The Real Scoop on Greek Wines

 


In many ways Greece is the ancient epicenter to modern society. Governmental structures, intellectual gatherings, food and wine celebrations, all stem from Greece. As much a part of historic Greek culture as gods and goddesses is Greek wine. Dating back to approximately the third century BC, evidence suggests wine was an integral part of Greek society.

Today there are over 300 indigenous varieties discovered in Greece. Though the names are unfamiliar and at times a challenge to pronounce do not fear, Greek wines are approachable, pair beautifully with food, and often a good value. Because I am a Greek wine novice, I have solicited the expertise of Evan Turner. Evan is a Sommelier, Beverage Director at Helen Greek Food and Wine Restaurant and Helen Heights Restaurant in Houston, and self-proclaimed “Greek food and wine crusader.” Not only does Evan know Greek wine inside and out, his passion is infectious.
Here are five Greek grapes you should know. Evan’s insight is featured in italics.

Malagousia: On the brink of extinction, this white grape was “rediscovered” in the 1970’s. Today it is grown throughout Greece and enjoyed as one of the country’s most beloved grapes. It is a versatile grape that is crafted using wood and stainless steel, and makes a delicious sweet wine as well. It is vibrant and complex and recognized globally as a first class Greek wine.

“Malagousia will be the next great white grape to come from Greece. Originally from Northern Greece and brought back from near extinction by genius winemaker Evangelos Gerovassiliou, Malagousia typifies how unique indigenous Greek grapes are. With gorgeous aromatics of tropical and stone fruit laced with a riot of flowers pouring from the glass followed with flavors of pineapple, citrus and peaches with a mineral driven and clean finish. If you love wines that are fuller and richer but want to avoid the oakiness of so many of them, Malagousia is the way to go.”

Ktima Gerovassiliou Single Vineyard Malagousia, Epanomi, Greece ($25): 100% Malagousia; pale lemon; medium+ aromas of ripe yellow fruits such as peaches, pineapple, mango, and lemon, jasmine, lime zest, and white pepper spice; palate is crisp and refreshing with mouth-watering tart fruit, pronounced acidity, and a long tart, juicy fruit finish; a great wine to enjoy with a wide variety of foods or just to sip

Moschofilero: This highly aromatic dry pink-skinned grape comes from the high plateaus of Mantinia in north-central Peloponnese but today is widely planted throughout the country. It is popular in Greece for its floral aroma, fresh fruit notes, and lively acidity. It is available in still, sparkling, and as a dessert wine.

“Moschofilero is like a brilliant con artist, they take you for everything you have but do it with such style you still adore them in the end. Largely grown in the Peloponnesos, particularly in its ancestral home of Mantinia, Moschofilero tricks you in the most sexy and wonderful way. On the nose this wine may remind the drinker of Gewurztraminer and even get you to think it is an off-dry wine. On the nose there is an explosion of white flowers like gardenia and lily mingled with cinnamon, clove and other sweet baking spices. Then on the palate comes the switch: Racy and clean with lively lemon, tangerine and lime flavors with a bright dry finish that makes it a fantastic summer white. Positive to make one smile with every sip.”

NV Ktima Tselepos Amalia Brut, Peloponnese, Greece ($28): 100% Moschofilero; pale gold, medium aromas of fresh rose petals, citrus, ripe green apple, minerality, honey, and toast; light yet persistent bubbles, lively on the palate, medium+ acidity with loads of tart fruit, long refreshing finish; a crowd pleaser, perfect as an aperitif with charcuterie

Savatiano: This white wine grape has a checkered past. It is indigenous to the Attica region but today is widely planted across Greece. For many decades it was one of Greece’s dominant white varieties; however, it fell out of favor in lieu of more aromatic varieties. Today it is back in favor and, thanks to modern winemaking techniques, stealing the show.

“Oh Savatiano, you poor thing. Long used to make the maligned (and misunderstood) retsina, finally Savatiano is getting its shot, and in the words of ‘Hamilton’ it is not going to waste it. If you are fan of crisp, clean Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley in France, I have your wine right here. Savatiano is all about mineral flavors and citrus. Imagine eating a citrus salad by a rushing mountain stream, the flavors of wet rock and lemons, limes and oranges fill your mouth while a beautiful hint of pine forest wafts by. Savatiano ages beautifully, may be one of the best wines to pair with seafood of all time and will make you look more hip drinking it than a Williamsburg barista.”

2013 Domaine Papagiannakos Vareli Markopoulo Savatiano, Attica, Greece ($17): 100% Savatiano; medium- lemon with straw hues; medium+ aromas of stone fruit, citrus zest, lemon curd, jasmine, subtle spice notes, and trailing vanilla; rich and elegant on the palate, a silky medium+ body wine with depth and texture, medium+ acidity hits mid and back palate to finish a luxurious sip with a long tart pucker; 24 hour skin contact maceration along with 10 day stainless steel followed by 12 days in new French oak, add a depth to this wine that is very pleasing.

Agiorgitiko: This noble red grape grown in Nemea region in Peloponnese is shrouded in mystery. Legend has it this rich complex wine tastes so dark because the vines were stained with the blood of the lion killed by Hercules. It is the most widely planted red grape in Greece. It is bold with complex aromas and flavors, medium tannins and high acidity.

“Wines made from Agiorgitiko are what you give your friend who thinks Bordeaux is the end all and be all of wines. In many cases Agiorgitiko is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to make outstanding red blends to rival the world’s best. Grown on mountainside vineyards that are in many cases over 3000 feet in elevation throughout the ancient lands of the Peloponnesos, Agiorgitiko is all about wild black fruit like cherries, blackberries and currants. It has a glorious dustiness about it, like walking down a dry Texas farm road and because Greek winemakers do not overly oak their reds, you do not feel like you are drinking vanilla cedar tea with every sip. Cooking lamb in any possible manner? Here is your wine.”

2014 Tselepos ‘Driopi’ Classic, Nemea, Greece ($19): 100% Agiorgitiko; medium+ ruby; pronounced aromas of dried and baked cherries, blackberries, plums, pomegranate, dried violets, blackcurrant leaf, lavender, dill, sweet baking spice, juniper, fresh sweet tobacco, vanilla; layers of aromas follow through on the palate, ripe and juicy with balanced earthiness; medium+ body, medium tannins with high acidity, playful yet delivers with intensity, long, juicy fruit finish.

Xinomavro: This red grape’s name comes from two words meaning “sour” and “black.” Its finicky nature for proper growing conditions is rivaled by Pinot Noir. This red wine is often light in color with an array of characteristics ranging from floral, olive, tomatoes, and smoke. It has high acidity and tannins that benefit from oak aging.

Xinomavro is my favorite red grape from Greece. Period. Anyone who disagrees with me may step outside to discuss it further. Ok, ok, I have more to say about it. Xinomavro literally means "acid-black" and these wines age with grace and style, pair brilliantly with more food than you can imagine and have a diversity in style and flavor that is unmatched by nearly every red grape you can think of. Xinomavro gets made into rich, brooding dark fruit packed wines or crafted into wines that will fool you into thinking you are drinking stunning Barbaresco with notes of rose and violet petal mixed with dried cherry and leather. It is even made into some of the best dry sparkling rosé outside of Champagne. I beg you to not walk but run to your wine shop and get a bottle of Xinomavro.”

2013 Domaine Katsaros Valos, Krania, Greece ($25): 100% Xinomavro grown on the slopes of Mt. Olympus; pale ruby; medium aromas of blackberry, cranberry, pomegranate, black raspberries, dried roses, medicinal notes, dried Greek seasoning, baking spice, green vegetal notes, forest floor, leather, trailing vanilla; medium body yet firm in style, pronounced gripping tannins and high acidity, elegant yet rustic, layers of flavors hit front, mid, and rear palate perfectly, long tart, mouth-puckering finish; when young decant, or consume with food, will age well with proper cellaring.

In a winemaking region as old as Greece there are also many unknown varieties. These are unidentified grapes that exist in a small area or vineyards. The following is an example of a wine crafted from an unknown local varietal cultivated by the winemaker.

“Greece has over 300 indigenous grape varieties, many being discovered or rediscovered daily. Take "Biblinos Oenos" from the brilliant winery Biblia Chora in northeast Greece close to the seaside city of Kavala. Named after a wine traded by the Greeks and Phoenicians and considered the greatest wine of its time, there is a chance that the grape used to make this wine at Biblia Chora is one and the same. When tested, the rediscovered variety was shown to be ancient, had no close Vitis Vinifera relatives and is only from this tiny corner of the world. The wine reminds one of outstanding Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but it is the fact you are drinking history with every sip that makes this wine and honestly all Greek wines truly epic.”

2011 Ktima Biblia Chora Biblinos Oenos, Pangeon, Greece ($35): This wine was crafted of a 100% un-named local varietal, a true ancient grape field blend; deep ruby; medium- aromas of fresh red and black fruit, black pepper, dusty earth, minerality, and a faint trail of pleasing charred oak; a well-balanced wine with medium acidity, tannins, body, and finish; elegant yet rustically earthy and approachable at the same time.

Although the grapes are unfamiliar, these Greek wines are highly approachable and deliver a tasting experience that feels comfortable. Furthermore, they come with agreeable price tags, allowing room for experimentation and discovery without a hit to the wallet. But don’t take my word for it. As the expert, Evan has the final word on why you should get to know Greek wines.

“Let us be honest, Greek wines are difficult to find and the names of the grapes positively brutal to pronounce. (If I hear one more "It's all Greek to me” joke....) However Greek wines will positively floor you when you first try them. They are absolutely incredible wines to pair with food. Greeks still hold dear the time honored tradition that wine and food go hand in hand and their wine making style reflects that. Greek wines typically are lower in alcohol than other wines around the world, mainly because they do not add sugar as many winemakers do in an effort to make bigger and bigger wines. In the case of whites, Greek wines have a bit more acidity and in the case of reds, more tannins. This makes them great with a wide range of dishes, Greek and non-Greek alike. Finally, Greek wines see far less oak on average and that further helps them be so affable to food. Be an intrepid wine drinker and seek out Greek wines, regardless of the season, occasion or the food you are having they will go perfectly. Plus, how often will you get a chance to drink wines that Aristotle and Homer (not Simpson) wrote about and drank themselves? Yiamas!”

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