Friday, April 30, 2010

Greek wine fun facts

I'm a big fan of Greek white wines, but I confess I don't know a lot about them. There are a lot of reasons they stay mysterious, starting with the language on the label. Not having been a fraternity member, often I can't even read it.

I was fortunate to attend a 50-wine tasting recently of Greek wines. Here's some of what I learned:

* Skouras White 2009, a Roditis-Moschofilero blend, is one of the best white wines in the world for under $10. It's lively, with plenty of bright lime and papaya fruit. You can't do better in this price range.

* Moschofilero should be drunk no more than one year after harvest. You should be drinking the 2009s now. The '08s are already getting soft.

* In contrast, Assyrtiko is the most age-worthy Greek white. But I preferred the unoaked versions, even after 6 years. The Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko 2004 that was fermented in stainless steel was earthy but lively, with notes of clay and key lime and great acidity and balance. The barrel-fermented wine from the same year had a strong Bourbon note, interesting, but I'd rather just drink Bourbon.

* Malagousia, if you can find it, is a spectacular grape. The Gerovassiliou Epanomi-Macedonia Malagousia 2008 was one of my favorite wines, with notes of pine needle, earth and key lime. You wouldn't get bored drinking this.

* There are plenty of light-bodied reds made from Agiorgitiko, but none of the ones I tasted moved me. A little red plum fruit, meh.

* Xinomavro is the red grape to try. The Kir Yianni Ramnista Xinomavro 2006 was fascinating: black currant and cherry fruit, floral notes, and a savoriness on the finish. The 2000 vintage of the same wine showed that it ages well, but at 4 years you're not robbing the cradle.

* I liked Boutari's non-reserve Naoussa Xinomavro better than the reserve, which had too much oak. Xinomavro is unique, and it's a shame to cover it up with wood. The non-reserve frees the grapes.

* Did you know that the dessert wine Vin Santo is originally from Greece, not Italy? I know, it sounds like a claim out of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." But Santo apparently does not stand for "saint," as Italians have told me. The Greeks claim it stands for "Santorini," the tiny, expensive volcanic island that is the source of many of the country's best wines.

Just as in Italy, Greek Vin Santo is made from dried grapes. I found the Greek versions (I tasted 2003s from Sigalas and Santo Wines) to have brighter fruit than Italian ones, which usually have the vanilla and nut flavors of oxidation. I particularly liked Sigalas' wine, a blend of Assyrtiko and Aidani, which had notes of dried prunes, apricots and raisins. It would be amazing with a chocolate dessert (Vin Santo is the exception to my disdain for wine with chocolate), or just on its own.

* That said, no matter what they claimed in the movie, "sushi" is not a Greek word. I think.


WineChef said...

Fantastic article, I really appreciate the breakdown. It's really hard to find a great selection of Greek wines outside of the dreaded Retsina. I recently had the Spyros Vin Santo from K&L and thought it was fantastic, and a steal compared to its Italian counterparts.

jason said...

really enjoyed this post! I visited Greece last year (the Peloponnese) and had a chance to visit a number of wineries. I came away impressed! Skouras makes a fantastic rose you can pick up for about 5 Euros that I am still hoping gets exported soon...

Markus Stolz said...

A really thoughtful post with an excellent breakdown. I would like to add some of my own thoughts:

Skouras is one of the few Greek wineries that is strong in both, the value and premium segments. The same winemaking philosophy of elegant fruit concentration is applied to all their wines.

Assyrtiko from the island of Santorini is without a doubt the most age-worthy dry Greek white. But well made Malagousia can also be kept for some years. I agree that this grape is spectacular.

Agiorgitiko can produce wines in a variety of styles. Apart from the light-bodied versions, concentrated and age-worthy wines exist. I have tasted 10 year old Agiorgitikos that were still vibrant. Having said that, I also believe that Agiorgitiko wines are less exciting than Xinomavro wines.

One top Xinomavro producer that has exports to the US is Thimiopoulos. Look out for his Uranos.

VinSanto blows me away every time I try it. This really deserves so much more recognition.

Greekfoodlover said...

Great piece and thanks for writing about Greek wines which are amazing and so little is known about them, Kyr Yianni is a favourite of mine! Tried it once in Athytos/Afytos Halkidiki, stayed etched in my memory since!