The world of wine can generally be split into two halves, the familiar and the new, two pieces of a whole that keeps us excited and satisfied. Interestingly there is some similarity between the two. With the familiar we discover new vintages and producers with some regularity, while the new is all based on those moments of discovery. Of course at some point, as we delve deeper into this world, some of what was new becomes familiar, pushing us to dig ever deeper into the hidden corners to uncover those moments of excitement that keep wine tasting fresh and thrilling.
We live in exciting times when it comes to these discoveries. Looking back a decade or two or three it’s fascinating to see what was yet to be discovered. We spoke in such broad terms about new regions. Chablis and Bordeaux may have been familiar, and perhaps Chianti, but the Loire Valley or Piedmont on the other hand were exciting new regions, both for consumers and the trade as well. Retailers and sommeliers were always on the lookout for the next great thing, and when building off such a narrow base it was easy to say that Barolo, or Barbaresco if you were really in with the cool kids, was the next undiscovered gem.With the passing of decades these wines have become quite common and familiar, as have our understanding of the reasons behind their character. Back then it was enough to be different, today we, the wine consuming public want to know why. Our easy assumptions about wine, old world wines are tannic or acidic while new world wines are soft and fruity, have for the most part fallen by the wayside. No today we want to know why a white wine has such minerality. We want to understand the difference between warm climates and cool climate, between vines grown in volcanic soils and alluvial soils.
OK, well maybe not that many of us really want to know such detail but certainly much of the group that makes up the world’s opinion leaders, sommeliers, retailers and journalists, need to know, if for no other reason than to be able to write about these reasons and to be able to break the news to all of our followers. Interestingly this has opened up the world of wine to regions that had difficulty messaging this audience in the past. We are poised on a second revolution of wine, the first being in the vineyards and the cellars. This second revolution though is an information revolution. Not only are regions researching and offering this information like never before, in part due to the difficulty of developing a market based on the character of their wines alone, but with today’s media they are also able to get all this valuable and fascinating information into the hands of the avant garde, and into the hands of all they evangelize to.
Case in point, the wines of Greece.
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!
2009 Domaine Hatzimichalis Kapnias White 13% $20
This is fairly oaky on the nose, very modern smelling in that respect but at the same time there are some very fine sweet golden apricot and apple tones here adding depth. Bright and assertive on entry with mineral laden wood sweetened flavors of apricot and spice tinged greengage plums that are supported by cutting acidity. The backend shows off more of the mineral note as the wood receded a bit and the sweet apricot flavors take control of the palate. The wood reappears on the finish, in much more of a supporting role, and this ends with a long, bright apricot and nectarine flavor that has just a dusting of wood spice. This is a great change of pace for the chardonnay drinkers out there. 91pts
2010 Domaine Gerovassiliou Malagousia Premium Selection Epanomi 12.5% $23
Quite pungent on the nose with layers of floral, dried fruit, waxy spice, aniseed, violet and petrol aromas. Soft and delicate in the mouth with an early burst of meaty peach flavor followed by a round, soft and yet slightly juicy midpalate filled with creamy melon, mint, pea green and dried pear flavors that linger on the subtle if persistent finish. The finish actually becomes more pronounced with time, this wine just will not leave one's palate. Super intriguing wine. 90pts
2011 Estate Hatzimichalis Lefkos Atalanti Valley 12.5% $14
A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Malagousia and Robola.
A bit of spicy green herb pops from the glass followed by floral woodsy aromas and some assertively pithy and lightly honied grapefruit notes. Smooth and polished in the mouth, this has fine firm acids supporting tart green plum and kiwi fruit. The texture here is lovely, silky and finely balanced with lightly polished feel. The backend picks up light mineral, melon and art kiwi flavors that drift onto the moderately long finish. This is fairly complex and really offers a seductive texture. 90pts
2011 Nasiakos Moschofilero Mantinia 12% $15
Tight with notes of sea salt and lime on the nose followed by low honeysuckle and polleny aromas. Bright and very fresh on entry, this is medium light weight with lovely, perfumed mineral, dried herb, and dried citrus zest flavors on the palate. Finishing dry and firm, with super persistence to the mineral and citrus fruits, this is a killer summer wine. Even at room temp it's refreshing. It's like a car that looks fast sitting still. This was born to refresh! bring on the grilled octopus and Gigantes! 89pts
2011 Nasiakos Mantinia White 12% $21
Pithy and tart on the nose with some green fruit, kiwi notes that are reminiscent of sauvignon blanc and a developing herbal edge to the candied lime fruit that makes it an even closer approximation. Really bright acids on entry makes this absolutely tingle with citrus fruits, though there seems to be a touch of sugar here helping to buffer acidity and round out the lime and mandarin orange flavors. In any event it gives this electrically zesty wine some additional midpalate weight. The finish is all laser like acids, really long and keeping with the citrus theme. I don’t get any sweetness on the finish so this might just have great natural richness. Not super complex but wow this is bright and fun with just a little quartzy mineral on the finish and a hint of pith bitterness on the finale. 89pts
NV San Gerassimo Robola of Cephalonia 12.5% $20
Super fine floral accents frame brilliant mineral notes on a nose that is has a touch of mustiness to it as well as some cool cactus pad and almost cucumber like fruit. There's a faint hint of sweetness here that adds some fruitiness and roundness in the mouth but this is not a fruity wine and even with the sweetness id decidedly mineral driven in the mouth with the same compact, cool fruit that was obvious on the nose. There's a fair amount of dry extract here, lending some mouthgrab and a touch of astringency to the texture on the backend which leads to a lovely, long mineral and meyer lemon finish. An intriguing wine with excellent character that recalls Fiano a bit. 89pts
2011 Lyrarakis Dafni Crete 12% $15
A bit soapy, and stony, and slighty chemical smelling in a cherry, melon, banana peel and sweet gum sort of way. this smells faintly of balsam with a bit of bone meal thrown in for good measure. After having said all that, this does smell good. Low and broad on the palate with integrated acidity supporting unusual grapefruit, strawberry and chalky mineral flavors all wrapped up in a balsam and dried floral cast. Decidedly different and rather exciting. I’d like to pair this up with some tandoori chicken and see what it does for a living. 88pts
2012 Alpha Estate Sauvignon Blanc Florina 13.5% $15
Nice grassy notes greet the nose followed by a touch of spice and talcum powder that has a floral accent note. There's plenty of zesty citrus fruit here and some nice melon notes. Balanced and round on entry, very smooth with bright supporting acidity, this is a bit of a paradox in the mouth with it's fine acid cut and round, voluptuous green fruit flavors that attack the back end of the palate before fading and letting the acidity take over not he modest fish. A bit large scaled but fairly elegant. 88pts
2011 Boutari Malagouzia Matsa Pallini 12.5% $25
Made with Organic Grapes
Restrained and low key on the nose with gently herbal earthy aromas and notes of dried citrus pith. Succulent acids greet the palate followed by a medium weight wine that shows subtle flavors of citrus, cider apples, quince, and un-ripe peach. The acidity here is bright but well buffered and the wine offers up a nice slightly angular yet smooth texture that powers through the moderately long finish on an acid driven vein of quince fruit. This is rather zesty and taut. 88pts
2012 Alpha Estate Axia Malagouzia 13% $11
Dried herb, white flowers, and perhaps a hint of vanilla all emerge slowly from the glass along with a touch of waxy, quince/passionfruit. Smooth and silky in the mouth, this has attractive if slightly simple flavors of unripe peach, kiwi and again a touch of quince all topped with gently woodsy floral notes. There's a nice combination of weight and power here, all driven by juicy acidity through the modest finish. A fun wine that would be great with grilled fish this summer. 87pts
2011 Ktima Biblia Chora Areti-Assyrtiko Pangeon 14% $20
Bright and high-toned not he nose with floral, lime and pear notes that show fantastic fruit blossom accents. A touch round and perhaps slightly on the sweet side, this shows off lots of sweet orchard fruit flavors over a fine spice of minerality. A bit simple but showing some textual complexity not he mouth with some dusty astringency that adds a nice bit of mouthgrab on the backend and through the moderately long citrus and mineral laden finish. This is pretty nice but the juxtaposition of all that minerality and the slightly fat fruit is a bit odd. 87pts
2010 Domaine Katsaros Chardonnay Krania 13.5% $34
Fairly oaky on the nose but not overly spicy with more sweet vanilla, marshmallow and cognac like notes over a base of light yellow fruits. Fairly large framed but also fairly front loaded in the mouth, this pops on entry with big, juicy flavors of apple and pineapple wrapped up in cotton candy and lightly marzipan flavors. There's plenty of supporting acidity here as well but there's less follow through on the palate than I'd like to see, though the finish is fairly long it is marked by some charry spice as well. 87pts
2011 Estate Hatzimichalis Chardonnay Atalanti 13.5% $12
A bit spicy on the nose with sharp, stemmy spice notes that lean towards licorice and nutmeg. Soft and rather broad in the mouth, this has a touch of tannin to it, adding some detail to the otherwise rather smooth and polished texture. The fruit shows hints of lemon pith under apple fruit with a giant touch of sweet fennel on the backend before this fades away in a zesty, slightly toasty orchard fruit finish. 86pts
2011 Tsantali Moschofilero Peloponnese 12% $13
Dusty, dry and simple on the nose with some faint rose petal notes. Light and delicate on entry with some nice cool fig, lime leaf and almost passion fruit like flavors. this is small scaled but nicely balanced with excellent definition of flavor. Showing decent length on the polleny, tart fruited finish, this is cleansing and zesty on the finale. This needs the right food to shine but shows an intriguing mineral tension that really echoes on the finish. 86pts
2011 Estate Papaioannou Malagouzia Corinthia 13.5% $21
Profound aromas of lime leaf, camphor, lemon marmalade, sliced tomato, and lemongrass greet the nose. Light and focused on entry, this shows off pronounced lemon grass, citrus, and herbal flavors in the mouth with a slight shading of astringency keeping this very lively in the mouth. The finish is rather short and clipped. While the nose is most impressive, the palate is slightly underwhelming. 85pts
2011 Papagiannakos Savatiano Markopoulo 12% $16
Rather fruity on the nose with some spicy, almost teriyaki notes to the floral and spearmint dusted core of apple and wild cherry fruit. Small and tight on the palate, like a ball of lightly candied fruit, this is well integrated with just a hint of edginess showing on the backend. A bit simple and fruity in the mouth, this does show off lovely aromas of dried flowers in the mouth followed by a simple, slightly dusty, slightly austere finish. A nice picnic wine. 85pts
2011 Nico Lazaridi Queen of Hearts Macedonia 12.5% $11
A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat of Alexandria, and Assyrtiko.
Dry and earthy on the nose with some mineral notes over pithy lime fruit. Small scaled on entry and with assertive but integrated acidity supporting simple citrus flavors that are topped with a hint of sweet flowers. Almost silky and easy to drink, I doubt this will wow many people but at the same time it shouldn't offend anyone. The finish shows a nice if simple blend of mineral and pithy citrus flavors. Simple but easy going and kind of fun. I'd buy this, it's a great table wine. 84pts
2011 Elios White Peloponesse 11.5% $13
Floral and a little spicy on the nose with touches of ginger and white pepper accenting fresh fig and pineapple aromas. A bit round in the mouth but with excellent acidity, after quite a floral entry this shows a bit of apple pie in the mouth with sweet baked apple fruit, a touch of yeastiness, and some nice baking spice accents. A bit loose and disjointed. 83pts
2011 Boutari Moschofilero Mantinia 11% $14
Super floral and fruity with notes of lemon and lime, this is quite muscatty. A bit soft, though nicely broad and easy in the mouth with simple candy citrus flavors that are framed with a faint herbal tint and supported by late arriving acidity. This finishes very quickly. 82pts
2010 Papaioannou Vineyards Aristocracy Sauvignon Blanc Corinth 13.5% $NA
This smells very fruity and kind of candied with melon, lime and spicy floral aromas that recall mint and fresh pea. Fresh in the mouth, this shows off fine acid and medium body though the flavors of quince, mint and biter apple lack a bit of intensity. 80pts
2011 Ktimakaripidis Sauvginon Krannonas 12.5%
Made from Organic Grapes
Initially fairly yeasty this quickly turns fruitier revealing and earthy core of grapey fruit with some spice and green herb notes. A touch soft and round in the mouth, the acid seems a bit disjointed here and the fruit very easy going and simple. A modest, slightly fruity wine. 80pts
2010 Lyrarakas OCTΩ White Crete 12.5%
Vinana, White Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc
Earthy and a bit heral on the nose with a fairly spicy and mineral overtone to the tomato paste and dried herb aromas that top the faint fruit here. A bit soft on the palate, or rather thin with dusty mineral overtones. This is simple but decisive with faint but present fruit that finishes with lots of minerality and a touch of salty and bitter minerality. Not a crowd pleaser. 78pts
2010 Tsantalis Metoxi Chromitsa Assyrtiko-Sauvignon Blanc Agioritikos 12% $15
Underbrush and earth greet the nose followed by smoky old barrel notes. Gentle and easy on the palate with modest pineapple fruit and some zesty mineral notes adding some interest but this is mainly neutral and easy. 75pts