Federica Lazaridi, the granddaughter of northern Greece wine legend Nico Lazaridi, has been involved in the family business since the age of 16.
Now, at 24, holding an oenology, viticulture and marketing degree from the University of Udine in Italy she ensures the continuation of the family legacy into the third generation, celebrating the company’s 30th anniversary.
On her first visit to Australia, she chose to make a whirlwind four day tour to Melbourne, to acquaint the local market with the new labels of Nico Lazaridi Wines through two wine-tasting dinners at Vanilla and Mykonos restaurants in Oakleigh.
“The reason I chose to come to Australia myself to showcase our new wines is that it’s essential for me to be able to put a face to the name,” Federica tells Neos Kosmos.
“I believe in knowing the people you collaborate with and seeing firsthand where and how your product is placed in a market.”
Being passionate about her grandfather’s and father’s love for winemaking that made the PGI Agora region in Drama famous not only in Greece, but internationally, is the reason she won’t leave anything to luck; at least in terms “of marketing our product,” she clarifies. When it comes to the actual product, she explains that “No-one can really predetermine how a vintage will turn out each year”.
“The climate in Greece keeps changing, so both the time of the harvest and its identity may vary. Our goal is to follow the exact same process for the vinification. Depending on the progress and outcome of the fermentation process, we can determine the ageing method we will follow and the variety mix,” she explains.
On a whim, marble entrepreneur Nikos Lazaridis, determined to turn his passion for the art of wine into a profession, began to plant vineyards in different locations in eastern Macedonia where the prefecture of Drama is located.
Seventeen years later, in 1987, the first viticultural and winemaking company was founded. After much experimentation, the area of Agora was selected for the planting of the new protected vineyards and the winery that delivers one of Greece’s most iconic wines, the Château Nico Lazaridi, a white and a red that not only changed the wine tradition for its namesake company, but for the entire country.
“The vintage of 1997 changed everything,” Federica enthuses.
“We have incorporated and tested many new techniques that help make viticulture better. Not only do we upgrade our vineyards continuously, but we are putting in a great deal of effort to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the region of Drama.
“Terroir PGI Agora covers a very small area, with specific characteristics part of a UNESCO World Heritage site.”
Being involved as a scientist, she has come to realise how many factors can affect each vintage and how much chemistry has to do with it.
“I used to think everything is quite simple. As a teenager, I would work and observe the process, little did I know, however, that there’s much more that goes in it than meets the eye.
“You have to be really switched on and open; seek information and development constantly. Methods can become obsolete in a matter of months,” she stresses, taking pride in the Nico Lazaridi Wines legacy.
As much as the Lazaridi family is invested in monitoring every little aspect of the winemaking process, not a day goes by since Federica returned to Greece to be an integral part of Nico Lazaridi Wines without a surprise.
“Wine is an expensive hobby,” she says.
“Both for the producer and the consumer.
“The risk lies with the wine producer, as often one is faced with hard and complex decisions that can prove grave. After all, we are dealing with nature; it can be a blessing and a reckoning force.”
Indeed, there have been times that entire harvests had to go to waste to protect the Nico Lazaridi Wines’ quality standards.
“It is devastating to see a year’s worth of work not make it into production, but we can never risk the name of the business, producing a vintage that would jeopardise our place in the market, let alone risk contamination,” she says.
“However, in order to reach more consumers and lower the cost we have implemented new techniques and varietal combinations producing more fresh and aromatic labels.
“We have created new wines, and new modern labels without lowering our quality,” she insists.
Federica proves her point with a very refreshing 2017 mix of Cabernet Franc (60 per cent) and Grenache Rouge (40 per cent), the Nico Lazaridi rosé. This label belongs to the Château Nico Lazaridi family and is decorated with painter Iannis Nikou’s new works of art, having as a main theme the dance of the senses.
“With an electric pink colour and violet hues, this wine has a pleasant nose of cherry, raspberry and hints of caramel. It has a medium body for a rosé with more acidity giving out red berry and strawberry aromas. I’d say it’s a gentle wine with a sweet buttery aftertaste that can age for up to two to three years after harvest. Served slightly cooled, with green salads, fresh fruits and light desserts; of course cheese platters and Asian cuisine make for a great pairing.”
The next of those new labels is Black Sheep, arguably one of Greece’s highest-selling vinos in both the white and red categories. For this label, the winery has introduced the metallic screw-top.
“The Black Sheep is an eccentric name for a product that stresses its diversity and particularity,” Federica continues.
“Its thoroughly modern philosophy is evident from its contemporary appearance, its screw cap, and its characteristic freshness. It is produced at the Mackedon Winery at Platanotopos, Kavala, while the vineyards are found a small distance away.”
The Black Sheep white wine is made from a combination of 60 per cent Sauvignon Blanc and 40 per cent Semillon, in a pleasant mix of flavours and aromas that can age for up to three years. Served at 8-10°C, it makes an excellent match for seafood, lean white meats, salads with light dressing, Mediterranean dishes and pasta with light sauces, giving out light hints of melon, citrus and gooseberry.
The homonymous red wine is made from the Syrah and Merlot varietals at a 60 and 40 per cent respectively, offering a wine with ruby colour and purple highlights, exuding aromas of cherry, violet and plum, wrapped up in a velvety texture with a pleasant mineral aftertaste and harmony between the acidity and the tannins. Served at 15-18°C, it is a worthy accompaniment to red meat, braised meat casserole, refreshing green salads and pungent cheeses. The red can stay in the bottle for up to five years.
The final new-age duo coming from Nico Lazaridi Wines are the Queen and King of Hearts, both from 2017 originating from the PGI Mackedon region.
“Everyday, yet precious wines that will steal your heart for good,” Federica says, “and not your budget.”
The King of Hearts is a blend of the Merlot international variety at a 85 per cent and a 15 per cent of the Greek Xinomavro. This combination results in a deep ruby red colour and an intense bouquet of red fruit and dried fig with some hints of spices and pepper.
“It has a pleasant, balanced taste leaving oak and mocha notes in the mouth while maintaining a crispy acidity through soft tannins,” she describes.
“It can complement any kind of red roasted meat with some sweet or spicy sauces, and any kind of cheese.”
Its partner, the Queen of Hearts, is slightly more intricate.
“For this white wine we chose the Greek varieties of Assyrtiko, the Roditis, Muscat of Alexandria, and the cosmopolitan varieties of Chardonnay and Ugni Blanc,” Federica says.
“With a gentle nose of white-flesh fruits and distinctive aromas of spring flowers, it’s an excellent match for Mediterranean dishes, fish, seafood, pasta and green salads.”
For the end, Federica kept a batch of the winery’s more premium labels Cavalieri, Magic Mountain, Perpetus and F to give her esteemed guests a full taste of the different terroirs and varieties.
In Melbourne, the Nico Lazaridi wines are available at Mykonos Taverna and Vanilla, with more locations coming soon.
To find out more, go to chateau-lazaridi.com/en/