By Elspeth Brown
A couple of years ago, Rosé was the hot, new wine to drink. This year, the up-and-coming wines are from Greece. Wine has always been an important part of Greek life, dating back to 4500 B.C. But before 1985, Greek wines were ordinary and exported by large bulk wine producers. Since then, Greek winemakers have been focused on making quality wines, building state-of-the-art wineries and investing in winemaking technology. Wines coming from Greece today are exciting, structurally beautiful and some of my new favorites.
Greece is the third most mountainous country of Europe and has more than 3,000 islands, making for widely diverse regions with varied Mediterranean climates and terrains. There are four main growing regions in Greece. Northern Greece has a cool to moderate climate with hillsides and fertile soils. Central Greece, which includes west and east regions, has flat land that is primarily used to produce table wines. The southern region, including Peloponnese, has a wide range of terroir, from flat land to very high altitudes that offer mild climates. The last region, Santorini, has rich volcanic, slate and ash soil over chalk and limestone. There is very little rainfall, and sea breezes cool the grapes on the vine.
The three main white wine grapes from Greece are Assyrtiko, Moschofilero and Roditis. Assyrtiko is primarily grown on the island of Santorini. The vines range in age from 60 to 250 years old. This white wine can vary from bone-dry, crisp, mineral-laden hints to softer and more aromatic flavors. The Nykteri style of Assyrtiko grapes are picked at night to avoid hot temperatures. They must be aged in oak for at least three months. This produces a wine that is full-bodied, bone-dry and salty, and finishes with nice acidity.
Moschofilero is an aromatic white grape with peach flavors, spice, nice acidity and nutty notes. It is typically grown in Peloponnese. Roditis grape is also found in the Peloponnese region. It ripens late and maintains acidity in hot climates. It is typically blended with Savatiano to make Retsina wine.
The two main red grapes grown in Greece are Agiorgitiko and Xinomavro. Agiorgitiko, similar to a Merlot, is fullbodied with raspberry, plum, nutmeg and herbal flavors. Xinomavro, called “the Barolo of Greece,” is like the Nebbiolo grape, with dark cherry and licorice flavors and good structural tannins. Stored properly, this wine has the potential to be cellared for an extended period of time.
Of course we cannot forget Retsina wine, which has been Greece’s most well-known wine. This white wine is infused with the sap of the Aleppo pine tree. It tends to have flavors of apple, pine, saline and turpentine. While it is not the white wine I would choose, there are a handful of wineries producing richer, fruit-driven Retsinas with mellow hints of turpentine.
If you are looking for different grapes to excite your palate, try wines from Greece. Even though Greek wines have been around for thousands of years, the vineyards and wineries have had a new awakening.
Elspeth Brown is the owner of Maggie B’s Wine & Specialty Store, 10 C South Main Street in Weaverville. For information, visit MaggieBsWine.com or call 828.645.1111.