This Time Last Year – Part 18: Wine Roads of Northern Greece

Part of a series of posts that cover my travel to Greece and the USA in April/May 2016.

May 4 2016 – Thessaloniki

I am very excited because today I am going to immerse myself in the appreciation of Greek wine. Sissy and Marian, the good ladies at Grapefool have arranged for Alexandra Anthidou from the Wine Roads of Northern Greece, to take me under her wing for the day.  I have an early breakfast and Alexandra picks me up from the hotel. We are driving 90 kilometres west to Naoussa, one of the oldest wine regions of Greece. ‘And also the peach tree capital of the world,’ laughs Alexandra. Well, Greece maybe. The first two visits will be here in Naoussa at Vaeni and Kir Yiannni. The  third visit, Alpha Estate, is an outlier another 75 kilometres further away. The posts summarises the day without detailed tasting notes – they will come later.

Xinomavro is the hero grape of Naoussa and I get my first taste this trip at Vaeni, the biggest wine-making co-operative in Northern Greece with about 225 members representing 50% of the region’s Xinomavro wine production. Their wines go to 28 countries including Australia and maybe now even New Zealand. They have a modern winemaking facility and Wine Roads followers are welcome. The recently renovated underground cellars are a highlight – apart from the wine tasting of course.

An introduction to Xinomavro at the Naoussa winery, Vaeni

If you see the Vaeni Co-op using the slogan, “Let the wines speak to you” I’m telling you it came from me.

Xinomavro is THE grape of Naoussa

Xino means acid and mavro means black. These traditional dry reds are tannic with bright acidity and a profound depth of berry flavours.

Sue, George & Alexandra with a gift of wine

It was an absorbing visit with a wealth of information. But we had to leave and our host for the visit, George Spanellis, presents us each with a vinous gift.

About 10 kilometres away the Kir Yianni Estate is on a completely different scale. It is beautiful entering the area. We drive along an oak-lined road fringed with wildflowers and rose bushes into the vineyard past wonderful gnarly, twisted old vine trunks with stories to tell and arrive at the winery which overlooks the plains below. We are about 300 metres above sea level.

Annouincing Kir Yianni

Kir Yianni was founded in 1997 by Stellios Boutari who left the famous Boutari Wine Group, established by his great-grandfather in 1879, to go out on his own. He took over the vineyard planted in the late 1960s by father, Yianni. “Buying land showed commitment to the area and my father showed other growers there is a way to make money out of grapes,” he says. Today the vineyard produces xinomavro, merlot and syrah. White grapes are grown much further west near Amyndeon

Kir Yianni Stelios Boutari with the original family label

The tasting deck offers incredible view over the vineyards and surrounding hills.

A few of the Kir Yianni wines

It’s about an 1.5 hour drive to Alpha Estate in Amyndeon where next to Alpha Estate’s vineyards is Kir Yianni’s white wine estate. This is very much the far north of Greece, not far from the Republic of Macedonia’s border, not to be confused with the Greek Macedonia region we are in. I was recently reading The Gods were Neutral by Robert Crisp, a British Tank Battalion commander in 1941. They were stationed for a time in this area and he describes the countryside and the good and the bad that happened. New Zealand solders, as far as I now, didn’t venture as far north as here.

Announcing Alpha Estate

We jump in a 4WD for a magnificent tour of the estate. It’s a beautifully scenic location overlooking Lake Petron. I am reminded of NZ’s Rippon Estate.

The beautiful Alpha Estate overlooking the Lake Petron

Then it’s back to the winery for the wine tasting of all wine tastings, including estate grown sauvignon blanc would you believe!

Just a few Alpha Estate wines to taste

Alexandra has posted her pics to the Wine Roads of Northern Greece Facebook page – click here.

Sue and Alexandra at the Alpha Estate door

We dine in the nearby village of Sklithro at Thomas Restaurant. Fabulous five star modern Greek food. Course after course arrives at the table, one of my favourites the fried Florinela cheese (the unique cheese of the Florina region) with red pepper marmalade. Click for an overview and mouth-watering food photos on the restaurant’s Trip advisor page.

It is a long drive back to Thessaloniki. I have the GPS on my phone and Alexandra concentrates on the road. We arrive back at the hotel well after the witching hour. I sleep well and contented. It was the most fabulous day.

Here’s a map I made to give some idea of the kilometres we covered today.

The route from Thessaloniki to the Northern Greece wineries of Vaeni, Kir Yianni and Alpha Estate and on to Sklithro where we had dinner at Thomas Restaurant before the very long drive home.



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