When Marian Spiggos and Sissy Tzelepidou, partners in the wine education and tourism company in Athens and friends from the International Wine Tourism Conference which I attended in Champagne last year and Barcelona this year, highly recommended a visit to Gaia Winery in Nemea and told me the owner was a Professor with a PhD and a very renowned oenologist, and was fortunately in town and not in his winery in Santorini, I said yes instantly, even though confused with the name. Obviously, it has nothing to do with Gaia (daughter of well-known Barbaresco producer Angelo Gaja)–in fact, it is even pronounced differently as Gay-yeah!
Dr. Yiannis is an agriculturist with a Ph.D. from the University of Bordeaux. His name is synonymous with Thalassitis- a dry white PDO Santorini wine made from Assyrtiko. Started in 1994, it quickly rose to the top in the category of Greece’s finest new wines.
The Nemea winery in Peloponnese is located in the commune of Koutsi, a semi-mountainous village surrounded by vineyards known for their chalky soils and excellent drainage. Gaia Winery bought 7 hA of land in 1996 when they inducted the third partner Christina Legaki. The fully equipped state-of-the-art winery with a capacity of 300,000 litres was built within the vineyard after selecting the site for vineyards first,’ said Yiannis who received us very warmly and showed us around before tasting a few of the wines.
‘Koutsi has cool temperatures, the ideal sun exposure and the steep inclination of the vineyards that give lower yields than other parts of Nemea,’ says Yiannis adding ‘I strongly believe that Agiorgitiko grapes cultivated in Koutsi have better quality than the rest of the Nemea zone and are ideal for producing concentrated and oak-aged wines.’
The building is contemporary industrial in design with magnificent views of the plains of Nemea around 250m below. Sitting in the Tasting room or walking around the building enjoying different views of the valley, is quite unique. Yiannis and his team are committed to produce only top quality wines, in accordance with international standards of the ISO 22000 quality guarantee. In fact, with the Assyrtiko in Santorini and Agiorgitiko in Nemea, Gaia can rightfully claim to produce top white and red complex wine with ageing potential in Greece- a classic product duo to showcase the top Greek wines using indigenous grapes. Both are PDO wines.
Gaia has established the brand internationally, thanks to the two top wines and others of such impeccable quality that 70% of the production is exported to 27 countries, making him a highly sought out Greek producer.
Yiannis cannot deny that he has been significantly aided in the brand building going north because of his ageing Assyrtiko in Santorini, making him noticed throughout the world. There are only 8 producers who have so far ventured in the underwater maturing world with Veuve Clicquot experimenting in Norway and a few producers tasting success in France as well.
Starting the process in 2009 with 5 bottles that turned into vinegar, he downed 268 bottles in a crate with no problem the next year-the same number in 2011 had no problems either. Today, those wines are highly prized and snapped up for around € 80-100 a bottle by collectors. Yiannis claims the wines have developed unique characteristics by being submerged 50 meters in water at 12-20 °C. No wonder last year a BBC crew visited in his winery in Santorini to film the project.
Tasting Wines with Yiannis
1. Thalassitis PDO Santorini 2015: As Yiannis tells us, Assyrtiko used 100% in this fresh and crisp wine is the only variety in the Mediterranean that manages full maturity of grapes and yet keeps the level of acidity high, despite the climatic conditions of Santorini Island, thus giving a flavour balance to the dry white wines.
2. Assyrtiko by Gaia Wild Ferment 2015: Using wild yeast only, the fermentation takes place at a gradual pace. The strains that prevail are the ones which eventually determine the wine’s character. In every tank and barrel the results are different. After fermentation, they choose only those tanks and barrels which raise the Assyrtiko to a new level of enjoyment. It has slight citrus aromas with notes of oak with rich mouthfeel, crispy acidity, intense mineral flavours and a long finish. No wonder the well-known English critic Steven Spurrier says, 'it is Chablis with steroids!’ Yiannis recommends decanting for 30 minutes before pouring.
3. Ritinitis Nobiles: This dry white wine with Retsina Appellation by Tradition is an expensive and popular Greek non-vintage wine with herbal aromas. When it ages the taste is powerful. It goes well with Lamb in garlic and rosemary and a perfect example of Greeks loving it while many others in different countries don’t. It has an acquired taste, as they say. Frankly, I haven’t acquired a taste yet for these local wines.
4. Gaia S 2014 Peloponnese P.G.I has 70% Agiorgitiko and 30% Shiraz. Interestingly, this wine has been inspired by Super Tuscans like Tignanello and Yiannis admits unabashedly that S in the label signifies Super Nemea- you can think of it as Syrah! Matured in French oak for 12 months and bottled unfiltered or with any additives, the bottles are laid to rest for 5 months before being released. A great example of Super Nemean!
5. Gaia Estate Nemea PDO 2013 and 2000: Nemea P.D.O., Dry Red Wine is the pride of Gaia. Made from Agiorgitiko grapes, and then matured in oak barriques for 12 months before bottling without filtration. It can easily mature for 10 years. Full bodied, dark coloured, almost inky wine with berry flavours.
Yiannis also opened a 2000 vintage to compare the two- it was elegant and drinking very well. He uses Normacorc or Diam corks and does not particularly like natural corks from Amorim, he says.
Gaia Estate is one of the most recommended wineries in Nemea, not only to visit and share the vision of a winemaker whose objective is to produce the best Greek wines but also to grasp the philosophy of a man slated to be one of the best known Greek celebrities in the world of wines. Although it is not very easy to reach the winery (over 120 kms from Athens that takes about an hour and 40 minutes), these two young women can professionally help those willing to go in a group to discover wines of Greece, especially the Nemea region. Contact them at email@example.com .
To reach the winery on your own, write to firstname.lastname@example.org or call:
Τ. +30 210 8055642-3, +30 27460 22057
Gaia winery is a member of “Wine Routes of Peloponnese”. (Time we started these routes in India, as I have been stressing for years now!).Visits are possible everyday and subject to prior appointment. Visit and tasting 4 wines costs only € 5 while 8 wines from both the wineries cost €10. Don’t forget to include a visit to the nearby Temple of Zeus in Ancient Nemea.
And if you see Yiannis, say Jai Ho (Cheers) from me!
For earlier article please click Visiting Greek Wineries: Lafazanis of Nemea