After an overnight stop on the charming seaside town of Nafplion, once the fashionable weekend retreat for Athenians, but in March mercifully free of visitors, we returned to Athens for the short flight to Salonika, where we were met by Apostolos Thymiopoulos who drove us west inland to Veria in the heart of Naoussa country.
Naoussa used to be marketed almost exclusively by merchants who would use xinomavro grapes or wine from many small producers in a barrel-aged blend. The resulting wines could be sound, full-bodied reds but more often turned out 'muddied' and rather jaded. Apostolos' father had always produced exceptionally good organically grown fruit but it was his son who decided to make and bottle his own wine, capturing the unique fragrance of the grape and taming the naturally high tannic structure by picking ripe healthy grapes and with careful, gentle vinification. Think a cross between pinot noir bouquet and nebbiolo structure and you have an idea of his wonderful Earth and Sky Naoussa wine and Jeunes Vignes, which for my money have brought Naoussa wines back to life.
We supped together comparing several vintages which proved how well his wines age. Halfway through the meal Apostolos, with spontaneous generosity, dashed back to his cellar to find a three litre bottle of his 2008 to present to a large group of local doctors at the neighbouring table. The Wine Society offices were once housed in the Medical Society in London and the medical profession has always been an intrinsic part of The Society, so I was doubly pleased to see the Veria doctors enjoying Naoussa with gusto.
Next morning we tried different elements of his 2016 vintage, still youthful but full of promise, and the fragrant vats of the young 2017 reds too. Apostolos sells practically everything he makes abroad. France, the USA and us in the UK were early supporters so he has been buying small parcels of hillside vineyards with old vines and enlarging his cellar with astonishing energy. But his recent acquisition is his most exciting project yet. In the foothills of Mount Olympus, its top covered with snow as we drove past, is the tiny limited area of Rapsani itself. Sited on a ridge overlooking the sparkly Mediterranean below to the northeast and the valley of the river Peneos to the south west on the other, the vines benefit from its cooling breeze which keeps the grapes fresh in the hot summers. It is a magical spot and his first vintage of Rapsani is a wonderful taste of great wines to come. I expect the Greek gods will descend from Olympus to try it.