After years of never giving the wines from Greece the light of day, we have finally been humbled by the nation's incredible history and quality, discovering one of the most impressive wines we have tried this year. We tasted about ten wines yesterday from some of the best producers curated by Michael Pavlidis, who is solely responsible for bringing Greece's wines to the USA's west coast and has even taught Greek wine seminars at UC Davis. While places like France and Italy are considered old-world, Greece would be the ancient world and is sometimes called the Jurassic Park of vines because many of the vines here do not die. Some vines planted on volcanic soils are over 900 years old that are still producing wines in Greece. These wines have uncanny similarities to areas like Barolo, and in this case, Right Bank Bordeaux, and are some of the best wines we have tasted for the money.
Mikri Kivotos is a family company started in 1993 by Panikos Lantidis in the area of Neama in the northeastern part of the Peloponnese. It is here where Hercules is said to have defeated the Namean Lion and was also where the Namean games were held. However, it was soils and climate, not the history, that drove the Lantidis family to cultivate vines in the area, with its excellent exposure, warm days, chilly nights, and ancient soils. Panikos was born in Cyprus and, in the 70s, moved to France to study Oenology before eventually getting his diploma and working in Bordeaux for two years. With his sights on Nemea, he planted the indigenous varietals Agiorgitiko, Moschofilero, Assyrtiko, and Malagouzia as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay. The indigenous varietals here are what steals the show, and the Little Ark is the only wine in Greece that is a 50-50 blend of the two ancient varietals Xinomavro and Agiorgitiko.
Xinomavro, which means 'acid black,' refers to the grape's dark skins and high acidity; it originally came from Macedonia and is the second most popular red grape in Greece. In contrast, Agiorgitiko is a local variety that originated in Neama and has low acidity providing a lot of fruit and complexity in the wines. In essence, the Xinomavro brings the structure, power, and freshness while the Agiorgitiko supplies the complexity and fruit. The vines are planted at 650 meters on calcareous-clay soils producing a wine that is the spitting image of a Right Bank Bordeaux like Pomerol. Aromas of cranberry, cassis, cherry, raspberry, a high toned floral perfume of rose petals, spices, black pepper, plum skin, earth, with a savory sun-dried tomato and molasses note. The palate is fresh, structured, and balanced with a lovely core of fruit that carries some of the savoriness over with excellent length and a mineral-tinged finish. The Little Ark is drinking tremendously and still has plenty of life left, even though it has seven years of age. Do not let the price fool you; this is a great wine, and with no exposure and competition here in the USA, the prices are naturally low but on par with something double if not triple the price. These are varietals that Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and even Alexander the Great would have enjoyed, and to get so much history and quality for this price, we have to give it our nod for the best red wine value discovery this year.