This summer we enjoyed a fabulous tour and tasting at Mercouri Estate, near Pyrgos, Ilias. Come along with us to this winery, established in 1864.
Greek wine tasting: Mercouri Estate
Seeking a Greek Wine Experience
In anticipation of our trip to Greece this summer, and because of our love of wine, I contacted Sofia Perpera at All About Greek Wine. Sofia runs the U.S.-based enterprise whose mission is to promote Greek wines here in the States. We first met several years ago, when I interviewed her for a piece in our local newspaper. I told her we would love to visit a winery in Greece and I asked for a suggestion.
“Will you be anywhere near Pyrgos, Ilias?” she asked.
I chuckled, as I responded that that was precisely where I would be, as my dad is from a village not far from there. She noted that one of the best wine experiences in Greece happens to be at Ktima Merkouri – also known as Mercouri Estate – near Pyrgos. Sofia said she would contact them and advise them of our visit. We were thrilled.
We stayed in Kallithea, about halfway between Andritsaina and Krestena, where my father’s sister and brother, and some cousins, live. The tiny, adjacent village where my father was born, boasts only five homes, a small church, and a cemetery; no kafenio, no plateia. Kallithea is actually the town where my grandmother was born, and where I stay when I am in the area. I consider it “my” horio. It’s a town that lives up to its name – gaze out to the mountainside, and there is only green, lush, fertile land, as far as the eye can see. Kallithea, on my thia’s balcony, is my “happy place,” where all feels right with the world. This image is one I call upon often, especially in stressful times.
I told my cousins that we wanted to visit this winery. They were excited to tag along. I don’t know that they have ever been to a “real winery.” I say real, because family members have occasionally their own wine. This would be an entirely new experience for them. We have enjoyed wine tasting in Italy and California, and were eager to enjoy this experience in Greece. I have actually had wines from Mercouri Estate, at a wine tasting in Chicago many years ago. I recalled enjoying the wine, and then liking it even more when I learned that it was from “our part” of Greece.
Visit to Mercouri Estate
We were told to arrive late morning, due to many tours from cruise ships, and afternoon siesta. We’re not accustomed to drinking that early in the morning, but hey, we were on vacation, and this would be a treat. We drove to a place in the town of Korakochori, near the port of Katakolo, and arrived in an area that was predominantly agricultural – miles of fields presented themselves: grape vines, olive trees, and other miscellaneous produce. And there it was. We had arrived.
We went to the main area, a quaint stone building, where I introduced myself to a woman who had come out to greet us, and explained that Sofia had sent us.
She called inside, in Greek, “Dimitri, did you speak to Kyria Perpera today?”
To that Dimitris Kanellakopoulos, a fifth generation winemaker, sprang out the door.
My cousins weren’t used to my pseudo “celebrity status,” though my husband and kids are pretty used to it at this point. (I say this tongue in cheek.) Everywhere we go, it seems I see someone I know or someone knows me from my writing, which is incredibly cool. This happened later at the Acropolis Museum, but that’s another story for another time. It was nice to be treated like VIPs.
With that, Dimitris ushered us inside for a private tour.
History of Mercouri Estate
Established in 1864 by his great grandfather, Theodoris Mercouris, the estate has a longstanding reputation for producing top quality wine and olive oil. The winery’s brochure includes a brief but storied history. In 1870, Mercouris imported some cuttings of the Refosco vines from Italy, and planted the first vineyard on the estate. This dark-skinned grape, whose name literally means dark grape, is one of the oldest varieties of Italian grapes, grown predominantly in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Northeast Italy. The wine produced from these grapes not only has a deep violet color, but is known to be tannic, with strong currant, berry and plum notes, as well as being slightly bitter. This set the fledgling winery on its way, soon after importing wines to Central Europe, filling small sailing boats anchored at Katakolo en route to Trieste, Italy. This brought notoriety to the Estate, and eventually, this grape became widely planted in the area, and taking on the local nickname of “Mercouri”.
Son Leonidas Mercouris built a modern winery with underground wine tanks in the 1930s. Many of the old wine-making implements are exhibited at the winery, in a small museum dedicated to the history and evolution of the Estate. This “modern” winery remained in operation well into the 1950s. In 1985, the third and fourth generations of the family began to revive the wine-making tradition. The entire operation was modernized, and they branded their products for export worldwide. Since then, the vineyard has been expanded and covers approximately 40 acres (16 hectares) of the Ichthis peninsula. Fifteen different varieties grow on the property. In addition to Refosco, they also grow Mavrodaphne, and other Greek indigenous varieties, including whites like Assyrtiko and Robolla, and reds Avgoustiatis and Agiorgitiko. Additionally, they grow many international varities, like Viognier, Malvazia di Candia, Ribolla gialla, Albarino, Merlot, Negroamaro (I didn’t get to taste this one – too bad because I’ve enjoyed some Italian Negroamaro and it was lovely. Incidentally, some say the “maro” in Negroamaro is descendent from the Greek word “mavro,” which means black), Mourvedre, Syrah, and Grenache Rouge. Their wines are sold in Greece and exported worldwide.
I’m a big fan of Santorini Assyrtiko, and I asked how the local terroir altered the taste of this wine; the Santorini variety is known foc of the influence of the volcanic soil. Dimitri said that it did change the character of the wine, and assured us it was still quite good. They blend it with Robola to create their Kallisto dry white wine.
Barrels, Barrels, and More Barrels
Dimitris took us through rooms filled to the brim with wine barrels, some full of wine, aging to perfection, while others waited patiently for this year’s harvest. He spoke to us about how they age the wines using different types of barrels depending on the wine. There is a whole science behind the barrels – their care, maintenance, storage, etc. Some wines are stored and aged in huge stainless steel containers, which we saw as well.
It was a big treat to go down to the cellar – an actual stone cellar – whose cold air was a welcome respite on a scorching hot Greek day. We then walked the property, and talked about some of their varieties. What a pleasant surprise to be greeted by a peacock who lives on the estate.
Then it was back to the reception area for the tasting. We sat on benches at a wood table, where we tasted two wines. Sadly, only two, since a large tour group was arriving.
We began with Foloi Fume made from the red Roditis grape and grown in the cooler altitudes of nearby Mount Foloi (there is also a nearby village of the same name), and combined with Viognier, this vineyard produces about 40,000 bottles per year. It’s a dry white that’s bright and crisp, not sweet. It has a hint of sparkle, with citrus aromas. I like Viogniers, and this one is a
definite thumbs up. This wine goes well with fish, shellfish, white meats, meats served with cream sauces, pasta, cheese, and fruits. This wine is a Protected Geographical Indication, “Peloponnese”; this EU special designation was created to “promote and protect the names of quality agricultural products. In fact, most Mercouri wines bear a Protected Geographical Indication.
Next it was time for what is arguably their most popular wine, Domaine Mercouri. This is the wine I sampled years ago at a tasting in Chicago. Marketed since 1989 with production nearing 100,000 bottles per year, this unique red, a skillful blending of Refosco and Mavrodaphne is full-bodied, with a deep color and hints of cherry, chocolate, and cinnamon, perhaps even a hint of vanilla that it gets from the oak barrel where it’s aged. It pairs well with roasted red and white meats, casseroles and hard cheeses. This wine’s Protected Geographic Indication is “Letrini.” Add this to the list!
What a Wonderful Day
We bought a few bottles of each and headed off to Katakolo port for lunch at the harbor overlooking the Ionian Sea. What a delightful time we had. We left there daydreaming of wine tasting through Greece and even someday coordinating the tours.
Buy Mercouri Estate in the U.S.
In the US, Mercouri Estate wines are imported by Athenee Importers & Distributors. In the Chicago area, find them at your local Binny’s. Our local Binny’s didn’t stock them, but at our request, contacted Athenee and ordered some for us. Be sure to ask if you don’t see it on the shelf. Stin iyeia mas!
Mercouri Estate is located in Korakohori, Pyrgos 271 00, Greece. +302621041601.