Wild dogs and mountain vines

Wild dogs and mountain vines

What sort of Greek holiday would you like? If it's the idyllic beach sort, with little blue houses, warm sand and an invitingly crystalline sea then I'm afraid today's travelogue is not for you. Come back in a few months and I'll probably have some Santorini you can get your teeth into. But today, we're in northern Greece, and it's February. This couldn't be further from the postcards. For a start, it's snowing, and if it's not snowing it's raining, or sleeting. The best hire car available is a Suzuki Jimny which pre-dates phylloxera. Packs of wild dogs sense its weakness, chasing it out of every little town we come to.

But what this place lacks in sun-soaked relaxation, it makes up for in other ways. Every winery seems to have a cosy cellar with roaring fire, and every taverna serves up those big, rich Greek dishes which never really made sense on the beach. And the wine? Well, the wine is made for the place. Not crisp, zippy whites served in a copper jug, but red wines for autumn and winter - bold and layered. 

The grape mainly responsible for these wines is Xinomavro. It's similar to the north-Italian Nebbiolo in making long-lived, full-bodied reds that combine elegance and power. And in fact, this region and its wines are like a Greek version of Piedmont. Considerably less manicured, and with a rugged, authentic wildness.

Even within Greece, the little town of Siatista and its wines are not well known. That's not really surprising. Since the late 19th century when the wines were briefly famous throughout Europe, production has dwindled and vineyards lie abandoned. 

Dimitris Diamantis is on a mission to change that. Whenever he can, he is buying up some of the most amazing vineyards you'll see - Xinomavro bush vines planted in the 1930's, 900m up Mount Siniatsiko. At the same time, he is planting new vines - local varieties including Xinomavro, but also Moschomavro, a totally obscure indigenous grape. 

The wines he is making here are certainly special. The Xinomavro is the equal of any other and has a distinctive, softer quality to it. The Moschomavro is light and elegant with bright red fruit. They are not only delicious, but true artisan wines rooted in a particular place and tradition. 

They are the perfect wines for Wine & Greene's first newsletter, which is a journal of inspiration for the interested wine drinker. Never seen in the UK before, they're currently en route and can be pre-ordered. 

Buy them now, and they'll amply repay you over many winters. The beach can wait.

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