As I walked into a Greek wine seminar at FGCU a few weeks back, I couldn’t help but wonder; what happened to Greek wine? I mean, Greece invented wine culture. It was the required beverage at philosophical discussions which brought us democracy, stoicism, and the Socratic method. The Greeks introduced wine to Egypt. They vinified Europe. So what happened? Where did Greek wine go?
The host of this seminar, Greek wine importer Ted Diamantis of Chicago based Diamond Importers, Inc. says it’s been there all along, just at varying levels of success. “Greek wine is currently having its renaissance,” he says, “It’s an exciting time now, but history was not always on Greek wine’s side.” As the rest of Europe was enjoying its renaissance, Greece was under Ottoman rule, which wasn’t particularly wine-friendly. Later, after World War Two, cities swelled and vines were left untended when Greeks abandoned the agricultural life for prosperous city jobs. But now going back to the land is in vogue and Greece’s new wine movement has revived long forgotten varietals for the wine world to rediscover.
My favorite is Domaine Sigalas’ assyrtiko from the island of Santorini. Almost nothing grows on this windswept pile of volcanic ash where temperatures often top 100 and only 8 inches of rain fall per year. The vines are trained into little round spirals which create a basket to protect the grapes from brutal elements, making it one of the most expensive cultivations in the world. Still, the resultant wine is only around $20 and brings a nose of lemon merengue with a bright, minerally palate. Use it in place of Sauvignon Blanc and say goodbye to grassy grapefruit and hello to rich tropical notes along with lean acidity.
In the reds the grape xinomavro is interesting in that, like Piedmont’s nebbiolo, it has four seeds rather than the usual two which adds to its tannic punch. It would rush to sugar-ripeness with too much heat, so at Alpha Estate in northwestern Greece it’s planted at a 2600 foot elevation to prolong its hang-time. The wine is floral and herbaceous on the nose to the degree of smelling of incense. On the palate it is slightly viscous with tart blueberry flavors, earthiness, and long tannins. Alpha Estate xinomavro retails around $30.
Both are distributed locally- if you don’t see it on the shelf, it can usually be special ordered.