Traveling as a guest of New Wines of Greece with All About Greek Wine founders Sofia Perpera and George Athanas a few weeks ago we had a chance to really taste the terroir of this pre-historic land and understand why wine has been made and exported in the country for thousands and thousands of years. Heading out of the islands of Santorini and Crete I found that the wines tend to be more complex and well rounded, pairing better with the heartier fare of the north like roast lamb, braised beef, baked fish with lots of roasted root veggies and wild greens.
From the floral yet dry white Moschofilero ( Mos ko fee’ le ro ) and approachable red Agiorgitiko ( Ah yor yee’ ti ko) in the Peloponnese; to Macedonia with the dry white Malagousia (Mah lah gou zya’) in Epanomi, and Xinomavro (Ksee no’ ma vro) in Naoussa and Amyndeo; to Mavroudi (Mah’ vroo dee) and Limnio (Lim’ nee oh) grown outside of Drama in Madedonia and in Maronia in Thrace; and Krassato (Krah sah’ toh) and Stavroto (Stav’ row tow) in Rapisani near Mount Olympus, these indigenous varietal wines are distinct, made with a hands off, often organic approach, truly defining their place.
The later of those listed above are the “up and coming” varieties that some Greek winemakers are planting throughout the country, along with international varieties like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Though the Greek interpretation of these international varieties is good, the indigenous varieties define the character of the land, of the people and of their flavors, making it the obvious choice if you are going to drink wines from Greece.
The aromas of a Moschofilero white remind me of a Torrontes or a Muscat with violet and rose aromas, a slight pinkish hue and flavors of dried stone fruit with hints of spiciness. Boutari and Domaine Tselepos both make lightly floral and easy to drink Moschofilero, ideal for sipping pool side on a hot summer day.
Another interesting white came from Katogi-Strofilia with their 100% Traminer (a white variety that reseach has shown is related to Savagnin Blanc; Savagnin Musque is also known as Gewürztraminer) from the beautiful, mountainous and highly traditional ski village of Metsovo in the region of Epirus.
I fell in love with Metsovo and its snow-capped, mountains and a rustic town where life is enjoyed at a slightly slower pace than we commonly see today. While looking at hills that Romans once marched through we sipped this aromatic white filled with white flowers, white peach and honey notes with a long, luscious finish.
Agiorgitiko is probably the most versatilele red wine from Greece, and becomes increasingly easy to pronounce when you pronounce the Greek “g” like a “y.” Produced primarily in Nemea in the Peloponnese and in the north near Drama, this is a heat-resistant, productive varietal that produces light, juicy and fruit filled wines with balanced tannin and acidity, which is often blended with other varieties like Syrah.
Domaine Skouras in Nemea near the city of Argos is known for their Agiorgitiko, as their founder George Skouras was one of the first winemakers in the country to blend the indigenous grape with Cabernet Sauvignon, adding depth and finesse to the traditional grape. Skouras Red adds just a touch of Cab to the Agiorgitiko, creating a wine filled with violets, plum and dark cherry notes. The Grand Cuvee Nemea is 100% Agiorgitiko, and aged 1 year in barrel then a minimum of 2 years in the bottle, making a layered, more distinct and powerful wine wine filled with dried red fruit.
Thema from Ktima Pavilids near Drama, blends Syrah with Agiorgitico adding an earthy, spicy and slightly smoky note to the fruit forward wine which pairs incredibly with regionally influenced dishes, like roasted meats and stews. Though primarily made into dry reds, Agiorgitiko also makes delicious Rose, especially those from Gaia Wines and Domaine Skouras.
The Malagousia variety was almost extinct when winemaker Evangelos Gerovassiliou, a University of Bordeaux graduate and then winemaker at Porto Carras winery in the Halkidiki region in the north, found a clone and essentially brought it back to life. It has become the flagship grape of his winery, Domaine Gerovassiliou. Most similar to a Viognier, the Malagousia variety is filled with ripe pear, tropical fruit and citrus, sometimes with herbal or mineral notes. For the Gerovassiliou Premium Selection the wine is fermented in stainless steel then aged on the lees for several months adding depth to the bright white wine.
Domaine Porto Carras continues to make a Malagousia today, even though the reins of ownership and winemakers have changed many times since Gerovassiliou left and started his own winery in 1981. Malagousia Porto Carras highlights the citrus and herb notes in the variety with a fresh, easy to enjoy palate.
Ancient red varieties Limnio and Mavroudi are sometimes bottled on their own but most often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah, with bold flavors that pair well with the roasted beef and lamb dishes found throughout the north.
Tsantali, a winery founded in 1890, is the only winery to make a 100% Mavroudi filled with cherry, baking spice and a hint of vanilla. When blended with Syrah for the Tsantali Kanenas, flavors of smoked meat and spice with the red cherry emerge on the palate.
As I have noted, the Rose wines in Greece were exceptional, and the Tsantali 50/50 Mavroudi/Syrah blend in their Rose Kanenas is one of them, with bright bing cherry, cranberry and orange blossom with a long, luscious finish that is easily enjoyed with food or on its own. We paired this with Greek salad stuffed and grilled clamari with a light lemon and olive oil sauce.
From vineyards in Mount Athos, Tsantali creates their Limnio-Cabernet Sauvignon blend, Abaton, meaning “untrodden,” signifying the quiet lifestyle of the monastic community on Mount Athos dedicated to prayer and meditation. This is a wine with structure, balance, and finesse.
Also from this area they make a blend of Limnio, Cabernet Sauvignon and Xinomavro called Metoxi X. A big, bold food wine with dried fruit, chocolate and a touch of dried tomato that is often a characteristic of Xinomavro.