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Greece: Indian Columbus in Domaine Porto Carras

Posted: Thursday, 30 June 2016 11:10

 

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Greece: Indian Columbus in Domaine Porto Carras

June 30: Porto Carras is a well-known name in Greece for organic vineyards and wine tourism, with a 2-hotel Grand Resort, a plush Golf Course, Yacht Club, Marina, Casino, a super-deluxe Villa Galini and of course the well-known winery Domaine Porto Carras, making it a complete holiday destination with seductive vineyards and variety of quality wines from indigenous and international grapes, writes Subhash Arora who was welcomed as the Indian Columbus purportedly being the first Indian wine journalist to visit the winery and vineyards

Click For Large ViewDomaine Porto Carras is located on the western coast of the Sithonia peninsula in Halkidiki, Northern Greece where 475 hectares of spectacularly terraced vineyards make up one of the largest and most picturesque vineyards in Greece and possibly in Europe. Surrounded by the lush slopes of the 400 meters high Mount Meliton on one side and the clear blue waters of the Gulf of Torone on the other side, this is one of the most enchanting vineyard sites. Two   440-room resort hotels- Porto Carras Grand Resort Meliton and Sithonia, within 300 meters of each other, complete with  a golf course, marina, yacht club, tennis courts and even a casino, make Porto Carras a dream destination for wine connoisseurs and novices alike.

The protagonist of our previous Article on Greek wineries- Vangelis Gerovassiliou honed his winemaking skills at Porto Carras. The highly respected Professor Emile Peynaud, the father of modern wine-making, had been engaged as an international wine consultant for 12 years (1973-1984).Therefore, when a wine friend, Marian Spiggos who along with Sissy Tzelepidou, partners the Athens-based Greek wine tourism company Grapefool (www.grapefool.com), suggested I visit the winery following the visit to Ktima Gerovassiliou and spend a night at the beautiful resort, I did not hesitate for a second.

Initial History   

The story of Porto Carras started with a visionary and futuristic Greek shipping magnet Giannis Carras who passed this region in a yacht in 1963 with friends on their way to nearby Mount Athos. He was a visionary who fell in love with this area and bought 1763 hA of virgin land from the Monastery of Grigoriou in Mount Athos to develop into a deluxe Resort and a premium winery. This was an unprecedented step and perhaps too ambitious for that time. The region was not known for viticulture and experimentation was first carried out to determine what grapes to grow.

Click For Large ViewWith construction starting in the '60s, the whole complex including the beautiful 24-room Villa Galini and the 2 hotels, was completed by 1980 by which time the wine production had already started. The complex became one of the most talked about resorts and wine producer in the '80s and '90s. During this time, Porto Carras also received PDO (protected domination of origin) status in 1981- a unique, enviable step. It was given the status of "Playes Melitona" which means "Slopes of Meliton" or "Côtes De Meliton". In earlier days the labels were known by the name of the village in which they were produced as the place of origin.

History changes course

Porto Carras ran into financial troubles, reportedly as it was too much ahead of its time and financially stretched. It was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1992 with the lender National Bank taking control. Fortunately, an enologist (presumably Vangelis Gerovassiliou who was there till the 1998 harvest) stayed on to take care of the vineyards and wine production.

In 2000 Porto Carras Grand Resort was acquired by Technical Olympic Group of Companies. The Chairman, Konstantinos Stengos, made it the purpose of his life to bring Porto Carras to the foremost rank of the international tourist market. His daughter, Yliana Stengou, M.Sc in Civil Engineering, with 10 years experience in that field, made an important turning point in her career. She devoted herself to the Domaine and the development of indigenous Greek varieties.

The attempt to rescue the largest Greek Vineyard and the revival of the name Domaine Porto Carras was particularly painful. It is noteworthy that the investment program prepared and fully implemented by 2000 when acquired by the Group Technical Olympic to date has been funded exclusively from own resources of the company.

Grape Varietals

The hilly areas in which the vineyards are planted, and from where we could view the beautiful coastline of the Gulf of Torone, have been endowed with a unique ecological system and are capable of sustaining many grape varieties suitable for wine making.

Thus on 475 hA, they grow 12 Greek varieties- Malagouzia, Assyrtiko, Athiri, Muscat of Alexandria, Roditis, Savatiano  (all white), and Mavrodafni, Limnio, Xinomavro, Mavrotragano, Liatiko and Fokiano (all red).

There are also 12 international varieties cultivated, including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Trebbiano (Uni Blanc), Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Cinsault, and Mourvedre. It was the first time that a systematic evaluation of the French varieties' suitability for planting in Greece was carried out. In fact, it produced an exceptional wine Porphyrogenitos Grande Reserve (produced every 10 years or so) which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Limnio. It is the only PDO- PDO Meliton Slopes, in Greece that includes international varietals.  Porto Carras is the home of five PDO wines and is the only region in Greece to have both red wine and white wine PDOs. According to Porto Carras, theirs was the first winery in Greece to commercialise Cabernet Sauvignon.

Estate of Porto Carras

Click For Large ViewDomaine Porto Carras is an Estate in the true sense. It controls the entire production process and does not buy grapes from other producers, which ensures that certain essential standards of quality are maintained. They produce about one million bottles annually (83.000 cases), including 55,000 bottles of Malagouzia, the near-extinct grape variety of the North-west that was revived and first planted here after experimentation at the Porto Carras wine estate and the vineyards. Despite some excellent red wines being produced, a majority of the wines produced- 60% are white. The Domaine has also planted 45,000 olive trees. Their wines are exported to USA, Canada, UK, Germany, Norway China and now Japan among other countries.

The vineyards are certified organic since 1996 and are the largest organic Greek vineyards and some of the largest in Europe. Dr. Leon Zikas, Managing Director of Domaine Porto Carras, who very kindly came to pick me up from Ktima Gerovassiliou, about 100 kms away, tells me there are 200 kms of roads built within vineyards. (We must have driven through 20 kms during the visit to the vineyards).

The winery is modern and was one of the first in Greece to install latest equipment and processes. These include gravitational flow of must, temperature-controlled fermentation tanks and ageing cellars and oak barrels.

Wine Tourism

Despite being the only wine estate in the region, about an hour and a half drive from Thessaloniki airport and the railway station, it is a popular destination for wine lovers. About 10,000 tourists visit the winery every year. May to November are the best months for a visit. There are regular visits to the winery followed by tasting and typically cost €15 for the 90-minute visit that ends in a beautiful tasting room with a plush lounge and souvenirs, books and old historical photographs. There is a deluxe tour which sets you back by €100 but includes a lunch/dinner and has a few other attractions.  

Villa Galini

Click For Large ViewVilla Galini is the pride of the complex. With 24 rooms and truly majestic interiors specially designed by well-known architects and interior decorators and furniture from the monastery era, it was described as one of the most beautiful buildings in Greece in the '70s. It is available for hire at €9000-10,000 a night and is usually booked up for weeks at a time. Naturally, it attracts the crème de la crème. Few places in Greece have been visited so frequently by so many famous and important people, according to Click For Large Viewthe company. Queen Juliana of Holland, Salvador Dali, Francois Mitterrand, Joan Baez, the Rockefellers, Prince Albert of Monaco, have been some of the guests. President Putin is also supposed to have stayed there.

The Villa is open to the guests for stay from July onwards. Since we were visiting in May, it was closed to public. We were privileged to be escorted to the Villa after a brief welcome at a vantage point in the vineyards where the view was simply breathtaking. The long private dining table in Vila Galini was converted into the tasting table. Executive Chef  Dimitris Katsios had taken special care to curate organically grown foods.

Tasting wines of Porto Carras

Click For Large ViewWe tasted several wines during the visit- at the welcome reception in the vineyards and dinner but following were some of the wines tasted at Villa Galini. A few of the same wines were served with dinner in the evening at the Porto Carras Grand Resort Meliton which was otherwise full. Chef Dimitris had taken special pains to prepare wine-paired dishes for us, making it a truly Mediterranean fare:

1. White Soul- Light wine 12 % alcohol, with 70% Athiri, 30% Muscat of Alexandra grapes. An affordable dry wine with sweet aromas, so popular that it had already been sold out.
2. Blanc de Blancs PDO Meliton Slopes- Athiri (50%), Roditis (35%) Assyrtiko (15%). Bright, pale yellow colour, floral aromas with shades of citrus fruits that carried into the flavours. Rounded and medium long finish.
Click For Large View3. Melissanthi Dry PDO Meliton Slopes- is a white blend of Assyrtiko and Athiri with pale colour, delicate citrus aromas, and white flesh fruits with notes of mint. Full mouthfeel with crisp acidity and long length.
4. Malagouzia 2015- PGI Sithonia, 100% Malagouzia. Light bodied. Straw yellow with distinct tinge of green, it had aromas of exotic fruits, full mouth-feel, with luscious fruit taste in the mouth.
5. Assyrtiko PGI Halkidiki- 100 % Assyrtiko with typical citrus aromas. Crisp and fresh in the mouth with a touch of minerality and pleasant after-taste. 
6. Rose 2015- PGI Sithonia is a blend of Syrah (50%), Cabernet Franc (50%). Medium bodied wine, darker pink colour and red fruit flavours.
7. Magnus Baccata PGI Sithonia 2012: Blend of Syrah (50%), Cabernet Franc (50%). Still young with beautiful, engaging and intense aromas of red jungle fruits with flavour also showing hint of vanilla in the oak which was not too overbearing. Well balanced and rounded wine with pleasant aftertaste.
8. Chateau Porto Carras PDO Meliton Slopes is the flagship red wine. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Limnio and Merlot, it is dark red in colour with intense and complex bouquet of dark red fruits and vanilla from the oak. Nice structure and balance. An age-worthy wine.

Porto Carras and India

Porto Carras is a name to reckon with, whenever you plan a visit to Greece and would like to have a few memorable days with or without wines. It’s an excellent wedding destination. Golfers would love a vacation on the sea-side. I won’t encourage gambling-though the casino is there for fun. But above all, the importers might like to try working with them-the price, quality, reputation and their ability to supply and deal with India, is very much there.

For an earlier Article regarding the visit, please click: Greece: Land of Malagousia and Ktima Gerovassiliou Winery

Subhash Arora

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Tags: Porto Carras, Greece, Domaine Porto Carras, Sithonia, Halkidiki, Mount Meliton, Gulf of Torone, Vangelis Gerovassiliou, Professor Emile Peynaud, Marian Spiggos, Sissy Tzelepidou, Grapefool, Giannis Carras, Monastery of Grigoriou, Mount Athos , Villa Galini, Playes Melitona, Vangelis Gerovassiliou, Konstantinos Stengos, Yliana Stengou, Malagouzia, Assyrtiko, Athiri, Muscat of Alexandria, Roditis, Savatiano, Mavrodafni, Limnio, Xinomavro, Mavrotragano, Liatiko and Fokiano, Porphyrogenitos Grande Reserve, PDO, Dr. Leon Zikas, Dimitris Katsios, White Soul, Blanc de Blancs PDO Meliton Slopes, Melissanthi Dry PDO Meliton Slopes, Malagouzia 2015- PGI Sithonia, Assyrtiko PGI Halkidiki, Magnus Baccata PGI Sithonia 2012, Chateau Porto Carras PDO Meliton Slopes

       

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