Behind the label with Leonidas Hatzimichalis

This week, we were delighted to be joined in the Zoom room by Leonidas Hatzimichalis, second generation at Domaine Hatzimichalis in the Atalanti Valley, Greece.

Working around energy shortages caused by the wildfires currently ravaging Greece, Leonidas generously asked how the weather was in England: “Average to poor”, as usual, we said.

The winery itself, knock on wood, is safe from the fires. Harvest began about ten days earlier than usual, in the past week or so, as a result of the heatwave. 2021 has been an excellent vintage, Leonidas told us, and with any luck, the grapes will have just avoided smoke taint from the fires.

Their 220ha of privately owned vineyards enjoy the unique microclimate of the Atalanti Valley, about an hour and a half’s drive north of Athens. To the east is the sea and the island of Evia, and to the west, Mount Parnassus. Both factors promote a mild climate in the area which in turn aids fruit development: warm breezes from the sea raise temperatures in the winter, and cool breezes from the mountain moderate hot summer days.

Here, they tend by hand low-yielding, native and international varieties, which we were able to taste in four wines:

  • Alfega Lefkos
  • Assyrtiko/Sauvignon
  • Alepotrypa Assyrtiko
  • Alfega Erythros

Alfega Lefkos

The Alfega range embodies Domaine Hatzimichalis’ philosophy for winemaking: they control the whole process from start to finish, from ‘alpha’ to ‘omega’.

The white is an aromatic blend of Malagousia, Sauvignon Blanc and Robola. Malagousia (40%) gives the wine peach, pear and apple notes. It, together with the Sauvignon Blanc, sets the wine up for ageing, something we definitely saw in the almond notes coming from the 2017 bottle we were tasting. It was showing beautifully for that bit of age; younger vintages will be dominated by the orchard fruit note. The Robola (20%) adds freshness and crisp acidity.

Lefkos means ‘white’, by the way!

Assyrtiko/Sauvignon Blanc

This is a great introduction to Assyrtiko, if you’re not familiar with this native Greek variety. It’s the variety that put Greek viticulture on the international wine map. It originated on Santorini, where it shows stony minerality. When grown on the mainland, as it is in this wine, it is more fruit-forward and approachable. You can definitely see this influence of Sauvignon Blanc (50%) on the nose, there’s a pithy grapefruit and definite grassy note, for all you fans of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc!

Alepotrypa Assyrtiko

Again, a fruitier, more tropical style than Santorini Assyrtiko, but this one does has a nice wet stone minerality and salinity, to remind you of the variety’s roots. This is a single vineyard wine, where marine soils dominate.

What’s really cool is that you can age this wine. Leonidas recommended 6-7 years in the cellar if you want a bit more phenolic grip and almonds notes.

Alfega Erythos

This is a classy little Bordeaux blend made of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Cabernet Franc and 20% Merlot. The Cabernet Sauvignon does really well in the microclimate of the Atalanti Valley.

This is a plush wine with a nice tannin structure, rounded out by 12 months in French oak barriques, ripe fruit and some dried fruit notes from time spent ageing in bottle.

It was a great session. I particularly enjoyed tasting the Assyrtiko blend and the single-varietal side-by-side to see the difference the Sauvignon Blanc makes to the wine. For me, the standout wine was the Alepotrypa Assyrtiko.

I’ll close with a side note on turkeys:

You might have noticed Domaine Hatzimichalis’ logo: a male turkey ruffling its features ready to show off to some lucky lady turkey. When Leonidas’ father began to establish his winery, he subsidised his vines with money he raised from buying and rearing turkeys. As the winery expanded and went from strength to strength, the turkey business was wound down. However, they still keep a few birds around, including on the label, to remind them of their foundations.