Sun drenched beaches, crystalline seas, hot and dry summers. This is the Greece most people are familiar with. Ski resorts, ragged mountain ranges, alpine climate. This is Greece’s other captivating side.
Greece is one of the most mountainous countries of Europe. Perhaps it should not come as a surprise that it also hosts some high altitude vineyards, which count amongst the highest in Europe.
Elevation affects temperature. For every 100 metres (330 feet) gain in altitude, the temperature drops by 0.6˚C (1.1˚F). The difference between the day and night temperature also increases with higher altitude, as does the sunlight intensity. These factors result in a delayed maturation of the grapes, an elevated natural acidity, intensified aromas, and a higher concentration of total tannins. The resulting wines tend to naturally balance ripeness and freshness. For a detailed analysis of the influence of altitude, I highly recommend reading this article by Jamie Goode.
The following three Greek wines all come from vineyard sites that are located at altitudes around the 1000 metre (3280 feet) mark. Although they are stylistically very different, they do share very fine acidity levels, with both reds having ripe and round tannins.
Skouras Grande Cuvée Nemea 2007, 13.5% alcohol, Nemea, Peloponnese: The fruit for this 100% Agiorgitiko wine comes from 20+ year old vines that grow at an altitude of 950 metres (3120 feet); the soil is mainly red clay. The wine is matured for 12 months in new French barriques, 4 of these on its lees. There are quite forthcoming aromas of cherries and roasted almonds with hints of earthiness. On the palate, it is medium to full bodied and quite densely structured. The acidity is notable, ripe tannins are prominent, but well integrated. The mid palate is dominated by roasted flavours rather than fruit, the spicy finish is long and complex. Personally I feel that the new oak treatment is too visible, it masks the pure Agiorgitiko fruit, adding unnecessary weight that diminishes the elegance. Nevertheless, this is a serious wine that will please those who prefer density over purity.
Katogi Averoff Rossiu di munte Giniets 2007, 13.5% alcohol, Metsovo, Epirus: A 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wine, the grapes are from vines that were planted between 1959 and 1963 at an altitude of 1000 metres (3280 feet) at the slopes of Mount Pindus. The soil composition is made up of sandy clay loam, schist and gravel. The wine is matured for 14 months in 300 L French oak barrels, at least for 2 months on its lees. The open aromas are dominated by black currants, violets and bell peppers and there is also a distinct earthiness. Full bodied on the palate, with dense acidity and round yet gripping tannins. The dark fruit is very persistent and explosive on the mid palate. This is a savoury wine with a solid structure, yet it does not feel heavy. The acidity works beautifully and enhances the ripeness of the fruit. The finish is long and rewardingly bitter, with a strong tobacco sensation.
Tetramythos Miliá 2011, 13.5% alcohol, Achaia, Peleponnese: This is a 100% Sauvignon Blanc wine. The vines were planted in 1999; the organic 0.8 ha single north facing vineyard site is located at an altitude of 1050 metres (3450 feet), the soil type is limestone. Further up is the location of a hugely popular Greek ski resort. One can enjoy the snow, then drive down all the way to the foot of the mountain and go for a swim in the Gulf of Corinth.
The wine is matured for 4 months on its lees in new light and medium toasted French barrels. Some of these barrels have received special treatment like tannin removal. One whiff is enough to bring out aromas of citrus, grapefruit, lychee and a hint of vanilla. The wine is medium bodied, with a strikingly high level of acidity. The texture is on the lighter side, but the liveliness makes up for this. It has intense and concentrated grapefruit flavours that cover the whole palate. The finish is smooth and long. This wine is all about freshness and purity of the fruit. Total acidity is 7.35 g/l, residual sugar 3.4 g/l, and ph 2.98.