If I say Greek wine, what do you say?
You might reply “Retsina…” shaking your head in disbelief. Unfortunately! And so unfair. Unfair to both Retsina and Greek wine as a whole.
Greek wine is so much more than Retsina and modern times Retsina is so much more and so much better than the horrific examples, many people remember from holidays in Greece decades back.
Join me, as I revisit a wonderful February evening a few years back, which fully proved my initial statement right. As for Retsina, for now you have to take my word for it – but with time, I will win you over!
A common trait for all the wines we enjoyed that evening is, that they are all wines with great personality. Wines from small to midsized producers who all have an Earth friendly approach to wine making. Organic, biodynamic and/or natural winemaking.
To me, Xinomavro was the key to unlock the door behind which was the beautiful world of Greek wine.
Xinomavro is a truly great variety, which in terms of structure has a lot in common with the Piemontese great, Nebbiolo, and Apostolos Thymiopoulos’ Naoussa 2014, made from 100% Xinomavro, reminds me quite a lot of Barolo from La Morra, e.g. Trediberri 2011, whereas Tatsis’ Old Roots is much more similar to Barolo from Montforte d’Alba. Much less known is, that both sparkling and at Tatsis Winery even a lovely still Blanc de Noir, Xiropotamos, is produced.
Are you more into whites? Well, then you will find (at least) two ways in: Malagousia and Assyrtiko.
The lovely, aromatic Malagousia from producers such as Tetramythos is beautiful and the best versions display enough freshness to match its full-bodied nature. Assyrtiko has so many faces: Volcanic expressions from Santorini tend to be fiery and highly expressive with examples from the much cooler Amyndeo in the far northwest tend to be much more floral in their expression. And we haven’t even touched on the barrel aged ones yet!
Two more, very important varieties for Greek whites are Savatiano and Roditis!
Savatiano is the key variety in most Retsina, but very, very good versions are made also without the resin. One good example is Markou. Their Fumé oozes from pine tree, and their Kleftes from 2009 and 2016 sort of remind me of sherry. Fino and Oloroso respectively. Their entire portfolio is commendable!
Roditis is a wonderful variety, from which such lovely wines can be made – whites as well as orange ones. One good place to start exploring Greek orange wine is Tatsis Winery. Like their entire portfolio it is a wild expression! Meant in the best possible way.
From Tetramythos as well, lovely orange wine is produced, but in general Tetramythos is famous for making beautiful whites. Lots of varietal versions, all very pure and precise with spot on varietal definition. Personally, I always loved their Roditis Nature!
Having briefly mentioned orange wines, Sclavos on Kefalonia makes an amazing wine, Metagitnion, from a highly rare, local variety, Vostilidi. Technically, it is not an orange wine, but the 2014 had all the characteristics. You just have to try it!
Greek reds are predominantly defined by Agiorgirtiko – above all from Nemea only about an hour’s drive west of Athens – and Xinomavro, which reigns in the northern Greece.
Beautiful sparkling wines are made from Xinomavro. Laurens Hartman at Domaine Karanika in Amyndeo is producing wonderful sparklings! Think about it for a while and it becomes less of a surprise. For Champagne both Pinot Noir and Meunier are used – both black grapes. Well, Laurens’ sparkling wines are really worth seeking out.
To me, Agiorgirtiko can be a bit like Merlot and very nice yet very different and very personal wines to showcase the variety are produced by Halkia Winery and Aïvalis Winery in Nemea.
Back at that February tasting we tasted Xinomavro in somewhat different expressions – they really do come in different styles! Rapsani is so different from Goumenissa and Goumenissa is very different from Naoussa – and arguably the biggest and most age worthy reds of Greece come from Naoussa.
Tatsis’ 80% Xinomavro/20% Negoska from Goumenissa is a wild, potent and somewhat rustic version, whereas Thymiopoulos delivered a highly elegant Naoussa (Had I been served this one blind, I might have ended up in La Morra, as I touched upon earlier…) and from Gilali a powerful version with Xinomavro blended 1/3 each with Krassato and Stavroto. In this wine the power teams up with elegance to form a highly recommendable wine!
Greece is like Heaven on Earth for fans of sweet wines!
I could have looked to regions such as Patras or Samos for beautiful wines, but a spectacular range is also to be found on Santorini, e.g. at Hatzidakis Winery. Hatzikdakis have produced numerous exquisit sweets such as the very, very rare Voudomato, which we tasted from the 2007 vintage. Some 2 weeks of drying the grapes, 2 months of fermenting in stainless steel followed by 5 years of maturation in barrel. The result is an intensely sweet wine with 340 grams of residual sugar. Aromas of wild strawberries, sweet blackberries, plum, butterscotch and so much more. Perfect for a fruit pie, blue cheese and desserts based on chocolate.
Lots of wine has passed through the glass since that tasting and with every new Greek wine I taste, the more I realise just how much amazing wine is produced in this cradle of European wine.