My Big Fat Greek Wine Tasting
Assyrtiko, Xinomavro, Moschofilero, Agiorgitiko, Savatiano; not characters from a Greek tragedy nor indeed Greek Gods, but some of Greece’s signature grape varieties. If your only experience of Greek wine is of the very distinctive Retsina, then you are in for a delightful surprise.
There are over 200 autochthonous grapes varieties in Greece, ie varieties that are adapted to Greece’s hot and arid climate and cannot grow easily elsewhere. Terroir is key to the quality of Greek wine. Summers are long and very hot and rainfall can be erratic; most of Greece’s wine regions are mountainous with infertile soils of schist, slate, clay, limestone. Ancient vineyards at altitude produce wines with acidity, complexity, elegance and balance.
Assyrtiko is Greece’s signature white grape and is synonymous with the volcanic island of Santorini. Paris Sigalas is widely seen as the “King of Assyrtiko” and is striving to elevate the variety to a position equal to a white Burgundy, as seen by his Seven Villages project. Nowadays you can find Assyrtiko in many styles – barrel fermented, skin contact, lees aged, but it is the aromatic, dry styles with mouth watering acidity and mineral characters that are to Greece what Sauvignon Blanc is to New Zealand and Albarino is to Spain. Another great Santorini estate, Gaia, has been advising Jim Barry, of Australia’s Clare Valley, resulting in a Clare Valley Assyrtiko from vines grown from cuttings taken directly from Gaia’s Santorini vineyards.
Red variety Xinomavro is said to be Nebbiolo like when young, taking on Pinot Noir characters with age and thrives in the Naoussa region of Macedonia, Northern Greece. In the hands of a great winemaker, such as Apostolos Thymiopoulos, the full breadth of the variety can be seen. Xinomavro wines from young vines and unoaked are fruit forward and light bodied whereas Xinomavro from old vines, grown at altitude, and matured in oak, are fuller bodied and more complex, with underlying herbaceous characters and capable of long ageing.
Moschofilero, pink skinned, aromatic, floral and slightly spicy, is often described as being a bit like Gewurztraminer. Savatiano is Greece’s most widely planted grape variety and forms the base for Retsina. However, it is making a name for itself as a still white wine and the best examples come from old vines from the Attica region just South of Athens. Ktima Kokotos, owned by the charming George and Anne Kokotos, produce a range of Savatianos ranging from light bodied and floral, overtly citrus when blended with Roditis, but with age take on dried fruit and nutty characters. The Aegean island of Samos, is home to Greece’s signature dessert wine. Produced from Muscat, the wines aren’t cloying, but fresh and sweet; they work equally as well as an unusual accompaniment to roast chicken!
Given the current situation, Greece is out of bounds to most of us. When it is possible for us to travel, I urge you to explore the islands and the Greek mainland to experience the diverse wine regions. Many of the wineries have a cellar door and/or restaurant, and welcome visitors. In the meantime, join Tipple Talk on Thursday 1st July to enjoy wonderful Greek wines at home, paired with your favourite Greek dishes.
Fancy a wine tour to Greece? Check out Criterion Wine Tours