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Snapshots from Greece: How the Boutari Family Saved Xinomavro Wine

Note: Our own Erin Zimmer just returned from ten days eating and drinking her way around Greece and will be sharing her adventures with us as Snapshots from Greece. —Ed.

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The Boutari men.

The story of Boutari wines sounds a little familiar. It's like a bizarro Greek version of the Mondavi family in California. Two brothers in the wine business who, after experiencing some friction, decide to split off and go their separate ways. In the case of the Mondavi brothers, Robert left Peter and the rest of the family at the Charles Krug Winery to start his own venture, the Robert Mondavi Winery, probably out of spite.

The Boutari Winery was founded in 1879 in Naoussa, which is located in northern Greece. Essentially, the Boutaris put Greek wines on the map and continue to be the country's most powerful winemaking dynasty. For generations, the family passed down the grape-loving tradition. But in 1996, one son Yiannis left his brother Konstantinos and the rest of the history at the Boutari Winery to found his own business, Kir-Yianni in Naoussa.

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The Kir-Yianni winery in Naoussa.

Kir-Yianni is the smaller counterpart (with desks sans computers and a quaint tower near the grapes where the family sleeps during harvest season) to the big conglomerate that is the Boutari Winery, which now operates vineyards in Goumenissa, Attica, Mantinia, Santorini, Crete, and even one in France. But despite the brothers' differences, both are very focused on Xinomavro (pronounced ksee-NO-mavro), a red wine grape indigenous to Northern Greece.

Xinomavro has been described as "fickle as Pinot Noir and as robust as Nebbiolo, spicy as Tempranillo and structured as Tannat."

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Yiannis Boutari of Kir-Yianni sampling a Xinomavro, and showing off a Naoussa wine certification.

When I visited Kir-Yianni, Yiannis explained, with his lizard tattoo and left earring curiously offsetting his suspenders and spectacles, what he's up to with Xinomavro. He seems to have a little mad scientist in him, constantly blending the grape with other international wines like Merlot. One of his blends, Dyo Elies (which translates as "two olives") is something like a Greek Syrah, combining 60-percent Syrah with 30-percent Merlot and 10-percent Xynomavro. "I felt like I was cheating on my wife when I first drank this," Yiannis said.

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The Boutari Winery's 1993 Boutari Grande Reserve Naoussa Xinomavro. Photograph by Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen.

Xinomavros, like other reds, are good to drink with red meats and gamey foods. People call them "food wines," though I would call any wine better with, um, food. They are ruby-colored with whiffs of cedar, olive, tomato juice, and mint. Sometimes Xinomavros are referred to simply as Naoussa—the two have become synonymous in winespeak over time. The Boutari Winery makes a 100-percent Xinomavro, as well as other blends with Merlot.

Yiannis, Konstantinos, and the entire Boutari family, are pretty much Greek wine rock stars, prioritizing Xinomavro and other Greek grapes that would have otherwise been lost. Before the Boutaris, no Greeks were paying attention to these grape varietals, let alone using state-of-the-art equipment to reinvent them. While the average wine shop may not have an extensive Greek selection, be on the prowl for Xinomavro.

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