Gavalas is a family winery on Santorini making wine on the island since the end of the 19th century. Their quaint winery doesn’t seem to have evolved much once one looks beyond the stainless steel equipment - and for good reason. As far back as the 1930s, the Gavalas family had developed domestic export markets for their wines and their Vinsanto was prized among the clergy.
Although the modest winery may be deceiving, the fact that the Gavalas family established their one retail store in Athens almost 40 years ago to help sell their production, shows that this is one savvy family.
The range of wines shows that business acumen must be a family tradition. While I enjoyed all of the Gavalas wines, the real surprise here was their cash flow label known as Iris. Maybe cash flow isn’t the right word, but this label is promoted for local sales, featuring both a red and a rosé that were simply delicious, each expressing the slightly exotic fruit of the little known Mandilaria grape, perhaps the best bet for red wine on Santorini and one that reminds me of Nero di Trioia mixed with a touch of Aleatico.
I tasted these wines at the winery so they are very recent releases. Wines currently in the market may lag by a vintage or two.
2010 Katsano 13% – According to the Mr. Gavalas, this is a "balcony wine." Well, when compared with Assyrtiko perhaps, but this blend of the indigenous Katsano and Gaidouria grapes (two of perhaps 30 little known grapes that compete with Assyrtiko, Adaini and Athiri for attention on Santorini) still present some of the mineral and acid-driven flavors Santorini’s whites are famous for. The nose is lightly smoky with hints of sweet fruit over a mineral base but the palate is more assertive, featuring bright pear fruit on entry and sweet orchard fruits over that mineral base on the mid-palate that gradual exhibits more peach character as the finish builds. Clean and fresh. 87pts
2010 Santorini 13% – 95% Assyrtiko, this has a sweet citrus element on the nose with an edge of burnt sugar and some smoky, dusty concrete tones. Lots of mineral char in the mouth complements subtle notes of mint, dried apricot and even a touch of caramel with sweet peach nectar notes emerging on the short finish, which is a touch drying. 85pts
2009 Nikteri 14% - Fairly woody on the nose with dried fruit aromas, particularly dried pineapple and plenty of ginger from the oak. A touch of tannin up front gives way to a leading edge of wood-induced sweetness which helps add depth to the fruit on entry but the back end turns too woody and those tannins pop back out. There is some wood spice on the moderately long finish and a nutty finale but the modest fruit character here plays second fiddle to the wood treatment. 84pts
2010 Xeneloo 13% - A red wine made with half-day skin contact, then eight to 12 months of barrel-aging. Some Malvasia spiciness greets the nose here along with gamy, foxy undertones and some black spice. Bright and a bit sweet up front before the fairly assertive, drying tannins emerge. The black cherry fruit here is accented with a touch of plum and the wine exhibits nice balance with its assertive acidity supporting some blood orange notes on the modest finish. This has enough balance and inner mouth perfumes to keep it interesting. 87pts
2010 Iris Rosé 13% – A blend of 90% Assyrtiko and 10% Mandilaria, smells a bit dominated by sulfur. SO2 shows heavily on the palate as well but given time, this reveals a nice crisp, focused character with a touch of crisp tannin that supports lightly jammy, slightly smoky strawberry fruit. This is cleansing and refreshing, and the fruit is nicely covering the structural elements. Lovely rosé. 87pts
2010 Iris Red 13% - A blend of 80% Mandilaria, 10% Voudomato and 10% Mavrotragano. Slightly musky on the nose with dark, slightly sour fruit tones and a touch of cured fat top note. Rather high acid on entry with nice fruit-edged, austere tannins. The fruit really grows on the palate, all wild berry and gamy with the acidity lending a sour plum aspect that gains complexity from the astringent tannins showing flashes of pomegranate seed before finishing with lingering wild strawberry tones. Not a "serious" wine, but I love this. Really fun and both easy to drink and slightly structured. 87pts
2004 Vinsanto 10% 300 grams/liter RS – Lightly spiced and honied on the nose with notes of gingerbread, dried meat, pruny fruit and pine needles. Bright and clear on entry with a terpene-rich entry followed by some dusty tannins that parry the modest sweetness on the palate. The flavors tend to the orange end of the spectrum with a long, clear finish that shows off some creamy cherry tones and a Seville orange finale. Really quite lovely and so vivid, though it does seem to be a touch monotonous. 91pts