"Wine gives strength to wary men."
--The Iliad, Homer
Poor Greece. Just days after their historic first-ever goal and first-ever victory in the World Cup--they beat Nigeria 2-1 last Thursday--they've been routed out of the tournament by Argentina. Fortunately for the Greeks they've got a wine renaissance to go home and "wallow" in.
Greece's viticultural and winemaking history stretches way back to the 7th century BCE, making the Greeks the original oenophiles (the word, not surprisingly, is Greek). We know this from shards of unearthed amphorae with etchings of vines, from the epic and comedic poetry of Homer and Hesius, and the mythology surrounding Dionysus, the god of wine. The Greeks were known to foot-tread their grapes, and add additives like sea water and aromatic herbs, and store them in large amphorae sealed with pitch or cork. Early Greek colonization spread the vine all around the Mediterranean, and Mycenaen pottery shards found abroad seem to point to the Greece exporting wine to Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Cyprus, Sicily and Southern Italy. But Ancient Greece's wine trade crumbled in the Byzantine era, when the Emperor Alexius I Comenius granted Venice trading facilities in Constantinople (and other ports) tax-free. And it was all but stamped out when Byzantium fell to the teetotaling Ottoman Turks. It wasn't until the 1960s that Greeks began investing in viticulture again, but the financial and technological outlay since then put Greece on its current path, which is an all out wine renaissance.
It's All Greek to Me
With more than 300 indigenous varietals, each with its own difficult-to-pronounce combination of consonants, it's easy to forget that "there's more to Greece than beaches and islands," says K&L's Greek wine buyer Eric Story. "From vineyards nestled along the coastline, to high altitude vineyards blanketed by winter snow, Greece has just about every terroir and microclimate available."
There are nine winemaking regions in Greece, though some, like Thrace, have little to no known commercial winemaking enterprise. But three regions, Macedonia, the Peloponnese and the Aegean Islands are home to some of the most innovative and exciting wines coming out of Greece today. Here's a very brief synopsis of each.
One of the oldest winemaking regions in Greece, Macedonia is quite distinct from its island counterparts, with microclimates and terrain that vary from the alpine west to the rolling plains of north and central Macedonia to the sandy beaches of the southern coast. If you want to try one (incredibly affordable) wine that exemplifies the region, grab a bottle of the If you're trying to The 2000 Hatzimichalis Xinomavro ($13.99). As opposed to many of the reds from the region, which combine Xinomavro with international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah (2008 Kir-Yanni "Paranga" - $19.99), this is unabashedly Xinomavro. A light ruby color, it's reminiscent of a Langhe Nebbiolo with its cookie spice nose, high-tone cherry fruit and ample, but integrated, tannins thanks to 10 years in bottle. The 2007 Domaine Porto Carras Limnio ($16.99), from one of the biggest and most visually stunning contemporary wineries in Greece, Porto Carras, uses just a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon to add color and texture to the native Limnio. Notes of leather, black fruit and cocoa powder add complexity, and its ripe tannins and plush mouthfeel make it very appealing, especially when paired with souvlaki.
Run to your local fishmonger for some sea bream or fresh sardines before you crack Macedonian white wines like the 2008 Domaine Porto Carras Malagouzia ($21.99) and the 2008 Kir-Yanni "Petra" Roditis ($17.99), which are fresh and crisp and decidedly Greek. The Malagouzia is rounder on the palate, with more stone fruit than the Petra, which is a little more linear and lemony. Fresh hummus and pitas off the grill would be good with both too.
Try saying Agiorghitiko five times fast and you'll see why many prefer to use its English name Saint George. This red varietal, along with the white grape Moschofilero, dominates the wines of the Peloponnese, where native grapes like Roditis mingle with international varietals like Chardonnay, Viognier and Cabernet Sauvignon. Many of the pioneering winemakers here were trained in Burgundy, including George Skouras, who owns the 2009 Wine & Spirits Magazine Winery of the Year, Domaine Skouras. That winery's 2008 Skouras Red ($9.99) is 95% Agiorgitiko fermented entirely in stainless steel. Its forward cherry, plum and blackberry fruit, along with floral undertones make it similar to Beaujolais (it also undergoes 30% carbonic maceration), and its anise and savory herb elements will complement garlicky grilled lamb with tangy yogurt and mint. Its white counterpart, the 2008 Skouras White ($9.99) combines 70% Roditis and 30% Moschofilero, from rocky clay and sand soils respectively, for a vibrant, elegant wine that’s more like Grace Kelly than its meager price would lead you to believe. Wonderfully floral and herbal, this wine calls for grilled octopus with just a squeeze of lemon and sea salt to highlight its texture and complexity.
We could easily devote an entire post to the Aegean Islands (included long, poetic tangents where we dream of relaxing on beaches with towering whitewashed buildings and domed blue roofs in the distance), which includes Rhodes, Crete and Santorini, but it shouldn't be left out of this post. Wines from the best known of the three, Santorni, must contain at least 75% Assyrtiko to be labeled with that appellation, a difficult-to-master white variety marked by high acidity and sweet honeysuckle and citrus notes. The 2009 Sigalas Assyrtiko ($21.99) will transport you with its tart apple and pineapple flavors, hints of licorice and slightly honeyed finish. If fava beans are still available where you live, toss some with cherry tomatoes, eggplant, feta and olive oil and sea salt for the perfect summer lunch.
For our entire selection of Greek wine visit KLWines.com.