Not many winemakers have caused such a buzz among Society members (and staff!) in recent years as Apostolos Thymiopoulos. People took his glorious xinomavros to their hearts and wine racks so enthusiastically that we've been able to introduce an expanded range in our new Fine Wine List and unveil a low-sulphur wine in our Curiosity Shop offer. Martin Brown finds out more…
Imagine if Dionysus Himself combined the aromas and flavours of Burgundy and Barolo, before bringing His creation to life with a bolt of tapenade-like Mediterranean electricity, and you have some idea of what Greece's xinomavro grape can bring to the dinner table.
In fact, of all the bottles recommended by Society members on our online Community during the past year, the one that's been shared the most is neither a Burgundy nor a Barolo: it's a xinomavro. 'Terra Petra' Rapsani to be exact, made by Apostolos Thymiopoulos; or, as we like to call him, The Greek Godfather of Xin.
Apostolos Thymiopoulos, wielding his wares in Greece
'His wines make me smile.'
The buzz about Greece's thriving wine scene has been building steadily on our shores over the past few years. 2018's London Greek Wine Fair offered a lively and crowded testament; and the sharpest of elbows were needed to get a pour from one of Apostolos' bottles. He has a marksman's touch with xinomavro, making it in the northern Naoussa region and Rapsani in the foothills of Mount Olympus. Buyer Sebastian Payne MW wrote up a visit to both only recently on Travels in Wine.
His name popped up in numerous different threads and tweets around the chiming of the bells to welcome 2019, with many listing his bottles among their wines of the year. I freely admit to being one of them: his wines make me smile. His xinomavro rosé, cracked open by a generous friend during the height of that heatwave, was absolutely sublime, and showed his talents with the grape are by no means confined to the red corner of the xino-sphere.
Sadly I've never met Apostolos – though I remain starstruck that he is a fan of the dog on Instagram; and when word of my enthusiasm for the rosé reached him, I was intrigued by the modest brevity of the response:
‘Modest brevity’ also describes the winemaking approach chez Thymiopoulos rather neatly: this is unabashedly low-intervention stuff. Keen to find out more, I managed to exchange a few emails with him. ‘Our philosophy is to use natural, organic vineyard treatments and minimalist winery practices,’ he wrote.
'Nature respects you if you respect nature'. Verdant vineyards in Naoussa.
‘The payoff is more than just sustainable agriculture and a healthier environment. It also produces better-tasting wine! We don’t follow protocols: each year is different and the vigneron has to be close to the vines. The balance is the answer and nature respects you if you respect nature. We want to pick only the quantity that each soil can naturally produce (and) never press nature for more.’
Yet again, a Burgundy comparison is tempting, and Freddy Bulmer, our buyer for Greece, made just such a parallel in our new Fine Wine List: ‘the vineyard comes first and the winemaking is more about capturing the terroir in the bottle than trying to exert too much influence.’
Freddy has been able to ship more of Apostolos’ wines this year thanks to the demand and the support shown by members, and as well as the return of his Naoussa rosé, the ‘Jeunes Vignes’ (young vine) red, the remarkable ‘Earth and Sky’ xinomavro and the xinomavro-led ‘Terra Petra’ Rapsani, we’ve been able to add some new single-vineyard arrivals.
Apostolos Thymiopoulos with Sebastian Payne MW
Those curious to experience a more envelope-pushing expression of the lo-fi philosophy at work here are warmly invited to seek out Xinomavro Nature (available at the time of writing, appropriately enough, in our ‘Curiosity Shop’ selection). Freddy describes it as ‘a bit of an experiment – a low-intervention, unfiltered example with minimal sulphur, producing one of the most energetic, vibrant and juicy red wines you could hope for.’
I asked Apostolos about the vineyard and how this was made. ‘Xinomavro Nature is from 47-year-old vineyard. Thymiopoulos family bought this vineyard in 2006 from an old lady. She told us that the year that she planted this vineyard with her husband was a lot of dryness and a lot of the young vines died. So the next year they replanted with ungrafted vines because they hadn’t the money to buy grafted vines again. All the ungrafted vines are from some very old pre-phylloxera xinomavro plantings that they had around their garden.
‘About vinification, there isn’t something special that we are doing. Until 2015 the wine (was) produced with no sulphites, (but) from 2016 we added a very small dose (to) keep the brightness of this fantastic terroir.’
The view from Apostolos's Rapsani vineyards.
For those looking to try a step up from the Rapsani that featured on so many favourites lists last year, our Fine Wine List also features a top-of-the-range example called Karavas. From his Naoussa winery, we also introduce a tiny-batch experimental bottling: 'Naoussa Single Vineyard', which comes from the terroir of Kayafas. In Freddy’s words, ‘this wowed me in a recent tasting of Apostolos’ wines, so I got in quick!’
Those yet to taste what all the fuss is about should doubtless do so as well.