Nemea – A lion amongst Greek wines
Name two red wine regions from Greece – The fastest answer would be Naoussa and Nemea. That’s because these two were among the first recognized appellations and the grapes Xinomavro and Agiorgitiko have carved their own unique identities.
While Xinomavro with it’s Barolo like character is the main player in Naoussa, Nemea is Agiorgitiko country. For those not well versed in Greek, Agiorgitiko means “Saint George”. It is not uncommon to see bottles in the United States labelled as “Saint George wine”. We will stick to Greek and call it Agiorgitiko. Below is the church of Saint George in Nemea.
For those unfamiliar with the wine, the name Nemea may still seem familiar. That’s because this is where Hercules performed the first of his ten labors.
Story goes that he was asked to bring the pelt of this monstrous lion that lived in Nemea. Upon meeting the big cat, Hercules executes Plan A and attacks it with the weapons in his arsenal only to find out that the skin is impenetrable.
Now on to Plan B. Our hero rushes the lion and strangles it. Only Hercules would do this, right? He cannot cut off the pelt with his own knife as the skin won’t budge to earthly metals. So, he uses the lion’s own claws to take out the pelt. Then he placed the dead lion among the stars and you have your constellation Leo.
If you are born between July 23rd and August 22nd, this is your Zodiac sign. Xronia Polla!
I come to this narrative with an outsider’s lens, with a bias born in the New World and this is just an overview. Better people than me have opined about Nemea and written about it. I suggest you read the jottings of Yannis Karakasis who has written about Agiorgitiko and Nemea.
If you ask me, this is a red wine drinker’s red! This is Agiorgitiko country, although Cabernets, Merlots and other reds do really well here. Did I tell you that Nemea was the first Greek red wine that rocked my boat. Here is why. This is a very rich, full bodied red and in the right hands it shows red berries, fruit jam, plums and currants and spice and all things nice. While young, it is very drinkable as the tannins are not overpowering, but it has tremendous potential for ageing. I have stashed away some Agiorgitiko to enjoy in a few years.
Nemea looks and reminds me of Napa Valley. It does. It has rolling hills carpeted with vineyards with mountains along it’s edges and a rural feel that unfortunately is fading from Napa, and a climate that is great for Bordeaux varietals as well as Agiorgitiko.
Like Napa, the appellation is one big region with has sub appellations like Koutsi, Petri, Leonti etc. Lykos winery which is based in Evia, makes a full throttle wine from this region that is big, bold and brash and unapologetically called Kratistos. Kratistos which means bold, is another example of how Agiorgitiko plays in some hands.
There are other notable names here like Papaioannou, Strofilia and some larger production names like Gaia and Semeli. Christos Aivalis and his son Sotiris makes some stellar wines from this region that have defined a new wave. We do not represent these other wineries, but I would urge the reader to seek these wines to understand and appreciate this region.
The sub-appellations you should pay particular attention to, is around the region of Stymfalia (another Herculean labor occurred here!) – Asprokambos. We found our way to this area of Nemea last Summer.
Here, cool climate Agiorgitiko carves its own identity showing how great this grape can be in the right hands. There aren’t too many players here – Pirgakis and Bizios and they are doing some stellar work, quietly. The best artists are the ones who are quiet and let their work do the talking.
Asprokambos is dramatic. It is the scenic Nemea with mountains rising up on 3 sides to form a bowl along the slopes of which are the vineyards of Kostas Pirgakis. His bottling “Spylia” is the one you should seek.
Advantage of altitude means grapes that have ripened slowly to achieve a remarkable balance of fruit and acidity. This is an iron fist in a velvet glove.
If you are a newbie to Greek wines, my suggestion would be to start your journey with a good bottle of Nemea. If you dig North Coast California Cabernets, you will definitely understand Agiorgitko from Nemea. Check out the Spylia from Konstantinos Pirgakis below.