© Copyright 1997 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.
Wines of Greece
Megas Oenos 1992 Nemea (Greece) Red Wine ($16.99)
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.
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:
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.
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