Contemporary thinking has it that there are no longer rules for pairing wines. Guidelines, yes, rules no. The same can be said for traveling to famous destinations. What if I wanted to go to Greece and concentrate on their crisp white wines and juicy terroir driven reds, rather than the ruins? Would the travel gods scowl at my choice? Maybe, but visiting lesser known wine regions is my passion and discovering the aromas and sips that blend with distinctive terroir and glamorous landscapes is a lifelong passion that has never served me wrong.
Move over traditionalists, Halkidiki, Greece is a trending wine road every wine lover should have on their bucket list, and Domaine Porto Carras Winery is the perfect example of what Greek winemakers have to offer.
The spirit of Domaine Porto Carras is characterized by the values of perseverance and commitment. Situated just a short drive from the Eagles Palace resort, this winery tasting room features wines from a project that was inspired in 1965 meant to bring radical change to the wine industry in Greece. Twenty-seven varieties were planted in various locations, 13 of these were French and 14 Greek. It is worth noting that this was the first time that a systematic evaluation of French varieties suitable for planting in Greece was carried out, and that subsequently, the first Cabernet Sauvignon to be commercially vinified in Greece came about.
From the beginning, the ecological cultivation of the vines held great importance to the concept. The planting of the estate was accomplished with focused respect for the environment. Existing forests remained, forming natural barriers that retain the humidity of the atmosphere at night and help the vines to resist the high summer temperatures. All the vineyards are planted in terraces, allowing for perfect drainage. Yields are deliberately kept exceptionally low. Harvesting is carried out by hand, and usually begins in mid-August and lasts for four weeks.
I have visited the winery in Greece and just a few weeks I ago I did a tasting in Irvine, California with Yliana Stengou, General Manager.Both of these experiences were trans-formative for me. Such passion and vision is something to be celebrated and shared.
It’s always a pleasure and honor to support those visionaries who respect what Mother Nature offers and this month’s featured interview showcases one of the most important women in Greek winemaking, Yliana Stengou, General Manager of Domaine Porto Carras S.A.
LK: When did your interest in winemaking begin?
YS: My interest in winemaking began in the early 2000s, when Domaine Porto Carras winery was acquired by my family along with the entire complex of Porto Carras. Porto Carras is one of the most unique hotels and holiday resorts in Greece.
I am a graduate of the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) where I became a civil engineer, like my parents. However, I found my passion in winemaking and chose to follow my own dream.
LK: How long have you been making wine?
YS: When I took over managing Domaine Porto Carras, I faced many challenges. However, I worked very hard to build the successful winery that it is today. For the past 14 years, my goal has been not just to make great wines but to tell the story of the uniqueness of our vineyards and winery that have earned a world-wide reputation for quality.
LK: Did you do an apprenticeship or go through a formal wine school, program or course? If so, could you tell us about it? If no, how did you become a vintner?
YS: I successfully completed the first two courses, foundation and intermediate, of WSET London Wine & Spirits School in Athens and am now in the third course, the advanced one. In my free time, I also enjoy reading wine related books, magazines and attend a lot of wine seminars. Also, each day presents new challenges and opportunities. I continue to learn from the professional wine making team at the Domaine.
LK: What is your favorite part of your job?
YS: I am privileged to be in this job! I have many favorite parts, starting with the time that the first buds appear from the freshly pruned vines, followed by total immersion in the harvest. I also enjoy experimenting with our new wine blends.
LK: What is your favorite type of varietal or blend to work with?
YS: I like to work mostly with Limnio in both varietal and blend wines. Limnio is considered the most ancient Greek grape variety. The grape was first mentioned in Homer’s Iliad, in the 8th century B.C.
LK: How much time do you spend in the vineyards?
YS: I try to be in the vineyards for different periods of time throughout the year. I spend many hours in the vineyards during pruning and at harvest time.
LK: What is your favorite time of the growing season?
YS: I love harvest because it’s like a festival in our Domaine. Despite the demands and stress, harvest is a great chance to unite our partners, co-workers and the local community in this great moment of celebration.
LK: If you could provide one or two tips for prospective winery owners, what would it be?
YS: You must be prepared to give your soul and all of your creativity to have a great result.
LK: What is your favorite all time wine that you personally have consulted on? What made it so memorable?
YS: Magnus Baccata. I had the idea to create a new blend for the Domaine that consists of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. I participated in the whole process from vineyard, to winemaking, to barrel aging and creating the label. This wine is a deep red color, full body with velvet tannins and discreet oak and forest fruits aromas.
LK: What are the highlights of your career, your “ah ha” or “wow” moments?
YS: Recently, we hosted one of the most exciting tastings ever in Athens. The tasting included a 40 year retrospective Chateau Porto Carras flight composed of our best ten vintages from 1975 until today. Our guests experienced for themselves that Greece can make wines of great taste and value, capable of aging well for decades.
A wine writer who attended the tasting wrote “the wine slapped me in the face, and told me, okay dear wine-lover, the vines that I was made of might be babies, less than 5 or 6 years old, but thanks to the winemaker and great care, I can still satisfy you. The wine was in PERFECT shape, alive, robust, complex with surprisingly delicious mouth feel.” This article made us very happy and very proud of our 40 year winemaking history in Greece.
LK: How do you work with local growers, if you do?
YS: Domaine Port Carras is the only winery in our region. We use grapes which are organically grown in our estate vineyards.
LK: What is the one thing you haven’t done yet in your winery owner career yet that you would like to accomplish?
YS: With our winemaking team, I dream of creating something completely innovative that will spark a new trend in wine consumption and inspire the global wine community.
LK: Anything else you would like to share about being a vintner?
YS: Becoming a vintner changed my life. I strongly advise anyone who has the opportunity to get into the wine-making business, go for it! Being a vintner is one of the greatest jobs on the planet!
LK: Which one of your current wines would you recommend for a novice drinker? Which one for the aficionado?
YS: For a novice wine drinker, I recommend our white wine “Malagouzia” that is inspiring and fruity. For the aficionado, I propose our 2005 Chateau Porto Carras, a red wine, blend of Limnio, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.
LK: When you go out, where do you go to eat?
YS: I enjoy trying local favorites all over the world. I was in San Francisco recently and fell in love with Dungeness crab. At home, we have an excellent kitchen at Porto Carras resorts. I also cook for my family and friends. Sharing wine and food is a great passion.
LK: Would you share a recipe us that incorporates one of your wines?
Steamed Mussels with Finocchio and Chilli peppers
Compliments of Executive Chef , Porto Carras Grand Resort
1.2 kg fresh mussels in shell
20g. extra virgin olive oil
100 gr. onion, chopped
40g. fresh onion, chopped
40g. Melissanthi Porto Carras
60g. leek, cut into rings
60g finocchio, thinly sliced
120 gr. Tomato, chopped
10g. lemon juice
8g. grated lemon peel
5 g. chilli peppers, thinly sliced
10g. parsley, chopped
10g. basil, chopped
10g. chives, chopped
Heat a casserole pan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and sauté the mussels with the two kinds of onions, leek and fennel. Add the wine and cover the pan with a lid until the mussels open. Add the remaining ingredients and continue cooking for 5 more minutes.
Pair with “Melissanthi Porto Carras”