“It’s all Greek to me” isn’t just about the language. In an attempt to understand Greek wines, I attended the Athenee Importers & Distributors 2013 Road Show at Winebow in Somerville.
For many oenophiles in the Boston area, an abundance of California wines dominates wine shops and restaurant menus, which have conditioned our palates to particular elements that make up these West Coast wines. While I enjoy many of the U.S. varietals, I also embrace diversity. So, when a chance to explore Greek wines presented itself, I was ready.
What differentiates regions in the process of winemaking is the terroir, which many people don’t even want to try to understand. But this aspect is crucial to developing a welcoming palate of the world’s tasty varietals. In Greece, the grapes are different because the terroir is different – and that’s a good thing. All wines are hand-harvested as well.
From the Peloponnese to Macedonia, from Central Greece to the Greek Islands, grapes are grown in varying climates that include rugged coastlines, cool mountains, some a mixed bag of both.
To pronounce the actual grape varietals I sat in on a lecture and soon understood how to say Agiorgitiko (Ai-your-yee-tee-ko), Liatiko (Lee-a-tee-ko) and Xinomavro (Zi-no-mav-ro), to name a few – all emphasis is on the last syllable, which makes each a bit easier to pronounce. My introduction began at Table 1, where Thymiopoulos Vineyards was stationed, and where I tried Boarding Pass 2012, a blend of 80 percent Malagousia and 20 percent Kountoura Blanc. This was refreshing as a standalone white wine – no need to pair it with food, as it was light enough to enjoy sipping solo.
My next taste was Young Vines 2010, made with Xinomavro grapes, which are the most common red grape planted in Greece. Its name literally translates to “acid black.” When young, this wine can be harsh, but it does age well, with soft and spicy characteristics and good acidity. Following the event, I was able to get a bottle of this lovely red wine and chilled it a bit to test it out as a good summer red. It was.
I will only mention my favorites, so as not to confuse the issue of what to purchase during your next wine shop run.
• Ktima Pavlidis offered a 2011 Emphasis Assyrtiko which was a very nice drink alone wine that also works well with charcuterie and bread
• A 2012 Harlaftis White proved soft and nice
• A Domaine Harlaftis 2011 Chardonnay was buttery soft and lightly oaked
• A Domaine Spiropoulous Ode Panos NV brut had an elegant character for a bubbly
• GAI’A Wines 2011 Notios White proved robust with lots of character and floral aromas, made with 50 percent Roditis and 50 percent Mochofilero.
My favorite rose, and wine of Greece, is 14-18h Rose 2011, made with the Agiorgitiko grape, one known for producing full-bodied, assertive wines that blend well with others. It is Greece’s second most planted grape and the main varietal of the Nemea region.
One that I was told sometimes tastes of Pine-Sol, which I could not resist trying, was the Retsina VN, made with the Savatiano grape. Void of an aftertaste, I was happy it didn’t taste of cleaning product.
For wine lovers who want a robust red, full of character, earthy aromas, with a tannin structure that chisels through – try the Mercouri Estate Cava Red 2007 and you won’t be disappointed. This wine is made with 85 percent Refosco, 15 percent Mavrodaphne, but with Refosco del Penduncolo Rosso clone. And then there’s the Gentilini Winery, which makes a really nice Robola 2011 that offers lingering spice and pairs well with charcuterie, and the deep purple, almost black 2011 Gentilini Red blend, which can be chilled a bit for summer sipping. This wine offers spicy flavors, velvety tannin structure and a long finish. It’s got Agiorgitiko as its main grape, but the bit of syrah really makes it in taste.
Finally, dessert wines: The Estate Argyros offers a wonderful 2006 Vinsanto sweet wine that tastes of caramel, and a 1990 Vinsanto that is alcohol forward, opulent and nutty.
Once I felt educated in Greek wines, I decided to bring a bottle to a family gathering. Nobody cared for this wine, a 2009 Spiropoulos Red Stag made with the Agiorgitiko grape, except for me. But these are people used to California wines, and a bit close-minded when it comes to the world’s offerings, even if Greece is almost in line with California geographically. So I opened another bottle with my husband, who is open to world wines and understands the concept of terroir. We thoroughly enjoyed a bottle of 2011 Gentilini Red Blend with that bit of familiar syrah.
For summer wines you can chill, the best ones are made with the Agiorgitiko varietals – unoaked – and perfect for chillin’ and grillin’! If you want to learn more about Greek wines, follow the Athenee Importers’ blog: www.athenee.blogspot.com and you are sure to learn a lot!