Great Greeks – Palivou Estate; a Nemea star.



Greece’s most famous wine region? Hardly a million dollar question considering there’s no correct answer, but likely it would end up in a battle between Santorini and Nemea, where the lava island probably would stand as the “winner” in the end. However, this post is all about the region of Nemea in Peloponnese, one of the oldest wine growing areas in the world mentioned already by Hómēros. That’s not a guarantee for great wines though, being a senior, but with top quality producers such as Gaia Wines, Constantin Gofas, Lafazanis Winery, Palivou Estate, and Tselepos (not based in Nemea but owning a small plot), the region of Nemea are doing its best to be number one in Greece. Or at least to be kings of Agiorgitiko…

The wines of the Peloponnese located Kokkalis is a must try for all skeptics, especially the Trilogia shows sheer class and that Greek terroir can produce wines, not only of high international quality, but also keeping the Greek twist. Another Peloponnese estate is the Nemean Palivou Estate, led by Georgos Palivos. Palivou Estate was launched in 1995 although the family has been producing wine for generations and today it consists of almost 40 hectares. The estate benefits from several micro climates within the Nemea region, from around 300 meters above the sea level to about 500. The soil is almost reminiscent of the Spanish region of Priorat, or rather the planting of new vine fields. Lots of rocks needed to be removed when expanding. Dynamite in other words. Logically the soil is hence filled with rocks and also loam and sand. Palivou is mostly about the indigenous Agiorgitiko grape but also Roditis, Malagousia and more internationally well-known grapes are cultivated.

Nemea is near the city of Corinth, around 30 kilometers away, on the north-western side of Peloponnese. The growing season in the region can be characterized as one with Mediterranean climate; mild winters, short and intense spring, hot summers and a prolonged fall.  Although the summer is hot no irrigation is used for the Roditis for example.

So, what can be said about these two indigenous grapes of Greece? Agiorgitiko and Roditis.

Roditis used to be more widely planted but as always; sensitive grapes, in this case to powdery-mildew and Phylloxera, always falls in to obliviousness. That happened to the slightly red-colored Roditis and left was the warmer regions. Peloponnese for example. The grape is ripening late and therefore perfect for cultivation on the Peloponnese where the fall is prolonged. Perhaps not a grape that will make acidity freaks jump of joy but still it manages to keep a remarkably high level despite the warmer temperatures. Take away the lava terroir of Sicily and think in terms of the Carricante grape. And add some Viognier to that. There you have it; Roditis.

Agiorgitiko then. You’ve heard about it but never dared to pronounce it. Right? Anyway, you should. Learn. Or perhaps memorize the English name of the grape; St. George. You have to choose when cultivating Agiorgitiko. Quantity or quality. This goes for all grapes of course but since this particular grape produces generous yields it is important to green harvest and also to plant it at higher altitudes to add some acidity. Agiorgitiko produces wines with color and scents of spices and dark red berries. In most places where it is grown you will find it in blends, except in the region of Nemea where it reigns on its own.

Back to Palivou Estate. Again, the resemblance with Portugal is inevitable. There’s a pride when it comes to the indigenous grapes but also a curiosity to learn and try new varieties. Add modern wine making technology to that, without forgetting the heritage. Because even if the estate is kind of a state of the art winery, the wines still tastes Greek. And that is what makes the wines darn good – and unique.

Tasting a quartet of Palivou Estate.

2008 Anemos White (Roditis), 84-85 p

BBQ. Cod’s on the menu with some grilled halloumi and peppers. A quick sniff and I know this wine will kick some serious a-s with the fish. Quite yellow color, straw-like. The bouquet is a bit shy at first but only needs some warmer serving temperature to show floral notes, almonds, ripe pears, a touch of pineapple liquid, wet rocks and a herbal touch. I’m in Viognier land, then on Sicily while having the Carricante grape in mind – and finally picking up some general Italian white wine attributes. On the palate it has a creamy texture with moderate acidity. Fine balance though and never getting clumpsy. Pears and flowers. Mineral feel and pineapple. Good, herbal length. A real food wine; one you just want to savor and not analyze to pieces. (Yes I am, but don’t forget I’m doing all the hard work
for you…)

2008 Anemos Red (Agiorgitiko), 85-86 p

Loin of pork on the grill. A Feta cream cheese sauce and some home made fries with that. The Anemos is quickly emptied by our guests which is a good sign. Quite youthful color and also a vivid nose. Dark ripe cherries, herbs, wet rocks and licorice. A clean berry scent feeling. On the palate I get the impression a lot more is going on. Leather, dark cherries, a sense of compost and wild strawberries. Ripe tannins and juicy fruit. Good length. A Greek potential – and yet personal – crowd pleaser. Perfect when served a bit chilled, say 16 C.

2006 Nemea Single Vineyard Selection (Agiorgitiko), 89-90 p

This is seriously good stuff and I have to check again if it’s right; did I only pay EUR 11,50 for this one? Starting to mature but haven’t reached the top yet. Still a dark red color although with a slightly brown brim. Lovely nose with scents of dried leather, dark cherries and blackcurrants, freshly picked herbes de Provence, licorice and humus. Some toasted scents adds depth. On the palate the tannin structure is completely different to the Anemos. Also the acidity reveals the higher altitude fruit. Dark berries, compost, leather and tobacco. Some vanilla. Elegant, quite long finish. The slightly dry tannin feel is first evident when tasting the wine when the plates are empty. Again, a meal companion. In this case bacon rolled chicken filet with a mushroom sauce. Probably at its best within a year or two. One year in oak, six months in bottle prior to release.

2006 Ammos Reserve Terra Leone Single Vineyard Selection (Agiorgitiko), 91-92 p

I need to say this right away; the ’06 Ammos is one of the best Agiorgitiko’s I’ve had. It’s an outstanding wine which awakens one of my weak spots; maturing Bordeaux. Grapes from a single parcel in the ancient Nemea. Eighteen months on oak. Pure Agiorgitiko. Dark color. Seductive bouquet if you’re like me and love what oak can add to a wine when properly handled. Cedar notes, blackcurrants and ripe dark cherries. A slight barnyard feeling, not the brettanomyces kind, more of a hay stack and a bunch of horses. Ground coffee, lots of minerals, smoke and a spicy edge to that. Still a quite fruit driven taste which needs some further time to fully integrate with the oak. It doesn’t hurt a bit to drink but decanting is awarded. Cherries and blackcurrants. Pipe tobacco and grass. Some meat and spices as well. A long finish. Give it a further two or three years to fully show the potential. A class act. Served with a Sirloin and grilled veggies.

Europeans can find the wines here and here. US readers can buy Palivou Estate here.