Paraskevopoulos is arguably the country's most visible oenologist, a respected winemaker, influential teacher and poster boy for a modern, urbane wine industry. After his university studies in Greece, he spent five years in Bordeaux, earned a Ph.D., then returned to make a name for himself as Greece's most ubiquitous consulting oenologist. As head of Greece's most prestigious university oenology program, much of the country's emerging winemaking talent has felt his influence.
Relatively young, disarmingly handsome and candid, Paraskevopoulos has earned the respect of many, but his prominent position has made him an occasional target of criticism as well. At issue has been his image as a technocrat, an impression he seems to understand, but which, in truth, is not fairly leveled at one whose profession largely hinges on dispensing technical knowledge. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and few would be qualified to criticize his best work as a winemaker. In any event, his prescription for the Greek wine industry, echoing that of many of his peers who have embraced technology, condones technical achievement as just the first of many more complex and difficult tasks that will need to be undertaken if international acceptance is to be won.
Greece's long winemaking history is deceiving, for a lack of a continuous history leaves many questions about Greece's complex terroir unanswered.
Some of our wineries are 21st century, but our knowledge of terroir is medieval. Investing money to have the wherewithal was the easy part. Now we face the real work. In the past, our wines were different. This was good, but being different is not sufficient. Now we are showing that we can be serious and reliable in ways we were not in the past. Technology has given us that.
The current phase in Greece's development, says Paraskevopoulos, is to piece together the puzzle of terroir, soil and microclimate: conquering these is the key to the future. "It is challenging work that results in many tough moments, but we at least now have a strong foundation."
This wine, a blend of Moschofilero from Tripoli and Roditis from nearby Aigialia is light, lively and citrusy. This is a smart way to frame both varieties: Nemea Roditis can lack structure, Moschofilero can lack middle fruit. We found this blend to display the best characteristics of each. A good example of the clean style for which Gaia is known.
The combination of natural low yield and careful winemaking are readily apparent. The aromatic Aidani Aspro and fruity Athiri are a minimal presence. Acidity and alcohol are maxed (7gr tartaric, 13% alcohol) for a steely full body with plenty of citrus and enough floral component to maintain dimension.
Thalassitis Vareli 2000
According to Paraskevopoulos, "you cannot over-oak Asyrtiko." Although this philosophy, which represents a uniquely Greek sensibility about Santorini wines, will hold no water with the American wine trade (our presentations of the best "Vareli" Asyrtiko having repeatedly stymied importers, retailers and the wine media), this wine seems to have survived 6 months on the lees in new oak without gnarly reactions. It is a sophisticated wine, not perhaps in the class of the stainless steel version, but more rounded, and still with structure-reinforcing acidity. Although it is a style not likely to win favor in export markets, the success of this risky oak balancing act speaks to Paraskevopoulos' skill as a winemaker
14-18h Rosé 2000
This dry, crisp rosé from high elevation Agiorgitiko is rich in aroma, especially cassis, although lighter berry fruit is also evident in a subtle candy form. Extraction occurs during an 18 hour maceration (hence the name). Its intensity results from naturally low yields, a pleasant mouth feel from preservation of the malic acid. A classic, international style that competes favorably with southern French rosé.
In this well-balanced, fruit driven Agiorgitiko, country wine meets urban standards. The grapes are purchased from other Nemea growers. The wine undergoes five to six days of color extraction followed by a seven to eight day fermentation and 40 days in new oak. During our tasting, Paraskevopoulos referred to this modestly as "a decent drink," reflecting his goal for drinkability in this wine, one that is achieved with a light, but confident hand. While not exactly a second label, the Notios wines are intended to meet the needs of second-tier buyers. In this class, its sophistication is inarguable. We were impressed by its lack of pretension and the deftness with which its fruit is managed.
Gaia Estate 1999
Though a tough vintage, this—the flagship of the Gaia fleet— still manages an alcohol level of 13.5%. In the words of Paraskevopoulos himself, "young and hostile," its best days still lie ahead. The grapes are sourced from their own low-yield, high-elevation Koutsi vines. The recipe calls for 20 days of extraction, 12 months in new Alliers and Nevers oak. Though time in bottle will tame this wine, it was not the most challenging Nemea we have tasted either.
Gaia Estate 2000
What a difference a year makes. Same formula, widely different result. We tried it after it had spent two months in barrel. Rich, deep ruby in color, it has substantial body and super-friendly tannins. Unfined and unfiltered, it has plenty of fruit, but focused and balanced. This is sophisticated wine, true to type and testament to the good judgment displayed in the choice of vineyard location. Serious winemaking.
Gaia's is the hippest of the new, hip retsinas. The idea of putting an upscale face on the genre may seem, to Americans, akin to spending $500 for a paint job on a Yugo, but if this wine is to be faulted, it is for its subtlety [we've noticed that experienced wine drinkers are the ones who wax nostalgic about retsina anyway-its the new blood that gets its kicks from the put-downs]. Be that as it may, this is a wine with some fruit to it. It's actually a varietal from low yield Aigalia Roditis, stainless steel fermented with a quiet dose of resin from the Pinus Halepensis pine tree. It is a fun wine, citrusy and aromatic, with little resin flavor on the tongue. It is as elegant as retsina gets—certainly not one that begs for water or ice. It is a wine that makes a statement: retsina is a sore point for the new Greek wine industry. Dealing with it head-on is healing. This is a new twist on a tradition that predates Western sensibilities about wine. The tradition has its nobility, and this clean, sophististicated version pays homage to that tradition.
In the past, Gaia's Santorini wines were produced by arrangement with a local winemaker of note. Now Karatsolas and Paraskevopoulos have plans to build their own winery on the island. We will keep readers informed.