If you ask Greeks for the name of the one winemaker they most adore and respect, the answer will very likely be “Vangelis Gerovassiliou“. He is admired by wine lovers and, maybe even more telling, by fellow winemakers. After his studies he specialised in Oenology, Viticulture, Wine Degustation and Technology at the University of Bordeaux, where he worked together with Emile Peynaud.
Vangelis worked for many years as an oenologist at Chateau Carras, where he revived the long forgotten Malagousia varietal. During his time there, he produced some of the most renowned wines in Greece. In 1981, he created Domaine Gerovassiliou and 20 years later he co-founded the Biblia Chora Estate. In his latest venture, together with 2 friends, he formed Escapade Winery at Stellenbosch, South Africa. These are quite a few achievements indeed!
The stunning HESTIA Vertical Tasting Series organised by Konstantinos Lazarakis MW and the team at WSPC would have been incomplete without securing a decade of wines from Gerovassiliou. The event took place last week, showcased was the “Ερυθρος”, a red blend of 85% Syrah, 10% Merlot and 5% Grenache. Vangelis decided to not simply show the last 10 vintages, he went back a whole decade in time and presented the vintages 1992 through 2001, most from large format bottles.
Vangelis was very engaging throughout the evening, two issues raised are still on my mind: There was a huge change in style for the three “youngest” wines, deeper coloured, higher in alcohol, and altogether much bigger wines. When asked about this, Vangelis shrugged his shoulders and replied that he was only human. The wine critics were demanding bigger wines, and he gave in to their demands. He then used four words: “It was a mistake”. I believe this is one of the reasons he is held in such high regards – he is humble, human, and downright honest.
The second matter concerns the motivation behind the move to create the Excapade winery in South Africa. Vangelis views this as a sideway to introduce his Greek wines to consumers. In his view, South Africa has become a major player in the export markets, and wine consumers are very open towards their wines. He gave a compelling example: At a recent tradeshow in Germany, he operated three trade fair stands. Biblia Chora was placed in the Greek, Gerovassiliou in the German, and Escapades in the South African section of the exhibition. Biblia Chora poured 40 samples (out of which 30 were tasted by Greeks), Gerovassiliou poured 140, and Escapades 350 samples. It will be very interesting to watch if Vangelis can succeed in receiving more interest from abroad for his Greek wines by making himself a name with Escapades.
My notes on the wines:
Ερυθρος 1992, Magnum, 12.5% alcohol: The vines were just 4 years old at this point in time. Medium red cherry colour with a nicely mature rim. Aromas of sweet prunes, cherries and red fruit. Great palate: medium bodied, ripe cherries, the acidity keeps this wine lively, it has a soft tannin structure. The finish is long and smooth with a lingering aftertaste. 17/20
Ερυθρος 1993, Magnum, 12.5% alcohol: 1993 was a very hot year. The wine is very similar coloured, just a touch deeper. But the nose is very different, spicy and smoky, with black berry aromas, also herbs and tealeaves. Medium bodied on the palate with explosive blackcurrant, soft and integrated tannin structure and a great acidity. Really strong finish with a long aftertaste. The acidity here is addictive. 18/20
Ερυθρος 1994, Magnum, 12.5% alcohol: Lighter coloured, a shiny raspberry, the rim lightens up and shows some orange tinges. This is less spicy, aromas of dark forest fruits, truffles, coffee and hints of toffee. This is again medium bodied, with a great extraction of the fruit. It has soft tannins, coupled with high acidity, lots of finesse. Very long with aftertaste of blackcurrants, the acidity dominates once more – pure elegance. 17+/20
Ερυθρος 1995, Magnum, 12.5% alcohol: A touch deeper coloured, bright raspberry with orange tinges. A different nose, red berries mixed with mushroom, forest floor. Medium bodied on the palate, smoky, red fruit, the soft tannins are once again paired with a marked acidity. It has a descent length, but fades away on the finish. 16/20
Ερυθρος 1996, Magnum, 12.5% alcohol: 1996 was another hot year. Deep black cherry colour, no maturity on the rim. This has a remarkably different colour to all the wines before. It exhibits sweet aromas of stewed prunes, black berries, also some truffles, very forthcoming. A bit fuller-bodied, the tannins are much more pronounced, the acidity is very good. A lot of fruit extraction, solid throughout with a strong mid-palate and a great finish, very long. The dark fruit and stewed prunes keep coming back. According to Vangelis, the darker colour and more pronounced tannins were simply the result of the age of the vines, now 8 years old. 18+/20
Ερυθρος 1997, Double Magnum, 12.5% alcohol: 1997 was a very successful vintage. Another deep black cherry colour, some raspberry tinges. This is again very spicy on the nose, also herbs, truffles, and black berries. Medium to full-bodied, noticeable presence of tannins, acidity good, but not as pronounced as in the 1996. The spicy character is there on the palate, quite mouth-coating, solid finish and length. 17/20
Ερυθρος 1998, Magnum, 12.5% alcohol: Medium deep red cherry with some maturity on the rim. Different nose, sweet and almost jam-like flavours, dark berries, spicy. Medium bodied, noticeable tannins, bit lower acidity again, lots of dark berries, but a bit “hot”. This does not seem quite as balanced, but certainly has more muscles. It finishes well, but is somewhat different in style. 16/20
Ερυθρος 1999, normal format, 13.5% alcohol: Deep ink, by far the deepest colour, some purple and blue tinges. Lots of blackcurrant aromas, also blue berries, multiple fruit layers. Great palate, extract of blue berries, good tannin structure and a matching acidity, some spiciness on the finish with a great length. It seems so young – there is no rush in drinking this. 18/20
Ερυθρος 2000, normal format, 13% alcohol: Deep purple colour. This is spicy on the nose, also wild herbs, black berries, and lots of black pepper. Full-bodied with a fistful of tannins, acidity could be a hair higher. This has a very dense structure, and the spiciness shows on the palate. Has a solid finish with good length. 17/20
Ερυθρος 2001, normal format, 13% alcohol: Again a very inky colour, nearly opaque. Spicy aromas, truffles and blackcurrant. Full bodied with a lively acidity, lots of fruit and spices, quite an animal. Blackcurrant is present throughout the finish, very good length. This is very masculine in style, it will keep for quite some time. 17+/20
The wines all showed very well, and it was an experience to see the evolution of style. The first 7 vintages were marked by pure and refined finesse, the last 3 were much more bold. In general, I prefer finesse over boldness anytime, but I felt that Vangelis had not gone too far with the change in style. These last three wines are more than a decade old, yet came across much younger. My personal favourite of the night was the 1996, which had all the elegance, yet benefitted from some extra bite.