Elegant Greek Wine Tasting with Poolside Lunch at Ktima Kokotos Winery

(Oct. 2019) We arrived at Ktima Kokotos Winery two hours before lunch, and immediately after our tour of an ancient Savatiano Vineyard nearby. Kokotos winery was established in the 1970’s by George Kokotos and his family. Located in the area of Stamata, the winery is less than an hour’s drive north of Athens.

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Pool at Ktima Kokotos Winery in Greece

Nestled amongst rolling hills at an altitude of 450 meters, the winery boasts seven hectares of organically farmed Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. An impressive feature of the estate is the large blue swimming pool situated on wide expanses of emerald green lawn. We were pleased to realize that we would be taking lunch poolside, as the staff was busy setting up round tables and a Greek barbecue grill. As it was a warm sunny day with a temperature hovering around 25 C, this was a very welcome sight.

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Walk-Around tasting at Kokotos Winery, Greece

To the right of the pool was a large indoor reception room where over 20 producers from Attica and Central Greece were serving wine at tables arranged in a large U-shape around the room. Altogether they represented 42 different wines from these two regions for our walk-around tasting.

Terroir and Grape Varietals for Attica and Central Greece

Though Attica and Central Greece, both located North of Athens, produce many different types of grape varieties, they are best known for Savatiano, Malagouzia, and some unusual red varieties, such as Moutaro. The terroir is hilly, with sandy gravely soils, low rainfall, and a typical dry Mediterranean climate

Though there were many excellent wines composed of different varietals as well as some blends, the ones that stood out for me were the signature regional white grape called Savatiano, as well as the aromatic white Malagouzia, and a few of the reds. Following are some of the highlights of the tasting for me.

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Vineyards Around Kokotos Winery, Greece. Photo Credit: Kokotos Winery

Selected Savatiano Wines

Savatiano is a neutral white grape known for its medium to full body, stone fruit and medium acid. It is the most widely planted grape In Greece, and traditionally used for making retsina, but is now being used to make dry full-bodied wines. When aged in oak, it can sometimes taste like an oaked chardonnay.

  • 2017 Aoton Winery Savatiano PGI Attiki  – yellow color, medium-bodied with complex savory notes, straw, citrus, salty minerality and textured body. No oak, but aged in stainless steel with 5 months of batonnage.
  • 2016 Kokotos Winery Barrel Fermented Savatiano 2016 – dried apple, lemon and vanilla spa on nose, with a juicy citrus and mineral palate. Fermented in acacia oak barrels with 5 months battonage – tasted rather like a fresh Chablis.
  • 2013 Markou Vineyards Savatiano – produced with no SO2, this wine was surprisingly aromatic with peach notes and a heavier textured body. Quite unique and appealing.
  • 2012 Mylonas Winery Savatiano and 2018 from same winery. Located close to the ocean this winery is in a cooler region, and the ferment in stainless steel and age on grow lees. The 2018 was fresh with lemon and minerality, whereas the 2012 had gained some more savory complex notes in the bottle.
  • 2017 Botanic Sparkling Savatiano – fresh and exciting, with exquisite small bubbles from 2nd fermentation in bottle. Straw, citrus, and yeasty flavors. Quite delightful.

Selected Malagouzia Wines

Malagouzia is an aromatic white grape known for its floral aromas, as well as exotic fruit and citrus on the palate, with an occasional minty finish. It can be crafted in a fresh lighter style with no oak, or aged on the lees to add texture and complexity.

  • 2018 Malagouzia Anastasia Gragou Winery – white flowers on the nose with fresh citrus and minerals on the palate, floral, with herbal note on finish. Clean, refreshing, and lovely.
  • 2017 Malagouzia Gikas Winery – delicately aromatic with hints of peach blossom, juicy acidity, and well-balanced.
  • 2018 Tzivani Bio Chrissie Golden Malagouiza – ripe peaches and lemon on nose, following by an intriguing texture palate of peach skins and wet stone. Quite delicious.

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Selected Unique Red Wines/Other

2017 Experimental Syrah Boutari Winery – vinified with no SO2 or oak, this Syrah was rather amazing in that it tasted quite fresh with ripe berries, pepper, and structured tannins.

  • 2016 Domaine Costa Lazaridid Oenotria Land Cabernet Sauvignon and Agiorgitiko, PGI Attica – made in a New World Style with rich ripe berries, black plum and generous toasty oak with vanilla and spice. Big velvety tannins and long finish. Aged for 18 months 50% new French oak – rather Napa Valley like.
  • 2017 Samartzis Estate Moutaro – very unusual red wine with cherry and violets on nose, followed by raspberries and rhubarb on palate. Very high acid and red black opaque color. Would have liked to try more of these.
  • 2018 Lenga Gewurtraminer Avantis Estate – this was an absolutely beautiful lighter-style Gewurztraminer with the telltale orange blossom and baby powder nose, elegant body with good acidity and a touch of sugar on the finish – enticing and well made.

Wines Followed Us to Lunch by the Pool

Towards the end of the two hour tasting it was difficult to ignore the smokey aroma of roasting meat on the barbecue grill. So with stomachs growling and nostrils quivering, we were happy to take a seat with the wine producers at one of the many round tables near the pool. They brought multiple bottles of wine to pair with the feast that was being prepared by a group of chefs under an awning near the head of the pool.

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Greek Wines Paired with Greek Cuisine

Eventually it was time for us to attack the buffet, and we were invited to help ourselves to a smorgasbord of delicious Greek food, including barbecued goat and chicken kabobs, classic Greek Salad, tzatziki, grape-leave wrapped dolmathakia, and many other delicious dishes. A truly delightful and memorable day in Greece.

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Enjoying Greek Wine & Food at Kokotos Winery, Greece

 

Seven Days of Greek Wine

(Oct. 2019) I just returned from a seven day tour of the major Greek wine regions as part of an Institute of Masters of Wine trip. Like most trips organized by the IMW, it was truly amazing, but allowed for very little sleep — usually about 6 hours per night. However, despite this small set-back, it was a great whirlwind adventure of tasting (and spitting) nearly 100 Greek wines a day. Along the way, I learned so many new things, and my appreciation for Greek wines, cuisine, and culture has grown dramatically.

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The Parthenon in Athens, Greece

Quick Facts About Greek Wine

According to Wines of Greece, there are 1295 wineries and 300 indigenous grape varieties in Greece, making it a wonderful place to explore and find new wine surprises. White wine accounts for 61% of production and red/rose wine 39%.  The most widely planted Greek grape varieties are: 1) Savatiano (white); 2) Roditis (rose) and 3) Agiorgitiko (red). Most Greek wine is sold within the country, as they only export 13% – suggesting that a visit to Greece is the best way to learn about and enjoy their delicious wines that pair so well with Greek cuisine.

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Major Wine Regions of Greece. Map Courtesy of WinesofGreece.com

Overview of Greek Wine Tour Itinerary

Following is a high-level overview of the MW Greek Wine tour, beginning in Athens with wines from the mainland, following by visits to both Crete and Santorini islands.

Day 1 Athens – Arrive in Athens and check into A for Athens Hotel. Walking tour around the Acropolis, followed by magnificent sunset dinner at 360 Cocktail Bar Roof Garden featuring the wines of Thrace and Macedonia wine regions.

Day 2 Athens – Morning hike to the Parthenon, and then take bus to Attica wine region, north of Athens. Visit an ancient vineyard that produces the Savatiano grape – most widely planted white grape in Greece.  Then lunch at Ktima Kokotos Winery with a walk-around tasting of wine from Central Greece and Attica. Back to rest at hotel, and then evening tasting at Oinoscent wine bar to taste wines and appetizers from Thessaly wine region, followed by a second tasting at Vintage wine bar to taste wines from the Greek islands of Cyclades, Dodecanses, Ionian and North Aegean. Evening concluded at Clumsie’s Bar to taste Greek Spirits.

Day 3 Athens – We took the bus to the port of Piraeus for a Masterclass on Greek Wine at the WSPC wine school. This was followed by a walk-around tasting of wines from the Peloponnese. Next, we enjoyed a great fish lunch at Dourabeis Fish restaurant with a retsina tasting. Afterwards we went to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Culture center for a tour, followed by a walkaround tasting of wines from Macedonia and Epirus. We ended the day with a magnificent sunset view over the ocean, and a souvlaki dinner and Greek beer tasting at Kir-Aristos tavern.

Day 4 Crete  – We checked out of A for Athens Hotel at 7:15am to take the bus to the airport and catch a 10am flight to Crete. The flight was only about 40 minutes and we arrived in the capital city of Heraklion. Immediately we boarded a bus to visit the archaeological site of Vathipetro where we saw the ruins of the oldest wine press in the world. Lunch was at Semeli Restaurant in a small charming village called Houdesti in the hills. We were joined by Cretan wine producers and had a fabulous multi-course wine lunch in the patio. Afterwards we boarded the bus again and toured the magnificent Palace of Knossos ruins with a guide. Finally we checked into the Aquila Atlantis Hotel back in Heraklion where we had one hour to rest and plunge into the rooftop swimming pool. At 5:45pm we gathered for a two-hour master class on new trends in Greek wine, and then walked to Merastri Restaurant to enjoy a Cretan dinner with many wonderful wines and lamb dishes from Crete.

Day 5 Crete – We woke to a bright sunny morning in Crete so I took a walk along the seawall after breakfast. We departed at 9am for Asites village in the mountains and arrived at Earino Tavern where we had a walk-round tasting of Crete wines, with a magnificent view of the island landscape from the terrace. It was here that I first tasted the Vidiano grape and fell in love – an aromatic white wine of Crete. This was a followed by a huge lunch paired with the wines and more lamb dishes. Next we took the bus for a tour of Saint Georges Gorgoliani Monastery and a Tsikoudia tasting (local grape spirit). From there, we divided up into 4-wheel drive SUVs and trucks to drive far into the mountains on small narrow roads, and then hike to an ancient vineyard on top of the hills. Back at the hotel we had one hour to rest before attending a lovely Crete sparkling wine reception hosted by Aquila Atlantis Hotel, and then departed to have dinner at 7 Thalasses Seafood Restaurant, set in a casual outdoor setting. Everyone was very pleased to dine on seafood paired with Cretan wines, and enjoy a trio of local musicians – one of my favorite dinners of the whole trip.

Day 6 Santorini – We woke early to catch the ferry to Santorini Island. Everyone clung to the rails as we sailed into the famous caldera of Santorini, and then caught our breath on the bus as it zigzagged up the switchback road to Santo Winery. Here we had a welcome walk-around tasting of the wines of Santorini with a breath-catching view of the cliffs and ocean far below. Lunch was at Avantis Winery, where I had some of the best grilled octopus of my life paired with their wines. Afterwards we checked into the Katikies Garden Hotel in the town of Fira, which is very charming but does not have a view of the water. To make up for this, each room has its own balcony with private plunge pool. Next was a 2-hour masterclass on the wines of Santorini held at the hotel. This was followed by a delicious dinner with the wine producers at Selene Restaurant situated on a high hill with a great sunset view across the island.

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The Magnificent Island of Santorini, Greece

Day 7 Santorini – We began the day with a 2 hour Masterclass on the Assyrtiko grape at the hotel. Next we boarded the bus to attend a pruning demonstration in an ancient vineyard of assyrtiko grapes near the village of Pyrgos. It was amazing to learn that many of the unique “wreath” shaped vines were over 500 years old! Lunch was at Karamelegos Winery, which was quite delightful with a view of the ocean in the distance. Next we had a guided tour of the famous Akrotiri archeological site – an ancient city destroyed by a volcano. Back at the hotel, we had a short rest before a walk-around tasting of the “non-assyrtiko wines of Santorini” and then a fun farewell dinner at the De Paul Restaurant in our hotel. Here I enjoyed one of the most astonishing dessert of my life – a small cake shaped like the blue domes of Santorini (last photo below).

The next day most of us flew home. I had a half a day to shop in Santorini before my 3pm flight departed to Athens. Since my departure to San Francisco was at 6am the next morning, I stayed overnight in the very nice Sofitel hotel at the airport. It was quite luxurious, and included a spa and very high-end restaurant. I fell asleep dreaming about my seven days of Greek wines, and one of the most remarkable tours of my life. Thank you Greece!

Most Amazing Dessert on Santorini Island, Greece