Three great days in Greece were a tonic and inspiration. Spring had arrived, though there had been little sign of it in the UK by then. I joined Freddy Bulmer, who had just paid whistle-stop visits to suppliers in Santorini and Crete.
Our first stop was Tetrámythos in the northern Peloponnese. The motorway from Athens now goes to Patras, from where an amazing earthquake-proof bridge crosses the Gulf of Corinth to mainland Greece.
But we stopped off before to climb the road up in the direction of Kalávrita, one of Greece's main ski resorts. The evening sky was untypically murky, with tiny particles of sand blown over from Africa, but next morning dawned bright and clear after overnight rain.
We looked round the spotlessly clean cellar before Panayiotis, winemaker here for the last 20 years, drove us up the winding track to see their vineyards.
Rex, the dog, who has adopted the winery as his own, ran up ahead of us for several kilometres to show us the way. Standing in a field of 46-year-old roditis bush vines overlooking the bay of Corinth far below with the snow-capped Mount Helmos of Kalávrita up above showed me living proof of organic cultivation. The air was crystal clear with the light breeze that keeps the grapes fit and healthy in summer. The floor of the vineyard is covered in herbs, wild flowers and a mix of green salad type plants, several good enough to eat. I know because I tried them out there and then later in the delicious χορτοπιττα (Hortopita – Wild Greens Pie). At the edge of the vineyard we saw bushes of Tetrámythos, a kind of prickly pear, with spiky branches that gives the winery its name and a fine mix of wild vegetation. We also saw the occasional pine trees, from which they tap a little resin to infuse into an amphora filled with roditis wine to make their delicately scented retsina.
Back in the cellar we tasted excellent malagousia grown up the mountain and the rare black of Kalávrita with its haunting bouquet and clear vibrant taste best drunk cellar cool. Tetrámythos are the only winery to make this red as a single grape variety. Freddy was amazed at the quality of the 2017 roditis natur made with very low SO2. One cannot successfully make such wines unless the fruit is perfectly healthy and the cellar is spotlessly clean. I encountered the same philosophy at the Schuchmann winery in Georgia with their qvevri wines fermented and aged in amphorae.
The best-known red wines of the Peloponnese are made from agiorgitiko (eye-your-gitiko) vines round the ancient sites of Nemea. We visited two wineries who make Nemea red at its best. George Skouras' modern spacious cellar, outside the dreary town of Argos, inspired by a visit to Napa in 2004, is exemplary. We began here, not with agiorgitiko but with a vertical tasting of his remarkable cabernet franc/merlot blend Synoro. We have sold out of his outstanding 2010 but the 2012 will run it close and a bottle of 2006 opened for us showed how brilliantly this wine ages. George made his name back in 1984 with his Megas Oinos, a blend of agiorgitiko and cabernet sauvignon at a time when only international grapes were taken seriously and he was opening up the USA market for high-quality Greek wine. His admirable St George Nemea and Grande Cuvée are made from agiorgitiko grown high up in the mountain foothills where the perfume and intensity of the grape show best.
On leaving we climbed the hills to visit the Semeli winery perched on a ridge overlooking the Gulf of Corinth to the north, the valley and mountainous interior to the south. Leonidas Nassiakos makes his rose-petal scented moschofilero white Mantinia here. He was in Cyprus when we visited so we were in the capable hands of fellow winemaker Kleoniki Kritikou. In 2017 their keenly priced white – a moschofilero/roditis blend – and the Feast Red made with agiorgitiko grapes and a little cabernet look a smart buy.