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Wine Value Archive

© Copyright 1997 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.


Wines of Greece

Megas Oenos 1992 Nemea (Greece) Red Wine ($16.99)
Dark garnet. Delicious aroma, black-fruit nicely attuned to spicy oak, showing delicate cloves and cinnamon. Ripe, juicy fruit, well structured with tart acidity and soft, approachable tannins. Importer: Diamond Importers, Chicago. (March 24, 1996)


With the exception of a few mass-market brands from Boutari, Greek wines, unfortunately, are still hard to find in the United States, so tasting notes in this section are few. However, the following is an article I wrote several years ago when I lived in a predominantly Greek-American neighborhood in New York City. Although the specific tasting notes are probably obsolete, this may serve as a brief overview of Greek wine regions, grapes and wine styles.
Discovering Greek Wines

Where in the world does wine go back further in history than Greece? Nearly 3,000 years ago, the poet Homer sent Odysseus and his sailors singing before Athena's fresh west wind across a "wine-dark" sea, and he spoke of the draft prepared for Cyclops as "honey-sweet ... unmixed, a divine drink."

Yet today the Greek wine industry is barely emerging into the 20th century as most of the world's wine approaches the 21st.

Only under pressure as a member of the European Economic Community is Greece finally organizing and standardizing an appellation system and structure of wine laws roughly analogous to neighboring Italy. The Greek "Appellation of Origin" is akin to the Italian DOC, and its "Appellation of Origin of High Quality" is parallel to the Italian DOCG.

In many ways, in fact, the recent Greek wine scene resembles that in Italy a quarter-century ago: Lusty and exciting, with a different kind of wine coming from almost every vineyard in a land that's full of vineyards. But it's only just emerging from joyous anarchy into a commercially viable world market ... and because its wines aren't in great demand, they generally come at very reasonable prices.

Discovering what's going on with Greek wine is fun, particularly for anyone with access to a sizable Greek-American community served by ethnic Greek restaurants and stores. In New York City, that neighborhood is Astoria, Queens, where I've been doing a fair amount of pleasurable research lately.

Summing it up, here are some of my impressions:

  • It's not all retsina! The white wine scented with pine resin -- an ancient tradition used to preserve wine in the days before bottles and corks -- may be a trademark of Greek restaurants in the United States, but it's not typical of the better Greek table wines.
  • Very much as in the United States, Greek wines may be labeled with either a "wine of origin" designation guaranteeing the origin and content of the bottle ("Naoussa" and "Nemea," for instance); or a proprietary trademark name (like "Lac des Roches"), which in some cases accompanies not merely jug wines but high quality products.
  • Just like California in its early, less-confident days, the Greeks use a lot of French names on wine labels to suggest quality. Many of the export models also come with labels entirely in English.
  • Because of the limited market demand, Greek wines are eminently affordable, few selling for more than $10 in New York.
  • Tasted "blind," it's hard to tell a dry Greek table wine from its cousins from California, France or Italy. Most, however, are made from unfamiliar varietals with names like Xynomavro and Agiorgitiko, which haven't gained the same reputation for nobility as the more familiar Cabernet and Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

    Here's a potpourri of Greek wines I've tasted recently. A few labels, particularly Boutari and Achaia Clauss, should be widely available throughout the United States. Keep an eye out for the less well-known labels, however; should Greek wines begin to grow in popularity for their quality-price ratio, as the Australian and Chilean wines have done in their turn, the first sign will be the appearance of more obscure brands between the coasts. The second sign, unfortunately, will probably be a gradual increase in price!

    Boutari 1987 "Grande Reserve" Naoussa
    QUALITY: A
    VALUE:   A
    DRINK:  NOW-1997
    PRICE: $10.49
    Clear dark ruby color, with full red-
    fruit and spicy oak nose that carries 
    over intact to the palate. Ripe, 
    extracted fruit and lemony acidity, with 
    no tannins evident. Clean fruit flavors 
    persist into a long finish. Made from 
    Xinomavro grapes in Macedonia, Northern 
    Greece, Naoussa is one of Greece's 
    newly delimited "appellations of origin 
    of high quality," comparable to the 
    Italian DOCG.
    
    Robola de Cephalonie non-vintage Calliga 
    Dry White Wine
    QUALITY: A
    VALUE:   A
    DRINK:  SOON
    PRICE: $7.99
    Clear, pale straw color, with a light, 
    perfumed scent of apples, and a 
    flawless flavor of crisp, juicy fruit 
    in perfect balance with lemony acidity. 
    From Cephalonia, an island in the Gulf 
    of Corinth in Western Greece.
    
    Boutari 1990 Naoussa Dry Red Wine
    QUALITY: A
    VALUE:   A
    DRINK:  NOW-1996
    PRICE: $5.99
    Very dark ruby color. Earthy black-cherry 
    fruit nose, and ripe, juicy fruit 
    flavor with fragrant black pepper and 
    soft acidity on the palate. A fresh and 
    tasty country wine, made from the Xinomavro 
    varietal in Macedonia, Northern Greece.
    
    Hatzi-Michalis 1987 "Alexandros" Naoussa
    QUALITY: A
    VALUE:   A
    DRINK:  NOW-1996
    PRICE: $6.99.
    Clear, dark ruby color, with an excellent 
    plummy aroma -- a bit of black cherry 
    and light earthy notes. Very ripe, 
    extracted cherry-berry fruit flavors, 
    well structured with ample acidity, just 
    a suggestion of oak and a long, clean 
    finish.  In learning Greek wines, it's 
    tempting to draw comparisons between them 
    and more familiar European wines ... and 
    on that basis, I'd categorize this 
    product of the Xinomavro grape as 
    "Chianti-like." 
    
    Ktima Calliga 1985 "Grand Wine" Dry Red Wine
    QUALITY: A
    VALUE:   C
    DRINK:  Now-1994
    PRICE: $9.99
    Clear dark ruby color, with plummy fruit 
    and fragrant black-pepper aromas. 
    Full, dry grapey fruit and black-pepper 
    flavor, reminiscent of a good Cotes-
    du-Rhone; with pepper, juicy fruit and 
    herbal notes in a long aftertaste. 
    Another wine from Cephalonia.
    
    Estate Hatzi Michalis Cabernet Sauvignon, 
    non-vintage
    QUALITY: A
    VALUE:   C
    DRINK:  NOW
    PRICE: $10.29
    One of the most expensive Greek wines 
    available in New York, and definitely 
    competitive with Cabernet Sauvignons 
    from other wine-making countries at the 
    price. Clear ruby color. Fresh, simple 
    currant fruit with subtle spicy oak 
    aromas and an impressive flavor of 
    bitter chocolate and ripe, fresh fruit.
    
    Nassiakos 1991 Mantinia Dry White Wine
    QUALITY: A-
    VALUE:   A
    DRINK:  NOW-1994
    PRICE: $4.99
    Very pale straw color, with a pleasant 
    scent of honeydew melon. Crisp, dry and 
    fresh fruit flavors, simple but delightful, 
    like eating fresh wine grapes. From the 
    Peloponnese, the Southern Greek mainland.
    
    Achaia Clauss non-vintage "Imperial" 
    Mavrodaphne of Patras Red Dessert Wine
    QUALITY: B+
    VALUE:   A+
    DRINK: NOW
    PRICE: $4.99
    Light ruby red color, with a Sherry-like, 
    burnt-sugar aroma with a wonderfully 
    evocative overtone of freshly cut hay. 
    Nutlike and stone-fruit sweet flavors, 
    yet with just enough lemony acidity 
    to give it structure. Surprisingly 
    reminiscent of a Tawny Port, but with 
    much more focus on ripe, juicy fruit. 
    Delightful! From Patras, a seacoast 
    town on the Gulf of Corinth.
    
    Achaia Clauss 1987 "Chateau Clauss" 
    Red Dry Table Wine
    QUALITY: B+
    VALUE:   B+
    DRINK: NOW-1995
    PRICE: $5.99
    Clear, light ruby color. Full, plummy, 
    almost raisiny scent of warm-weather 
    grapes. A bit more structured on the 
    palate than the nose suggests, with ripe 
    cherry-like fruit well balanced by 
    sharp, lemony acidity and a marked but 
    pleasant bitter-almond character. A 
    good tart-cherry quality persists in a 
    long finish. 
    
    Santorini 1990 White Dry Wine
    QUALITY: B+
    VALUE:   B
    DRINK:  NOW-1994
    PRICE: $6.49
    Clear straw color, with apples, pears 
    and melon on the nose and palate. Rich 
    texture and soft yet firm acidity to 
    give it structure.  Made primarily from 
    the Asyrtiko grape on Santorini, a 
    scenic volcanic island in the Cyclades, 
    north of Crete.  
    
    Boutari 1990 Nemea 
    QUALITY: B+
    VALUE:   B
    DRINK:  SOON
    PRICE: $6.99
    Dark ruby color. Pleasant floral aroma, 
    with intriguing, complex overtones of 
    rosewood and cedar. Soft and accessible 
    fruit, juicy and fresh, with light 
    acidity and no obvious tannin. Clean, 
    fresh fruit in a long finish. Reminds me 
    of Italian Dolcetto; it's made from 
    the Agiorgitiko ("St. George") grape. 
    Nemea is in the eastern Peloponnese.
    
    Estate Hatzi-Michalis 1990 "Classic" 
    White Dry Table Wine
    QUALITY: B+
    VALUE:   B
    DRINK: NOW-1994
    PRICE: $6.99
    Clear straw color. Very pleasant, rich 
    fruit aroma focused on figs and honey. 
    Dry, crisp flavor, well structured with 
    tart acidity. Figs and dates in a long, 
    clean finish. 
    
    Domaine d'Ahera non-vintage Red Dry Cyprus Wine
    QUALITY: B+
    VALUE:   B
    DRINK:  SOON
    PRICE: $7.99
    Light cherry-red color. Fresh, grapey 
    fruit, reminiscent of a Beaujolais with 
    a load of cherry-berry fruit, well-
    balanced by crisp but not overly tart 
    acidity. An excellent quaffing wine 
    with burgers or steaks. From Cyprus, a 
    close cousin of the Greek wines. 
    
    Boutari non-vintage Retsina
    QUALITY: B
    VALUE:   B
    DRINK: YOUNG
    PRICE: $4.99
    Dark gold in color, retsina is flavored 
    with pine resin, an ancient preservation 
    technique that renders it utterly one-
    dimensional in aroma and flavor, and 
    makes a glass something of an initiation 
    rite for people new to Greek cuisine.  
    Taken seriously, though, a fresh bottle 
    makes a surprisingly appealing combination 
    when served with traditional Greek fare, 
    in which the robust flavors of fruity 
    olive oil, tart lemon and aromatic herbs 
    tame the resinous flavor of the wine 
    while it cuts through the frankly fatty 
    quality of Greek lamb and the strong 
    flavors of fish preparations with equal 
    dispatch.
    
    Boutari non-vintage Lac des Roches 
    Dry White Wine, $6.99.
    QUALITY: B
    VALUE:   B
    DRINK: NOW
    PRICE: $6.99
    Clear straw color. Musky-melon and 
    slight candied fruit aromas, with ripe, 
    juicy grapes on the palate; perhaps 
    just a touch of residual sugar, but well 
    balanced with crisp acidity. A bit of 
    honeydew melon lingers in the finish.
    
    Boutari 1990 Paros
    QUALITY: B
    VALUE:   B
    DRINK: NOW-1994
    PRICE: $5.99
    Clear garnet color, but definitely a red 
    wine, not a ros'e. Simple, pleasant 
    grapey fruit scent, with a good balance 
    of juicy fruit flavor and soft but 
    sufficient acidity on the palate. 
    
    Cava Tsantalis non-vintage 
    Greek Red Dry Tablewine
    QUALITY: B
    VALUE:   B
    DRINK:  SOON
    PRICE: $6.49
    Clear ruby color. Pleasant, simple wine-
    grape scent, with ripe fruit flavor 
    backed by crisp acidity. Light tannic 
    astringency reflects oak aging. Simple 
    but very appealing and well-balanced 
    table wine.
    
    Patraiki non-vintage "Fine Red Dry Wine"
    QUALITY: C
    VALUE:   A
    DRINK:  SOON
    PRICE: $3.99/liter.
    Clear, light ruby color. Warm, plummy 
    fruit smell and flavor, juicy and fresh, 
    with just a touch of black pepper. A bit 
    on the soft side for perfect balance, 
    but lemon-squirt acid saves it from 
    flabbiness.  Good jug wine!
    
    Patraiki Mavrodaphne of Patras 
    non-vintage sweet red wine
    QUALITY: C
    VALUE:   B+
    DRINK:  NOW
    PRICE: $3.99
    Clear, dark ruby color. Nutty, sherrylike 
    scent, with a slightly dank whiff of oak. 
    Soft and sweet flavor, pleasant walnuts 
    and stone fruit. Reminiscent of a tawny 
    Port, but lacks the acidic "grip" that's 
    needed for structure. Still, a pleasant, 
    warming dessert wine, and a remarkable value.
    
    Attiki Matsa non-vintage Paleokitsi 
    Dry White Wine
    QUALITY: C
    VALUE:   B
    DRINK: SOON
    PRICE: $4.99.
    Clear straw color, with ripe apples and 
    melon aromas that carry over onto the 
    palate; crisp and dry, almost tartly 
    acidic.  Excellent seafood wine. 
    
    "Fleur de Vigne" Greek white table wine
    QUALITY: C
    VALUE:   B
    DRINK: NOW
    PRICE: $3.99
    Pale in color; simple, fresh and crisply 
    acidic. Far from memorable, but good 
    for washing down seafood and fish.
    
    KEO non-vintage "Aphrodite" Cyprus Dry White Wine
    QUALITY: D
    VALUE:   C
    DRINK: NOW OR NEVER
    PRICE: $3.99
    Clear, pale straw color. Odd, idiosyncratic 
    aroma seems to blend butterscotch and mint. 
    Crisp and dry flavor, with a bitter-almond 
    element that segues into a oxidized sherry 
    quality. Not much fruit, and not much of a 
    bargain.
    
    All my wine-tasting reports are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores.
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