Cyclades log: Tinos

Windswept island, great food, superb winery

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com

11 September 2019

After several hours cruising from the port of Piraeus near Athens, I arrived to the gusty environment on Tinos Island, whose barren and hilly landscape seems perfect for dystopian cinema. Its beauty is evident from the many windmills and over 50 villages, some among the most charming in Greece, like Pyrgos, dotting the landscape.

With a land area of 194,464 square kilometers (over 75,050 square miles) and about 9,000 year-round inhabitants, this Cycladic island is rather large, but more discrete than the jazzy, jet set Mykonos, just a 20 minute boat ride away, which is lit up like Taj Mahal by night.

The strong winds – gusts of 40 kilometers an hour are normal – explain why Tinos is known as the island home of Aeolus, the Greek god of the winds.

In more recent times the island is special for the Virgin Mary, as Our Lady of Tinos church houses a miraculous icon which, according to tradition, was found after the famous Virgin once appeared to a nun Pelagia and revealed to her the place where the icon was buried. A rug wide enough for pedestrians is parallel to the road from the port leading to the church, and some pilgrims still insist on getting to the church to see the icon on their knees, although most use their feet to light a candle and kiss the icon.

A veritable grand cru in Tinos

Starting at about 400 meters above sea level and up to 460, the island boasts a unique winery on an almost lunar landscape of enormous granite boulders. Many Assyrtiko vines of the T-OINOS winery are planted on thick sands over this rock and the estate, in operation since 2002, is justifiably highly prized for its high altitude, cool terroir.

Its wines wet stone like flavors emanating from these soils are so impressive that famous Bordeaux wine consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt has been the consultant winemaker here since about five years, and he travels to Tinos almost once a month to focus on new plantings. A new winery will be built by 2021.

I caught up Bordeaux-based assistant to Derenoncourt Julien Lavenu over dinner, and we spoke at length of the qualities of this wine, which will be the subject of my next blog entry.

Suffice to say that T-OINOS has been getting loads of positive press from critics and writers around the world, from FAZ in Germany to Julia Harding and Jancis Robinson. As I was leaving, PR manager Eleni Blouchou told me that a Financial Times correspondent was coming to visit next week.

Stay tuned for more details in the next Cyclades tour blog entry…

A gorgeous setting: Aeolis Tinos Suites 

While I paid my own way to get to Athens, it is important to point out that the visits to Tinos were part of a media tour, and the T-OINOS team covered my travel expense from Athens to the island and two nights stay at a most gorgeous luxury hotel, aptly named the Aeolis Tinos Suites.

This hotel with 45 villa like rooms can lodge up to 100+ people, but in September there were only about 40 people total. Some 20 people make up for an attentive, courteous and friendly staff.

It is a subtle architecture, built to blend into the barren landscape and terraced hills, providing for a hint of calm seclusion for each guest who, at 380 meters high, can get a spectacular sunset view from far above the port.

Tinos Island’s Greek mythical roots and Christian heritage have inspired the unique Cycladic design for the Aeolis Tinos Suites logo, which weaves together three iconic design elements: the Wind Spiral, the Compass Card and the Cross.

My villa, room 26, exuded sheer elegance with earthy colors of olive and white, a walk in Italian shower and separate toilet, a comfortable, queen size bed and outdoor patio to recline and enjoy fresh island air.

The patios are built in such a way so that the wind is not bothersome, and you can read a book in tranquility. When the sun shines above, dive into the lovely pool set on the hilly terrace and later order a drink or Greek coffee from the bar.

A stone oven, above, is still used for slow cooked meats at the Zoga hotel restaurant, whose glass walls offer yet more spectacular views of the Aegean and nearby islands.

Breakfast is excellent here, with home made orange and strawberry jams, local breads, cheeses and yoghurts, and the more traditional fare of cereals, eggs, hams, bacons and scrambled eggs. The fresh squeezed orange juice is delicious. And one sure sign of quality is the excellent coffee – both the Greek and regular.

As you can see on this link, the hotel has a wide variety of room options for couples or families.

Visiting Pyrgos means visiting the wonderful small museum dedicated to famous Greek sculptor and significant figure of Modern Greek art, Yannoulis Chalepas, known for his exquisite marble sculptures.

“Relaxing” (1931) by Yannoulis Chalepas, in front of the museum bearing the artist’s name.

The village has a pristine and refined aspect, no doubt due to the tasteful marble architecture, including the most elegant bus stops I have ever seen. Contemporary craftspeople work with marble on the island and especially in Pyrgos, marble is seen almost everywhere, more so than in other Greek island villages, giving it a special shine.

Another reason to visit Pyrgos is for its charming square, which includes the best galatobouriko dessert pie I have ever had, see above. Well, maybe not quite as good as my sister’s 😊.

Top restaurant on the sea: Psarotaverna 

Owner Aris Tatsis and culinary chef and wife Adonia Zarba have been running the Psarotaverna restaurant for about 20 years, and one reason why Forbes and other media have written of Tinos as a “hidden jewel” is this restaurant.
Adjacent to the beach, it may be tempting to get a seat just on the water, but that is something to avoid on days with especially high wind, whose capriciousness can blow water over your legs if not on your table.

Adonia Zarba: Pure culinary talent with a nice smile

With winery representative Eleni Blouchou, who organized this trip, we chose a table strategically. In any case, a gorgeous setting. Some clients dock their boats nearby to dine here.

Succulent from the grill

The menu includes classic island fare, such as grilled squid, but the locally grown herbs such as coriander and thyme along with lime make it so appealing and succulent, too, as the octopus is fresh and properly prepared for grilling (no need to boil it a bit initially for softening).

Extraordinarily delicious

Any great Cyclades restaurant worth its salt must have quality Taramosalata: a creamy starter made from tarama, the salted and cured roe of cod, carp, or grey mullet mixed with olive oil, lemon juice, and a starchy base of bread or potatoes. But here, see above, was the twist: it came shaped like flowers, with cuttlefish ink, and the base had no need for potatoes or bread to give it texture, I was told: just the fish eggs, olive oil and lemon, but with the ink. Served with yellow tomatoes, yellow beetroot and small edible flowers from the owner’s garden, the starter appealed as much to the eye as to the palate.

With time in glass, the young Assyrtiko Clos Stegasta 2018 and the grilled calamari infused with coriander, lime and thyme was a perfect match.

Another savory starter was a terrine of eggplant, courgette, tomato and red pepper soaked in olive oil. Wishes to forego bread proved impossible, as dipping into that olive oil was paradise.
As for the salad, only locally grown tomatoes were used and it tasted that way, with high quality feta ideally salty to go with the fresh greens and olive oil.

Lovely menu

We also sampled fresh steamed mussels in white wine sauce but flavored with capers and slices of freshly caught squid, also grilled, with more vivid seafood flavors.
T-OINOS Clos Stegasta Assyrtiko 2018
As a preview for my blog on the producer, the 2018 white was vibrant and vivacious, yet full bodied, with the acidity of Chablis. Initially the nose was not too expressive, but lovely acidity and lime and wet stone aspects came through as the wine sat in glass. We did not put it on ice, of course, and it got better and better aromatically even if a young pup. What was most important is its sheer drinkability: easy going, but also substantial, which is a sign of a great wine, which this no doubt is. Lovely salinity on the finish!
In any case, sunsets here on Tinos are gorgeous, and the island is not as busy as Santorini, where I am currently posting this on the website… You do not see five cruise ships lining up to unloads thousands of people for a tour. I hope it stays that way.
Stay tuned for more!

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