soft, yet show some bite, the acidity matches nicely. The finish is solid, a very graceful wine. 17+/20
Avlotopi 2004, 14% alcohol: Very dark, bordering on black with a purple rim. Very different aromas, tealeaves, herbaceous, forest fruit and cigar box. The tannins are more pronounced, the acidity is needed here. The fruit is somewhat masked by the herbaceous character, the wine finishes long. 16/20
Avlotopi 2003, 14% alcohol: Similar in colour to the 2005, deep blackberry with blue tinges. Yet again remarkably different on the nose, this is dominated by coffee beans, espresso and dark chocolate. The tannins have grip, the acidity works well. There is a lot of blackberry fruit on the palate, the finish is long and strong. It is the most masculine of the first flight and will last for many years to come. 17/20
My favourite was the 2005, which was the least favourite with the participants who preferred the 2003.
Avlotopi 2001, 14% alcohol: Deep black cherry colour, rim has a hint of maturity. This has a classical Cabernet Sauvignon nose of blackcurrant, violets, chocolate, and cigar box. The same notes are present on the palate, it has a smoky finish. I am missing the light freshness of the prior wines, it seems to dry out a little. 16/20
Avlotopi 2000, 13.5% alcohol: A little deeper coloured than the 2001, it still has purple tinges on the rim. There are aromas of sweet berries, some tealeaves and mocha. This is great on the palate: fresh and mouth-filling, sweet soft tannins, a lively acidity, explosive fruit with great length. This is an extremely balanced and multilayered wine, a real gem. 18/20
Yiannis Tselepos stated that the above 2 vintages are his personal favourites, two successive years in a row where the growing conditions were perfect.
Estate 1999, 13% alcohol: A noticeable change in colour to the single varietal wines, less dense and lighter. This has a medium red cherry colour with some maturity on the rim. The nose seems more fragile compared to the Avlotopi, it exhibits tealeaves, truffle, and forest aromas. The palate has much more power though, with bags of red ripe fruit, jammy. The tannins are well integrated, but still work, the acidity is very good, the finish delivers. It is a very elegant wine. 17/20
Estate 1998, 12.5% alcohol: Medium red cherry colour, less mature than the 1999. It shows aromas of red berries, and raspberry, combined with some herbaceous notes. This is soft bodied, yet with explosive fruit that dominates the mid-palate. It is fresh, with very good acidity levels. A very harmonious wine with a beautiful finish. 17+/20
Estate 1997, 12.5% alcohol: This has the deepest colour of this flight, leaning towards blackberry, without any noticeable maturity. The nose reminds me of the 2004 Avlotopi, this is also herbaceous, with a wet earth component and lots of eucalyptus. It is quite complex on the palate, very dense, it has more bite than both 1998 and 1999. There is a fistful of tannins in here, but the acidity matches, a very solid finish. 17+/20
A very consistent flight of wines!
Estate 1996, 12.5% alcohol: Medium red cherry colour, some maturity. It is very similar to the 1997 on the nose, again a marked herbaceous sensation (eucalyptus), also mushroom and truffle. Extracted sweet red berries on the palate, well integrated soft tannins, good acidity. The finish starts to fade away though. 16+/20
Estate 1995, 12.5% alcohol: Bright, medium deep red cherry colour with mature rim. This is also dominated by mushroom and truffle aromas. The palate is marked by explosive forest fruit, followed by dark chocolate. The style is elegant, with soft tannins, great acidity and a long finish that brings back the forest fruit. Beautiful to drink now, might be right at its peak. 17/20
Estate 1994, 12.5% alcohol: Medium deep garnet colour with orange tinges. The nose is odd – barnyard and candy, some fruit lingering underneath. The palate is better, herbaceous, tealeaves, red fruit, it finishes well. Yet the balance is missing here, a bit of a funky example. The vines were just 4 years old at the time of the harvest. 15/20
Yiannis Tselepos and the participants voted for the 1996, followed by 1995 as their favourite wine in this flight. The overall favourite of the night, by a clear margin, was the 2000 Avlotopi.
Yiannis is an extremely talented winemaker, and a master of careful oak integration. It is hard to believe that all Avlotopi wines receive a 12-month treatment in new oak. There were many fascinating discussions and insights yesterday night, amongst them the complexity of barrels.
He started working with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot because he and other Greek winemakers had a “complex” about French varieties after their education in France. Today, he would plant Greek varieties instead. Still, the wines shown yesterday were mightily impressive, only trumped by the passion of their maker.