Iatridis points out Mount Vermio to the east, the mountain that blocks off any influence from the Aegean, effectively dividing the Mediterranean climate on the other side and the Continental one here.
Amyndeon, in fact, is the coolest wine-growing region in Greece—and one of the hottest in terms of attracting top-notch winemakers to its vineyards. It used to be that all the action took place in Naoussa, an hour or so to the east. Now it’s here, on this cool, high plateau, where some of the most exciting winemaking in Greece is happening.
Like Naoussa, Amyndeon’s wine industry is based on the local xinomavro—only here it’s so cold the fruit struggles to reach maturity. Amyndeon’s vineyards rise from 1,870 feet—558 feet higher than Naoussa’s highest—and reach to nearly 2,500. Even in the height of summer, the average temperature is around 73°F. Add the threat of autumn rains, and it’s understandable that the locals
have traditionally focused on sparkling wines or rosé—Amyndeon has the only rosé appellation
Iatridis, who studied in Bordeaux, has made wine all over the world, and he’s worked in nearly every region of Greece through his consulting company, Ampelooeniki. He chose Amyndeon for his own Alpha Estate because it would allow him to experiment with all sorts of grapes; for instance, he says, “I love tannat,” explaining that he’d consulted at Montus in Madiran. He also has planted sauvignon blanc, merlot and tempranillo, to name just a few imported varieties.
He saw the potential to make something out of the local xinomavro that falls between sparkling wines and the brawny, tannic reds from Naoussa. “Naoussa has less light and more heat,” he says. “[In Amyndeon,] eighty to ninety percent of the vineyards are sandy soil; this area used to be a lake. You have to dig 30 to 50 centimeters down to get to the limestone underneath.” The sand sheds water exceptionally well, and it allows the vines to survive ungrafted, unchallenged by phylloxera. “I have 83-year-old vines on their own roots.” Plus, he adds, the cooler temperatures are an advantage in warmer vintages. “All the winemakers have to go to higher altitudes,” he believes, given the wide weather swings brought on by climate change. “We have no choice.”
Even at this altitude, Iatridis says, “the heat waves see a huge development in the canopy, and sometimes shut down the vines, so we need irrigation.” And because of irrigation and higher temperatures, they now plant with rootstock. “We need better balance in the vines, and the grafts help achieve a better ratio of canopy to yield.”We slog through the sandy soil, nearly as soft as a beach, to the winery, an imposing building that dominates the landscape.
Once inside, Iatridis shows off his building management system, which allows him to control temperature in every corner of the winery from his home, three hours away in Thessaloniki. He also has a Danish machine invented just two years ago that analyzes 20 different parameters of a fermenting wine in minutes as compared to the weeks it might take to send samples and receive results from a lab. “With the weather more variable from year to year,” he says, “we have to pay more attention every day. I can lose if I miss just one hour.”
In a spotless tasting room overlooking the vineyards, he’s set up a tasting that ranges from a satiny sauvignon blanc to rich syrahs, a plush montepulciano, a tannic, black tannat and many vintages of Alpha Estate, the flagship blend of syrah, xinomavro and merlot. They are big wines, thick with fruit and lush with oak, more sophisticated and highly polished than anything Amyndeon has produced before. There’s not a hint of underripeness; if anything, they border on overripe, as if Iatridis has found a way to concentrate the area’s sun, while channeling the winds into their hidden acidity.