"The signs of optimism begin at Athens airport, where two wine bars have opened"by Barry Smith / June 16, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
While Greece’s economy continues to struggle, its wine industry has gone from strength to strength. New wineries have quickly made their mark and the wine world’s interest has been piqued by novel flavours wrought from native Greek grapes. So why is Greek wine enjoying such success? Does adversity produce joyful wines from its rocky soil?
The last 20 years have seen the rise of cult wineries like Gaia and Sigalas and a growing confidence in the Greek wine world, fuelled by friendly competition. Different regions and wineries spur one another on to greater efforts, not by producing flawless, though bland, international wines, but by delving back into Greek tradition. Wine maker Vangelis Gerovassiliou rescued the white Malagousia grape from near extinction. Such signs augur well for the future.
The signs of optimism begin at Athens airport, where two wine bars have opened celebrating the offerings of the well-established Kir-Yianni estate in Naoussa. Its well-made wines span an impressive range. Further afield you can find a wealth of fine wines from both the mainland and the islands.
The grape Assyrtiko from Santorini has long been known but now you can explore its different expressions in the hands of careful makers. Gaia’s Wild Ferment Assyrtiko is made with natural yeasts though their Thalassitis is not. Both are fine examples, showing Assyrtiko’s characteristic oily richness and refreshing citrus finish. The 2014 Wild Ferment introduces unpredictability with subtle grassy notes, while the 2014 Thalassitis is all control and steely precision. Domaine Sigalas produces a desirable 100 per cent Assyrtiko, slightly saline and lime-edged, as reassuring as a calm sea.
Kefalonia is poised to become better known. The Melissinos winery works organically with indigenous white grape varieties, such as Robola, Tsaousi, Vostilidi. All three turn up in the 2015 Lefko blend. With its razor-sharp acidity, Robola provides backbone, the Tsaousi is floral, while the Vostilidi provides stone fruit notes. Together, they give a satisfying complexity to this fine dry wine. More intriguing still is Melissinos 2014 Gold. Made from the rare Zakynthino grape this is a rich, unctuous but utterly dry wine with a clean lemon finish. It needs time—and food.
In ancient times, Lesbos was famous for its excellent wines, and now, courtesy of the Methymnaeos winery, you can experience red, whites and even a fashionable orange wine. The latter, a white wine from the red Chidiriotiko grape, is one of the finest expressions of the genre I’ve come across. There is a hint of sherry-like nutty bitterness soon succeeded by a fresh and lively finish. This is a grown-up summer wine that would give the best rosés a run for their money.
Another thing we are learning is the potential of Greek red wines to age. A good example is the 2007 Tatsis made in Goumenissa from a blend of Xinomavro and Negoska. It reveals the aromas of old libraries and furniture polish. It has weight and volume in the mouth, with flavours of black cherry and juniper berry. The 2012 Gaia Estate Agiorgitiko from Nemea shows all the signs of having a future, as does the Xinomavro from the Alpha estate. In their youth, these wines can be a little too powerful on the palate, with flavours of kirsch-soaked black cherries. But with time you will notice the 14 per cent alcohol less and the evolving flavours more—worth cellaring with an eye for the future.
A voyage through Greek varieties and their expressions, like a voyage through the Greek islands, is a considerable undertaking but thoroughly rewarding.