Wine Tastings & Tours

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Thursday, 3 October 2013

Girl Power - Claudia Papayanni

Ok, she's not exactly a girl, but a fully grown lady, and a very elegant and attractive one at that, but as Claudia Papayanni frequently refers to herself as the little girl Claudia in a Greek wine scene dominated by men, she'll forgive the Wine Anarchist for talking about 'Girl Power'. 

In early August the WA was on a brief sojourn to Greece visiting a friend in the Chalkidiki region of north-eastern Greece.  The region is mostly known for the beaches of the 3 finger-like peninsulas and the reclusive monks of Mount Athos.  The Wine Anarchist asked his friend and Master of Wine, Konstantinos Lazarakis MW, if he knew of any wineries worth visiting whilst in the area, which how the WA came to arrange a visit to this very new winery, Domaine Claudia Papayanni, situated in the town of Arnea on the inland part of the Chalkidiki region, away from the beaches and up in the hills.

Claudia is proud of the fact that she is the only self-made female wine producer in Greece, having started up the vineyards and winery from scratch without the direct help of her family, not coming from a wine-making family.  The few other women in Greece in charge of wineries either inherited their places from a father or got involved through a husband.  Claudia on the other hand was bored with life in the hotel business, her husband being an ambassador, she clearly didn't have to work at all and instead could have concentrated on a cosy domestic life with her 2 young children.  But instead she decided to return back to what she calls her roots, the land around Arnea, where her father had hailed from.

In 2003 she set out with an ambitious project, to plant 20 hectares of vines on what was previously agricultural land planted with grains such as wheat and corn and build a 3,300 m2 high tech winery.  "So you mean, there weren't any vineyards at all before you started?  What on earth possessed you to start such a risky business on untried territory?" the Wine Anarchist asked incredulously.  "Well," she answered, "there has been historical evidence of wine produced in the village before and we had the soil tested extensively to make sure it was suitable for growing quality grapes.  Also," she added: "I had a vision and bags of enthusiasm!"  Well, who can argue with that?

Not knowing anything about making wine, she surrounded herself by people who did and asked advice left right and centre.  What followed was years of literally blood, sweat and especially tears.  But her vision and her... you could probably call it stubbornness carried her through.  Her vision was to make the best possible wine from the territory available, make it organically and present it to the world, so that people actually want to buy it.  And the last point is her particular strong side, from presenting herself to the public to opening the winery to the public and making it an attractive place to visit and the modern and sleek labeling of the wines themselves.

The cellars for example are made to look like an old cave, but bear in mind this place is only 10 years old!  So what looks like an old mould covered wall on arched pillows, is actually concrete with spray over foam.  Claudia is frank about it, "it's only for show", but it does give the place a certain ambience.

Currently there are some 110 barriques, 80% of them French from 10 different coopers, to test which brings the best results, and 20% American oak of a medium toast.

But it's not all just on the surface.  Her attention to detail shows throughout, from the state of the art bottling line to fermentation vessels specially designed to ferment the indigenous Greek grape variety of Xinomavro.  The conic shape of this tank allows for the separation of the grape pips from the rest of the mash to avoid green tannins to taint the finished wine.

Currently 130,000 bottles per year are produced, but the winery has a capacity for up to 1 million bottles a year.  The actual first vintage was in 2007.

The vineyards are on 2 different plots: one just outside the winery in Arnea at an altitude of 650m asl and one at a lower altitude (250m asl) in Malthousa.  The soils are rich and contain a fair portion of clay.  Below are the vineyards in Arnea:

Finally it was time to taste some wines.  There are 10 different labels produced, 4 white, 4 red and 2 rosé in 4 different ranges.  There is the entry level 'Ex-Arnon' range, the 'CP' range, 2 wines named after her children Alexandra and Nikolas and at the top the 'Domaine' range. 

Here are the Wine Anarchists notes:

Ex-Arnon White 2012:  Made from Assyrtiko and Sauvignon Blanc (80/20), this is a fresh, lively and aromatic offering with aromas of fresh hay and some delicate yellow fruit; the palate is nicely balanced with well integrated acidity and nice fruit.  This would do nicely on a hot summer's afternoon on it's own or with some shellfish.

CP Viognier Assyrtiko 2012: The nose on this classy wine was distinctly minerally interlaced with some delicate peach fruit; on the palate a racy acidity was in evidence as well as a big mouth-feel.  The intense minerality was carrying through to a long finish.  Great wine!

Alexandra Malagousia 2012: The Malagousia grape variety was on the brink of extinction before Domaine Carras revived it.  Now Claudia Papayanni has taken up the banner and is producing something rather special with it.  On the nose there are some delicate apricot and mango notes; the palate is quite full with good balancing acidity and a juicy long finish with some slightly spicy notes.  It would have been a great loss to the world had this variety not been revived and it will be a source of great pride for young Alexandra to have this wine named after her.  The Wine Anarchist is seeing a classic being born here.

Domaine White 2011: 50% Chardonnay, 25% Assyrtiko, 25% Malagousia, the Chardonnay part being fermented and aged for 4 months in barrique.  This was possibly the WA's least favourite wine with the Chardonnay and soft, creamy and butterscotch characters from the oak dominating both nose and palate, however it managed to retain a certain elegance and finished long.

Domaine Rosé 2011: A blend of Grenache and Syrah (80/20), this wine displayed a medium salmon colour and some signs of CO2 and a nose of creamy wild strawberries; on the palate a medium body was supported by oodles of fresh fruit and a lively acidity.  The finish was long, dry and warm with hints of rose petals. 

Ex-Arnon Rosé 2012: A blend of Xinomavro and Grenache (80/20), this made in a medium dry style.  The colour is a glorious rose-petal pink; the nose displays strawberry and cherry fruit; on the palate the slight sweetness is perfectly balanced by some refined acidity.  The WA was pleasantly surprised as he at first declined to taste a sweet rosé.  Another great summer wine for on the terrace with a bowl of summer fruit.

Ex-Arnon Red 2009: A blend of Xinomavro and Syrah (80/20), this is quite a light and easy-drinking red with pleasant redcurrant and raspberry fruit.  Not hugely complex, but very pleasant indeed.

CP Red 2008: A blend of Xinomavro, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah (50/30/20), this is quite a full-bodied wine with aromas of blackberries, water paint and chocolate; the palate had a good structure and backbone with juicy herbal notes and some blackcurrant fruit.  It may just start to dry out a little and should probably be drunk fairly soon, but still a good wine

Nikolas Merlot 2009: This wine has matured 8 months in barrique.  The nose was rich with lots of fresh plum fruit; whilst the palate is soft and rounded with a touch of spice and plenty of easy fruit, finishing long.  Very pleasant indeed.

Domaine Red 2008: A blend of Syrah, Merlot and Xinomavro (40/40/20), this is a serious red.  The nose displays a complex balsamic bouquet of eucalyptus, black pepper, redcurrants and blackberries; the palate is backed by a tight tannic structure balanced by rich and full spicy fruit flavours, finishing long with some more herbal notes.  This wine still has some future development ahead.

So in conclusion, the Wine Anarchist was very impressed by the quality of the wines from so young a winery and as the vines get older, future offerings should get even better.  So thank you Claudia for taking us on a tour and all the tears and struggles were well worth it.

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