It's All Greek to Me
Despite dating back to the 6th millennium BC (versus the 6th century in France), and remaining a vital part of everyday life in Greece today, Greek wine does not generate much interest or respect in the export market. Quite a shame really, as they grow many unique grape varieties and produce balanced, food-friendly wines that offer solid value.
When I want to learn more about these wines, I turn to my friend Chris Jelepis, who runs Sonata Wine, a boutique importing business in Philadelphia that’s focused on finding value from small wineries in Greece. Hopefully, someday I’ll convince him to share his knowledge with PA Vine Co. readers. In the meantime, Chris recently asked me to help out with a Sonata tasting event, so I thought it’d be a good opportunity to post my thoughts on each of the six wines we showcased, and perhaps also provide an introduction to the country’s wines for many of you.
Most of these wines are available through Pennsylvania’s “Special Liquor Order” (SLO) program.
Troupis Helios 2011
This carries my favorite story – Chris was visiting the winery (in the Central Pelloponese), tasting some of the wines, when he noticed a crate of plastic water bottles filled with what looked like white wine in the corner of the room. “What’s this?” he asked. “Oh, that’s just wine for the locals. You don’t want to try that,” replied the vintner. In fact, that was exactly what Chris was looking for, and, after trying it, he agreed to bottle and import it. True to what a local wine is, this one – made from 100% Moschofilero (mohs-ko-fill-er-o) – is a simple, everyday drinker with bright fruits and good acidity. Delicious and thirst-quenching. (SLO Code: 527179, $10.79, minimum order 1 bottle)
Dimakis Estate Two Birds 2011
In contrast to the Helios, the Two Birds, which is made from 100% Roditis (Row-dee-tees), is a more savory, less fruity wine that’s similar in style to Viogner. Truthfully, this wine from Central Greece was my least favorite of the bunch – though it had nice acidity and earthiness, I found the rubber band aromas a little off-putting. (SLO Code: 527142, $12.39, minimum 1)
Thira Estate Santorini 2011
Perhaps Greece’s most famous wine, Santorini is made from at least 75% Assyrtiko (As-sear-ti-ko) grapes grown on the tourist hotspot. Of particular intrigue on Santorini is the way that grape growers train the vines to grow in “baskets” close to the ground, shielding them from high winds (see picture below). This particular wine, which is 100% Assyrtiko, is bone-dry, with loads of lemony citrus flavor and racy acidity. One can easily imagine enjoying many glasses of this while sitting on the coast and eating fresh seafood. (SLO Code: 527146, $16.99, minimum 1)
Bizios Estate Red Blend 2008
This wine is mainly Cabernet (60%), blended with Agiorgitiko (Ay-your-yee-tiko), which Chris has dubbed “Greece’s answer to Sangiovese,” due to it’s bright acidity and strong cherry flavor. True to this label, the Agiorgitiko (“St. George’s Grape”) keeps the Cab light on its feet; though the wine is full-bodied, it remains bright and acidic. This would be a great food wine. (SLO Code: 520200, $21.79, minimum 6)
Diamantakis Diamond Rock 2009
A blend of Syrah (70%) and Mandilari (30%) from Crete, this is perhaps the most modern wine of the bunch. Upon opening, it was oak-forward, with gobs of vanilla and warm spice. Over time, the gamy, meaty Syrah notes entered the picture. Though the oak softened the persistent tannins of both grapes, this wine is at its best when paired with grilled lamb. (SLO Code: 514014, the 2008, is available for $14.89, minimum 12)
Domaine Kiknoes Limnio 2008
Saving the best for last? Perhaps. This bottle, made from 100% Limnio by one of Greece’s up-and-coming winemakers (Melina Tassou), was surely the most interesting of the tasting. Limnio is one of the oldest known wine-making grapes, dating back to Ancient Greece, and is unlike anything else I’ve tasted. It’s perhaps best compared to Pinot Noir, due to its light color and minimal tannins, but it really did not taste anything like Pinot. Instead it offered flavors of blueberry, along with herbs and a touch of earth. Out of all the wines here, this is the one to seek out for something unique and different. (SLO Code: 520369, $25.79, minimum 6)
Full Disclaimer: I was not compensated to write this piece nor will I be compensated if this article leads to additional wine sales. Chris is, however, a good guy, so you should support his local business.