Greeks Bearing Wine 

Exploring the ancient wines of modern Greece

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I'd be willing to bet my house that the least-traveled section of just about any American wine store is the section—usually tiny—that houses Greek wines. And that's a shame, because these Greeks bear gifts. Not only does Greece produce a variety of great wines, they're also some of the best wine bargains around—in part, due to the sad state of the Greek economy. But hey, a deal's a deal.

Even in the wine press, Greek wines are almost uniformly shunned. My hypothesis isn't just that Greek wines aren't considered "sexy," but that only recently have Greek wine producers begun to apply modern technology to the art of winemaking. And modernism isn't exactly the first word that springs to mind in discussions about Greece.

Based on artifacts from the Mycenaean and Minoan civilizations, it is believed that wine in Greece dates back to about 4000 B.C. And of course, the ancient Greeks held hedonistic festivals and celebrations in honor of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine.

Today, Greece is best known for Retsina, the infamous Greek white wine (usually made from the Savatiano and Roditis grape varietals) to which a small quantity of pine resin is added at the beginning of fermentation. Restina is, admittedly, an acquired taste. But if you'd like to try it, Kourtaki Retsina Attica is readily available here in Utah for a price that encourages experimentation: $8.49. The crisp, piney taste of Retsina would be a good foil for ultra-garlicky Greek mezethes like scordalia.

Another good Greek wine to drink with garlicky Greek dishes, as well as seafood, poultry and white meat dishes, is the very appealing Boutari Santorini. At $22.95, Boutari Santorini is at the upper end of the Greek wine price scale. Made from the Assyrtiko grape, it's bone dry and tremendously acidic, with lovely peachy scents. Santorini is an island in the Aegean, which is almost entirely one big vineyard. The chalk, pumice, lava and shale soil on Santorini infuses its wines with the flavors of that unique terroir; Boutari Santorini is quite chalky on the palate, for instance. Since Santorini produces what are generally considered to be Greece's finest white wines, Boutari Santorini is another good place to start getting into Greek wines.

For a little less dough, I recommend trying Boutari Moschofilero ($16.95)—named for the grape grown in the high-elevation vineyards of Mantinia in the Peloponnese. It's brimming with beautiful melon and floral aromas, and on the palate is crisp and refreshing with citrus notes.

Some of my favorite Grecian wines are those from Nemea, a vineyard about an hour from Corinth, in northeastern Peloponnisos. For example, there's a very nice Rosé from Nemea produced by Domaine Vassiliou Vineyards called Astra ($9). This is a full-bodied, dry Rosé made from Cabernet Sauvignon, fermented entirely in stainless steel, with strawberry and raspberry flavors.

I've also enjoyed an interesting red Nemean wine at Aristo's restaurant called Ktima Bizios ($16.25). It's made with the Agiorgitiko grape from the Asprokambos Valley of Nemea and is earthy, with dried cherry flavors, medium-bodied and tart—a good pairing option for pork souvlaki or gyros. Still, probably my favorite example of an Agiorgitiko-based wine is Kourtaki Agiorgitiko ($16.95), a dry red that is loaded with plum and blueberry flavors and a finish of black pepper. It's terrific with grilled meats and game, strong cheeses and other hearty foods such as kokkinisto—braised lamb shank in red sauce. And although it's from Greece, I think this wine would rock a classic steak au poivre.

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