Roots. Bulbs. Seeds. Nuts. Plants. Carrion. Birds’ eggs. Earthworms & Rodents. The Wild Boar keeps a varied diet. Entirely reliant though it is on what they manage to scrounge in the wild. Add to this the rare treat of the low hanging fruit of a grape vine, intended for the bottle, and you’ve got a fair account of your five a day. This happens the world over; wherever there are grapes and wherever there are boar, one can be sure they’ll meet soon enough. And meet they do.
Electric fences. Mesh fences. Baiting. Sound machines. Scarecrows. Gas-powered cannons. Bullets. The Winemaker leans on an arsenal of defence mechanisms to keep their prized fruit from snouted thieves. And despite the best-laid plans of mice and wine-men things more often than not go awry, with oinopoiós (a person engaged in winemaking) losing large amounts of ripe crop to these naughty piglets, these feral hogs.
In homage to the romance between the boar and the vine Kostis Dalamara has given the animal pride of place on the label for his renowned single-vineyard ‘Paliokalias’, a grand cru-esque bottling of the rising star of Greek wine: Xinomavro. (Bearing in mind that some stars burn for hundreds of years before they are seen by the masses, to be rising).
Ktima (Domaine) Dalamara is currently run by sixth generation Kostis of the same name. He took over in 2011 with wife Maria Doulgeridou. The ‘Paliokalias’ is their flagship. The ‘Paliokalias’ is named after the site on which the fruit is grown on the eastern foothills of Mount Vermio, acquired by the family in 1960. Kostis has brought a lot of change to the Ktima, keen to draw a distinction between the greater Naoussa and the Paliokalias site. Trying to be “…as hands on as we can be in the field and as hands off as we can be in the winery.”
Fruit. Flower. Thyme. Prunes. Tomato. Tobacco. Mint. Strawberry. Ripe plum. Black cherry. Sage. Olive. & Nuts. The flavours that Xinomavro (pronounced ksi-NOH-mahv-ro) throws are many. And the black-skinned beauty has been widely planted in the northern-central part of Greece with dedicated PDO’s in Naoussa, Rapsani, Amynteo and Goumenissa; either giving her solo prominence or as a major player in famed blends with other indigenous varietals. Commonly high in acid and high in tannin it more often than not yields fruit that turns wine worth ageing for decades. There are producers working toward more youthful, lighter, fruitier, approachable styles and are celebrated as a juice for now, whilst we wait for the big brothers to mature. Try Ktima Thymiopoulos, try Ktima Ligas, try Ktima Chatzivaritis. Also try rarer rosés and sparklers wherein the grapes diversity and appeal and deliciousness continues.
There’s a little bit of sadness in the ‘Paliokalias’. Of something unspoken. Of some old secrets kept from the light of day. And that might be where the violent comparisons of Xinomavro to Nebbiolo, to the tar and roses of Italy’s famed Barolo and Barbaresco’s comes in; that and the prominence of floral notes and a fine-powdered tannin. Flowers and Death. What else are we really hunting in our libations? But flowers and fruit and a little death? Not to be morbid about it, but to be pleasantly reminded of death, to be reminded of her and the good grace we should exercise to savour what we do have, whilst we have it.
For the geeks: it is grown on sandy clay over a bedrock of porous limestone (travertine); farmed with composted vegetation, the subsoil gets a lot of aeration and thus dries out correctly and quickly; indigenous yeast, unfined, unfiltered, the wine spends 12 months in 500L barrique after a 30 day maceration.
For the greasers: it’s the juice of kings. The rich, opulent, red velvet of big dinners and dark nights.
The wine looks like it has been cast through the stained glass window of an orthodox church. The nose gives blood orange peel and clove and Grandpa’s box of mudded brushes and boot polish. There’s something of cigar leaf about it; not necessarily the burn of tobacco but the chocolate coloured finery curled into handsome, smokeable logs. It smells like burnt toast, kirsch, soy sauce. The fruit is stewed and strawberry and wild. The spice is profound and exotic and lightly peppered. There’s thyme and sage on the mouth. Black tea. Bruised flowers.
There’s tomato too, which is typical of the grape, but it’s reserved, semi-dried, not lavishly thrown over the pizza but layered into the paste. There are red church candles gathering their melted selves into soft sands. There’s a blood-like mouth with a touch of ink and morello cherry. A spicy push on the lips and at the tip of the tongue. At first it felt like a romance, then a detective novel, now, on third try after walking away and coming back it’s a long family saga that with splashes of comedy ends in tragedy.
This is the cool wine of a Cool Hand Luke. Of a rough-edged hustler. Of a poker faced veteran of the long game. Of a buster who fancies tough dames. Of a seasoned pool shark who strolls into a dimly lit bar, a fresh Karelia burning at his lips. There’s jazz coming loose from a hazy corner and the rest of the room has gone still, eyeing the stranger to these shores. He spins his own cue into fresh chalk before slaying the wide-eyed competition with their tsipouro and their metaxa and their sour grins. Every ball hungrily socking corner pockets. And afterward he goes to the bar to quench a stiff thirst and says softly to the ancient barkeep ‘Xinomavro, parakalo.’ It’s a suave mother-effer who takes a glass of good kokino krasí when all the other boys are on the bad stuff.
It’s a long finish, giving waves of warmth to the ears and spice to the tongue and fruit to the nose. The majestic marrying the powerful. Even the slightest, prettiest, daintiest things can be powerful. This is the mouse that faced up against and befriended the lion. This is David turning Goliath.
It had me reeling about hot afternoons busting a small four wheeler thru gravel roads, headed somewhere where our hungers and our thirsts and the long journey might be rewarded with grub and liquor, with dinner and wine. An old goat. A young cow. A wild boar even. It had me thinking about contemporary kinds of sacrament, of smoking church hallways and what temples we build and to what gods. It had me thinking about all of us as wild boars and feral pigs, scurrying across the earth looking for treats often kept behind high walls. It had me thinking of flowers and little deaths.
Xinomavro… had me at hello.
tasted April 2021