Of Terroirs and Wine.
Sometimes plans change and that can be a good thing. We missed a ferry from Agiokampos, Evia to Glyfa. We had to cancel a planned stop at a distillery – I am seeking good tsipouro. Anyone? We were also planning a visit to the village of Sotirio. We had plans to meet George Kitos. We had to cancel that too as we had some miles to cover that day. But as luck turned out we were able to manage some time on our way back from Naoussa.
Recognize this that Greece has many well defined appellations. These PGIs and PDOs are not perfect by any measure and I think understanding Greek terroir is still in it’s infancy – not just for the consumers or the connoisseurs but also for the winemakers themselves. The notion of what grapes can be grown in which region or should be grown, is challenged quite a bit. Assyrtiko has taken root outside of the Cyclades and finding new expressions in different places. Malagouzia is another example and we had some killer Malagouzias all over Greece. Xinomavro will be pushed out of it’s comfort zones. But nowhere, in our visit at least, was this anarchy more evident than in the vineyards of George Kitos.
George is an agronomist and cultivates mostly pistachios in the village of Sotirio. Sotirio reminded me of a California farming town – no frills, crops everywhere. But here we saw storks perched on church steeples and the vineyards of George surrounded in the distance by hills where warriors once went to fight the Trojan War. Like some of those folks in that particular epic who didn’t do exactly what they were supposed to, George pushes against theory. He likes Cabernet. So, he grows Cabernet. He likes Tempranillo. So, he grows Tempranillo. He likes Syrah. So, he grows Syrah. He likes Mencia. So…yes you are catching the drift here. Then there is Malbec and Xinomavro and Touriga Nacional. He is growing pretty much what he likes to drink. Yes, he likes red wines.
Just because you can, does it mean you should? I don’t know. Ask George Kitos. Better yet, taste his wines which we did one scorching hot afternoon in a farming village 10 miles from Larissa. We sat under the shelter of his front porch where the breeze blew right among us. Ntina Tsakatoura, George’s amazing wife made all this food. We tasted several wines with it and they were all well made.
Now remember, a Malbec from Sotirio is not going to be like a Malbec from Argentina or Cahors or even Nemea where they are growing the black grape. So, this is a different expression – a good different expression. Traveling in Greece, we are lucky to be offered viewpoints on winemaking as much as we are offered wines. One school of thought says that Greece should only focus on the richness of it’s indigenous grapes. And boy is it rich – at least 300 indigenous grapes. Another maintains that Greece should show what it can do with international varities such as Cabernet, Chardonnay etc. Maybe both schools are right. Both schools prove their side of the argument with great wines. Surely, this is a good problem to have and we all win! Then you have someone like George Kitos – as square a peg you can have in the most round hole! But it fits and works. This was one grand lunch and we were having way too much fun eating and talking that I did not take any notes – only memories and photographs. We tasted some amazing wines with some amazing people.
Greek wines are pretty much out of the shadows. Here in the USA, we still have some ways to go to recognize the bounty of Greek wines. Education and tasting is the key. Hence blogs like these, right? When in the near future words like Assyrtiko and Xinomavro and Agiorgitiko will fall off our lips as effortlessly as you can drink them, the wines of George Kitos will also make their mark. It will renew the debate about terroir and provenance and indigenous versus international. But what a problem to have, right?