by Markus Stolz

A
decade of Tselepos

byMarkus Stolz
October 18, 2011, 14 Comments

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.

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  1. Kostas P.October 18, 2011, 10:41 pm

    Impressive! A vertical of moschofilero would have been interesting too.
    It should be mentioned that the Cabernet-merlot blend is also an amazing value for money, retailing at about 13-14 euros IIRC.
    Also, if I’m not mistaken, Tselepos also makes his own barrels (he has a barrel-making company).

  2. elloinosOctober 18, 2011, 10:57 pm

    Kosta, it was an impressive tasting. The Hestia series is really setting new standards, as with many of the other past events, this was the first time ever that such a vertical was presented. The fee was just 30 Euros – I very much appreciate what Konstantinos is doing there. I fully agree on the Tselepos Estate over-delivering for its price tag.

  3. jasonOctober 19, 2011, 8:19 am

    30 Euros? Oh how I would have loved to join…

  4. elloinosOctober 19, 2011, 8:30 am

    Yes, the primary goal is clearly to educate, not to make a killing.

  5. Yiannis PapadakisOctober 19, 2011, 3:59 pm

    Markus, I hope this posting will not trigger a new debate on whether cabernet sauvignon and merlot should be vinified in a country with a plethora of autochthonous grape varieties like Greece. In any case this discussion has been exhausted the previous time, when it started due to your posting on Manousakis.
    Regarding K.P.’s proposal for a moschofilero vertical, common wisdom has it that this variety has limited aging potential, but a tasting might prove otherwise (though my experience tells me that most moschofileros are best consumed within 2 years from the vintage). Refering to this grape, Tselepos will soon release a slightly oaked version under the label “Blanc de Gris”. Surprisingly, the vintage to be released is the 2009. The appelation will be Arcadia P.G.I. instead of Mantinia P.A.O. I have already tasted it and can assure you that this wine takes the quality potential of this grape to a new level.

  6. elloinosOctober 19, 2011, 4:06 pm

    Yianni, as always I appreciate your valuable contribution. As usual, you added value.

  7. Steve SchranOctober 19, 2011, 5:31 pm

    Not to start a new debate on cabernet sauvignon, but to follow up on previous remarks, in replies to the aforementioned post, our amiable host observed that his preferred Greek cabs were actually those grown at relatively low altitudes. But here we learn that he assigns an average rating across five vintages of about 17/20 to a wine whose grapes are grown at 760m (what should be considered a high altitude vineyard, no?)

    Might we infer then that there are low-lying, 18+ point Greek cabs that he will soon direct us to?

  8. elloinosOctober 19, 2011, 5:45 pm

    Sure Steve, one of my favorite Greek Cabernet Sauvignons comes from Christos Kokkalis. I guess that the vineyards are not more than 100m above sealevel. The last time I “officially” rated it was for the WeinWisser publication in September 2010 where I marked the 2006 vintage 18+.

  9. Kostas P.October 20, 2011, 10:43 pm

    Yanni, believe it or not I had an un-oaked 2006 moschofilero by Tselepos a couple of months ago and, ok, it didn’t have the aromas and freshness that we’re uaed to, but it had developed in a very interesting way. Actually people from the Tselepos estate had encouraged me to try holding it for a few years. I also have oaked 2005, I’ll keep you posted when I’ll open it.

    Markus, I know all about the Hestia tastings, an amazing initiative indeed. Unfortunately, I havent’t had the chance to participate in one yet. Hopefully I’ll do so in the near future.

  10. elloinosOctober 20, 2011, 10:53 pm

    Kosta, please keep us posted on the older Moschofilero vintages, intriguing. As to the Hestia tasting events, they are like an educational journey, not to be missed. Would love to see you there!

  11. Yiannis PapadakisOctober 21, 2011, 5:07 pm

    Steve, I intended to include the remark you made on high vs. low altitude cabernet sauvignon in my previous comment, but I did not because I thought it was already quite extended. Thanks for sharing my thoughts (without knowing).
    Markus, Kokkalis is just one example that should not be generalized. The most important cab sauv region in Greece, at least in terms of potential, is Trifyllia, whose cabernet grapes are grown at high altitudes, close to Mouzaki, Pyrgos and other mountainous villages. Ilia, were Kokkalis’s vinyards are, shares with Tryfyllia a trait that is common to most great cabernet sauvignon producing regions of this world: western exposure to the sea. The Medoc (Bordeaux, France), Bolgheri (Tuscany, Italy), Napa Valley (California, U.S.A.), Coonawara (South Australia) and Valee Central (Chile), all homes of some the most highly praized cabernet sauvignons on Earth, share this trait!
    Steve, despite your intention, you have probably started a debate!

  12. elloinosOctober 21, 2011, 5:24 pm

    Yianni, you make valid points. I do not wish to generalize at all – as Steve stated in his original comment, my favorite Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Greece are grown at low altitudes. This might be a simple coincident, but still, I take note. Nerantzi from Serres would be another great example. I guess that the altitude of his vineyards is actually quite similar to Kokkalis’. And in my view, both growers Cabernet Sauvignons stand out.

  13. George WroblewskiOctober 24, 2011, 6:39 pm

    We have tried to sell Greek wine here in the UK for a number of years but it is very difficult.

  14. elloinosOctober 24, 2011, 6:56 pm

    George, the UK does seem to be the hardest market for Greek wines. But I see some encouraging signs, the press has lately been reporting more on Greek wines, see http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/lifestyle/article-23987386-the-discerning-drinker-greek-wine.do There has also been a notable uptick in coverage of Greek wine in UK based Social Media. I am hopeful that these are the first signs that things might become easier going forward. Maybe you are just ahead of your time :) Thank you for your efforts!