A tour of Greece in a glass
And contrary to popular opinion, many Greek wines are dry, fruity and delicious, capable of standing comparison with fine wines from the rest of Europe and the New World. In short, it's not all Retsina, the ancient Greek table wine made with pine resin, an idiosyncratic beverage that's tasty with Greek fare but reminds the uninitiated of turpentine.
But Greek wines remain barely a blip on the radar screen in the U.S. and most other countries, hard to find in retail stores and enjoying little familiarity or respect. They're worth seeking out, not only for the sheer sake of discovery but because unfamiliarity and lack of demand usually translate into affordable prices.
Let's take a quick look at some of the place names and wine grapes that you're likely to encounter if you start digging into the wines of Greece:
PLACES: Starting in the northern mainland, Macedonia (not to be confused with the former Yugoslavian nation with the same name) is home of an excellent wine region called Naoussa, known for dry reds. Attica, around Athens, produces a lot of Retsina; and the southern part of the mainland, Peloponnese, includes the wine regions Patras and Nemea, both of which also produce robust reds and crisp whites that can meet international competition. Finally, many of the beautiful Greek islands make their own wines, including Kephaonia, Crete, Lemnos and, one that has achieved some notice in the New World, the scenic Santorini.
GRAPES: Perhaps one reason most of us find Greek wines hard to learn is that, with the exception of Muscat in dessert wines, Greek wine makers tend toward local grapes rather than the Western European varieties that most of us know. The good ones are well worth discovering: Keep your eyes out for Agiorgitiko ("St. George"), which makes soft, fruity but full-bodied reds; and Xynomavro ("Sour Black"), which as the name implies makes big, dark wines that benefit from aging. A top Greek white grape is Assyrtiko, native to Santorini, making highly aromatic and tartly acidic wines.
Have you tried Greek wines? If you have a favorite, or a thought about their market potential, let me know with an E-mail to email@example.com. I regret that the growing circulation of the "Wine Advisor" makes it difficult for me to reply individually to every note, but I'll answer as many as I can; and please be assured that all your input helps me do a better job of writing about wine. Please feel free to get in touch if you'd like to comment on our topics and tasting notes, suggest a topic for a future bulletin, or just talk about wine.
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A stylish white from Santorini
Pale straw color, with ripe melon and citrus scents. Crisp and fresh flavor, citric fruit and rather full-bodied for a white. Very tart acidity hangs on with ripe fruit in a long finish. U.S. importer: Paterno Imports, Lake Bluff, Ill. (March 3, 2000)
FOOD MATCH: Although I normally think of this as a great seafood wine, it also married nicely with a simple stir-fry of pork loin and bok choy Chinese cabbage.
For more recent reports on Greek wines, see my tasting reports for March 3 (http://www.wineloverspage.com/wines/wt030300.shtml) and March 1 (http://www.wineloverspage.com/wines/wt030100.shtml).
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Vol. 2, No. 7, March 6, 2000