Terroir is often discussed in relation to great wines made around the world, the combination of soil type and environmental factors that can determine a wine’s particular taste, but the team behind the icon Clos Stegasta wines produced on the Greek island of Tinos go one step further, capturing the ‘energy and purity of place’.
‘There is something absolutely incredible about T-OINOS,’ said Jacques Perrin, founder of the wine lovers association Club des Amateurs de Vins Exquis and long-time supporter of his friend, businessman Alexandre Avatangelos, who founded T-OINOS in 1999.
‘The mountains, the steep terraces, the salty wind and the sunshine all combine to create a unique environment’ said Perrin. ‘When you first arrive you feel the energy of the whole ecosystem with no cars, hardly any roads – it’s very wild.’
Despite a long history of quality wine production on the island, there were no vineyards and no formal infrastructure when Avantangelos arrived to set up T-OINOS in the early 2000s. However, he was captivated by the rough beauty of Tinos, the distinct microclimate and the peculiarity of the soils, and set about bringing his dream of creating the best Greek wine in the world to fruition.
‘Something so extraordinary is happening with T-OINOS – a winemaking revival grafted on ancient history’, Perrin said.
Initial vine plantings, focussing on native Greek grapes, white Assyrtiko and red Mavrotragano, began in 2002 on four specifically-chosen, high-altitude sites and the first vintage was in 2008.
A team of experts have been enlisted since the project began to help craft, and promote, the wines including the renowned consultant-winegrower Stéphane Derenoncourt who bought a production philosophy of creating wines with purity and precision with a rare identity and intensity.
‘Stéphane was the right man, for the right place, to make the right definition of the T-OINOS terroir,’ Perrin says. ‘It was the best thing for T-OINOS to have him. Stéphane fell in love with the place immediately, he has a very sensitive way of winemaking and he feels the place.’
The wines are difficult to compare to others, especially the Assyrtiko Perrin says, which has a ‘verticality’ to it. ‘It’s a dynamic wine, direct with freshness and luminosity. Alexandre has a good expression, he says; “you don’t drink a wine, you don’t taste a wine, you drink an energy” and it’s very true for this wine’.
Making wine in T-OINOS can be described as ‘heroic’ given the moonlike landscape littered with giant boulders and the battle with the natural elements, and Perrin believes there must not only be a vision, and the means to achieve it, but also a place that ‘gives back’.
‘Pushing boundaries is one part of creating great wines but you need the location, the means and the goal. The winemaking is also crucial to crystallise the drinkable minerality you find at T-OINOS.’
With the T-OINOS wines Perrin says: ‘You’re going to taste something really different, something you’ve never tasted before. You taste the energy. You have to forget preconceived notions about the grape variety, the specific aromas or the flavours. You have to forget about all those little boxes you put wines in in order to just taste the purity, the energy and the place.’
For the moment Perrin believes the wines are at the height of quality given the vineyards are a little older and the knowledge of the terroir is better but says every year is different.
‘You have to work with the elements, you can’t fight them you just have to be composed. This year was dry but every day is a blank page, the chance to begin something new, to write a new story.’
Perrin has spent the last 35 years devoted to seeking out new and emergent wines to introduce them to his wine club members. ‘When I find a wine I truly believe in, I want to share them with people, and so far the reaction has been great – people are fascinated by the T-OINOS wines.’
‘Tasting these wines is a true journey of discovery,’ he finished.