May 1, 2002 Pierre Rovani Reviews Gerovasiliou, Karyda and Voyatzi
As it happens, his son, Yiannis Voyatzis, is a model for young oenologists striving to build careers in the dynamic environment that has evolved in Greece during the past two decades. A fifteen-year stint at the Boutari Group found him Chief Oenologist and Head of Product Development. In the meantime, with the blessing of his father and the help of his brother, Nikos, an engineer by profession, Yiannis has led the family in the creation of a new estate on family property . In this venture they have achieved something many have striven for, but few have achieved, namely a revival of Greek tradition entirely consistent with international standards.
Yiannis' work has provided him with significant experience abroad and in a range of Greek regions. He has a Ph.D. from Bordeaux and has headed important oenological research with Greek and foreign organizations. He speaks with authority about external markets, such as Australia, and has taken their lessons to heart.
A rapid ascension in the domestic Greek market is indicative of the esteem in which this winemaker is held. Among peers, industry specialists and young oenologists, he is often described as the winemaker's winemaker.
The 3 hectare family plot, which was revived and planted with a number of local and cosmopolitan varieties, lies on a gentle slope above lake Polyfyto, an artificial lake formed by a dam in the Aliákmona river. The river flows from the highlands near Kastoria all the way to the Thermaic Gulf just west of Thessaloniki. The unique microclimate this lake has created is entirely to the benefit of grapegrowing, especially since a river-fed breeze flows incessantly along the lake's length during growing season, bathing the lakeside vineyard in cool air.
Plantings began in 1991 and now include Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay for Western varieties, the local Xynomavro (a unique and more extraordinary clone than the common version), Moschomavro, Vapsa and other local red varieties and Roditis, Batiki, Malvasia Aromatika and other local white varieties. What seems to be a complex range of cultivars, however, results in a very focused portfolio. The reason? Voyatzis specializes in three blends: a red, a white and a rosé. As both a master blender of wine and a solid believer in the local tradition of making wine that reflects a complex and varied—even chaotic—vineyard, Voyatzis has adopted a facility with blending that is legendary in the Greek wine industry.
Thus far, Voyatzis
has accomplished a lot with the bare minimum of winemaking facilities. Vinifying
in what Americans would call a barn, and aging the wine in the cellar of his parent's
home can hardly have been easy. Now a well-designed modular winery adjacent to his
vineyard is nearing its first stage of completion. Production is, and will remain
low (25,000 bottles annually). Voyatzis now has the best of both worlds: the sense
of both comfort and achievement that come from successfully climbing the corporate
ladder, and the pleasure of establishing a name for his own wines.
This wine contains many varietal components. The leading cultivar here is Roditis, followed a more or less equal admixture of about 15% each of Chardonnay, Batiki and Malvasia Aromatika. These are barrel fermented individually (5-6 months) in 40% new, 60% old oak. The remaining percentages are made up by a handful of steel fermented local white varieties (the aromatic component). The result is a strikingly elegant wine, straw yellow with a hint of green around the rim, with gentle aromas. The wine has medium body and a quiet acidity that allows middle fruit to stand out. A light, but creamy mouth feel is followed by more a more intense Rhone-like finish, simultaneously subtle and complex.
This I consider one of the most daring Greek wines of its class. Good rosé seems to flow from Greek vineyards, as well it should. Voyatzis, rather than following the path of least resistance, has set up hurdles for his rosé: it would have been easy to have used only his distinct Xynomavro clone–Xynomavro makes notoriously good rosé–applied basic principles and have been done with it. Instead, his Xynomavro is blended with the richer Moschomavro, then fermented in old oak. A small amount of red wine is added for the final blend. Here there is a distinct reference to the pre-steel rosé traditions of Greece's past. Like many producers of rosé from Xynomavro, Voyatzis appreciates the variety for its nervousness. Here its liveliness is coupled with dark, woody aromas and, not surprisingly, some tannin. Just off-dry, this wine shows great fruitiness and complexity. We're tempted to wonder what complexities would develop after a couple of years in bottle. This certainly the most unique product we encountered of its kind and in its class in Greece.
The 1999 vintage, according to Voyatzis, was "questionable." Vinification was problematic, but the results speak to his skill as a winemaker. A red of medium body, but reasonable extraction, this wine manages firm structure. If, perhaps, there could have been more concentration, a smooth, smoky quality and dark fruit contributes to a notable sipping wine.
Estate Red 1999 (prerelease)
This wine finds Voyatzis back in his element. This is an intense wine with an unbeatable combination of ripe fruit, old vine character and solid body. Some time in bottle may soften the strong, but good tannins, but even at this stage, with tannins accompanied by some velvety texture and cocoa, this is decadent, Wine Spectator stuff, ample indication of Voyatzis' qualifications for the New World. Normally his red spends 18 months in barrel. In this vintage, tannins were so pronounced, the wine was aged longer to soften them. According to Voyatzis, "I couldn't get rid of them." Though slightly challenging at the stage at which we tasted it, it was one of the more satisfying Greek reds we have tried. Who could fault a bold young wine with great potential for aging and a distinct personality that defies easy categorization? The originality and unquestionable quality of this wine will go a long way towards establishing a name for Voyatzis beyond Greece's borders.
The importance of family is written all over this venture. Says, Yiannis, "I never would have embarked on this project without the support of my father." Harisis may also be the link to the local cultivars and traditions that differentiate the wines from all others. Nikos has played an important role in the development of what propends to be a model, expandable winery and is in charge of marketing. The family is fortunate to have have in its employment a competent assistant in many matters, Irini Zande, a chemist who assists with oenological matters as well as performing an important function as office administrator.