About The Author:

"Roger, The Wine Guy" is Roger Yazell, CWS. He is a member of the International Wine Guild and has had a long time admiration of wine. After careers in broadcasting, advertising and marketing account management, he explored his love of wine in hospitality, wholesale and retail sales. The intent of Roger's Grapevine is to share stories, history and information that will add to the reader's love, enjoyment and appreciation of wine and sake'.

Questions, requests for topics and comments are always welcome via email: rogerthewineguy@gmail.com.

(Note: The Wine Guy is currently undergoing chemotherapy and this blog will be on hiatus for the duration and into a recovery period. The Wine Guy is planning to celebrate his recovery with a trip to the two wine producing regions in Argentina and that should provide for some interesting new blogs. Meanwhile please enjoy the archives and feel free to email in the interim.)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Greek Wines - Worthy of A Celebration!

March is here again and it’s always one of The Wine Guy’s favorite months. March marks the beginning of spring, absolutely the best time of the year, especially in the desert southwest. It also marks a couple of important historical events that are significant wine sipping occasions for Mrs. Wine Guy and myself. The first is my birthday and the second is Greek Independence Day (they’re about a week apart).

Enjoying wine on one’s birthday is self-explanatory but the significance of Greek Independence Day as a wine-sipping event may require a little more explanation. It was on the Greek island of Santorini at a small cooperative winery (Santo Wines) near the villages of Megalochori and Pyrgos that The Wine Guy had a simple, unpretentious regional white wine that became one of my most memorable wine tasting events.

The wine was Santo Meltemi (now called Ageri…. see wine label above), a blend of locally grown Assrytiko, Athiri and Aidani. It was a crisp, fresh and aromatic semi-dry white wine that was soft and gentle on the palate with some subtle bursts of robust flavor that provided a great accent to the fruit, cheese and nut plate I shared at the time with Mrs. Wine Guy. It was that simple, yet delightful wine that really became the seed for what later developed into my wondrous exploration into the many facets of enjoying wine. It taught me to always appreciate whatever the particular wine in hand has to offer. That experience led me down the road to learn more, seek certification, to change work into wine related fields and led ultimately to this blog and all I enjoyed about wine today. In short, it was a seminal moment and Greek Independence Day each March becomes a time each year to savor that beginning and reflect upon what the little nation of Greece has to offer in terms of wine exploration.

Greek Independence Day celebrates the raising of the banner of independence by the Bishop of Patras on the Feast of Annunciation in 1821 and the ultimate gaining of independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1829. While modern Greece is a younger nation than ours (50+ years younger), theirs is an old civilization and in 2007, an archeologist uncovered evidence of wine production dating back almost 6500 years ago. Under the 400 year Ottoman domination, that wine tradition virtually disappeared and its return was marked by cheap wines highly prone to oxidation (with the exception of Greek Retsina). The Greeks have over 300 varieties of indigenous grapes largely unfamiliar to the rest of the wine world and that has also contributed to its lack of discovery and appreciation worldwide. That is slowly changing.

High taxes keep per capita wine consumption in Greece lower than most of Europe (about half that of France and Italy). Roughly 90% of today’s production is limited to regional table wines and exports rank in the single digits of total production. About 2/3rds of their exports are limited to Greek restaurants so even finding the number of good Greek wines that do exist can be a challenge for the consumer.

Here is some information that may help in your exploration:

The most utilized white grape varieties are:
Moschofilero: a gray-skinned white grape that produces wines with floral aromas and stone fruit tastes with spicy hints. It is the most popular white grape varietal. It is the dominant white varietal in the Peloponnese.
Assyrtiko: a white grape that is very terroir driven. It produces crisp, earthy, mineral-toned wines with a moderately high acid content. It is the dominant white varietal in the Cyclades Islands.
Aidani: this very old varietal is predominantly found in the Cyclades. It produces very aromatic juice with medium body, alcohol and acid content is mainly used as a blending and balancing grape.
Athiri: As it name implies, this grape originated in Santorini, although it is commonly found from Macedonia on the mainland to the island of Rhodes where it is a dominantly used varietal. It is thin-skinned and produces a sweet and fruity essence that is low in alcohol content making it suitable on its own or as a blending grape.
Savatiano: Found mostly on the mainland, particularly in the Attica region near Athens, this grape is drought-resistant and produces elegant, well-balanced wines with floral aromas and suggestions of citrus fruits. It is almost always the informing grape in Greek Retsina.

The most utilized red grape varietals are:

Xinamavro: This is the dominant red in Macedonia and produces wines with very rich tannins, complex aromas and flavors that often linger on a velvety finish. The wines produced with this as the informing grape have very good potential for ageing and development. Its name means acid black and it is sometimes referred to as the Greek Malbec because of its appearance. Its flavor profile, however, can be quite different.

Agiorghitiko: If Greece has a noble grape of its own, this is it. Named for St. George, this deep red grape shows aromatic complexity, very balanced acidity and tannins that are quite soft. Its wines are capable, as well, of extraordinary ageing capabilities.

Mauvrodaphne: Its name means, “black laurel” and this dark wonder is found principally in the Peloponnese and on Rhodes. It is utilized in some dry reds but rises to renown when blended with other grapes and utilized as a rich, aromatic dessert wine of the same name.

Here’s a list of some of the producers to look for as you explore Greek wines:

Boutari: This is the oldest family name today in Greek winemaking and their largest exporter. They have extended their vineyards and wineries throughout the country.

Skouras: This Peloponnese producer trained in winemaking in burgundy and it shows in his wines.

Sigalas: This Santorini producer began in 1994 and his white wines are some of the islands best. He is dedicated to organic grape production and also is renown for his dedication to historical restoration on the island. His vineyards and winery are near the peninsular village of Oia, which has great sunsets and wonderful seafood restaurants.

Alpha: two Greek partners in the late 90’s founded this Macedonian producer. They studied winemaking in Bordeaux and are growing some international grape varietals and blending them with the great varietals from Greece. Their Mavrodaphne/Montepulciano blend is truly unique!

Here is a short hit list of some specific recommendations:

Boutari Retsina: Try it once and decide! This wine is principally Savatino blended with Assrytiko and/or Rhoditis and then flavored with pine resin which imparts a sharply unique taste you may love or decide you’ll never want to have again. The tradition behind Retsina dates back to early Greece when wine was stored in earthenware vessels sealed with pine tar to prevent oxidation. The absorption of resin from the seal flavored the wine and also acted as a preservative allowing shipment (Greeks were probably the earliest world-wide exporters of wine). If you’re trying it for the first time, serve it well chilled to start.

Boutari Naoussa: This is today’s oldest continuous produced bottled wine in Greece, dating back to the late 1800’s. A nicely complex wine, it has great aromas and a good body may even yield hints of ripe olives and dried tomatoes. It is one of the world’s best wines to pair with lamb.

Alpha Estate: This is the Macedonian producer’s flagship red wine and is a combination of Syrah, Xinamavro and Merlot aged in American oak. A younger vintage may reveal some wood tannins so a little extra decanting may be order. If you love the depth and complexity of this wine, a few bottles for ageing in the cellar would be in order, as it will definitely improve with age.

Boutari Moschofilero: This is the number seller in Greece. Floral aromas, stone fruit with a semi-dry crispness makes this beauty a good light aperitif or a great wine with light fare such as salads, fruit and seafood.

Skouras Nemea: Soft tannins, an aromatic complexity and some bright fruit led one of my wine friends to dub Nemea as “Pinot Noir on steroids”. Not a very technical description but it may be appropriate. It’s a good wine, friendly with a wide range of food and has a nice finish.

Achaia Clauss Mavrodaphne: A Bavarian once scoured Greece to discover just the right spot to become a wine grower and winemaker. After falling in love with this grape and region he found it in, Achaia Clauss was born. It’s a deep rich, sweet beauty of a dessert wine. If you enjoy this wine also try St. John’s Commanderia which wasn’t on the list (it’s from Cyprus, which technically isn’t Greece) but the grapes are Greek in origin and its almost the twin of a dessert wine made on the island of Rhodes that’s much harder to find.

Finally, you probably won’t find this outside the European Union but if you do email The Wine Guy and let me know where (rogerthewineguy@gmail.com). It’s the wine mentioned in the opening story and I would welcome the opportunity to approach it again.

Santo Ageri: This wine comes from a grower's co-operative winery near the villages of Megacholori and Pyrgos. It is a blend of Santorini’s three principal white grapes: Assrytiko, Athiri and Aidani. It's a semi-dry white wine that’s crisp and refreshing with a unique undertone that comes from the island’s volcanic soil. The name Ageri refers to light breezes. Its name at the time I first tasted it was Meltemi, which refers to the seasonal winds that occur in the Cyclades. These can sometimes be quite gusty and have been known to disrupt both airline and ferry schedules to the island so the name change was probably very appropriate.

As always, I hope you found today's blog informative and hope you get the opportunity to enjoy some wine from Greece.

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