More Adventures with Greek Wine

Notios Agiorgitiko (Nemea)

Notios Agiorgitiko (Nemea)

Tomorrow I’ll be heading up to a winery in the Hudson Valley AVA region of New York for a tasting (thank you Groupon). Sadly this visit will be one day short of the Hudson Valley wine and food festival, but then, there’s always next year for that. (I found this out after all plans were made, natch.) I’m sure I will bring home another case of wine from the winery, per usual on these trips. I am going to have to build up that modular wine rack I bought even higher. And I will of course share that experience with you all as soon as possible.

But first, I wanted to talk about my dinner at a new Greek taverna in town. I am sure if you’ve read my blog since the beginning, you know I went to Greece for my honeymoon, and that I loved it there, and wrote about some Greek wines I tried at another local restaurant a few months back, and yada yada yada…

I don’t want to cause any trouble so I’ll leave the name anonymous. And after all the food was delicious, and it turns out they own another restaurant in town by the water that I took my family to for Easter brunch and it was great as well. And its the food I went for – I was so excited to have a new Greek place in town.

But I have to mention this funny anecdote. The owner is a nice, proud Greek man and clearly knows how to run a great restaurant, with great service and authentic food. I started at the bar while waiting for my wife, and worked with this man and his bartender to find an authentic Greek varietal to try. They offered me a few Cabs but I reiterated that I wanted a GREEK varietal, grown in Greece, not a European varietal grown in Greece. While I’m sure those are very good, well you get my point. He presented me next with a Meritage. I said, “aren’t those all European/French varieties?” to which he responded “95% of the Cabernet in France is made from grapes imported from Greece!”  Now, I am no expert, but I have taken almost 2 years of WSET classes and I can confidently say that is NOT true. He mentioned the same being the case with Italy.

I do know that wine itself may have originated in Greece, and that Italy has been importing some of their wine since almost as long. However, I have never heard such a thing regarding French wines. I also know that Italy has many many excellent wines that they grow in their own country, with stellar reputation and high classifications and designations for almost every region. After all, almost half the wine I drink is Italian. It’s among my favorite as well as you may know, loyal readers! But I’m sure they don’t need to import 95% of grapes from Greece either. I also know the French; I was married to a French woman and have been there many times. One of my best childhood friends is French. My kids are part French. The French are just way too proud, and their wines are just way too good for this to be true. They wouldn’t have it. Right? Regardless, I will go back there for the food and more Greek wine, and they were very nice people there. I just might not ask any more wine questions…

Moving on, the Agiorgitiko was a wonderful surprise. This one from Notios, meaning ‘the one that comes from the south,’ hails from the Nemea region in the Peloponnese of mainland Greece, northwest of Athens and southwest of Corinth. Notios is from Gaia vineyards, who I have certainly heard of before.  This variety is also known as Mavro Nemeas and St. George (after the town it originates in as it literally means ‘the grape of St George’, or Agios Georgios). It is an established wine region with Agiorgitiko being the only wine allowed in its appellation PDO Nemea. They also have a successful wine co-op here like the one I visited in Crete. The second most planted native varietal after Xenomavro, it is also blended with Cabernet for a table wine called Katoi. Though the acidity in most of these wines is generally light, the altitude in this region allows a season of prime ripening due to cooler nights which also preserve acidity. Therefore you will find the most balanced and ageworthy ones here in Nemea. It is an easy-drinking and prominently fruity wine with mild tannins. My immediate first impression and comparison was to that of a French Beaujolais (hmmmm maybe he’s right about French wines? haha.) This may be due in part to the fact that carbonic maceration is used to make the wine. Bright red fruit, spice, and gentle French oak dominated. And it had a nice medium to long finish. It paired amazingly with the Greek salad, Pastichio, hummus and feta dips and the Greek meatballs.

Atlantis Assyrtiko

Atlantis Assyrtiko

My wife, being the white wine connoisseur that she is, ordered an Assyrtiko which in many ways is reminicent of a Sauvignon Blanc, but more the Loire style than Marlborough. In fact, for this reason it is often blended with Sauvignon Blanc. She really enjoyed that wine as well and was nice enough to let me try it to write a tasting note. It originates in Santorini, and we enjoyed some while there on our honeymoon in 2010 as well. It is also used to make a semi-sweet wine called vin santo, which I also mentioned in my previous blog on Greek wine, and mixed with the Savitiano grape for Retsina. The volcanic soil helps it retain its acidity and ripen well in addition to contributing its own unique characteristics. Many of the vines here are old and ungrafted due to the volcanic ash soils’ resistence to Phylloxera. Its high alcohol content and acidity also make it one of the best Greek wines for ageing. Over 70% of Santorini vineyards are Assyrtiko, grown by bush training and basket-weaving the vines to protect from the wind and heat on the island. It is full bodied and dry with citrus and mineral notes, much like a Loire Sauvignon Blanc. This one won a gold medal in France’s Challenge International Du Vin in 2011. The name is appropriate as well, as Santorini is one of the possible locations of the mythical city of Atlantis, which may have sunk in the cataclysmic eruption that turned the island into a mostly sunken caldera in the Bronze age and finished off the Minoan civilization.

So while I wouldn’t say there aren’t similarities in some wines between the two countries, each have their own distinct terroir, methods and history that make their wines their own to be sure. I can’t wait to go back to Greece. I’d love to live out my elderly years there, enjoying the warm climate, people, and the amazing food, wine and history… one day I will make that dream a reality!

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