I spent some of the summer of 2015 with my family on the island of Paros in Greece. Our hotel had no dining facilities and so we ate out in the small fishing town of Naoussa every evening. The restaurants we visited were all excellent as was the wine. We made a point of choosing Greek wines and on quite a few occasions we had local wines suggested to us. Local included wines from other islands such as neighbouring Santorini but also wines from Paros island itself. The latter were quite unique and made from grape varieties that I had not previously encountered. The producer of those intriguing wines was Moraitis and happened to be located in Naoussa, a short distance from the town centre. One afternoon when it was simply too hot to be on the beach I set off to find out more about the winery.
I stepped into the cool building and found myself in the main tasting room. I was not alone. Quite a few tourists were there too, having escaped the heat, and were propped up against a long bar, sipping on wine that was being poured out to them by a member of the winery. In adjoining rooms, a collection of old harvesting and cellar equipment was on display for the benefit of visitors. Cellars on the floor below housed barrels and bottles of old vintage wine.
Savvas Moraitis came to greet me. His family owns the winery and has been making wine on Paros island for the past century. Now the younger generation is actively involved in the running of the winery. Savvas studied business administration in Athens and looks after the business side of the winery whilst his brother is the winemaker.
The family have 25 hectares of vines that they manage and farm organically. They also buy grapes from a group of fifty-eight growers that have vines all over the island. Their annual production is 300’000 bottles split roughly between 55% white and 45% red. They also produce some rosé and some sweet wine.
Savvas explained to me how in the last fifteen to twenty years a revolution has been taking place in winemaking in Greece. Winemaking itself remains traditional but huge investments have been made in new machinery, in stainless steel cellar equipment.
Sixty percent of their wine is sold on the Greek market, all over Greece. The remaining forty percent is exported to North America, UK, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Holland and China.
Sarah Jefford – What is special about Paros?
Savvas Moraitis – Viticulture in Paros is ancient. It dates back to 3000 BC. On the small island of Despotiko, adjacent to Antiparos, archeological remains have been found attesting to the most ancient civilisation in Europe.
In antiquity Paros was renowned for the quality of its marble, which was particularly fine and transparent. Venus de Milo and Hermes have both been sculpted out of Parian marble.
On the viticultural front, Paros has not been hit by phylloxera. Vines here are not grafted. Vines that grow on their own root system have a long lifetime and thus many of our vines are very old.
What is the climate and the soil like here ?
Paros has its own microclimate. It is very dry, there is little rainfall and we have north winds all year round. The soil is poor. It is mainly sandy clay and sand on the coastline. In the more mountainous areas the soil is rocky with often a layer of marble underneath.
You have lots of different grape varieties, what is a typical harvest for you?
Our harvest usually begins in August and finishes at the end of September. The order in which we pick the varieties is Assyrtiko, Malagousia, then Monemvasia and we finish with the red varietals.
What is your outlook for this year’s harvest?
2015 has been a good year for Paros with a good rainfall in the spring and good winds in the summer.
Where are your vineyards located?
Our vineyards are scattered in many different areas of the island: in Ambelas and Isterni on the eastern coast, as well as from Marmara all the way down the coast to the southern tip of the island; Kamares on the top western part of the island, between Naoussa and Parikia. Our vineyards in Lefkes and Thapsales, in the centre of the island, are the highest and the oldest.
How are the vines trained? Are they trellised?
The winds on Paros are very strong. We therefore only use trellises on sites that are sheltered from the wind. Our Assyrtiko and Malagousia which grow in Isterni are trellised. The rest of the vines are free standing.
Are your free standing vines woven into baskets like on Santorini?
The main technique that we use here is “Aplotaria”. The vines are planted some distance apart and are left to sprawl without support. This system protects the vines from the wind. As the plant is close to the ground this enables it to capture humidity from the wind at night time under its leaves. This is an important source of water in this otherwise dry climate.
Moraiti, Sillogi 2014, PGI Cyclades, Greece
(Product of organic farming)
A dry white wine made from the Assyrtiko and Malagousia grape varieties.
Tasting note: the colour is a pale lemon with a hint of green. On the nose ripe lemons, some sweetness, lime zest and green apple. On the palate sweet lemons, lime with a dry backbone, bitter apple skins, silky body and medium acidity. The assyrtiko’s searing acidity and powerful body has been tempered by the aromatic Malagousia. The resulting wine is light in body yet with texture.
Ktima Moraiti, Malagousia 2014, PGI Cyclades, Greece
(Product of organic farming)
Malagousia is a grape variety that according to Greek wine author Lazarakis (2005) “has the power of a Chardonnay, the extract of a great Semillon, a great affinity with oak, and an aromatic character that could only be described as unique”. A previously “forgotten” varietal that is believed to have originated in the western part of continental Greece, it has today found renewed interest.
Tasting note: Wafts of Williams pear and salty citrus. A nice weight on the palate, peach, apricot, orange and bitter lemon peel.
Moraitis, Paros 2014, Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Paros, Greece
The grapes for this white wine come from vineyards all the way along the east coast of Paros, from the level of Marmara right down to the south. The soil is sand. The grape variety is Monemvasia which is thought to have its origins in the southern Peloponese, from the area surrounding the town which gave it its name. It became extinct on the mainland under the Ottoman empire but was preserved on the island of Paros. Today it is only really found on Paros though there have been some new plantings in Laconia, close to its region of birth.
Tasting note: Aromas of lemon squash, white flowers, lemon, apple, pineapple. Dry, light bodied with medium acidity, with a little bitterness, minerality, citrus, white flowers, green apples.
This white wine has been fermented classically in stainless steel.
Moraitis, Estate 2014, PDO Paros, Greece
(13% abc – 3’000 bottes produced)
The grapes are Monemvasia sourced from top vineyards close to Kamares, on the north-western side of the island. The soil is poor and sandy, and offers good drainage. These are Moraitis’ own vineyards and are organically grown. The grapes are handpicked. Eighty percent of them are fermented in stainless steel and the remaining twenty percent in barrels. The wood is 100% new French oak with a light toast. Once the fermentation has taken place the wine that has fermented in oak is added to the stainless steel fermented wine and is left on the lees for six months. In addition to the latter procedure, skins are left in contact with the juice before the fermentation to create complexity. Fermentation temperatures are kept low.
Tasting note: Pungent on the nose with aromas of apricot, white peach, pear. Med+ acidity. The wine is dry and has been fermented to dryness but Savvas Moraitis tells me that the Monemvasia grape variety has sweet aromas that give an impression of sweetness.
This is one of their top range wines which can be aged up to ten years.
Moraitis, Paros 2013, barrel fermented, PDO Paros, Greece
(13% abc – 5’000 bottles produced)
The grape variety is Monemvasia. This white wine is entirely fermented in oak barrels and is left on its lees for six months with regular stirring. The barrels are medium toast, 100% new French oak from Tonnellerie Nadalié in the Médoc. This step adds extra richness and complexity to the wine. The grapes are sourced from Moraitis’ group of grape growers, from vineyards in the Lefkes area, in the mountainous centre of the island.
Tasting note: Aromas that are smoky, evocative of lemon and lime cordial and pear “tarte tatin”. Intense with quite a full body, medium acidity and a long length, the palate unfolds sweet limes, citrus, almond paste, a hint of bitterness, Bassetts’ blue liquorice sweets and pomegranate.
Ktima Moraiti, Rosé 2014, Aidani Mavro-Mandilaria, PGI Cyclades, Greece
(Product of organic farming)
Moraitis’ rosé is made from a blend of Aidani Mavro and Mandilaria. The Aidani Mavro is a grape variety that is only found on Paros, in the Cycladic islands and on Crete. It is adapted to the hot and dry climate of the islands and copes well with water stress (Lazarakis, 2005). Mandilaria is the most common red grape in the Cyclades. According to Savvas it is the darkest grape varieties in Greece. It has high tannin and high acidity. This rosé displays the colour of the Mandilaria and the aroma of the Aidani. Both varieties are fermented separately. There is a three hour period of skin contact for the Aidani Mavro. For the Mandilaria the press cycle has to be kept very short.
Tasting note: Bright cherryade colour. Very fruity, strawberries, cherries, peach, caramel, red sweets. Appealing, quite full on the palate, dry and fresh.
Moraitis, Sillogi 2010, Greece
(Product of organic farming)
A blend of 75% Aidani Mavro and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet Sauvignon vines are thirty years old but are in the process of being phased out to be replaced with indigenous grape varieties. The vines are from vineyards on either side of the island: Kamares, on the north-western side, in from the beach where the soil is sandy clay and rock; Ambelas, on the north-eastern coast where the soil is sandy clay.
Tasting note: An earthy and floral nose with violets and irises. A spicy, earthy body with savoury and sweet notes including red cherries, sun-dried tomatoes, pansies, caramel and coffee. Silky with a long length.
Moraitis, Paros 2011, PDO Paros, Greece
This is a red wine but it is unusual in that it is made with 75% Mandilaria, a red variety, and 25% Monemvasia, a white variety. This blend is particular to Paros and has a long tradition. The vines were planted together and used to be pressed together. Mandilaria is very tannic, has a very high acidity and a very deep red colour.
Tasting note: Intense and generous nose with floral tones, prune, orange, cinnamon. A very spicy palate, with more cinnamon, smoke, dark fruit and black olives. The wine spent twelve months in 85% French and 25% American oak.
Moraitis, Paros Reserve 2009, PDO Paros, Greece
This is a red wine, a traditional Paros blend of the tannic red Mandilaria and the aromatic white Monemvasia. The grapes are sourced from Lefkes, from the oldest and the highest vineyards on Paros. The old vines, low yields and elevation bring concentration and freshness to the wine. Paros Reserve matures for twenty-four months in oak and one year in bottle.
Tasting note: Monemvasia’s peach and apricot aromatics come through on the nose amidst Mandilaria’s dark fruit and savouriness. The palate is fresh and complex and offers floral notes, dark fruit, prunes, plums, caramel, dried raisins and hints of very concentrated strawberry jam.
Moraiti, Liastos 2008, Produce of Greece
A beautiful dessert wine made from the white Monemvasia grape variety. The grapes have been left out to dry on the soil for fifteen days. The wine is aged two years in oak barrels.
Tasting note: See-through mahoganny with amber coloured rim. Fresh aromas of caramel, coffee, orange, grapefruit, fig and waxy honey. Luscious and silky sweet on the palate but not overbearing, medium bodied with fresh acidity, raisins, prunes, toffee, fresh orange, apricots, figs and a little heat. A long finish. Does not need to be paired with dessert. It is a good accompaniment to nuts.
Lazarakis, K. 2005, The Wines of Greece, Kindle ed., Mitchell Beazley, London