Last month The Advice Sisters attended a “walkaround” tasting of wines from Greece. Sponsored by the Hellenic Foreign Trade Board, the New Wines of Greece event featured dozens of different wines from 41 different importers. The event itself was one of the better walkaround tastings that this reviewer has had the opportunity to attend, with excellent food, a good selection of different wines and a venue that was mercifully sized for the crowd of restaurateurs, retailers, importers and media in attendance.
My wife and I honeymooned in Greece and I have a true love of the country, its food and its culture. But I was never a huge fan of Greek wines, having mostly experienced Retsina (a white wine with a turpentine flavor that needs to grow on you over the course of a few bottles) and Rhoditis, a kind of sweetish, pinkish wine generally served along with Retsina in touristic tavernas.
But from the tasting, I learned that there was much more to Greek wine than what is pawned off on tourists in Mykonos. In fact, Greece not only has on e of the longest wine histories in the world, but is also home to 28 different designated appellations, and produces wine from at least two dozen major varietals, some of which are found nowhere else. In fact, one varietal, Moschofilero, a white whine grape, was called out by a number of importers at the event as being the “it grape” for Sommeliers right now.
Moschofilero was prevalent throughout the tasting and was featured in both still and sparkling wines. Domanie Tselepos, for example, was featuring a Brut called Amalia, made from Moschofilero using traditional champagne making methods. The result was a wonderful sparkling wine that was similar in character to a traditional champagne or cremant, but with more floral notes. While the price point (aobut $25) is a bit high it does make a good addition to a cellar, particularly for an event were something unique is in order. In addition, we sampled a Moschofileo from Domaine Spiropoulos (Mantinia 2012). Priced at around $15 a bottle, this wine was crisp and green in taste, with an underlying minerality. This is an excellent food pairing wine and would go well with most summer dishes.
Another important varietal being shown was called Xinomavro. This red varietal is the principal wine grape of the highlands of Macedonia and produces complex wines that are designed for aging – kind of a Greek version of Barolo or Bordeaux. Thymiopoulos Winery was showing two versions of Xinomavro based wines, one called Uranos (2011). Selling for about $25 a bottle, the wine was deep purple in color and heavily laden with vanilla on the nose. The wine itself was well structured, with a lot of peppery spice and black cherry notes. The same winery was also featuring a Xinomavro called Young Vines (2011). Only grapes from Xinomavro vines averaging five to seven years in age go into Young Vines. ” bottling. Like its older brother, Young Vines is structured for aging, deep purple in color, and featurs peppery spice and black fruits o the palate. Priced at just about $15 a bottle, this wine is a great example of why Xinomavro belongs in everybody’s cellar.
Outside of these key red and white varietals, Greece is loaded with different types of wine and iwine grape. Some of particular note that we tasted at New Wines of Greece included Peza Union Crete’s Nissos Crete Red (2012) which was made predominantly from the Kotsifali grape, a Mediterranean variety that is generally blended. Bottled in a unique squat bottle, this wine had a mushroomy nose that was also quite distinctive. Another interesting wine, Vinsanto (2005) was a sparkling from Santorini. Made from the Assyrtiko and Aidani grapes, this wine had a distinct taste of ash on the palate, reflecting the volcanic nature of the island’s soils. Unfortunately, neither of these two wines are readily available in the United States.
No tasting of Greek wines can be complete without a glass of Retsina. This traditional wine of Greece owes its distinctive nose and taste to the small pieces of Aleppo Pine resin added to the must during fermentation. Honestly, to most Retsina is an acquired taste, but some winemakers are taking the wine to new highs. One, Vassiliou Nameion Estate, makes a traditional Retsina from the Savatiano grape which was one of the best that this reviewer has ever tasted. Very golden in color and very aromatic – like a bottle of pine sol – just what one would expect from Retsina, but this wine was not overpowering and the other characteristics of the wine, making it much more fruit forward that one would expect with some grassiness, citrus, and of course a hint of resin. Priced at about $12 a bottle, this is going into my cellar as soon as I can find some in New York.
With 2000 years of winemaking history, Greek wines are abundant, distinctive and quite flavorful. Some of the New Wines of Greece taste very well, and should be included in any complete collection. For more information visit http:/newwinesofgreece.com
**Thanks to John Dunham, The Advice Sisters’ wine enthusiast, for this report.