LA TOUR MELAS | Achinos Fthiotida - December 5th, 2015
posted on 14/01/2016

I strongly remember the first time I got my hands on the rare wine bottle named 'La Tour Melas' (meaning Melas Tower) in calligraphy lettering featuring a 1808 engraving depicting Achinos Fthiotidas (artwork by Dodwell) in a pure French style. The overall presentation of La Tour Melas brings in mind some of the mythical Bordeaux wines, while the stone tower –that is the estate’s symbol- clearly reminds the legendary Chateau Latour. The wine is made by using French varieties which –combined with the climate and production method- contribute to an austere, elegant, Bordeaux-like wine style!

 

 

La Tour Melas, the main wine of the Estate

 

A close-up of the imposing, stoner Melas tower

 

Driving up the dirt road that leads to the tower, passing through vineyards and olive trees


A Greek wine with dozens of French references then. Is this an imitation, lack of authenticity or just pure audacity and a confidence in the producer’s ability to reach the most difficult and demanding wine peaks? Hoping it’s the last, we headed to visit La Tour Melas on Saturday, December 5th and discover more. Although I was not quite as surprised by how good is this wine producer since I had already read Jancis Robinson MW comment after tasting La Tour Melas 2010: “I would never think of Greece as a country of origin if I had blind tasted this wine”.

 

La Tour Melas is located on the north side of the petal of Maliakos Gulf, about two and a half hours drive from Athens

 

I believe you are already intrigued, so let’s watch the following excellent video (Source: mycava.gr) with beautiful views of the Estate before we carry on!



Cyrus Melas -the founder of the Estate- was abroad the day we visited, however we went anyway and agreed to meet in Athens someday later. We arrived at the Estate at about 14:30 and took the uphill road passing by the gorgeous, densely planted vineyard on our left and the stone tower in front of us. The people of the Domaine welcomed us and offered us a lovely tour; we got to know many things and get very interesting information about the history of the estate.

 

The vineyard with the sea on the background; the sea offers beneficial cooling summer breezes

 

 

Bronze leaves on the vines...

 

Vineyard work is essential for the production of top quality grapes and later wine


The 11-hectare estate at Achinos Fthiotidas was initially planted with olive trees mostly. In the winter of 2000 the heavy snowfall burned the olives ruining the crop. This made the family consider to plant a vineyard for the first time, as the vines tolerate much lower temperatures than the olive trees.


But it was another reason that kicked off La Tour Melas! 15 years ago cosmopolitan businessman Cyrus Melas was in Zurich. One night we was enjoying a top French Pomerol with a Swiss friend of his. While they were praising the charms of this wine, Cyrus put a crazy bet on: he argued that Greece is able to produce ten times better wines than the one they were already appreciating! His tenacity and belief in Greece’s abilities motivated Cyrus Melas to return home and establish a vineyard to Achinos Fthiotida, where was once the olive grove.

 

 

Into the vinification room of La Tour Melas

 

Into the barrel cellar

 

 

Exceptional conditions prevail here...

 

...for the perfect maturation of the wines!


With the help of renowned viticulturist and oenologist Panos Zoumboulis and corrections to the original planting, the vineyard was shaped in 2001, planted with extremely high density to favor vine competition: 100 plants per hectare, one of the densest plantings in Greece. Vines were imported directly from France from the varieties Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. The vineyard is located at an altitude of over 180 meters on a sloppy hill that favors the air flow from the sea resulting to consistently vineyard cooling during the summer months. This way the temperature is retained and both aromas and grape finesse are preserved. Harvesting happens in successive passages through the vineyard aiming to pick grapes only at their optimal level of maturity. Cultivation was organic right from the beginning, while the biodynamic principles have been applied more intensively in recent years.


As for the stone tower, it did not exist before either. A round, concrete tank was built at that spot initially, to collect the water from a source a little higher uphill for the irrigation needs of the new plants. As they wanted to beautify the landscape, they built a stone wall around the tank base. Another floor was added on the base and then a second one until the Tower –today’s symbol of the Estate- was completed. After a nice visit at the impressive rooms inside and outside the Tower (that are available for rent by the way) we ended up at the Tower ground floor for the tasting.

 

 

Vineyard works

 

A stroll through the vineyard aisles

 

Olives, oaks and vineyards dominate the beautiful Domaine with stunning views to the Maliakos Gulf. The photo was taken from the second floor of the Melas Tower.

 

The product range of the Estate comprises of four wines:

 

  • La Tour Melas (the main red wine of the Estate from Cabernet Franc and Merlot)
  • Cyrus one (the second label of the Domaine -in a Bordeaux fashion- from younger vines and barriques that have evolved less ideally)
  • Idylle d'Achinos (a lightly pink wine)
  • Old Roots (Agiorgitiko from pre-fylloxera vines of Nemea)

 

 

On the ground floor of the tower; wine tastings usually take place here

 

Tasting Cyrus One 2014

 

 

Three of the Estate's wines

 

Cyrus One back label

 

We had the chance to sample Cyrus One 2014, as the other three wines of the estate had been sold out. In any case I will be adding wine descriptions of the other wines also as soon as I try them; for now I will only share with you my notes on Cyrus One:


Cyrus One 2014 (60% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 15% Agiorgitiko) - Deep purple color. Intense aroma of concentrated black and red fruits, ink, graphite, tea leaves, cigar box, mineral elements and an exemplary use of barrels with a discreet profile that just underlines the fruit offering notes of spices, smoke, ham and oak. A very rich mouthfeel; full body, high acidity, high alcohol and high tannins that require time or the necessary food matching, preferably rich in protein dishes. Incredibly dense fruit on the palate as well, just sweeter, with sour cherry and sweet red fruits that indicate the presence of Agiorgitiko. Ink, graphite, minerality and an incredible concentration and finish complete the palate profile. The wine has not gone through any fining or filtering and requires decanting. 3-6 years of ageing are essential in order to be more easily approachable.

 

Cyrus One, the fabulous second label of La Tour Melas

 

I do not know whether Cyrus Melas won the bet of Lausanne (many could easily say ‘yes’!), but Greek wine enthusiasts and Greek wine have won for sure. They say in order to become a better chess player... you have to play against even better players. In a similar way La Tour Melas is able to lead the way to the top for many Greek producers and drag them to its quality vortex!

 

Our visit to La Tour Melas was a unique wine tourism experience

 

Photos: Stavroula Mariamou

 

Gregory Kontos, DipWSET


Wine writer and taster, sommelier graduate and WSET Diploma holder, with an appreciation for food, traveling, music, friends and bon vivant things in general. Co-partner at Aegean Food Exports and founder of Aegean Wine Selections, a Company focused in Greek wine exports. He is married to Stavroula Mariamou and they have a son. 

 

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