Vassaltis Vineyards Breaking the Mould with Their Experimental Reds – Tasting the New Kaloupi 2020 Red Blend…

If it’s not South African wines international wine critics are raving about these days then there’s a very good chance they will be writing about all the exciting new wines coming out of both the Greek mainland and its many idyllic Mediterranean islands. But that’s not where the similarities end.

Both countries have experienced a revolution in wine quality, South Africa in the early 2000s onwards and Greece more latterly. Both countries have also been quick out the blocks with their exceptional white wines, many in Greece based around the premium flagship varieties of Assyrtiko or Malagousia, just as Chenin Blanc was used in South Africa to lead the charge. For top quality red wines however, both countries have faced more of a challenge elevating wine quality across styles and varieties.

Visiting old vine vineyards in Vourvoulos, Santorini with owner Yannis Valambous and winemaker Yiannis Papaeconomou.

South Africa is now reaping the benefits of two decades of experimentation, precision viticulture and striving for terroir driven wine quality. In Greece, the greater red wine project is still regarded as a work in progress, but there are top producers like Vassaltis making steady leaps in quality with new experimental reds like this Mavrotragano blend. As so often is the case, the answer to refinement and elegance lies in making wines where less is more, built around earlier picking times, fruit purity and natural acid freshness. The revolution in quality is well underway.

This new Red is a field blend of 30% Mandilaria, 30% Mavrotragano and 40% Assyrtiko, co-fermented with some semi-carbonic on the Mavrotragano, sun-drying on the Mandilaria and whole bunch on the Assyrtiko. Vassaltis used the Mavrotragano for the aromatics, fruit and structured tannis, the Mandilaria for the glycerol, alcohol and acidity and the Assyrtiko essentially for the part of the blend that brings all these elements together to give the wine a characteristic balance and roundness. The wine saw no oak ageing.

100 to 120 year old vine Assyrtiko in the kouloura training system in Vourvoulos.

Vassaltis Vineyards Kaloupi Red Blend 2020, Santorini, 14% Abv.

Made very much in the less is more philosophy, the aromatics are initially dark, mineral, basaltic and spicy before layers of sappy black berries, crushed gravel, dried herbs and notes of forest bramble berries and sun raisined cranberries. Texturally, this has more in common with the Loire, Burgundy or dare I say it, the Swartland, with a tight knit fruit density displayed with effortless elegance, weightless fruit concentration and vibrantly fresh, energetic acids. If I tasted this wine blind, Greece would be among my last possible options indicating what a paradigm shifting, well honed quality Red this wine really is. With its underlying basaltic terroir, the wine finishes with an impressively elegant, restrained classicism draped in a delicately mineral tannin veil. There is a hint of warmth on the end of the finish but is not enough to detract from the overall impression of excellence that this wine offers. Drink it slightly chilled, but certainly decanted, and the pleasure will follow. (250 bottles produced in 2018 and 1,250 in the follow up 2022.)

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

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