The ‘X’ Factor

Dom Karanika VydsHow many grape varieties do you know whose name starts with the letter X?  If you can do better than 3, please leave me a comment. 

My 3 start with Xarel-lo.  It’s grown in Spain and it’s usually used as part of the blend for Cava.  Then there’s Xynisteri, mainly, if not exclusively, found in Cyprus and finally, the only red grape of the trio, Xinomavro – one of the best of a vast array of wine grapes native to Greece.

Greek wines have had a poor reputation in the UK in recent years with many thinking they’re all like retsina.  For me, that view is outdated; there are some excellent examples available here – and even more in Greece, where my wife and I have just visited and enjoyed tastings at some of their top wineries.

Xinomavro (the initial ‘X’ is pronounced ‘ks’) translates, perhaps unpromisingly, to ‘acid black’ but, in the right hands, can produce some really attractive, ageworthy reds.  Sometimes, as at Alpha Estate or Dalamara, its lovely blackberry and spice flavours are found as a single variety wine, elsewhere it forms a harmonious blend with Syrah, Merlot or other local varieties.  We even tasted it in a Blanc de Noir fizz at Domaine Karanika.

And that same estate was one of 2 (the other was Domaine Dougos at the foot of Mount Olympus) that showed us red wines made from a grape described as “the most exciting variety in Greece”: Limniona.  Revived from near extinction, it produces deep coloured, intense wines with black cherry and pepper flavours and, when young, firm tannins.  Certainly wines for keeping – if you can find them.

But the northern half of Greece, where all these wineries are situated, also produces some delicious white wines, notably from the fragrant, peachy, Malagousia grape (try Domaine Gerovassiliou) or the crisp, fresh Assyrtiko, better known as the signature variety of the island of Santorini where Domaine Sigalas produce the best example of the grape I’ve ever tasted.

All of these wines certainly have ‘the X factor’ even if only one has the spelling.

In my next blog, I’ll tell you about our meeting with Saint George on the second part of our wine tour – the ‘Story of Greece’ organised by Arblaster and Clarke ( and guided by the wonderfully knowledgeable Derek Smedley MW.