Kostas Lazaridis: the Amethystos journey

April 22, 2015
There are some wines that heralded the rebirth of the Greek market in the last quarter century; one of them being Amethystos from Domaine Kostas Lazaridis. A recent change in grape varieties and label design signals a new era.

When Amethystos hit the market in 1992, it turned Athenians into groupies, as it introduced them to the Sauvignon Blanc.  It was such a new flavour and completely different to what we had been used to until then. Drama had entered the wine market with a bang! The Sauvignon Blanc was paired with Semillon which rounded it off and brought it closer to the average Greek wine buff’s tastes. The recipe worked, the name was great and sales rocketed to 400,000 bottles per year.

The fall in sales wasn’t sudden, it was just that other wines of the same style and calibre joined the market, so competition was greater.  Domaine Lazaridis expanded their range at the same time with labels like Chateau Julia.  It’s no secret that the Lazaridis brothers’ objective was to develop a Bordeaux wine. Whether it was the French region’s castles that inspired them or the variety’s tannins and its ability to produce great aged wines, one thing was for sure: the brothers with a background in the marble trade wanted Drama put on the wine map. The goal had always been to produce great red wine so I assume the hit they had with a white wine like Amethystos was a bit of an unexpected surprise. Maybe that’s why it didn’t develop much. 

On the other hand Amethystos red and the more highbrow Cava Amethystos were getting better all the time. As the vineyard matured, so did the wines produced but more so after the arrival of the ‘flying oenologist’ Michel Rolland from Bordeaux.  He gave Lazaridis products a more international, commercial style.

I recently had the chance to attend an Amethystos tasting at the company’s other vineyard Oenotria Gi in Kapandriti.  The wines we sampled were from 1997 to 2011 and the change in style from the time Rolland arrived in 2004 was very impressive.

The 2001 vintage, in the pre Rolland period, is very ‘Greek’ with more Eastern aromas like raisins, figs and spices.  There is a certain finesse but in any case the wine has limited appeal and a short aftertaste. From 2004 onwards, there were constant improvements on every level.  Initially there were some missteps as the oenologist tried to get as much as he could from the available grapes but over time, they disappeared and what was left was a pleasant fruity flavour. Another move was to step away from the overrated Limnio (a variety whose tannins completely fall apart when aged) which was replaced by an Agiorgitiko mix (Cabernet Sauvignon 70%, Merlot 20%, Agiorgitiko 10%).  The highlight of the tasting session was the Amethystos 2008 (similar to the 2011 vintage), a great wine full of truffle aromas.

Last year, while at a wine show where I was tasting the whole range of Lazaridis wines, the company’s commercial director Yorgos Zacharis reminded me ‘that I never liked Amethystos’.  To be honest I don’t really remember what I said 20 years ago but at the same show I did comment that Amethystos was a little flat and I now know it was the Semillon that was the culprit!  Its replacement with Assyrtiko in the new Amethystos has completely changed the wine’s profile, even if it only accounts for 15% of the mix.  The reborn Amethystos with its great new labelling, is a fuller, more structured wine, with denser and richer aromas and a lovely, harmonious taste. It’s altogether a more contemporary product ready to re-enter a lot of restaurants’ wine lists.  It seems that even Sauvignon Blanc needs a little Assyrtiko by its side!
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