In the Spring of 2022 I led three tours to Greece, focusing on the Peloponnese. For those flying in on the first day, I arranged a coach to take us from Athens airport to Napflio, where we stayed, allowing us a photo opportunity at the Corinth Canal.
Napflio is a beautiful port town, popular with Athenians at the weekend, with lovely cafés and restaurants, and a very splendid fortress accessed by 1,000 steps (a few hardy souls managed this!). We mainly stayed at the xx hotel (some extra rooms were needed due to the annual boat show that created an influx of visitors), which was bang in the centre and perfect to stroll out from on our free evenings.
Each tour commenced with a meal, either at the 3Sixty Restaurant or at the Arapakos Restaurant. This established the bounteous nature of Greek cuisine, with its emphasis on fresh, local ingredients, and gave us our first insights into Greek wines.
Our three tours enabled us to explore in detail the three main regions of the Peloponnese. For anyone arriving with preconceptions about Greek wine established in the 60s and 70s, the revelation was that a combination of mountainous terrain and sea breezes creates perfect conditions to make very high quality wines with beautiful acidity, complex flavours and the potential to evolve.
In Mantinia the Moschofilero grape is king. This indigenous variety has pink skins and produces white and rosé wines, dry and sweet.
At the Kalogris winery near the village of Kapsia we were guided by Evangelos and Christina, and their daughters Sandi and Tatiana. This lovely family is passionate about their land, which Evangelos planted grapes on in 1980. Organically run there were swathes of clover and fetches adding to the soil’s natural fertility, and at the traditional family homestead the focus is on ‘slow’ winemaking in the ancient cool cellars. On our first tour the family entertained us to a traditional Easter lunch in the courtyard, a perfect introduction to Greek hospitality.
Nemea is home to the Agiorgitiko grape variety, a deep coloured grape that has dark fruits and smoky notes on the nose and palate, and can be made in a variety of styles from light and fruity to complex, oak matured and even sweet made from sun dried grapes. The region also produces white and red wines made from Greek and international varieties and each of our visits showed what a fantastic range of wines is being made.
Paintings depicting Hercules slaying the lion (whose blood the Agiorgitiko grape’s juice is said to symbolise) and Saint George, after whom the grape is named, were at the modern Constantin Gofas winery, but the highlight of this visit was the walk through the vineyards to an idyllic shady glade beside a stream followed by a tasting under the trees. Their wines ranged from light whites through extremely high quality reds including the Vasilio Grande Reserve 2015), and a Vin de Zemnes sweet wine, that had spent 5 years in barrel and 5 years in bottle and was a perfect match for chocolate.
Kiriakos Koroniotis’s winery, just inside the Nemea PDO, was originally an olive grove. Returning from a career in chemical engineering and agricultural studies in Holland, Kiriakos used his knowledge to set up a vineyard and winery. He sources grapes from across the Peloponnese, and his ‘Argus’ Syrah, made form grapes grown at 1,000m near Patras was stunning. He and his wife, Georgia, served us their wines along with local breads and cheeses among the laboratory equipment in their winery.
The Palivos estate is a family owned winery. They put great focus on the nuances of terroir, with grapes from the higher altitude vineyard producing wine of greater concentration and structure. Our tasting in the barrel cellar confirmed the diversity and quality of wine, and their flagship Nohma which is a blend of Cabernet and Merlot and Agiorgitiko was a terrific wine with great ageing potential. One of their vineyards is shown at the top of this report.
The Semeli estate is probably the most famous in Nemea, high in the mountains, its modern winery overlooks the Nemea valley to the south and the gulf of Corinth to the north. Here we explored the developing terroir focus of Greek wines, with wines made from the Koutsi sub region, including a 2003 vintage of their Grande Reserve – lovely dried fruit, forest floor flavours and a silky smooth mouthfeel. This was the venue for one of our lunches – another five course extravaganza that required some sleeping off during the coach return journey!
Patras, overlooking the gulf of Corinth, is home to the Mavrodaphne grape variety, which for centuries has been made into sweet red wine.
Tetramythos is one of Greece’s most prestigious wineries, and our visit showed why. The splendid modern winery was rebuilt after a fire in 2007, and there are amazing views across the mountains to the gulf. Vineyards are on steep slopes at altitudes between 650-1,000m, many north facing which helps to keep the vines cool. The white grape Roditis is often used in retsina across Greece, and we enjoyed a modern version of retsina, made with just 1kg of pine resin per 1,000 litres of wine – adding a hint of pine to its complexity and making not a few converts to this much maligned wine style. Their ‘pure’ Roditis was a lovely delicate wine, with blossom and green apple flavours, while the Black of Kalvryta, a nearly extinct black grape variety making a comeback was fresh, fruity with grippy tannins. Their Mavrodaphne (which we enjoyed with a sour cherry compote finishing our fabulous lunch), was glorious – naturally high in alcohol though not fortified, with medium sweetness and a combination of Christmas cake and blackcurrant jam flavours.
The tours ended with our customary final night dinner, at the 3Sixty or Arapakos. On each of the three tours we celebrated the wonderful people we had met, the incredible quality of the wines we had tasted and the beauty and relaxed ambience of our surroundings. Most of us vowed to return!
For some of us a postscript visit was to Attica, which is next door to Athens airport. On one of our trips our connecting return flight was in the evening so we were able to visit the Nikolou family in their traditional winery (also their home) in Koropi. Vassilis, Rania and son Evangelos made us so welcome, and told us their family story which started in 1875 when the newly independent state granted land and permission to make wine. Vassilis lectures in oenology, and is very focussed on white wines made from the Savatiao grape. Across Greece this is used to make Retsina, but when yields are controlled and wine making is accomplished, it makes superb wines. Read more about this visit here.
What my clients said about this tour
“I am still basking in recollections of that wonderful trip to the Peloponnese. Any tour would have been good after two years of lockdown, but this was one of the best, with all the hallmarks of Tim Syrad Wine Tours that keep us coming back for more. As ever, all of the visits had something unique to offer, some fresh insight, something to to take away and ponder. What a tour!” – Richard W Warwick
“Thank you so much for yet another brilliant wine tour. We really had no idea what to expect from Greece. What a revelation! It was so exciting to discover completely new grapes and to meet such enthusiastic, hospitable winemakers – and in such stunning surroundings. And we had a brilliant extra few days in lovely Napflio”. – Beryl and Edmund, Chiswick