Naoussa in Northern Greece is the kingdom of Xinomavro. This grape, grown all over northern Greece, finds its best expression here, in the hills surrounding Naoussa city. Nestling in the shadow of Mount Vermio, the 400 hectares of vineyards are scattered in small plots on an area the size of the entire Saint Emilion and Haut Medoc combined. According to Stelios Boutaris, owner and winemaker at Kir-Yianni, one of the leading producers in the region, the Naoussa vineyards resemble the Burgundy plantings, vineyards, carefully selected to best suit Xinomavero , rather than the Bordeaux vineyards of big plots that carpet the landscape.
Naoussa is an hour from Thessaloniki yet, in the peaks of Vermio and Pigadia nearby, people go skiing in winter. The mountains to the west reach 2000m.
The region is subject to spring frost that can affect the young vine shoots and even flowers well into May. Great care has gone in recent years to make plantings with various Xinomavro clonal selection, as research showed that different clones can produce a varying degrees of tannin profile as well as the vegetal tomato, olive hallmarks of this grape variety. Sheltered plots, either by hills or forest are also prized.
The P.D.O Naoussa sticks loyally and fiercely to the 100% Xinomavro despite the wine requiring at least 5 years of cellaring before the famous tannins and acids start to mellow.
Some wineries experiment with a little (sometimes more than a little…) Merlot, Syrah or more recently, Mavrodaphne. The old variety, from Patra and Cephalonia, traditionally made into sweet red wine is finding a new and very suitable terroir here, in the Naoussa hills. The wines benefit from a round edge and a complex fruit to accompany the hard edges of the Xino tannins and vegetal profile. However, even 1% of any other grape and the wine is ‘demoted’ to the Imathia P.G.I . My advise is to seek both, Naoussa wines for the appreciation of the marvellous Xinomavro, drinking it even at the tender age of 3-4 years and seeing what it has in store, as well as blends made by the leading estates in the region.
Don’t miss the opportunity to try the wines of the leading exporters of Naoussa.
Wines made by the estates of the Dalamara family and the Kir-Yianni estate are probably the easiest to find outside Greece. Any wine you can lay your hands on from these producers is a gem (and I include here whites and rose, in a swooping statement). True and passionate ambassadors of this northerly region.