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Details for Gerovassiliou Viognier


CountryGreece
Region
AppellationPGI Epanomi
Grape
Year2016
Producer
Domaine Gerovassiliou
(click to find out more)
ABV14%


Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki is Greece’s second city, and gives its name to the region around it.  Situated in northeastern Greece, this region occupies the base of the Halkidiki peninsula - the three-fingered ‘hand’ reaching southeast into the Aegean sea.
 
Wine has been made here since at least the Byzantine era, but today it is home to just a handful of PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) areas.  Most cluster close to Thessaloniki itself.  The most notable producer here is Ktima Gerovassiliou, in PGI Epanoma.
 
Across on the eastern coast, giant producer Tsantali has a winery in Agios Pavlos, specialising in whites and rosés from local varieties.
 
Although technically not part of Thessaloniki, mention must be made of the PDO Playes Melitona (“Slopes of Meliton”) situated on the middle finger of Halkidiki.  This was created in 1982 specifically to recognise the pioneering Domaine Porto Carras, and was the first in Greece to permit international varieties alongside local ones.
 


Domaine Gerovassiliou

Regarded by many as the best winemaker in Greece, Evangelos “Vangelis” Gerovassiliou was born in 1951 at Epanomi, 25km to the southwest of the city of Thessaloniki in northeast Greece.  After reading agriculture at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, he travelled to France to study wine under the famed Professor Emile Peynaud of Bordeaux University.
 
On his return home in 1976 he became oenologist at Domaine Porto Carras (“Château Carras”), then the foremost winery in Greece.  There he recognised the potential of Malagousia, one of dozens of rare varieties collected and preserved in the estate’s experimental vineyard.
 
In 1981 Vangelis began to revive his family vineyards at Epanomi, planting Malagousia and other native Greek varieties alongside French ones.  A state of the art winery was built in time for the 1986 vintage and the first Ktima Gerovassiliou wines were released three years later.  (Ktima means ‘estate’ or ‘domaine’.)  Subsequent expansion has raised the area under vine from 4.5ha to 62ha and the winery has been enlarged five times.
 
The vineyards lie on sandy, chalky soils filled with sea fossils, and benefit from the cooling effect of the Thermaic Gulf to the north and the Aegean Sea to the west and south.  They are worked and harvested entirely by hand, and cultivated according to Integrated Pest Management, a system that aims to reduce chemical use by encouraging natural predators.
 

about this wine About this wine


Viognier can be something of a Marmite grape.  Its extraordinary perfume of honeysuckle and apricot only develops when the grapes have got really ripe, so the downside can be a flabby, oily and over-alcoholic wine, often with some residual sweetness, whose low acidity makes it tiring to drink and prone to premature oxidation.  New World winemakers typically add acid to compensate but this rarely works: you can still taste the fat and clumsy wine, only now someone has put a squirt of lemon juice in it.
 
I fear my prejudices are showing!  On the other hand, in its homeland of Condrieu on the right bank of the northern Rhône valley, Viognier can be fabulous.  The knockout perfume is there, but it has layers and depth; the wine tastes balanced and fresh; and the finish is dry, minerally and long.  Alas, there is a significant downside: the price.  Condrieu starts at around £25 a bottle and goes up from there.
 
Part of the problem for other producers is that their vines are so young.  Even as late as the mid-Eighties there were only 32 hectares (80 acres) of Viognier in the world, virtually all of them in Condrieu.  The grape’s rise to fame has been meteoric: today there are around 15,000 hectares of Viognier vines worldwide.
 
Some of the oldest outside Condrieu are to be found in an unexpected place: Thessaloniki in Greece, where Vangelis Gerovassiliou planted them in 1993 on his estate at Epanomi.  Vangelis is the man who almost single-handedly saved the Malagousia variety from extinction, and we tasted the wonderful results back in May 2016.  With such a track record of supporting local varieties, I’m inclined to forgive him for growing such an über-trendy international grape as Viognier.  Besides, it wasn’t trendy when he planted it.
 
It’s reliably sunny in Epanomi, which Viognier likes, while the Aegean Sea surrounding the peninsula moderates the temperatures, allowing a long, slow ripening season.  This is vital for great Viognier, allowing it time to develop its perfume without over-ripening.  When Vangelis judges that the perfect moment has arrived, the grapes are hand-picked and taken immediately to his state-of-the-art winery at the centre of the vineyards, where they are chilled down to undergo a few hours of cold maceration (skin contact) after crushing.
 
The juice is then run off and fermented in French oak barrels (85% new, 15% second use) at low temperature (18°C) before being aged on its lees for five months in those same barrels.  Batonnage (lees-stirring) is performed every week to add texture and complexity, while malolactic fermentation is avoided to preserve as much acidity as possible.
 
The wine is then bottled in one of the biggest and heaviest bottles I have ever seen: bigger than most champagne bottles, even.  The label claims “great aging potential” which Viognier, even Condrieu, is not known for.  But this would be the bottle to do it in, with its thick dark glass protecting the wine from light and its sheer bulk absorbing temperature variations.  I only hope our courier doesn’t charge us extra for delivering it.


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