Grece Day Three: Nemea!

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 06-13-2013

Limestone in Nemea

Ever visited a winegrowing region and not been impressed by its beauty? Didn’t think so.

Santorini was beautiful — the vineyards were rustic, planted haphazardly. The following day we traveled from Athens west to Nemea, where cliffs intermingled with well-trained vineyards, olive trees, and small towns. We were in the the most important “Protected Designation of Origin” (PDO) of the Peloponnese peninsula and could sense this tasting was going to be something special.

The only dry red appellation of the Peloponnese peninsula, Nemea can be viewed in 3 sections of altitude. The valley floor rises from 750 to 1400 feet, with a mixture of clay and limestone soils. Many of the unoaked, young drinking wines are grown here. Above 2100 feet, the grapes retain their acidity and produce much of the rosé bottlings. In the middle is where the limestone takes hold of the vines and yields the most age-worthy wines, all made from Agiorgitiko.

Say it with me: eye-ore-YEE-tee-koh.

Also known as Saint George, it is the sole grape of the Nemea appellation wines, and only dry red PDO of the peninsula. The wines were pretty, showing red fruits of ripe to dried character, lots of savory notes ranging from herbs to meat and smoke, abundant acidity and a range of oak treatments. If a red PDO wine is labeled as “Reserve” it must spend a year in oak, six months in bottle and a total of two years aging at the winery. “Grand Reserve” wines require 18 months each in barrel and bottle. Many producers are blending Agiorgitiko with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and other grapes, but in my opinion, it’s best left on its own. It has a unique and delicate structure easily overpowered by others.

The table of the day for me was Papaioannou. Headlined by their aged Nemea bottlings, they showed a couple great whites as well. Some tasting notes and more thoughts below the fold!

2011 Malagouzia
Fresh creamy stone fruits intermingled with crisp bright rocky minerality. Slightly floral with orange blossom and honey notes. A beautiful expression of a unique grape.

2006 Old Vines Agiorgitiko
Dried black fruits still well glanced with notes of toasty, creamy oak. Dried sage and oregano really bring this wine together. One year in mixed-use barrels, one year in bottle at the winery. A steal at $10.

2004 “Terroir” Agiorgitiko
One of two great 2004 wines tasted today. This the bigger of the two, showcasing lush black cherry, tart plum, broad sweet tannins and a layer of the limestone earth underneath to compliment a ribeye in the right way. 2 years in new French oak, 1 more in bottle.

Just one great view from the Semeli winery.

Other Standouts:

2004 Semeli Wines Nemea “Grand Reserve”
Much more restrained in style here. Top soil, garrigue, black pepper pop out at first, then the dried cranberry, raspberry flesh out just enough to frame a healthy backend acidity. Almost as stunning is their winery placement & view from high up in the valley.

2005 Domaine Skouras “Grand Cuvée”
From a pioneer in Nemea, bringing international varietals to the scene also. This 100% Agiorgitiko is from a late ripening vineyard producing a leathery, game-driven nose with lots of dark fruit to compliment. Be on the lookout for their Syrah also, it has made some noise at a recent tasting in the Northen Rhône of all places.

Final thoughts:

The international red varieties did well here on their own, a few Bordeaux-esque samplings, but Agiorgitiko is the grape of the appellation for a reason. The most notable blend was from Strofilia, a standout estate from the first tasting of the trip as well.

Gaia was represented here again as well, solid wines and easier to find in the United States.

The rosés were impressive, ranging from the savory Strofilia Moonlight Rosé to the structured and dark fruited Spiropolous “Melistao,” to the strawberry candied Semeli “Orinos Helios.”

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