The wines of Domaine Oikonomou (or Economou) captured the hearts and imaginations of many of you when we first introduced them to the UK in 2014. At that time they were the closely guarded secret of a vanguard of sommeliers and connoisseurs in New York, where they featured on some of the most glamourous wine lists. Gianni, the maverick and mischievous owner and winemaker, had been refusing to let any UK importer to get their hands on the wines, and it was only by pure coincidence, with the help of an angel, that we were invited through the door of this most elusive domaine.
In eastern Crete, high above seaside Sitia, at the tiny town of Ziros (which also gives its name to the surrounding plateau) is a small villa and courtyard that houses the winemaking facility of the domaine. Having mastered his art at prestigious winemaking addresses in Barolo, Pfalz and Bordeaux, Gianni returned here in 1994 to reclaim his grandparents' estate, which spans 120 hectares over these high grounds, yet contains a mere 12.5 hectares of olives and just 7 hectares of vines. Conditions are harsh, and with no irrigation the ancient, ungrafted vines yield tiny bunches of superbly concentrated grapes. The focus is on the indigenous varities of liatiko and mandilaria for the reds, and thrapsathiri and vilana for the whites, although some assrytiko from 70 year old vines is also made.
Nothing here is like any other wine operation. It is brave – heroic, even – and resolutely uncommercial. Yet it also taps directly into the zeitgeist for low intervention wines that are pure, organic, low in sulphur, and unmanipulated. Gianni's experience at Scavino, Ceretto and Chateau Margaux has left him with a mastery of the biochemical mysteries of fermentation balanced by a deliberate rejection of the artifice of industrial wine making. Only he could produce such wine masterpieces with zero modern equipment, save a few steel tanks crammed in amongst the barrels of diverse sizes. Even the pumps are from the 1950s. Quantities are tiny. Releases are infrequent. Vintages appear only when they are ready; not every year, and not chronologically. This is the first release of red wine in more than a year; we do not know when the next release will be.
We believe that these wines are truly iconic and, like all great fine wines, supply outstrips demand. As the wines are so limited in production and availability, we are now issuing an initial offer on the latest shipment, to ensure that those of you who have come to love the Oikonomou range have an opportunity to secure an allocation of this release of wines before they sell out through our retail stores and our restaurant clients.
The Wines (and some great olive oil)
Sitia Red 2004
80% liatiko, 20% mandilaria
Organically farmed ungrafted old vines. After an unusually cold winter, spring and summer offered ideal conditions for optimal maturity. Fruit was picked in perfect health, and there were no treatments in the vineyard. The grapes fermented spontaneously with native yeast and macerated for 12 days in stainless steel, then aged in oak barrels for 24 months. The finished wine is then held in stainless for several years before bottling without filtration. There is minimal added sulphur at bottling. Tasting note: a classic Oikonomou nose with masses going on, and envelops you like the warm evening air loaded with wild herb aromas, just like in the place itself. The richness of the vintage is apparent although the colour as ever has the brick tones of a mature Barolo. The aromas of ripe and dried red fruits has a sweetness to it, while the palate is lifted by a freshness that gives the right balance. Dried flowers, roses, cherries, dark chocolate, leather, wild herbs play together while the wine coats the mouth.
Sitia White 2013
70% vilana, 30% thrapsathiri
The ageing of this wine is quite unusual as it spends time in a mix of different ageing vessels (steel, oak, resin) some of which spend time outdoors. The wine plays a game with oxidation during its ageing which in turn imparts structural integrity, allowing it to age for a long time in bottle, and to be decanted for an extended period. Tasting note: aromas of blossoms, citrus fruit, thyme honey, smoky minerals and dried apricots. Rich and textured with a stony core and plenty of acidity to give length.
Sitia Sweet 2006
No sun drying, no added alcohol. A recreation of the ancient Malmsey, before the Portuguese started making Madeira. Gianni believes this is the type of wine that would have been transported by ship around the trading world of the ancient Cretans, loaded onto triremes alongside amphorae of olive oil, almonds and honey. Tasting note: astonishing nose so reminiscent of very fine Madeira! Dried cherry, fig, toffee and smoky maderised notes with terrific lift and acidity. Will surely live forever.
Organic Single Estate Olive Oil
The olive oil of Sitia is prized throughout the world for its creamy richness and smoothness of flavour. This is a wonderful olive oil and a total bargain!
Pricing is as follows, subject to availability at the point of payment. Wines ordered in full cases (as listed below) are offered at 15% discount, or a 10% discount is available on mixed cases of 12 bottles.
Size Bottles/Case Price/case -15.00% Saving
Sitia Red 2004 75cl 12 £576.00 £489.60 £86.40
Sitia Dry White 2013 75cl 12 £342.00 £290.70 £51.30
Assyrtiko 2012 75cl 12 £363.60 £309.06 £54.54
Sitia Sweet 2006 50cl 6 £189.60 £161.16 £28.44
Organic Olive Oil 75cl 12 £120.00 £102.00 £18.00
Wines will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis. To place your order, get in touch with your local store.
Press on previous releases:
Liatiko 2006: "Tasting great wine can often be a pre-programmed, ritualised experience. It may be exquisite, but it isn’t necessarily interesting. [...] Whereas if you sit down with an old friend in a restaurant in Heraklion, and he suggests you try a bottle of Yiannis Economou’s 2006 Liatiko, and you discover that it looks and tastes like some kind of kinky, low-acid cousin of Barolo, and its aromatic sweetness (sniffed amid the restaurant scents of burnt sage and grilled octopus) makes you think for some reason of Byzantium, and its savoury qualities and lush tannins bond perfectly with the roast goat and bitter foraged wild greens which the Egyptian-Filipino waitress has just brought you … well, all of that is interesting. In twenty years, I may well be dead. I want as much interest as possible in my tasting life before I die." Andrew Jefford @ Decanter.com
"In a completely different and totally idiosyncratic style were the wines of Domaine Economou. His 1999 Sitia, based on the local Liatiko variety, for example, has not yet been released. The 2001 has sold out. The wine itself, not the market, dictates the release date. The 2000 bore a strong resemblance to a pretty decent burgundy and the 1999 was wonderfully scented in a Nebbiolo sort of way. Sitia 1999: "Reddish tawny but not much older looking than the [Liatiko] 2006. Complex, mature aroma that is so difficult to describe: lifted, leathery and a touch of sun-dried tomato sweetness and dried cherries. Firm, Nebbiolo-like tannins – highly strung but not aggressive. Beautifully fresh. For lovers of mature flavours not for seekers after primary fruit." Julia Harding MW @ JancisRobinson.com
"My recent week-long Cretan visit kicked off with one of the great personalities of today’s Greek wine. Yannis Economou marches to his own idiosyncratic beat. It is a complex, challenging and ultimately rewarding rhythm. With an unrivalled curriculum vitae, fluent in five languages, this 47-year-old was, when I first visited him back in 1995, a reluctant disciple of natural wine. [Sitia Red 2000:] Pale, ruby brown. Initially reductive, it opens up after 20 minutes in carafe. Very Burgundian, floral and spice, Pinot-noir nose. Ethereal, very fine aromas evolving in the glass. Delicate but insistent middle palate that blossoms in layers on the aftertaste. A wine of great purity. Classy. Complete. There is nothing remotely quite like it elsewhere in the Greek vineyard. 18.5/20. Best: 2010-2015." Nico Manessis