Domaine Karydas Naoussa 2003
In Greek, the grape name Xinomavro means “acid black,” rather a foreboding name for a
wine capable of being genuinely friendly. The Naoussa appellation in Macedonia, delineated
in 1971, was the first under the modern Greek classification system. Xinomavro thrives in
higher elevations in inland Macedonia ranging from 600 to about 1100 feet. It is an iffy grape
from an uncertain climate (more continental than Aegean), but one capable simultaneously of
expressing timeless Greek earth with a timely modern wine style. The Karydas succeeds in
bridging this dichotomy.
Petros Karydas and his son grow 100% Xinomavro on a tiny holding just south of the town of Naoussa in the center of the appellation. The soil is light clay and sand over a limestone base. The winery produces a shade over 1,000 cases of the Naoussa a year.
The $22 wine (which I aerated a full five hours) is a clear ruby with garnet edges. In keeping with the visual, many of the aromatic notes are also red: red licorice, cherry and red plum, with a spicy, earthy minerality, mushroom, and musky smoke, with sweet floral swirls just to keep it interesting (if not fascinating).
In the mouth, the tannin speaks without timidity, though you want to enjoy it now for what it is rather than as a vector for some theoretic aging process. These are firm, drying tannins that you love for exactly what they are. The wine's acidity, while perhaps not stark enough to be called “black,” is uplifting and energetic. The big word (so far) is “grip.” The red fruit consists of cherry, plum, and strawberry (more berries on the palate than on the nose) with both the warmth and the tang of an uncharacteristic apricot. We know this wine has seen wood, with accents of cedar, cigar box, tobacco, cocoa, some leather, and dried mountain herb. An earthy minerality provides the bottom: gravel and crushed rock, the kind you would use to build a road you expected to last.
The wine finishes well, with fruit giving way to kernel notes like the cocoa. The abiding tannins dry it all out and get you ready for the next mouthful.
I have so far described a wine that seems proudly masculine, and yet the wine is so well tied
together that the mouthfeel reaches into the realm of soft elegance. As Macedonian, as Greek,
as earth-connected as this wine is, it has a Bordeaux-like feel to go with its Balkan
personality. Proud modern Greek winemakers know how to access the best the French have to
offer. As a lifelong student of Western civilization I can appreciate the merger of timeless
Greece and venerable France. The Karydas family has certainly pulled off the synthesis.
Verdict: A cultural statement
The connection between Greece and wine brings up the future as much as the past.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman