KTIMA KARANIKA | Amyntaio, Florina - December 8th, 2015
posted on 09/02/2016

Our winter wine adventure continues! Leaving La Tour Melas and passing by the beautiful Lake Plastiras, we continued northwards with final destination the region of Amyntaio Florina, one of the most important winemaking regions of Greece, but rather in qualitative terms than number of wineries.

 

 

Arriving at the entrance of Domaine Karanika

 

Walking at the estate vineyards with Laurens

 

Domaine Karanika at Amyntaio is located just out of Vegora, around 40 kilometers from the northern borders of Greece with FYROM


Most of us professionally involved in Greek wine exports have a major priority in mind when approaching foreign importers: to stress that Greece is basically a warm country -which ensures grape ripening- but at the same time a country that has many cool climate regions offering subtlety and grace to the grapes. The cold is either because of the altitude in the mountainous parts of the country (e.g. in the Peloponnese), either due to the greater latitude as in Thrace, Drama, Kavala and of course Amyntaio of Florina.

 

The Amyntaio plateau provides ideal conditions for producing excellent wines


Amyndeo is located just 40 kilometers from the border of Greece with FYROM in a predominantly cold region, resulting in elegant, central European-like wines rather than Mediterranean ones, with elegant aromas of unripe fruit, natural refreshing acidity and moderate alcohol. I freely admit I prefer exquisite elegance to exuberance so we decided to visit the area and Domaine Karanika, maybe the leading producer of sparkling wines in Greece. Arriving at their Estate a friendly pack of dogs –at least seven!- welcomed us. We parked and met the two owners of Domaine Karanika, Laurens Hartmann-Karanika and Anette van Kampen, as well as their son Joris. Their story is quite unusual, but very interesting!


The Greek mother of Laurens went to the Netherlands to study and there she met Laurens’s father, Mr. Hartmann. Anette on the other hand is Dutch from both parents. Both of them were born and raised in Holland anyway. When they met they worked in various publishing companies and at some point they decided to radically change their lifestyle by taking a brave decision: to exclusively aim at the production of high quality wines!

 

 

Pupitres hold sparkling wine bottles so that yeasts are consolidated to the crown closure, to be removed later

 

Laurens explaining the production methods of top sparkling wine

 

 

The open top fermenter used in the Domaine’s red wines. Extraction for all reds is done manually by punching down the grape skins; in other words, pigeage.

 

At the round, cistern-like, biodynamic cellar of the estate. Here there is 90% humidity without mold, as the cellar is built of stone, sand and lime, not concrete. So the use of SO2 is reduced by 80%.


For several years they were trained as oenologists and winegrowers, until it was time to root somewhere and start making wine. They had many options (Germany, Australia, etc.) but -given Laurens’s half Greek origin and their love for Xinomavro, they eventually decided to settle in Northern Greece and Amyntaio. Interesting is the fact that the family was not attached to the region whatsoever, it was a very conscious choice they made. The Domaine and its wine is Greek, so their owners wanted to give it a Greek name as well. So they used Laurens’s mother surname (Karanika) and this is how Domaine Karanika was born! An estate that produces wine from vineyards of around 5 hectares, of which 3,5 are privately owned. Laurens plans to soon buy another hectare to be planted to Assyrtiko.


Walking with Laurens at their vineyard and chatting with him, I realize their engagement to the land and the environment. Most grape-growers aiming to produce excellent grapes for great wines try to get smaller yields with bigger concentration and strength. Many choose green harvesting, that is cutting off some bunches per vine so that all nutrients from the soil are channeled to fewer grapes. Laurens however believes that this approach is not as balanced and natural. He considers green harvesting a 'less natural' process, as the unripe grapes sacrificed already bear useful nutrients that go wasted while the vine remembers the green harvest pattern and tending to produce more next year. What Laurens counterpoises is non-fertilization. So if the grower doesn’t provide manure to the vineyard, the plant will produce 50% less grapes (about 5 tons per hectare). Moreover, the cultivation of grass or clover between rows promotes competition and decreases yields.

 

 

Karanika Brut Rose bottles during the second fermentation, before being placed on the pupitres for riddling

 

Laurens riddling: turning and shaking the sparkling wine bottles by hand, to move sediment towards the cork. The method is very rarely applied today, even in Champagne

 

The family exclusively practices organic and biodynamic farming, while they never correct the acidity or tannins in the winery. They are trying to get the perfect grapes possible so that minimum oenological interventions are needed. After the usual tour around the winery and its facilities we ended up at the tasting table where we tasted seven winesm, all of them produced from organic grapes.

 

Left to right: Karanika Brut NV, Terra Levea Xinomavro - Cabernet 2013, Karanika Xinomavro - Limniona 2012, Karanika Xinomavro Old Vines 2011

 

  • Terra Levea Xinomavro Cabernet 2013 (Xinomavro, Cabernet Sauvignon) – Nose of violets from Xinomavro and dense blackberries from Cabernet. A thin, delicate and absolutely summery red wine that can also be served chilled from the fridge! Pronounced acidity, light body and palate aromas more influenced by Cabernet. Mild extraction for Xinomavro (only 6 hours) and 6 months maturation in oak barrels. Retail price at around € 8,5 with 3.000 bottles produced annually. How did it happen? In 2003, a time when Laurens was not yet really sure about the top-class quality of Xinomavro, cultivated a small-berry clone of Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux 'just to be safe'. In 2008 he used some of this Cabernet to fill up a half-topped barrel of rose Xinomavro, and by this 'accident' as described by Laurens, this lovely aromatic wine was born.

  • Karanika Xinomavro - Limniona 2012 (50% Xinomavro, 50% Limniona) - Red berries, violets, flowers, blossom, cranberries, high acidity, medium+ tannins and denser taste aromas. Xinomavro comes exclusively from old vines while Limniona, a variety originating from Karditsa, was cultivated in Amyntaio by Domaine Karanika creating a unique blend with the local Xinomavro.

  • Limniona 2013, sample from barrel (100% Limniona) – As we wondered about the tasting profile of a varietal Limniona from the region, Laurens brought us a 2013 sample right from the barrel. After a slight stir we got aromas of flowers, sour red fruits, sweet spices, sour cherry, liquorice, minerality, high acidity and round, ripe tannins.

  • Karanika Xinomavro Old Vines 2011 (100% Xinomavro) – Tasting this unfiltered Xinomavro from a pre-phylloxera 100 years-old vineyard between Amyntaio and Agios Panteleimonas was an excellent and rare experience, as only 800 bottles are produced from 0,25 hectare. Classic Xinomavro character with tomato paste, green olive pate, flowers, violets and red berries. Sharp-razor acidity, high, marginally ripe tannins and a long finish. The family by the way, while cultivating this old vineyard, found an old Turkish coin featuring the old Arabic script.

Let’s now go to the top sparkling wines of the Domaine for which my preface will be short and comprehensive. Top British Champagne guru Tom Stevenson wrote about Domaine Karanika: "he has the potential to produce a world class sparkling wine and of all the budding new sparkling wine superstars I am currently following, Hartman is the only one not using classic Champagne grape varieties"(source: www.winecommanders.com). Let's taste then!

 

  • Karanika Brut Cuvée Spéciale NV (100% Xinomavro) - The flagship of the winery already, this is a white sparkling wine made by the traditional method (second fermentation in the bottle). Youthful nose of citrus fruits, green apple, lime and stone fruits finely mixed with silky, autolytic brioche notes, toast and fine lees. Persistent mousse, high acidity, long finish and continental nerve! Available as a NV (non-Vintage) wine as the national authorities have -stupidly- not yet legislated white sparkling wine made from Xinomavro. But in reality this comes from the 2014 vintage. Remuage exclusively by hand and numbering of each bottle. I advise you to leave half of the bottles that you get in your cellar for at least three years as this wine really benefits from time!

  • Karanika Brut Rose 2014 (100% Xinomavro) - As the PDO Amynteo law includes rosé sparkling wines from Xinomavro, this wine falls into this category. Extremely attractive but neither girly nor aggressive aromas of sweet red fruits, strawberry and red cherry with persistent mousse and high acidity that perfectly balances the little residual sugar. Ideal wine to accompany prosciutto, crab salads, shellfish and lobsters!

  • Karanika Brut Prestige 2013 (60% Assyrtiko, 40% Xinomavro) - Each Champagne house markets its most rare and exquisite Champagne as Prestige Cuvée. Cristal, Siècle, Dom Pérignon, Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill are just a few legendary names of many. In a similar fashion Domaine Karanika has its own Prestige Cuvée that actually comes from blending the perhaps most significant Greek varieties, white Assyrtiko and red Xinomavro. Blending red and white grape varieties is also the case in Champagne by the way. A more biscuity nose, brioche, lees, dough, yeast, nuts and stone fruits like peach and apricot. Much more emphasis on structure and less on the fruit, probably because of the 12-month maturation on the lees and also because of the Assyrtiko fermentation in barrels. Round palate, buttery with high but very balanced acidity. A real dynamite hides behind this wine poem of just 2,000 bottles! A possible three-year aging would tie and balance the wine even more, contributing additional layers of complexity. In Greece it retails at around 20 euro, while the simplest champagnes start from 35 euro and the corresponding Prestige Cuvées climb at above 100 euro. Note that Prestige Cuvée of 2014 will be released in 4,000 bottles, and that of 2015 in 5,000 bottles.

 

Tasting and taking notes, as always!

 

Wine tasting with Laurens Hartmann-Karanika

 

The still (not sparkling) wines of the tasting

 

An old Turkish coin found while cultivating the old vineyard of Karanika Xinomavro Old Vines 2011

 

A bottle after shaking the yeast. More like a Christmas Snow Ball!

 

Idyllic setting as the night falls at Domaine Karanika

 

Based on the results, we can easily say Laurens and Anette made a life choice in Amyntaio that is fully justified. They are producing top-class wines, with their sparkling ones already comparable to the best internationally. Moreover, the family brings much higher values than the mere production of wine: it is one of the most enthusiastic proponents of sustainability, environmental protection, organic production and the reduction of CO2 emissions in Greece. I wish these values enter our everyday wine vocabulary in Greece and become more and more obvious by all of us.


Laurens, Anette and Joris, thank you very much for your great hospitality, passion, hardiness and the wines you give to the World!


PS / In the next post we will see who first realized the amazing wine potential of Amyntaio (you all know him)!

 

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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