Nautilus – aged underwater by Ktima Foivos
This year, there have been many requests for more Greek wine reviews. Perhaps their time to break cover has finally (and rightly) come. So here’s a Greek white wine called Nautilus, made on the beautiful island of Kefalonia by Ktima Foivos. The grape varieties in this blend are organic and biodynamic, native to Kefalonia and from old and ungrafted vines.
All those credentials certainly tick my boxes. And there’s more besides – the newly bottled wine ages in freshwater tanks at the winery – an intriguing idea that’s no fad or marketing gimmick.
None of this would mean much if the resultant wine was dull. However, suffice it to say here that it’s extraordinary and illustrates the ambition of Greek winegrowers. So much so that it’s a contender for my annual Wine of The Year Award. And if you’re thinking expensive, it’s in the UK at a value price!
Kefalonia (or Cephalonia) is the largest of the seven Ionian islands off the west coast of Greece (the others being Corfu, Paxos, Antipaxos, Lefkada, Ithaca and Zakynthos). Some claim that it was the home of Odysseus in Ancient Greek Mythology. Certainly, its strategic position in the Mediterranean meant that the Romans, the Ottomans, the Venetians, the French, and the British subsequently ruled it. All left their mark, but there is a clear Italian influence in vinous terms, meaning Kefalonia arguably makes many of the best Ionian wines. These days, it’s part of the Greek State and is a well-known and much-loved tourist destination. However, there’s a sizeable wine production from 750 hectares of vineyards.
The climate is mild and maritime, which makes the Ionian islands far greener than those in the Aegean. Soils vary widely across the island, but on the slopes of Mount Aenos are based on limestone. Meanwhile, many individual holdings are tiny, typically having low-yielding bush vines. Hence there are cooperatives as well as private wineries. Perhaps most amazingly, Kefalonia has many native white and red varieties often found nowhere else. All this offers a vinous heritage of great potential.
The old Matzavino winery on the west side of Kefalonia was probably the oldest on the island. In 1999, it was bought by Theodorus Orkopoulos, and the transformation became Ktima Foivos. There are 24 hectares of vineyards, with access to 40 ha more from local grower contracts.
A clear wine philosophy is now well established here – organic and Biodynamic farming, focusing on terroir and rescuing rare varieties from oblivion. There is also much winemaking experimentation, notably with co-fermenting grapes, fermentations in Amphorae and underwater ageing. Indeed, there always seems to be a new cuvêe added to an ever-changing vast roster of wines. Foivos even makes a blend comprising 42 rare Kefalonian varieties! Hence Foivos has become an exciting source of Greek wines.
Experiments with underwater ageing started here in 2015 using the sea. If not exactly a commonplace practice, this process has gained ground. It’s usually used for sparkling wines, where the pressure, constant darkness and constant temperature improve the quality of the bubbles, aromas and texture. For example, Veuve Clicquot and Leclerc Briant have done it with Champagne. In Greece, Gaia of Santorini has been trying it. However, it’s expensive as well as a cumbersome process.
Orkopoulos, therefore, turned to mature wines under fresh water using the thick-walled cement tanks already in the winery. This was much easier and cheaper. Furthermore, this was for still wines – the advantages here seem to be to prevent the oxidation that some of the island’s varieties are prone to. Hence the process retains freshness, aromas and colour intensity that would otherwise be lost.
Ktima Foivos, Nautilus, Slopes of Aenos PGI, Kefalonia, Greece,2021. 12.5%
Nautilus is, therefore, aptly named. It’s a blend of 30% Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains, 30% Moschatella (only found in Kefalonia and, despite the name, not a type of Muscat), 20% Tsaousi and 20% Vostilidi. The ungrafted vines are over 80 years old, as Phylloxera only appeared on the island in the 1980s. It’s designated as a PGI Slopes of Aenos. This appellation is on the drier eastern side of Kefalonia, governing white, red and rosé wines and frizzante-style whites in dry to sweet styles.
Only free-run juice (always the best) from the grapes is used. The press wine goes to make lesser wines in the Foivos range. Fermentation uses Amphorae. After a month on the lees, the components are blended and bottled. They then undergo the underwater maturation process for around six months.
Nautilus is a pale yellow with greenish flecks. It’s aromatic, a little grapey, but mixed with green fruits and herbs. On the palate, the acidity shows as bone-dry mouth-watering freshness, in perfect tension with the fruit and alcohol and yet with a silken texture. Lime, citrus pith and dried pears appear before the gradual fade showing a saline/iodine minerality. As for ageing further, I suspect it would age gracefully. However, given how much effort has gone into ensuring freshness and aroma, I advise giving it a moderate chill and enjoying it now while young and vibrant.
Food and availability
As for food (and keeping to an underwater theme), I imagine fried Calamari would be a terrific match, and Scallops certainly are. Nautilus is also good with English asparagus or a green salad.
This wine is available in the UK. Try All About Wine, retail priced at £12.99. No, that’s not a typo.
I found this wine truly compelling, both in theory and in practice. I can’t say with absolute certainty that underwater ageing makes better wine as I have not been able to compare this wine with the same wine “aged conventionally”. However, There’s no reason for scepticism when the sheer quality and value offered make Nautilus irresistible in the glass.