Athens sits in the region of Attiki. And surrounding her is an expanse of land ranging from the semi-arid to the mountainous. And in Attiki they are most reputable for farming a white grape called Savatiano. And Savatiano is widely known for being the workhorse of many a table wine in Greece, the most planted grape, and more particularly the grape to which pine resin was/is/has been/and will continue to be added to to make the famed headache juice of many a tourist, the taverna staple known as Retsina.
Retsina is a bit of a dirty word. It’s a white wine made with pine resin added to the grape must before fermentation. (An acquired taste from the days of yore when wine was aged in resin-tempered amphora). Flavouring wine is no new practice. As far back as there is evidence of wine production and consumption there is equal record of additions to the mix such as seawater, honey, orange zest, spices cinnamon and clove; albeit a far less practiced exercise these days outside of vermouth composition and factory made American piss. Like politicians, as with Retsina, there are many more bad ones than good ones out there. But unlike the political landscape, Retsina is changing for the better. Long associated with what one might gracefully call holiday plonk, the kind of 4 euro swiggers that you nosh through a few of a little too easily over grilled fish and small mountains of oil-soaked, oregano-laden, feta-rich salad on a well deserved jaunt around the Cycladic islands. But that was then. And this is Aoton.
The Aoton Winery in Peania, aside from working with indigenous greek varieties Mandilaria (red) and Roditis (white), (and occasionally a little Cab Sauv to make a juicy banger of a rosé blend) farm Savatiano to make both a Retsina and, what I am tasting today, a straight up, in your face, un-resinated and yet particularly resonant white wine.
If there was a fire at a Madame Tussauds and a rendering of Tutankhamen (I know he wasn’t Greek) were unfortunately to perish, and the liquid remains of acrylic gold and wax were to find their way to a wine glass, it might taste like this: hot (at 14.6% alc) and oily, singing all the riches of the old world. The Aoton Savatiano 2017 has that super amber golden hue of childhood apple juice boxes. The light of it looks to have bounced off of jewellery, off of freshly polished wood, looks to be emulating urine after days without water. It looks like a pale beer minus the froth. It looks like furniture polish. It looks like liquid honeycomb. (Thirsty, yet?)
And to nose the glass the promise continues with the theme of bruised apple and over-ripe pear; sun-dried white grapes left to brown and shrivel and turn to raisined delight in the heat from long days praying to the gods we hope linger beyond the clouds. Maybe late spring roses are jumping out, when they get that amber edge to them and the colours start to fade and the perfume no longer lifts off the petals. There’s freshly cut grass on the nose and tennis shoes and it smells like plastic toys and kerosene (obviously not in the same scenario, I’m no sadist) and there’s a lovely whiff of a ladies armpit, after she’s taken a leisurely jog or a short session of YouTube bikram with everybody’s favourite flexible texan, Adriene.
The mouth shows all the silkiness of watered down honey. But without the stickness of syrup, thanks to a thin and constant line of acidity that pierces the very centre of the palate. You get the slight hot rush of hard liquor which dissipates and leaves the dried fruits singing on the tongue; apricot and orange and dominating. If you turned those plastic fruits in the bowl that your Yiayia favoured as table decor in the sixties into juice it might taste like this. It’s waxy, oily and like a ferris wheel of adult cotton candy, spun not from sugar but pine nuts and almonds and organic fruit-store finery, where the gasoline of the travelling carnival mixes with the open field aromas of toffee and popcorn and factory made hot dogs, and every now then there’s the loud ringing bell of success.
The Savatiano sees six months in stainless steel after night picking (when the temperature drops, humidity rises and the grapes aren’t flabby from the days heat but cool and crisp) with regular battonage, which, as we know, is the process of stirring the settled dead yeast into the juice. But dead wine? No! Dried, and delicious and richer for it? Yes! It contributes greatly to the mouth, the feel of it across the tongue and the bounce in the cheeks.
This is a wine that asks for time, for the accompaniment of serious food, or serious conversation at the least; of an equally rich Meghan to its Harry, Jake to its Elwood. (Insert infamous coupling here). And if your date is drinking whisky and you wan’t to keep pace but don’t fancy the burn or the smoke you should jump on the Aoton bandwagon and get a glass of the Savatiano. No doubt those opinions you’d kept close to your chest will loosen and blossom in no time.
If you told me there was some kind of bee species that had found a way to render their findings from hunting flowers into wine and this were the result of that I’d say ‘Yas, Queen! Pour me another.’ This is a wine with the refreshing spray of seawater on the back palate, all the aforementioned wrinkled fruits, and it’s as dry as a grecian sandle in the Athenian sun on the foot of a mathematician hunting revelation. This is not a wine for the faint of heart, or for your auntie to have with the local hags over planning a baby shower. Not a wine for those easy Sundays at the tail end of winter when all you are eating is lettuce to try and get back to that beach bod. This is a wine for sailors, for hard working wonders, for the farmers, for the wanton drinkers, for the lucky few.
It’s a bruiser. A banger. And the closest thing we have to what the old boys clubs of ancient Athens might’ve leant on for libation and inspiration. Drink responsibly. Drink great. Drink Greek. Drink Aoton. And you too might unravel some of life’s great mysteries. Or just develop a fondness for sandals. Either way: success.
tasted April 2021