Xinomavro – Celebrating International Xinomavro Day
Xinomavro is a Greek red grape variety that deserves celebration, and what better time than the annual International Xinomavro Day on 1 November. As a contribution, this article features a terrific example. Would you please welcome Jeunes Vignes from Thymiopoulos Vineyards? It’s an “entry-level” wine that offers remarkable quality and value, the perfect introduction.
Xinomavro means “acid black” and often draws comparisons with Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir. However, it’s unrelated to either, but it is Greece’s pre-eminent red grape. While it grows throughout Greece, it’s the dominant variety in the northern Macedonia region.
Xinomavro is a late ripener, growing best on infertile soils. This grape has high acidity, plenty of tannins, and scented aromatics to make wine in various styles. Hence they can be dry or sweet, red or rosé, and even sparkling. It’s also a good blending partner with other Greek or International varieties. However, perhaps the most outstanding trait is its ability to make age-worthy and elegant wines. Young wines primarily show red berry fruits, while older examples trade that for savoury umami flavours like olive and sun-dried tomato.
Some of the most outstanding dry Xinomavro wines come from the PDO Náoussa in Macedonia in northern Greece. It’s the sole variety grown in this appellation, and the wines must always be 100% Xinomavro. The vineyards occupy the protected southeastern slopes of Mount Vermio at a wide range of altitudes. This wild area has a continental climate, various aspects, gradients, and soils, with winds blowing from Mount Vermio and the Mediterranean.
Náoussa (also spelt Naousa) isn’t far from Pella, the ancient town and birthplace of Alexander The Great. A wine-lover, perhaps he drank Xinomavro to celebrate his many conquests. Regardless, Xinomavro is rightly at the forefront of the current Greek wine renaissance and rapidly gaining popularity in the UK. So if you haven’t yet tried it, now’s the time.
Apostolos Thymiopoulos is not just a star in Greek winemaking; he has international acclaim. His family has been growing Xinomavro in PDO Náoussa for generations but sold the grapes off to local wineries. After studying oenology in Athens, Apostolos started winemaking and bottling. His first wine was released in 2005, called Ghi Kai Uranos (Earth and Sky) 2003, still made today.
The winery owns two contrasting vineyards called Fytia and Trilofos, farmed using certified organic and biodynamic methods. Therefore, sustainability and biodiversity are essential wine-growing components.
Trilofos is in the southern PDO Náoussa. At an altitude of 100-220 metres and with limestone soils, it produces riper, more tannic and denser wines. At 400-650 metres, Fytia is colder, with considerable diurnal temperature swings and has lighter soils derived from schist and granite.
Thymiopolous only grows Xinomavro and makes ten different versions, including two rosés. In addition, it also has a brand called Atma. Each wine is an authentic expression of terroir; hence vinification and maturation techniques vary accordingly. However, any French oak is usually large inert barrels, avoiding distorting the wines with oak flavours or extra tannins.
Jeunes Vignes Xinomavro, PDO Náoussa, Greece. 2019, 13%
Jeunes Vignes (young vines) is from the Fytia and Trilofos vineyards, blending their altitudes and soil types. The grapes are hand-picked during September – October. They are then 75% destemmed to reduce stalky green tannins. After 12-15 days of maceration, the grapes slowly ferment with wild yeast in stainless steel tanks for three months. Maturation no longer sees any wood, as the wine now ages in concrete tanks for eight months.
The idea is to capture the vibrancy typical of young vines (instead of the complexity of old vines in cuvées such as Earth and Sky). However, since this wine has been available for several vintages, I’m unsure how “young” these vines now are. Perhaps there’s been newer planting, so I digress.
No matter. What you get is a deep coloured Xinomavro that’s bright and zingy yet elegant and complex. The aromatics combine rose petals with red berries and Mediterranean herbs. There’s a precise alcoholic sweet spot, with a precision balance between that and the crisp acidity, fruit and tannins. While there’s enough tannin for keeping, it’s not obtrusive. Fruit is in the raspberry and cranberry spectrum before tomato-like umami flavours lead to a long dry finish.
In short, this is a glorious, exuberant and elegant wine and a perfect introduction to the grape. Brilliant and exciting drinking now; it’ll age nicely over 3-4 years as well.
This wine is pretty widely available in the UK. Try The Wine Society, £11.50
You could drink this red wine on its own, and even with a slight chill in summer. However, it excels with food, anytime. Classic Greek cuisine is the natural recommendation, especially those dishes employing lamb; Kleftiko, Kofta, and Moussaka. Vegetarians should try stuffed vine leaves or peppers and anything with aubergines. However, this red will match many cuisines and is quite at home with Lasagne or a Sunday Lunch.
This Xinomavro will appeal to those wine lovers hooked on Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir. Meanwhile, newbies should start here. If you get smitten, then other superb examples are legion. Thymiopoulos has its entire range, while other Náoussa wineries to seek out include Barba Yannis, Boutari, Hatzidakis, Kir-Yianni, and Tsantali. After that, there are more regions, wineries and blends to explore.
So for International Xinomavro Day, try this wine out. You’ll soon go back for more!
Trilofos, 59 100
Ps: fancy a Greek white blended wine featuring Xinomavro vinified as a white wine? Thymiopoulos has one; see Atma White here.