The only real encounter I had with Greek wine before a couple years ago was in a dark little cafe in New York called Snack Taverna in 2003 – inexpensive pitchers of classic, cheap Retsina were the only thing we knew to order with our octopus salad and olives with salted almonds. The Retsina was fine, pleasantly pine-scented, and completely forgettable.
Then, about two years ago we started carrying a white called Moschofilero at my old shop in New York. I didn’t think twice about it. And then one day it was open. I pulled up a glass. The mineral, fruity freshness with a saline silver lining made me laugh out loud. Dang! I poured a little more, and swallowed. My curiosity popped.
All I knew of Greek wine before this synesthetic epiphany was the aforementioned Retsina, which had become the national beverage of Greece in the 1960′s. This gave Greek wine a reputation as frivolous, insipid, unserious. Luckily, Greek wine has been around for 6,500 years: clearly it can weather a storm. Appellation laws were established in the early 1970′s and now, armed with indigenous varietals, an ideal climate, interesting terroirs, forward-thinking winemakers, modern technology, moving-and-shaking exporters, and a hip little PR engine New Wines of Greece, Greece is back on the wine scene and poised to make Aegean-sized waves.
All the elements for success are in place, the most important of which are the wines themselves. Pink-skinned Moschofilero from Mantinia unleashes an awesome freshness on one’s senses, while steely Assyrtiko is full of salty minerals and bracing acidity (especially in volcanic Santorini) and begs for hot temps, sunny days, and light Mezes (Mediterranean tapas). Red Agiorgitiko from the Peloponnese is dark ruby red in color, complex of aroma and definitively ageworthy, while Naoussa Xinomavro will satisfy the Nebbiolo lover with its bright color, high acidity, and rich, strong tannins. This is the wine for your roasted lamb or meatballs.
Like I said, Greek wine barely passed my ‘who cares?’ test for the larger part of the last decade, but they’re onto something, and their siren song is certainly worth a listen if you’re into mixing it up a bit. Here are some of my current faves for contemplation:
2010 Zafirakis Malagousia – this wine is sprightly but mineral with good herbaceousness on the nose and an oily palate that’s balanced out with firm acidity.
2010 Tetramythos Roditis Patras – Bright and guzzlable, this inexpensive white is pretty, with lots of apple and bergamot.
2008 Kir-Yianni Xinomavro Ramnista – this rich, ageworthy red is finely built with good tannin and fresh acidity. Sun dried tomato and black olive on the palate make it super food-friendly.
We’ll be tasting all these and more with Greek Wine expert Markus Stolz of Elloinos, Friday January 27th from 5–7 PM if you’re interested in Greeking out with us here at WHWC in Los Angeles. Opa!