06 Apr A Xinomavro puzzle
1890 AD. A poor road network had most Xinomavro regions in relative isolation. Human and goods transport was limited. Vines were ungrafted. Then an American visitor arrived outside Thessaloniki and unleashed havoc: Phylloxera vastatrix. By the 1860s it had devastated the French vineyards. For a short-term fix, inky-black Paros Mantilaria was shipped in cask to Marseilles to boost the thin and anaemic vin ordinaires. The pest eventually arrived in Greece, in 1890.
Varietal wines as we know them today were unknown at the time. Farmers had other priorities, foremost survival. The field blend in Naoussa included a hotchpotch Cinsault, ”Gallika”. Negoska was a solid partner to Goumenissa Xinomavro. Over the Mount Vermion, in the cooler-climate, isolated Amyndeo, newly arrived Pontic Greeks (1922) and nursery specialists from Anatoliki Romelia (today’s southern Bulgaria) expanded Xinomavro planting by sourcing cuttings from old vines. The ever-resourceful Romelians, who were not allowed to practise cheese-making in Bulgaria, knew a thing or two about vine propagation. The furriers in Kastoria, and especially Siatista, kept another bank of rare Xinomavro clones in their marked continental climate. Here, vines struggled to mature; they therefore resorted to air-drying their grapes under cover inside their stone-built houses. Further south, on Rapsani hillsides, Xinomavro thrived alongside other unique local grapes. All this unfolded with the speed of a slow-framed Theo Angelopoulos’ film until Phylloxera arrived. Then things went haywire.
This inherited Xinomavro panorama still remains today, however. It is as clear as mud. What happened next has had long-lasting ramifications, most of which we taste today in our glasses. Are there any old Naoussa clones about? One such wine is the cuvée nature made by Thymiopoulos Vineyards. It is hauntingly different. None of the tomato vine aromatics. Dense mulberry with spice. It is out of this world, yet so different from the allspice of old vines in Amyndeo. A few vineyards were perhaps replanted with the old Naoussa clone(s). Now, though, they end up blended in with the newer arrivals from Amyndeo, from where most of the Naoussa replanting material was sourced. Taste-wise, they are very different from the Amyndeo stock used in restoring the Naoussa vineyard in the 1970s. There is another factor to consider, though. Naoussa is a warmer site than Amyndeo. Until recently, Xinomavro from inland, isolated Velvendo came to prominence, with the discovery of different clones to all of the aforementioned. The Velvendo clones have now also been tried in Naoussa.
These are some of the points that have surfaced while I was trying to make sense of this delightful puzzle as I prepare a Xinomavro Master Class for my students in Switzerland. If there is a hidden gem in all this, it comes from an unsuspecting corner, and it is not my technician friends. The feedback from advanced-level students of the École du Vin is invaluable. They simply “look” at the tasting panorama of mesoclimates and sites as we enjoy the great wines of the Piemonte. We receive by giving.
Author: Nico Manessis