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The Wine Round Table

The wine regulars' table is a traditional non-profit institution at Wein-Plus. Wine lovers can register for the Stammtisch and then receive a monthly package of interesting wines.
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A small chapel in Nemea, a small town in the east of the Greek peninsula Peloponnese gave it one of its many names: St. George's Vine. It refers to the Aghiorghitiko, a red wine grape that has its home in the area around Nemea. Other names are Mavroudi (simply means black and also exists as an official grape variety, but it is not identical to the Agiorghitiko) or simply Nemea grape.

The Agiorghitiko is one of about 500 autochthonous Greek grape varieties. At an altitude of about 500 metres, it produces wines that do not have to fear international comparison with international grape varieties such as Cabernet & Co. However, I have never found any wines worth mentioning made from this variety outside of its homeland around Nemea.

Barique cellar of Georges Papaioannou

What is special about the zone? Compared to the west of the Peloponnese, the east has rather little rainfall. In addition, the cultivation zone is comparatively high (450 to 650 metres). The actual Nemea O.D.A.P. (comparable with the Italian DOC or French AOC) prescribes a pure grape variety Agiorghitiko. However, the region also produces excellent Cabernets (e.g. Skouras), Pinot Noirs (e.g. Papaioanou) or various Cuvees from international grape varieties and the Agiorghitiko. The white wines are dominated by Moschofilero, which is actually native to the neighbouring region of Mantinia and produces wines comparable to Gewürztraminer, and Roditis, which is widespread throughout the Peloponnese. But here, too, there are quite interesting experiences with Chardonnay.

But the focus of attention when we deal with this region is and remains the Agiorghitiko. Elegant, complex wines with good acidity, lots of structure and fruit. It is suitable for ageing in steel, large wood or also in barrique. It does not produce alcoholic warm monsters, but elegant, fruity wines, actually reminiscent of cooler regions. Of course, it also exists as thin, inconsequential wines. So, as in every wine-growing region in the world, one should turn to the few producers who are focused on quality. In Greece in general, one speaks of a new generation of winemakers. Starting about 15 to 20 years ago, a few producers have begun to break away from the dominance of the large wineries and produce their own individual wines.

The centre of the region is Nemea and the satelite Archia Nemea. Both are small towns that do not even remotely approach the charm of other European wine-growing towns. You have to look very closely to even notice that you are in a wine region here. To be honest: as a normal visitor, you should quickly leave the place behind - after visiting the ancient excavation sites.

Of course, this does not apply to those interested in wine. Here you will find a little more than a handful of producers who can be counted among the new, quality-oriented generation of winemakers in Greece and who make a visit worthwhile.

One region, many sites

The valley of Ancient Nemea

The Nemea wine-growing region comprises many areas. These differ already in altitude. But also the soil and the exposure to sun and wind mean that the conditions are sometimes very different. Who knows, maybe one day there will be sub-regions here or even, as for example for the DOCG Barolo (Italy), additional site indications on the labels. An attempt to print the sub-region (Koutsi) on the labels has already been banned at Gaia. Palivos at least prints "Anchient Nemea Valley" as additional information on its export labels.

Only a few producers determine the picture

One of the pioneers in the region is Thanassis Papaioannou and his son Georges in Archia Nemea. I already portrayed them a year ago(see the report). Unfortunately, their wines are hardly present abroad. The reason for this is probably the distribution structure via an exclusive marketer in Athens. Wine merchants and restaurateurs in Germany who specialise in Greece have confirmed to me more than once how much they would like to stock Papaioannou if the wines were available directly. However, according to Georges Papaioannou, they don't have the time. He and his father take care of the wine; they have left the distribution in other hands.

George Palivou

Not far from there, you come across George Palivou. He took over the small business from his parents and changed it from a normal simple wine-growing business to an amazingly offensive and exciting highlight in the region. George Palivou doesn't want to know much about tradition either. When asked about the history of his business, he explains that he naturally took over the business from his parents and grandparents. But that is quite normal. Everyone has grown grapes here at some point. Some still do it today in the traditional way. Others have given it up. People have always been able to grow and harvest grapes here. But it's only been in the last few years that people have learned how to make real wine.
If you visit Palivou, you can see from the outside that you are not dealing with one of the many 0-8-15 producers. Even the large, modern sign at the entrance is unusual by Greek standards. Normally, visitors are expected to have an almost detective-like sense of intuition in order to be found at all. The visitors then arrive in a tasting room furnished with great taste, also anything but a matter of course. At Pavilou, it is not only these externals that are exciting, but also the thinking, work and results of the work of this family business.
Pavilou focuses almost exclusively on Agiorghitiko in his work. In addition, he works with the Rhoditis, from which he presses clean, less demanding white wines. He is also busy with a few experiments with international grape varieties such as Chardonay & Co, but so far these are only "walking tests" that have no great significance. Nor should they necessarily be.

Georges Skouras was also visited and portrayed by me a year ago (to the report). With his Aghiorghitiko and the Nemea Grand Cuvee, he has two single-varietal Aghiorghitiko in his programme that show what this grape can do. The Megas Oenos is a blend of Aghiorghitiko with Cabernet Sauvignon.
The planned racking in the new winery near Nemea has not yet taken place.

Gaia (pronounced Jea) was founded in 1997 by Leon Karatsalos and Yannis Paraskevopoulos. Leon takes care of sales and organisation, while Yannis is responsible for the wine.

Agiorgitiko vines from Gaia

Unlike most other producers, Gaia is not a traditional winery. Leon Karatsalos explains it this way: "We first considered which grape varieties and regions in Greece had the most potential. We decided on Assirthiko in Santorini and Aghiorghitiko in Nemea." In Nemea, they then bought a plot of land in a prominent location above the vineyards of Koutsi and built the farm there. They then started with 7 ha of their own vineyards around the property. In the meantime, more grapes have been purchased. A structural extension is planned for the coming year. The view from their office is a real dream: All around, the sublime view of the vineyards of the region. Working here must be a joy. Nevertheless, Gaia's main office is like so many businesses in Athens. Leon answers the why as most Greeks probably would: "Athens is everything. You have to be there" Half of all Greeks live in Athens. In fact, in hardly any other country is everything concentrated in one city as much as in Greece.
The debut of this estate in Nemea in 1997 was perfect. The '97 "Gaia Estate" (Nemea O.D.A.P.) immediately became one of the most sought-after and expensive wines in Greece. Rightly so!

International grape varieties are not an issue for Gaia. There is simply no reason to bother with them. Nemea's chances, says Leon Karatsalos, lie in Agiorghitiko and not in knocking off Chardonnay, Cabernet & Co

Papantonis in Argos and Lafazanis in Nemea are two other producers who have only been trying to produce high-quality wines for a few years. Unfortunately, a visit was not yet possible. Since we do not want to rely on outside sources here, we unfortunately still have to put the reader off with details. In any case, along with Papaioannou, Skouras, Gaia and Palivou, these two are among the producers from Nemea who are mentioned in connection with high-quality Aghiorgthitiko. In addition, there are other top producers from other regions who make Nemea quality wine. These include, for example, Spiropulous from Mantinia or Thanasis Parparoussis from the region around Patras.


If you are looking for the wines of these small and committed producers, you will not find them in the supermarkets in Greece or in German supermarkets. There, the "big four" Boutaris, Tsantalis, Achia Claus and Kourtakis also dominate in terms of Agiorghitiko from Nemea. They buy grapes from the region and then develop them into Nemea O.D.A.P.. In addition, there is the cooperative in Nemea, which also produces quantities of Nemea O.D.A.P. suitable for supermarket wine. Those who are looking for very inexpensive but still acceptable Aghiorghitiko will sometimes find what they are looking for here. The quality level of these large producers, however, is not comparable to that of the producers mentioned above.

Leon Karatsalos (Gaia) explains why Greek wines have not yet found their way into the consciousness and cellars of German wine lovers:

  • The export of Greek wine to Germany today is almost exclusively done by Greeks who export wine to Germany alongside cheese, olive oil and other Greek products. They simply lack the necessary know-how.
  • The awareness of wine often starts in the gastronomy. Greek cuisine in Germany, however, is usually cheap cuisine without any particular standards (author's note: how right he is, unfortunately). Here, however, the high-quality Greek wines do not match the claim, nor do they match the price.
  • The image of Greek wine is shaped by cheap wines that are exported to Germany in large quantities by the big wineries.

It is about time that Greek wine finds its way into the assortments of the big distributors and traders. It has to get out of its niche existence. It deserves it.


The topic of Agiorgitiko is exciting enough to dedicate a month to it in the Wine Round Table at Wein-Plus. For this purpose, a tasting of some single-varietal Agiorgitiko wines took place on 16 February. The tasting was blind. The description and evaluation were done by Marcus Hofschuster.

As the wine of the month for the regulars' table, we decided on the rosé from Gaia and the point winner of the tasting from Parparoussis. Both are great representatives of this diverse grape variety.

Current vintages

Very good vintages in Nemea were 1998, 2000 and 2001
Also good was 1997. 1999 was too wet and brought only average results.
The year 2002 was a catastrophe: unusually heavy and continuous rainfall led to extreme rotting and lack of ripeness. Some producers left the grapes hanging right away.
The 2003 vintage is again rated as good to very good.

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