A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Weird Blend Wednesday - Xinomavro, Krassato & Stavroto, Rapsani, Greece

Mytikas Peak, the highest point on Mt. Olympus
When I was a kid, I used to love reading about Greek mythology.  The Gods and their stories were so interesting to me and I used to love to imagine what it must have been like for them on Mt. Olympus.  When I got a little older, I was surprised to learn that there was an actual Mt. Olympus in Greece, as I had always assumed it was just some made up place.  It is the highest mountain in Greece and actually has 52 peaks, the highest of which is called Mytikas (pictured at left).  Mytikas reaches a height of 9,570 feet, which makes it about 1/3 the size of Mount Everest, whose highest point is nearly 30,000 feet tall.  I'm pretty sure they don't grow grapes or make wine around Mt. Everest, but they do around Mt. Olympus, and I'd like to take a look at a wine from this area today.

Mt. Olympus is located on the border between the Greek regions of Thessaly and Macedonia in eastern Greece.  Just to the southeast of Mt. Olympus, there's a region called Rapsani which, perhaps unsurprisingly, surrounds a village called Rapsani which was founded in the late 15th Century (possibly from Greeks heading into the mountains to escape the Ottoman invaders).  Both the wine-growing region and the village of Rapsani are located in the foothills of Mt. Olympus, but not all of the vineyards are at altitude.  There are fertile valley floors from sea level to about 100 meters where the legal harvesting limit of seventy hectolitres per hectare is frequently exceeded.  As you might expect, these vineyards tend to produce the least exciting wines.  From about 100 meters to 200 meters, the soil type changes to loess, which is a dusty, sandy kind of soil.  These vineyards are also fairly high yielding and rarely exciting.  At higher elevations, the soil type changes again to a rocky schist and the cooling effect of the altitude starts to have a more noticeable effect on the acidity in the grapes.  The highest quality wines are made from these higher vineyard sites.

Rapsani is the only region in Thessaly that is authorized to make red wines.  The local regulations state that the red wines of Rapsani must be made from equal parts Xinomavro, Krassato and Stavroto.  We've taken a look at Xinomavro before, so interested readers should check out that post for more information on that grape.  Most Xinomavro in Greece is grown at more northerly latitudes, and Rapsani is one of the southernmost outposts for Xinomavro in Greece.  Stavroto, on the other hand, is typically found a little further south than Rapsani, though still mainly in the region of Thessaly.  In The Wines of Greece, Konstantinos Lazarakis describes Stavroto as "difficult to grow," and remarks that "by the time the grapes have reached 11.5 degrees Baumé it is usually half-rotten."  It is lower in sugar, acidity and color than either Xinomavro or Krassato, and Lazarakis remarks that "it is doubtful whether Stavroto imparts any meaningful elements to Rapsani."  Stavroto is also known as Ampelakiotiko Mavro, or "black from Ambelakia village," which is just southwest of the village of Rapsani, but most authorities, including Miles Lambert-Gócs (in his The Wines of the Greece), believe that Stavroto originated in Euboea, an island off the coast of Thessaly further to the southeast.

Krassato Grapes
Of the three grapes used for Rapsani wines, only Krassato is thought to be native to the region. Lazarakis describes Krassato as "relatively deep in colour...high in sugar and rich in dry extract," though Robinson & Co. temper this description in Wine Grapes by noting that Krassato has only moderate acidity and tannins and thus isn't conducive to extended aging.   Which isn't to say that Rapsani wines don't age well.  Xinomavro is rich enough in acidity and tannins that it contributes good structure to the finished wines even when it only makes up 1/3 of the final blend.  The name Krassato comes from the word krasáto, which means "wine-colored," according to Lambert-Gócs.  Like Stavroto, Krassato is mostly found in and around the area of Rapsani, though there are limited plantings just north and south of the region as well.  Unlike Xinomavro, Stavroto and Krassato are almost never made into varietal wines, since both grapes have flaws that usually need blending to even out.  Further, many of the vineyards of Rapsani have all three vines planted together throughout their vineyards, making varietal wine production especially challenging.

I was able to pick up a bottle of the 2008 Rapsani Chrisohoou from my friends at the Spirited Gourmet for around $17. In the glass the wine was a fairly light purple ruby color (I also have it described as deep lavender in my notes, so pretty much a deep light purple, if that makes any sense).  The nose was fairly intense with aromas of wild strawberry, raspberry, tea leaves, and dusty wood.  On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with medium acidity and light tannins.  There were flavors of stewed strawberry, wild raspberry, tart plum, red cherry, black tea and chocolate.  It was a soft, smooth wine with lots of zippy red fruits balanced by some earthy tea and chocolate notes.  Wines featuring the Xinomavro grape can be lean and austere (particularly in their youth), but the addition of the other two grapes to this blend really rounds out the flavor profile.  It's a great food wine that would pair well with lighter meat dishes in fruit sauce.  It may not be the wine of the Gods, but it's certainly a wine that I think Bacchus would approve of from his perch on nearby Olympus. 

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