Greek Wines 101
Greece and wine go back about 4,000 years and just as Greece created the concept of culture and brought the first democracy to the world, they also developed the first appellation system that is so common today and even the first wine glass.
Greece hasn’t become a global wine region overnight. It can be viewed as one of the world’s oldest and newest wine regions at the same time.
As the third most mountainous country in Europe and in large part an island nation, Greece has never been an easy place to make wine. However, its distinct topography enables the cultivation of cool weather grapes in a warm weather climate, an unexpected attribute of Greek wines. This enables the production of wines with a perfect balance of high acidity and low alcohol. In other words, the wines taste crisp and fresh and work beautifully with a variety of foods.
New Wines of Greece has identified four ambassador varietals that are most commonly sold in the U.S. Many are difficult to pronounce, although a glass or two always makes it easier. (Here’s a tip when looking at the names: whenever you see a “g” in writing, it’s pronounced as a “y”):
Assyrtiko: One of the great white wine grapes in the world, Assyrtiko is best known as being from the island of Santorini, although it can also be found in other parts of Greece. Typically (but not always) unoaked, it offers great minerality and is pleasant to drink when young but also ages well. It may remind you of a Chablis or dry Riesling. Some vineyards still producing Assyrtiko are more than 3,000 years old. It is an ideal complement to fish, seafood and even holds up to meat dishes.
Moschofilero: Think Torrontes on the nose and a cross between Albariño and Pinot Grigio on the palate. Fresh, aromatic and elegant, this is a great wine to have with Asian cuisine, seafood and sushi. Cultivated on the high plateau of Mantinia in the north-central Peloponnese (Google a map of Greece if you must!).
Agiorgitiko: If you can’t pronounce it, just call it Nemea, which is its region of origin. Typically, it offers fine tannins, an elegant, soft mouth feel, and layers of dark fruit, spices and cocoa. This deep dark ruby colored wine ages well but can be enjoyed now when paired with duck, lamb and a variety of roasted meats.
Xinomavro: If you love the great Nebbiolo-based reds of Barolo and Barbaresco, add Xinomavro to your list. From the mountainous Naoussa and Amynteo regions in northwestern Greece, this wine is known for its bright pale to deep red color, high acidity, strong tannins and complex aromatic character. It has a vegetal character and its tannins soften over time to give it a velvety structure. Xinomavro pairs well with strongly-flavored meat like steak, duck, and venison.