This wine had to speak for itself: It arrived in a box with no other introduction.
Typically, the way it works with wine samples is a representative sends an email asking if we’d like to taste this or that wine. And if I say, sure, a few days later, a box arrives, with assorted information, tasting notes, nifty quotes from winemakers, and so forth.
This, however, was simply two bottles of rose pink sparkling wine with silver foil and labels. A clue to its origins was that it looked like olive tree leaves on the foil; the only words on the front label were: Akakies, Sparkling, 2016, Kir-Yianni.
It was the back label that confirmed what the olive tree leaves indicated; it was written in Greek.
Fine print, in English, also disclosed that the wine was made from xinomavro grapes grown in the Amydeon Heights, in an area surrounded by four lakes.
I was due at a Fourth of July party, and so I chilled a bottle, thinking: a sparkling wine from the birthplace of democracy, in a time when our own is being severely tested, I’d bring it with me.
Here is what happened: it vanished in minutes, and I was chastised when I admitted that I actually had two bottles of the wine but had kept one at home.
It garnered praise for its fresh, crisp balance of fruit and acid, its refreshing sparkle, and its low alcohol, 11.5 percent. No one, however, had ever heard of the Amydeon Heights.
It was, all agreed, a wine that went with fireworks, friends and summer nights.
The following week, I got an email from a PR person asking if, by chance, a winery in Greece had shipped me a bottle of sparking wine. I asked, would that be the Akakies from Kir-Yianni in the Amydeon Heights?
“Oh God,” she said. “They jumped the gun.”
She promised to track down and send information, such as bottle notes and where the Amydeon Heights are; Google Maps couldn’t find it.
Meanwhile, I’d been invited to a wine lunch at Tarla’s in Napa hosted by a contingent of winemakers from Naoussa, Greece. I went and, lo and behold, here was the xinomavro grape again in a stellar assortment of red wines.
Naoussa, I learned, is a town in the foothills of western Macedonia. Its vineyards are on the slopes of Mount Vermion, “the place of origin and the most important growing area of xinomavro, Naoussa’s black grape.”
According to mythology, Mount Vermion was the home of Semele, the mother of Dionysus, the god of wine. In Naoussa, also, archaeologists have found remains of the School of Mieza where Aristole taught. Clearly, xinomavro is a grape with roots.
Wine is woven into the culture of Naoussa; during Carnivale, residents celebrate by dancing through their streets in a ritual that wards off evil spirits and blesses their grapes. Nonetheless, the community’s grapes were destroyed by phyloxera in the 1930s. Today, the rich traditions are blended with new vineyards, modern technology, and a generation of enthusiastic, new winemakers.
Xinomavro grapes, are grown in other parts of Greece, I learned, but, according to the visitors from Naoussa, in their region, this robust, disease-resistant and high-yielding grape “reaches its maturity and perfect expression with ease.”
The winemakers provided a list of eight samples of Naoussa’s xinomavro; and one of the wines came from Kir-Yianni winery. The Amydeon Heights, it turned out, are on the slopes of Mount Vermion.
Kir-Yianni winery was founded in 1997 by Yiannis Boutaris after he left the Boutair Wine Group, which had been founded by his grandfather in 1879. Today, Stellios Boutaris is the fifth-generation winemaker. Under his leadership, the winery produces an extensive list of wines, showcasing the indigenous xinomavro but also including syrah, merlot, chardonnay, assyrtiko and blends.
We enjoyed the wines with Tarla’s rich, savory dishes, stuffed eggplants and chicken kebabs; but my favorite xinomavro remains the mysterious visitor, the Akakies sparkling.
Diamond Imports out of Chicago imports Kir-Yianni; these and other Greek wines can be found at Craft Beer & Wine in Alameda.
Or, if you are lucky, a bottle will just arrive on your doorstep.