Xinomavro: Hard to pronounce, easy to drink

Apparently there is a correlation between how easy it is to pronounce the name of a wine and how well it does in the market. Not surprising really as most people want to be able to tell their friends about the wine they picked from the supermarket shelves or the restaurant wine list.

If this correlation does actually exist, then the red grape of northern Greece called Xinomavro (Ξινο-μαυρο, pronounced ksee-NOH-mah-vroh) will probably struggle to make its mark on the English speaking world. Xinomavro is the signature red of Naoussa in the Macedonia region of Greece. It is a rich and complex wine with flavours of cherry, raspberry and spice. In my humble opinion, when made well, this wine can compete with the great reds of Tuscany and Bordeaux.

On a recent short trip to Naoussa I had the pleasure of visiting a few wineries and sampling some great examples of Xinomavro. We set off from nearby Thessaloniki which is just over an hour’s drive away, heading west towards the foothills of mount Vermio.

Naoussa is a small town with allot of history surrounding it. We started our trip with a visit to nearby Vergina (or Aiges as it used to be called) the burial site of many kings of Macedonia, the most famous of all being King Philip II, father of Alexander the Great. The exact site of the excavation has been converted into a stunning museum showcasing the grand royal tombs and the famous golden larnax containing the remains of the king. Evidence of the historical importance of  wine to this region can be found in the form of dozens of beautiful ceramic amphorae and silver wine jugs (oenochoe) that were discovered nearby and are elegantly displayed in the museum.

Following this truly inspiring visit, we headed straight for the vineyards and wineries that are dotted around the town of Naoussa making our first stop at the picturesque Kir Yianni estate in the village of Giannakohori (a 10 minutes drive north of the town of Naoussa). This estate is owned and run by the leading family of Greek winemakers – the Boutaris. It was founded by Giannis Boutaris (who is currently also the mayor of Thessaloniki) and run by his son Stelios. We tasted their Ramnista (100% xinomavro at 12 EUR) and their more expensive Diaporos (87% Xinomavro, 13% Syrah at 24 EUR). Great examples of Xinomavro and amazing value compared to prices of similar quality wines from more established old world countries.

We plotted our way through a few other local vineyards before we ended up in Argatia estate,  a small winery tucked away in the nearby Rodochori village producing wine from biological vineyards of indigenous Greek varieties including Negoska, Assyrtiko, Athiri and Malagousia but as with all the wineries in the Naoussa apellation the real star of the show here is the Xinomavro variety. Dr Haroula Spinthiropoulou (enologist and author of a book on Greek grape varieties) who runs Argatia, greeted us warmly and served us locally produced kaseri (Greek semi-hard cheese) with her signature Argatia Xinomavro (100% Xinomavro at 12 EUR). This is a deliciously rich wine and would complement well hearty Greek beef or game dishes.

After a full day of sightseeing and wine tasting it was time for dinner (and more wine!) so we headed to nearby Agios-Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas) and a small taverna called Tesseris Epoxes which was highly recommended by a few of the people we met during the day.  This small family run taverna serves delicious traditional local dishes; we opted for the rabbit stew and we were not disappointed. For wine what else but a bottle of Xinomavro, this one from the nearby Chrisohoou estate (“Chrisohoou Naoussa” 2008).

The next morning, reflecting on the amazing places we visited and the quality of the wines we tasted, we headed back to Thessaloniki to catch the plane to London. The Xinomavro grape is a hidden gem and when treated well has the potential to create truly outstanding wines.

If only its name was easier to pronounce! Mind you Gewürztraminer does not roll of the tongue either and that seems to be coming back in fashion so maybe there is hope for Xinomavro after all…


The Wine Diaries are written by an amateur wine enthusiast with a passion for Greek wine. Born in Greece, lives in London.   


Wineries in Naoussa (it is advisable to make an appointment before visiting):

Museum of the Royal Tombs of Aigai (Vergina): http://www.aigai.gr

Tesseris-Epoxes Taverna: http://www.tesseris-epoxes.gr