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Brace yourself for what may strike the reader as hyperbole, superlatives, perhaps even exaggeration born out of sheer lust and enthusiasm. However, that is not the intention, rather to capture the mystique and gravitas this producer exudes..

 

Yiannis Economou left Greece to pursue an oenology degree from a university in Alba, the heart of the Piemontese wine region. Following his completion he spent years working in with great Piemontese producers such as Ceretto and Scavino, as well as time in Germany, and Bordeaux at Chateau Margaux. In 1994, after a decade, he returned to his native Crete.

His first task was to resurrect the family vineyards. Drawing from his extensive, and diverse experience, he set about revitalizing native varieties in eastern Crete, along the high plateau of Ziros.

 

Such is his attentiveness, his releases are not necessarily annual, nor are they consistently frequent. In poor vintages he will sell off his fruit. In low yield vintages, he will suffer through it, and produce less wine. Most importantly, he practices long elevage, often not releasing wine until he feels it is ready, sometimes over a decade.

 

Domaine Economou consists of 16 hectares, located in the villages of Ziros, Katsidoni, and Etia, averaging between 600 to 650 meters on the Ziros Plateu. Most of the vines are between 35 and 70 years old and typically ungrafted. Growth and cultivation is organic. The primary local varieties include Liatiko, Mandilari, Vilana, and Thrapsathiri, produced within the VQPRD and VLQPRD of Sitia. The reds are predominately made from Liatiko, by and large, found no where else on earth. The grapes are small, producing a rather high skin to juice ratio. Very little Sulphur is employed to stabalise the wine. Economou’s whites are typically long-aged, and oxidative, exhibiting excellent herbaceousness and garrigue to complement the silky, honey textures.

 

Wines availability is limited and selections vary year to year.

 

Moving forward, this narrative will switch to the first person with the intention of better illustrating the effect of these wines.

 

My first tasting of Economou occurred in Keswick, VA, just outside of Charlottesville. The late, and indeed exceedingly great Bryan Smith made a rare exit from the District of Columbia to preside over what would be essentially an industry tasting. The venue was In Vino Veritas, a shop then owned by famed wine personality and nerd guru, Erin Scala. She had sold tickets to the event, and almost all of them were purchased by a gaggle of young winemakers from the local wineries in and around Charlottesville. This was in 2018, and I was just about to dive fairly deep into Greek wines. I had long since made the transition from the mindset of one who had only had the polarising, and often diabolical pine-resin infused Retsina, or as I think of it, a migraine in a bottle. I don’t have specific recollections from the event, nor do I have notes, nor a bottle list. What I do have is an impression, very much in the artistic sense. At this point I had been a level 2 Sommelier for over 4 years, and had spent about 10 years in the wine industry. I don’t claim to be brilliant, nor do I have a naturally great palate. However, I do taste and analyse, and enjoy a LOT of wine. Just like romantic experiences, musical events, journeys abroad, at some point in life, only a handful stand out. This was one, and this was the first time a had truly unique experience, the likes of which I’ve only come close to once before. I would love to build, through clever etymological routes, a new word to illustrate this impressionistic experience. What happens is, you go through the motions of analysing the wine, and all of the markers are there, tannins, alcohol, body, acid, et cetera, but almost none of the attributes are familiar. You know it’s a wine, and you know it is white (for example). You can feel the weight and balance, but everything else is Martian. To continue this metaphor, imagine being a chemist, arriving on a new planet, only to find that all of  the rocks and soils and liquids around you, are all comprised of elements that do not exist on earth. This was what my poor brain was trying to process, while I was literally swooning at the staggering, breathtaking, complexity, elegance, and poise of each wine. It was ridiculous. The whites, in particular, were absolutely heavenly, like swimming in a dream through a clear, clean, safe, stream of the most scrumptious nectars, all derived from the very bosom of mother nature. I’m still shaking my head, gobsmacked, at the recollection of my own stupor.

 

Flash to late October/early November of 2022. A pandemic had come and gone, I had just returned from Greece for the first time, having spent a week in Naoussa visiting several of the producers of sublime wines in the foothills of Macedonia. Bryan and Erin were holding a fundraiser for a different Cretian Winemaker, who had lost all of her vineyards to fire, during the hot, dry, summer of that year. Ironically, I had nothing but rain in the north, by and large. I was booked for a different event in Charlottesville that same day, so we agreed to meet at Alley Light, a restaurant who’s owners were not only clients of ours, but friends for many years. Our host, Chris Dunbar, oversees the front of house, with a passion that exudes honesty, without the slightest hint of obsequiousness. He does it because he loves it. His wife, Robin, runs the kitchen, and has won a James Beard Award. Similarly, she is in it for love of nailing it as far as I can tell. She shuns attention, rarely comes out of the kitchen for praise, and seldom looks up from the cutting board. Not to say that she isn’t friendly, she is very much that, but there is a graciousness and reserve, rare in someone of such high levels of skill, in this often egomaniacal profession. Chris seats the three of us at a high top, not far from the host stand, so that he can lean in for chitchat, without leaving his post. Again, lots of food, lots of lost memories. However, I do remember a clever carrot dish. I remember an enormous, simple, perfectly mid-rare filet. Finally, I vividly remember a risotto of roasted beets, pistachios, and chevre. The latter, I ran home to try to replicate within a week. That was, hands-down, the best dish I had that year, and for countless previous years. No contenders in second place even registered. It was perfect. My rendering was pretty, damned, good, and went brilliantly with one of the few bottles of Xinomavro that I returned from Greece with. That said, Robin’s was unbeatable. Pure perfection. And yet, despite a litany of wine poured that day prior, and during that dinner, the wine that stopped the show that evening was the Economou Cabernet-Merlot. I had nearly forgotten that he strayed from his beloved indigenous varieties to give a cheeky nod to his time in Bordeaux. When the glass was poured for me, I was certainly tingling with anticipation, but I cannot say I was as replete with optimism, as I should have been. This was an absolute masterpiece. It exuded perfection, as every sensation referenced another element of the wine, like a perfect massage. The snug tannins supported the refined flavours of black plums, dried blackberries, dark chocolate, cocoa, mocha, coffee beans, dried black cherries. The mouth exploded, presented on just enough alcohol and body to do so, without knowing they were there; a muscular dancer supporting the weight and movements of a second spry, lithe, dancer who is the focal point of the beholder. I remember meeting Erin’s glance as she pulls a face, replete with extasy, and mouths “This is SOOoooooo good.”

 

The next day, and indeed for weeks, I would regularly straighten up my back, and proclaim to anyone, particularly industry folks, who would care to listen or not “Oh, did I tell? I just had the best wine I’ve had in more years than I can count.” Sadly, that dinner would be the last that Bryan, Erin, and I would share. In December of 2022, Bryan passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, taking with him not only a monumental amount of knowledge on all things wine, food, film, comedy, music, and so on, but also a joy and enthusiasm and raw, almost feral desire to experience these things, and share his findings with others.

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