Friday, November 22, 2013

A Visit to the Gavalas Winery

Gavalas is one of the oldest wineries on the island, at over 3 centuries in use, but still a humble affair.

A simple sign announces this place.

Although once inside, there are some signs of modernity.

A cool fermentation in this climate is something that a lot of producers of white wines opt for.

And of course steel can help with that.

The condensation told the story of the surrounding temperature.

All told, Gavalas makes 4 white wines, 2 reds, a rose, and a vinsanto in any given year.

It is a humble, functional cellar.

The old wood is often Russian in origin. The story being that the ships sailing to Russia took with them the vinsanto that the Russian Orthodox Church used for communion, and that they then returned laden with wood for the barrels in trade.

As there are no forests on the island of Santorini, that sort of trade would seem to make  a lot of sense.

The wood in the oldest vinsanto barrel in the room, I was told, is 150 years old. And the wood in the youngest vinsanto barrel is 50 years old.

They would not say which barrel was which, however.

The vinsanto, which is aged in wood for at least 6 years, is not fortified.

They use indigenous yeasts for the fermentation of the vinsanto, while the other wines are the product of selected yeast. The barrels used for the white wines are much less old than those for the vinsanto. They age the Nikteri in 5 year old barrels, for instance.

The white wines do not go through malo, and usually the red wines do not either.

A look into another room...

...and this is where the vinsanto is fermented as it has been for centuries. The grapes are stomped in the area above....

...and then the fermenting juice flows into this area...

...while the woven basket catches any grape skins that have travelled along in this direction with the juice. It's that simple.

Back out to the courtyard...

...where a tasting has been prepared for us.

The Santorini, which blends mostly Assyrtiko with Aidani, is bottled in a blue glass reminiscent of the color of the nearby sea. We tried both the 2012 and the 2011 of this, and my preference was for the older vintage.

Katsano is actually the name of a grape variety. Gavalas is the only producer of a Katsano wine that I know of, however this is also blended with some of the grape known as Gaidouria. The 2006 vintage was the first for this bottling, of which they have not made more than 3,000 bottles in any given year. The flavor of the 2012 was saline and peachy, without the drive or the breadth that I tend to associate with Assyrtiko.

Although I didn't take a picture, I should mention that Gavalas makes a pretty good Nikteri from later harvest grapes that have seen 8 months in wood.

This "Xenofoo" bottling is actually a blend of the red grapes Mavrotragano and Mandilaria, as well as a bit of the white Athiri. Athiri is a grape that is sometimes used for Retsina. Here it probably lent to the coferment the citrus character that I was picking up, while the red grapes and their 18 hours on the skins probably brought with them the spicy character. There was also a sweetness to the fruit, until the dry finish. Altogether, an unusual coupling and more notable for oddity than grace. But perhaps the right food pairing would lend the proper perspective.

The "Iris" Rose (there is an "Iris" Red as well) is a blend of 90% Assytiko and 10% Mandilaria. Those are pretty standard percentages for the roses from the island, which are generally mostly made from white grapes. In this case, both colors of grape were blended together as grapes, and cofermented. The result is a rose that tastes like a white with tannin ("black tea tannin," remarked my friend Pascaline).

While the 2005 Vinsanto from Gavalas was notably good (my notes say "a very appealing blend of oxidation and sugar"), the real profound tasting moment of the day was delivered by this 1967 Gavalas Vinsanto, which was bottled in 2012. Clocking in at 9.5% alcohol, this was originally fermented by the current Mr. Gavalas' father.

And Whew, boy! It was good. A treat that you wanted to linger with and drink in the same moment.

But Mr. Gavalas' own favorite drink of choice is homemade Raki, made from the leftover skins and seeds of fermented wine, those boiled together and distilled. With a bit of prodding, he shared some with us, although his is not for sale. The flavors were soft and sweet, and not harsh on the palate at all, although the nose was a bit thin.

It was certainly nice of Mr. Gavalas to share it with us. He is the fourth generation of the family to work  at the winery.

The tasting done, we headed along the pathway to the nearby restaurant.

Which was called, appropriately enough, Raki.

There, on the sun dappled terrace, we prepared for lunch.

The locals were just finishing their card game.

The family was pictured on the wall.

And the tourists were gathered for a cooking demonstration.

But there was plenty of room for us all.

And once we settled in, the traditional dishes began to arrive at the table.

This fried feta dish, coated with sesame seeds and honey, was especially good. As was the bread, which I forgot to take a picture of.

In my defense, it had been a long afternoon, and we were all feeling a bit drowsy.

So when dessert came...

...we also asked for coffee. Which is more like Turkish coffee than espresso.

And then we thanked the friendly staff, whom I understood to be all from one family, before leaving. It had been a good day.

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