Everyone knows how much Greece has suffered financially in recent years. What is less well-known, and more surprising, is how much Greek wines have advanced during this time. If you are thinking of Retsina, you are well behind the times.
For almost two decades, Greece has been producing more fine wines that the world is starting to discover. These are new wines from an old wine culture, not faceless, international wines that could have come from anywhere. They are distinctive, full of character, often made from native grape varieties by traditional methods, aided by contemporary techniques and know-how.
The pioneer of this new trend is also the mayor of Thessaloniki, Yiannis Boutaris, a member of a famous wine producing family who went his own way. His company, KirYianni, started making a white wine from the Roditis grape in Naoussa, breaking new ground and becoming a beacon for careful and ambitious winemakers who were similarly obsessed with quality and interest.
In Drama, in the northeast, Nico Lazaridi started making Sauvignon Blanc, aged in oak barrels, which he called Magic Mountain. The wine combines a creamy richness with a tangerine peel bitterness. Impressively complex, it can be drunk with pleasure all the way through a meal. In red, he produces a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, bottled as Mountain Red. It looks like a black wine of Cahors, and from this terroir its juicy, blended grapes produce notes of mulberry and juniper berry. The oaky bitterness is utterly smoothed by the ripe sweetness of the fruit. It also ages gracefully.
This is winemaking of distinction. You can turn to the region of Nemea for floral wines made from the red grape variety Agiorgitiko, while in Naoussa you will find powerful red wines made from Xinomavro, a distant relative of Malvasia. More full-bodied still are wines made from Limnio grapes in northern Greece. These wines are just beginning to make their way beyond the Greek shores and are well worth seeking out by those who want new flavours.
Many will already know the increasingly recognised white varietal, Assyrtiko, grown in Santorini, as well as in the winemaking regions of Chalkidiki and Drama. Santorini vines are cultivated not in neatly terraced rows but wound into the shape of a bird’s nest; an ancient style of growing that protects the grapes from the ravages of the fierce winds. Most of the vines are pre-phylloxera…