Naoussa masterclass: getting to grips with Xinomavro, one of Greece’s top grape varieties

Buyer Matthew Horsley hosted this Wine Society online tasting. They’ve just launched their first ever Greek offer, and these wines were included in it.

Naoussa is 60 km of west Thessaloniki, and it is both a town and a PDO. It is home to Xinomavro, which is the only permitted variety in this PDO. This appellation is in the foothills of the mountains.

‘It is a diva of the grape growing world,’ Matthew says. It can yield highly, and this needs to be controlled. It is susceptible to botrytis and powdery mildew. It has low anthocyanins so makes lighter-coloured red wines, but with firm tannins and high acidity. The best are aromatic and ageworthy.

It’s common to liken Xinomavro to Nebbiolo, and I think this is a good comparison. Baga and Aglianico also fall into this sort of territory. Wines that aren’t dark in colour (often quite light) but with firm tannins.

‘This is where some of the world’s most underappreciated wines are made,’ says Matthew.

Limestone and clay soils predominate, but there are variations.

[These wines were tasted from small sample bottles.]

Thymiopoulos Earth and Sky 2018 Naoussa, Greece
Apostolos Thymiopoulos first made this wine (his first) in 2005. 70% from Trilofous (150-250 m) and 30% Fytia (450-650 m), 40% whole bunch, 40 day maceration (a long post-ferment maceration), 18 months in used 500 litre barrels. 14% alcohol. Mid-red in colour, with a bright hue. This is fresh, juicy and youthful with bright, sweet cherry and berry fruits. Has a lovely supple red fruit core, with nicely managed tannins and acidity. There’s a bit of grip here but there’s a purity and finesse to the fruit. Lovely freshness. 93/100 (£22 The Wine Society)

Markovitis Xinomavro 2015 Naoussa, Greece
12.5% alcohol. A small winery founded as Chateau Pegasus in 1980. Based in Pola Nera in the north of the region. Just one wine made here. Pale red with a bright hue. 18 days fermentation in stainless steel, then malolactic in steel and ageing for 14 months in steel, then finishing off in Hungarian oak for a year. This is intensely backward and savoury with fresh strawberry and raspberry notes, as well as grippy tannins, with some earthy notes and a touch of spice. Slightly dusty tannins, and firm and primary, with a long future ahead of it. Fine, expressive, really structured and quite elegant. Needs a lot of time. 94/100 (£20 The Wine Society)

Kir-Yianni Ranmnista Xinomavro 2017 Naoussa, Greece
14.5% alcohol. Founded by Yannis Boutaris, and now run by his son. From Ramnista, with vines at 280-330 m. This comes from 42 separate blocks. Matured in a mix of French and American oak for 16 months. This is ripe and sweet with plum and berry fruits, with some warmth on the palate. There’s also some spicy oak in the mix. Generous with some sweet fruit and spice adding appeal – made in a ripe, drinkable style with softer tannins and a bit of alcoholic warmth. Well made in a modern style. 89/100 (£14.95 The Wine Society)

Ktima Foundi Xinomavro 2016 Naoussa, Greece
13% alcohol. From Ramnista, this is a very traditional style. 25 days maceraton then 12 months in French oak (40% new), then aged 30 months in bottle before release. Savoury, spicy, slightly earthy nose with some red fruit and dried herbs, as well as a touch of pot pourri. Really tannic and grippy on the palate with a drying finish, but also some nice cherry and berry fruit. It’s a serious wine with hints of strawberry and dried tomato, finishing savoury, with a spicy flourish. This is really lovely: not an easy wine, but a brilliant one, with lots of personality. Should age well. 94/100 (£14.95 The Wine Society)

Domaine Karydas Xinomavro 2016 Naoussa, Greece
13.5% alcohol. This is a traditionally made Naoussa. It’s from the upper Gastra subdistrict, and they have just 2.6 hectares of vines. North-facing vineyard on chalky clay soils, 40 year old vines. 2 years in French oak, 40% new. Quite deep colour. Sweetly aromatic with some spice and herbs on the nose, as well as dried tomato. The palate is dense and tannic, with high acidity. Robust, spicy, earthy tomato, strawberry and cherry fruit. There’s a slight chocolatey edge, and some notes of iron and earth. There’s some sweetness to the fruit, but also quite a bit of structure. Finishes sweet. 90/100 (£16 The Wine Society)

Dalamára Xinomavro 2018 Naoussa, Greece
13.5% alcohol. Founded in 1840, this domaine has been a fixture in the region since then. Destemmed, stainless steel ferment and ageing. Matthew thinks this is Greece’s top wine, but my sample is slightly corked. Trying to taste through this, it’s expressive and quite elegant with strawberry, dried tomato, some sweet fruit, and a balance between the sweet fruit and the dried herb and spice savoury notes. I can’t rate it, but without the cork taint this could be very interesting. (£20 The Wine Society)

The Wine Society Greek Offer