Greek wines have always been a hard sell, for several reasons. To begin with, until recently there were plenty of mediocre Greece wines in the market, and at some level within our group consciousness they all carried with them the reliquary stigma of Retsina, that often misunderstood Greek wine flavored with pine pitch. And then of course there were the names and the stylized labels. Each layer making the marketing of Greek wine progressively more difficult. Today that marketing has been reduced to a pair of fascinating and exciting, for a wine geek, sets of data; terroir and indigenous varieties.
Today Greek wines are all about the wheres and whats, and the wheres happen to be the easier of the two to understand and discuss so it’s worth taking a moment to take a look at how Greek wines have changed. The implementation of a standardized classification system for wines within the European Union served as the stimulus for a reassessment of AOC system for Greece, known as the PDO. These PDO wines are roughly the group of high quality wines that we will be available to consumers in the US market. There are seven sets of PDOs each representative of a region of Greece: Macedonia, Thessaly, Epirus, Peloponnese, Crete, Ionian Islands, and Agean Islands.
The ability to better define where a Greek wine comes from leads us to the next level of classification, one that appeals to the wine geek in us as opposed to our rational side. Here we can begin to discover and understand the terroirs of Greece, of which there are roughly four: volcanic, coastal, continental, and mountainous. I am no expert on Greek wines, in fact I am far from one, but being able to identify where a particular wine comes from, and then gain some understanding of its terroir from that regional identification not only makes it easier for me to relate to Greek wines, it also make it more likely that I’m going to even try.
And that brings us to the second great barrier that has held Greek wines back: Kotsifoliatiko. OK, so maybe not just Kotsifoliatiko, a red grape variety from Crete, but you get the idea. Until recently consumers didn’t want to know about wines unless it was Cabernet or Pinot something. On the other hand today’s consumer is all about Kotsifoliatiko and other unique indigenous grapes that produces something unique and different. It’s not that we don’t still our Pinot whatevers, but when we want a Pinot whatever we know where we want it from. When we want something new and exciting, well Kotsifoliatiko sounds pretty interesting, if you find someone who can pronounce it that is!
Of course I am joking a bit here, wine after all should be fun, and what could be more fun that discovering an unusual variety of wine, and understanding why you like it so much. Understanding for example that Assyrtiko, grown in volcanic soil on the island of Santorini, is all about salt ocean spray, and deep minerality precisely because of its roots, no pun intended. Summer is here in full swing, finally, and wines like Assyrtiko are exactly what I’m looking for, but to my Assyrtiko is a familiar wine. How great to be able to discover a whole country’s worth of wine that can continue to surprise and educate my palate!
I’ve just tasted through a great selection of Greek whites, just in time for the first heat wave of the summer, and found some winners, and some duds of course, but what I really found was a whole set of wines that got me thinking. Thinking about wine, the wheres and whys. For additional research on the wines of Greece I recommend you get out there and find a trusted retailer but at the same time educating yourself, I recommend The New Wines fo Greece website as a great resource should you want to delve into these wines more deeply
There’s so much to discover here, and I let the notes for the wine do most of that talking because the truth is I have so little experience with many of these terroirs and varieties that much of what I would be saying would be based an a handful of wines, but I did make some interesting observations while tasting these wines. I get the desire to produce Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay but in all honesty Moschofilero and in particular Malagouzia are where its at. these are the leading indigenous varieties of Greece, at least from what I’ve seen here at retail, and they are obviously capable of producing some truly exciting wines, as are Robola and Dafni.
Again, I could try and give detailed descriptions of what these grapes do for a living but I’d be basing my opinion on such a small sample set that I refer those who are interested in more detail to the New Wines fo Greece website, but I will say that these are wines you really owe it to yourself to try this summer. Not only are the delicious but ther are refreshing and food friendly, and frankly well priced. These are great wines to bring to a party this summer if you like to set yourself apart from the crowd.
One last thought here, and this is something you’ll be seeing more from me, As I list my top 10 wines you’ll see that it’s not simply a list of the top ten scores, although I haven’t built that list yet so I may end up being mistaken. The point being here, that we should not be ignoring wines like the $11 84 point 2011 Nico Lazaridi Queen of Hearts. Sometime we want great big wines, deep and complex like Tolstoy or Beethoven, but other times we need paperbacks and the Beach Boys. Simple is not a negative, and when it’s hot out and I’m enjoying grilled octopus and a greek salad with some great conversation among friends it can be an absolute joy. Try a bottle for yourself and see if you don’t agree!