Greek Wine Tasting
If you don’t know your Moschofilero from your Agiorgitiko – or even what the heck those are(!) – now is a great time to start sampling Greek wines. Greece enjoys a long and rich history of grape cultivation and wine-making, which dates back thousands of years.
In ancient Greece, wine was a major part of daily life. Whole cults were devoted to Dionysus, the God of wine. Wine was a must at any symposium, and it was likely healthier than water. Hippocrates used wine for medicinal purposes, and, in an aphorism that surely pleases many academics and heavy readers, noted that “drinking undiluted wine” was a cure for eye pains (aphormisms, #46)
From this history comes many indigenous grape varieties, such as Athiri, Savatiano, Xinomavro, Mavrodaphne, and Malagousia. Through their active maritime trade, they helped spread many grapes to other Mediterranean countries and also disseminate their knowledge of- and techniques for- viticulture and winemaking.
Wine making in Greece suffered in more modern times due to wars, politics, and general economic woes. However, in recent years the efforts of wine-making families and maverick individuals to modernize production and, at the same time, pay homage to the roots of Greek wines are paying dividends. Many producers are making high-quality wines with Greece’s unique terroir and numerous in indigenous grapes.
For our latest tasting in the Global Vineyard Passport Series, Bob Barrett – our Certified Expert of Wine – chose only wines made from indigenous grapes.
Here is what we tasted:
Gai’a Ritinitis Nobilis Retsina
Gai’a Wines was founded in 1994 by Yiannis Paraskevopoulos and Leon Karatsalos. Both men are Agriculturalists and Yiannis also has an Enology Phd. Their goal to show the world the potential of indigenous grape-varietals is well-met through their locations in Nemea in the Peloponnese and Santorini.
Retsina is wine to which pine resin (from the Pinus halapensis) has been added during fermentation. This tradition grew out of the practice of closing ancient amphorae with such resin, which would lend its flavor to the wine. Gai’a makes its Retsina with the Roditis grape – instead of the traditional Savatiano.
Gai’a makes one of the best Retsinas I have ever tasted. It definitely requires a few sips to show its full flavor-profile, which at first is entirely dominated by the lemony-pine notes of the pine resin. Once past the Pinesol-shock, you are rewarded with great, fresh, citrus flavors, lemon zest, a hint of oiliness and a bit of a tingle. The wine changes noticeably with a fresh cheese – the lemon and pine are subdued.
I would say that all of our tasters were rather shocked by this wine, and all but one enjoyed it.
Domaine Argyros Assyrtiko, Santorini
The Argyros Estate in Santorini was founded in 1903 by Georgios Argyros. It’s vineyards are among the oldest on the island, with parts more than 150 years old. The indigenous, Assyrtiko grapes grow vines trained to the traditional “crown”.
Assyrtiko is becoming better-known in the States for good reason: it’s grapes produce dry, bright, acidic wines that are easy to drink. This one is no exception. In addition to those characteristics, this wine has some notes of apple, mineral from the volcanic soil, and an oily brininess from the sea. It has a fuller-body and can be described as “racy” – sort of lean and acidic. This wine is also excellent with food, and it tasted great with our marinated olives. All of our tasters liked this Assyrtiko.
Domaine Spiropoulos Mantinia, Peloponese
The Spiropoulos family has been making wine since 1860. More recently, since 1993, they have been pioneers in organic viticulture and wine making. They have vineyards in the Peloponnese in Nemea, and on the Mantinia Plateau 650m above sea level. Apostolos Spiropoulos is a UC-Davis trained enologist who oversees production.
This wine is made from the Moschofilero grape; it is a pink-skinned variety known for its floral aroma, and used to produce white wines and rose. It also produces wines that are quite varied in style, and this one was a surprise – especially to Bob! It is a much richer, fuller-bodied expression of Moschofilero. The almond-flower nose is in contrast to some herbal, bitter notes in the mouth. Our taster, Cynthia, noted that the bitter was subdued by eating an apple slice. This wine – like all the other whites – has a very distinctive flavor and character. It was liked by many, but definitely was not liked by all of our tasters. It was possibly my favorite of the evening, and was also well-liked by Milton and Goldie.
Gai’a Notios Red, Peloponnese
Gai’a (see above) makes this Agiorgitiko from its vineyards in the Nemea region of the Peloponnese. Grapes here are mature low-yield, and un-irrigated. It is the most widely-planted red variety in Greece, and produces very drinkable wines.
This wine is juicy and light, and drinks much like a Beaujolais. It has a very pretty, red color and definite fruity notes of cherry. Tannins are low and soft. The Notios was probably the most easy-going wine of the night, and probably also the least distinctive. It was enjoyed by the majority of the group – even those who said they do not normally drink Beaujolais. It was a bit too light for Milton.
Domaine Porto Carras Limnio, Côtes de Meliton
The Domaine Porto Carras was established in 1967 in Chaldiki, Central Macedonia. It has one of the largest vineyards in Europe, with over 475 hectares planted with 27 Greek and international varieties.
It is difficult to prove the very ancient pedigree of grapes, but many wine experts – including Jancis Robinson – believe that “Limnio” can be equated to “Lemnia”, which is described by Aristotle as a specialty of the island of Limnos. There is also reference to “Limnia”, by Hesiod and Polydeuctes.
The Limnio is full-bodied and muscular. It has an earthy nose with some vegetal characteristics. The tannins are strong and round. This was an excellent red on which to end as it really promotes lingering and sipping.
This was very well-liked – especially by our “red wine drinkers”: Milton, Goldie, Rodney, Catherine, and Rachael. In fact, Rachael revealed that it was the promise of tasting Limnio that drew her to the class!
The favorites? Well, the Limnio pretty much blew people away with its richness and depth. As for the whites, I think sentiment was pretty well divided. All of the whites were found to be very distinctive and full of unique flavor. The Assyrtiko is the easiest to drink, while the Retsina and this particular Moschofilero are a bit more challenging. After the full tasting, though, the Retsina was the most-requested cup-filler. For some red-wine drinkers, like Catherine, the Greek whites were enjoyed because of their fuller body and flavoring.
More information on all these wines - and Greek wines, in general - can be found here.