Alpha Estate Hedgehog Vineyard Xinomavro 2007

This is a new one on me. Xinomavro is a Greek grape and this is
Posted 21st November 2011        

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This is a new one on me.

Xinomavro is a Greek grape and this is grown in the hedgehog-friendly surrounds of a vineyard in Alpha Estate in Amyndeon in the formerly Macedonian (and in no way Yugoslavic) area of northern Greece.

Confession time: I’ve always studiously avoided Greek wine because I was pretty confident it would be rubbish. You rarely see it in the major wine outlets at all, and when you do it’s often in dodgy looking super-cheap bottles of wine that have “cooking …” written all over the labels in everything but plain English.

More fool me, this was an excellent bottle of wine.

Confession number two: I drank this without knowing what it was. My other half had kindly bought me a bottle as a gift and I fancied trying my luck at a blind tasting, to see if my experience of red wine tasting over the last few years had amounted to much. In my defence, I’ve never tried Xinomavro before, but in my attack – if that’s even a phrase – I coudln’t have been further from the truth with my woefully distant guess at a New Zealand Pinot Noir.

I guessed with such conviction, too! I was so sure I was at least part right, if not completely right. But I was a fool: and I was hasty.

The lovely rustic farmyard aromas of wet vegetation, cowpats and hedgerow fruits had me hooked immediately, and the full-flavoured black cherry with hints of tart redcurrants that came through in the mouth only backed up my initial hunch. Sure, it was a bit dark – but that didn’t preclude it from being a Pinot Noir from Kiwi-land, or even South America, where a good Pinot can be almost as dark and as alcoholic as any given Merlot, but with a much fuller and more rounded flavour, of course.

It was the tannins that really threw me – or rather they would have had I been paying sufficient attention, because the skin-rich bitterness on the gums and underside of the tongue should have had me swaying toward a guess with less conviction at the least, or at the most perhaps something like the Chilean Sangiovese I had around my birthday in June, or even a full-bodied northern Italian affair like a Barolo. Maybe even a northern Spanish Garnacha, perhaps mixed with something to give it a bit of oomph. Either way, the hints at Pinot Noir ought to have been kicked into touch by the weighty tannic quality in the finish. But by that point I was already on another mouthful, and another, and another, and another…

Obviously, I’d never have guessed it was Greek, or that it began with an X – but it was a humbling and enlightening experience. Much more fun than being right, and a nice surprise to find a wine from a land hitherto unexplored (by me) that showed such promise for further exploration.

Interesting to note that professional comparisons (at least according to that Wikipedia page) vary as wildly as comparing the grape to other wines from as disparate locations as Bordeaux, Burgundy and Barolo! Of course, I’d have to try many more to be sure, but that seems to suggest the wine has a character all of its own. Perish the thought, I know.

This lovely and surprising Greek red was bought from an independent wine shop in Shaftesbury, which I assume must be Shaftesbury Wines.

I don’t know how much it was, because it was a gift, but I’d guess around £16.99. Then again, I was so far wrong on my guess about the grape and country of origin that it could be anything from £5 to £100 and I wouldn’t be too surprised.

Seek it out and give it a go. It’s sure to surprise you at least, and probably to impress you as well.

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Meet the Author:
Alexander Velky
Alexander grew up on Anglesey, almost as far away from civilization as he’d have liked. He studied English at university and subsequently moved to Prague to teach it to Czech people for just long enough that he could say he’d done that. He then returned to the UK to do an MA in Professional Writing, and later moved to London by accident and worked in the music industry for a while. His interest in wine has been developing throughout. He took the WSET Intermediate exam, for which he was rewarded with a certificate and a pin badge, but he probably won't bother doing any more. He now lives in Pembrokeshire with his wife and daughter. He writes, and drinks, for a living. You can follow him on Twitter if that's how you choose to spend your time. Photograph by Léonie Keeble