Xinomavro: The Greek Answer To Nebbiolo
Greece is mostly famous for its wonderful beaches, breathtaking views, and stunning sunsets. People usually forget about Greece when it comes to wine.
But you all must know that there are actually several Greek PDOs to take into account. Especially three of them gained an international reputation and are in the spotlight nowadays. Nemea and its Agiorgitiko, Santorini and its Assyrtiko, and Naoussa and its Xinomavro.
Vinegrowing is nothing but easy in Greece, where vinegrowers and winemakers have to come up with smart solutions to face the main hazards. Drought and wind are just the main challenges. For instance, so strong is the wind in Santorini, that an original planting system has been created. The vines are trained in the circular Kouloura method low to the ground so that they form what looks like a shallow basket. Each vine is called Stefani, in the center of which lie the grapes.
But we are here today to discuss all the aspects that make Xinomavro one of the most representative grape varieties of Greece.
Xinomavro has been compared to Nebbiolo several times. But DNA analysis showed it to be genetically different. The first time we tasted it in a blind tasting, we got tricked by its high tannin levels. If it hadn’t been for its pale color we would have said that it was Sagrantino.
Even though studies don’t confirm the parentage between Nebbiolo and Xinomavro, our humble palate would definitely link them somehow due to its similarity in color, tannin, and acidity.
Xinomavro means “acid black” which shamelessly refers to the high acidity levels of the grapes. This is the dominantly planted variety in northern Greece.
Several studies (Galet, 2000; Manessis, 2000; Nikolau and Michos, 2004) suggested that there are at least three clones in the Naoussa region, where it most likely originates from.
- Vigorous and very productive;
- High acidity levels;
- High tannin levels;
- Medium to high alcohol content;
- Full-bodied wine;
- Susceptible to downy mildew, botrytis bunch rot, and powdery mildew;
- More suitable for light, poor, sandy soil;
With 2,389 ha, Xinomavro was the second most planted dark-skinned variety in Greece in 2008, being the first one Agiorgitiko.
The PDO, Its Styles, And The Best Producers
It’s the only variety allowed in Naoussa PDO, but it’s showing impressive results in the higher, cooler, and windier vineyards farther north in Amynteo. Here, the appellation requires 100% Xnomavro as well. Considering the rising temperature due to climatic change, we wouldn’t be surprised if the best Xinomavro would come from Amynteo PDO in the future.
Wines made from Xinomavro vary hugely in style. But they all share a high acidity and excellent potential for aging. As for Nebbiolo, color stability can be a problem so that these wines may be relatively pale, losing their pigments with bottle aging and some oxidation.
We honestly love the pale color in red wines even though some people see it as a “fault”. We believe they are psychologically influenced by the color, thinking that a pale color necessarily means low-bodied wines (which is debatable). We are actually eager to see a pale wine as we can expect it to be either extremely fresh (when it’s ruby) or extremely complex (when it’s garnet). But this is our personal taste.
In young wines, you will find aromas of red fruit such as strawberry and plum that with age will turn into more savory aromas of tomato, olive, and dried fruit.
These are the producers we fell in love with at first sip, thus the Wine Jokers’ recommendations:
The world of wine is so fascinating as you can find alternatives almost everywhere. Once you understand the grape varieties you like the most, you can literally play around and experience different things from all over the world.
In fact, the similarity between Xinomavro and Nebbiolo is only one of the countless examples we could make. Schiava and Blaufränkisch, Riesling, and Timorasso, Torrontés and Moscato are all varieties that could be tricky to differentiate in a blind tasting.
How interesting is this? Knowing that the variety you like may have a “spitting image” somewhere out there. The world isn’t as big as we think, is it?
So guys, be curious and try as many things as possible without being biased by names, labels, or (even worse) the provenience of a bottle of wine. Racism never pays off… wine is no exception.