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Greek Wines: Aromatic Whites and Ageworthy Reds

2012 July 4

Roman copy of a statue of a Greek winemaker

Greece once dominated the world of wine. Whether viticulture and winemaking originally started there or in ancient Phoenicia has yet to be determined, but the land we now know as Greece was the biggest single producer and exporter of wine from the 6th to the 4th century B.C. Wine was also central to Greek culture at the time, and aspects of wine enjoyment we take for granted today—e.g., focused tastings, sommeliers, glasses designed for particular types of wine—all developed originally in ancient Greece.

The Roman Empire took over from Greece as the world’s leading source of wine even before Greece’s conquest by the Romans in 146 B.C. Centuries of conquests and occupations, especially control by the Ottoman Turks from the mid-15th century until 1821, devastated Greek viticulture. The world wars and civil war that followed continued to retard the redevelopment of a Greek wine industry. It was only in the 1960s and 1970s that wineries and plantings seriously got going again. The rapid development of quality wines from Greece since then, however, suggests that Greece may once again become one of the world’s leading wine producers.

I had a chance recently to taste through new releases from many of Greece’s top producers at a trade tasting organized for New Wines of Greece by the Hellenic Foreign Trade Board and All About Greek Wine, a U.S.-based promotional group led by Sofia Perperas that has done much in the last nine years to educate the trade about the high quality and diversity of Greek wine.

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Sofia Perperas

Greece is estimated to have over 200 indigenous grape varieties. Roughly 70% of Greek production is white wine, and I’m a big fan of the terrific, minerally and often highly aromatic whites made from indigenous grape varieties. They’re ideal for summer drinking. I also enjoy many of the reds, especially those with a few years of bottle age. Increasingly available in the U.S., most of these wines are not only wonderfully food friendly, they’re also excellent values. The sweet wines can be quite stunning too, but the best are made in small quantities and are in high demand in Greece, so are relatively hard to find in this country.

Greece’s major white indigenous varieties include Assyrtiko, Malagousia and Savatianó. Assyrtiko originated on the island of Santorini, where it’s planted on volcanic soil and produces wines with stunning aromatics, minerality and high acidity. Over the past 25 years, the grape has been planted elsewhere throughout Greece, where it tends to express a milder and fruitier character. The higher acid versions have the potential to age and evolve over 10 to 12 years, something like grand cru Chablis. Sigalas is the greatest producer; Gaia also makes an excellent version.

Malagousia is also high in acid and very aromatic, often showing pear and peach flavors. This grape had almost gone extinct but was brought back by Domaine Carras and is now very much growing in popularity and plantings. Boutari makes a very good example.

Savatianó makes up over 15% of Greece’s plantings, and was often the base for Retsina wines—wines with tree resin added—for which Greece became known in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It tends to be low in acidity, but can make wonderful wines when yields are kept low. Papagiannakos makes a very good one.

Muscat, a non-indigenous grape (actually a family of grapes), is also widely used for both dry and fortified sweet wines, including types of Vin Santo–which, in Greece, means sweet wines from the island of Santorini. Non-indigenous Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Trebbiano and Viognier are also widely planted in Greece.

Moschofilero is a pink-skinned grape grown in the central Peloponnese that produces light, high acid and floral white wines, sparkling wines and rosés. Skouras and Tselepos both make excellent white examples (the 2011 Skouras version is a great buy at about $14).

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Moschofilero bottlings

The two major red indigenous varietals are Agiorgítiko and Xinomavro. Agiorgítiko means “St. George” in Greek. It is primarily grown in Nemea, in the central Peloponnese. Wines from this grape tend to have strong acidity, plummy and often very spicy fruit and minerality. This grape is sometimes compared to Italy’s Dolcetto and French Merlot. Most are made in a ready-to-drink style, but some Agiorgítikos are capable of aging due to their firm tannins and strong underlying acidity. These wines go particularly well with roasted vegetables, due to their acidity and minerality. Gaia Estate and Nemeion made very good examples ready for drinking. Skouras’s Grande Cuvee is a good ageworthy version.

The name of the other major red, Xinomavro, means sour or acid black. It is mainly grown in northwestern Greece, most notably in Naoussa. It is difficult to grow, and therefore tends to show a lot of vintage variation, but can produce wines of great complexity and ageworthiness. Some versions remind me of Nebbiolo. Kir-Yianni’s Ramnista is an excellent example. I have also had wonderful, aged versions from Alpha Estate and Boutari.

Other indigenous red varietals include Kotsifali, which is mainly grown on Crete and usually blended; Limnio, found in Northern Greece and Limnos, and used in Bordeaux-style blends; and Mandilaria, which is planted across Greece, low in acidity and used for blending. The non-indigenous red varieties most commonly planted in Greece are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.

Below are my tasting notes for 54 wines tasted at the recent trade tasting, grouped according to wine category and grape variety.

NEW WINES FROM GREECE TRADE TASTING – Prospect Restaurant, San Francisco, California (5/22/2012)

White Wines – Assyrtiko

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  • 2010 Monemvasia Winery Assyrtiko Regional Wine of Monemvasia – Greece
    Light yellow color with tiny bubbles; light lanolin, stony nose; tart green fruit, stony, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)
  • 2011 Sigalas Assyrtiko Santorini – Greece, Aegean, Santorini
    Light yellow color; intriguing, tart peach, floral, apple nose; tasty, rounded, tart peach, floral, mineral, ripe lemon palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (a little riper than prior years) (92 pts.)
  • 2011 Sigalas Assyrtiko-Athiri – Greece, Aegean, Santorini
    Light straw yellow color; aromatic, tart peach, apple nose; tasty, tart peach, mineral, tart apple palate; with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2010 Gaia Estate Assyrtiko Wild Ferment – Greece, Aegean, Santorini
    Light yellow color; appealing, leesy, lime nose; tart green fruit, leesy, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2010 Argyros Estate – Greece, Aegean, Santorini
    Light lemon yellow color; tart apple, lightly yeasty nose; yeasty, tart citrus palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (88 pts.)

White Wines – Malagousia

White Wines – Moschofilero

  • NV Tselepos Moschofilero Amalia Brut Methode Traditionelle – Greece, Peloponnisos, Mantinia
    Light yellow color with lots of tiny bubbles; floral, ripe pear, mineral nose; tasty, tart pear, tart apple, mineral, chalk palate with lively acidity; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)
  • 2011 Skouras Moschofilero – Greece, Peloponnisos
    Pale yellow color; aromatic, floral, lime blossom nose; tasty, tart lime, lime blossom, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 91 points (great value at about $14) (91 pts.)
  • 2011 Boutari Moschofilero – Greece, Peloponnisos, Mantinia
    Pale yellow color; tart pear, stony nose; tart pear, tart citrus palate; medium finish (89 pts.)
  • 2011 Greek Wine Cellars (D. Kourtakis) Moschofilero – Greece, Peloponnisos, Mantinia
    Very light yellow color; orange blossom, tart pear, tart stone fruit nose; tart pear, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)
  • 2011 Tselepos Moschofilero – Greece, Peloponnisos, Mantinia
    Pale yellow color; aromatic, floral, ripe pear nose; very tasty, floral, tart pear, orange blossom, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)

White Wines – Other

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  • 2010 Papagiannakos Savatiano – Greece, Attica
    Light lemon yellow color; light lanolin, baked citrus nose; tart apple, creamy textured, lemon cream palate; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)
  • 2011 Alexakis S.A. Vidiano – Greece, Crete
    Light yellow color; ripe citrus, ripe grapefruit nose; ripe citrus, ripe grapefruit palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (87 pts.)
  • 2011 Oenoforos Roditis Asprolithi – Greece, Peloponnisos, Patras
    Very light yellow color; lovely mineral, citrus nose; tasty, tart citrus, lemon, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2011 Domaine Mercouri Roditis Foloi – Greece, Peloponnisos
    Very light yellow color with secondary fermentation bubbles; tart lime, mineral nose; tart lime, tart apple palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)
  • 2011 Cephalonia Co-operative Robola of Cephalonia – Greece
    Light yellow color; lifted, chalk, citrus nose; chalk, light citrus palate with medium acidity; medium finish (88 pts.)
  • 2011 Brintzikis Tinaktorogos – Greece, Peloponnisos, Ilias
    Light yellow color; fresh, tart apple, tart pear nose; tasty, tart pear, green apple, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2011 Mediterra Winery Vilana Xerolithia – Greece, Crete, Peza-Iraklion
    Light yellow color; focused, tart apple, ripe lemon nose; tasty, tart lemon, citrus, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • 2011 Theodorakakos Estate Kydonitsa 300 – Greece, Peloponnisos, Laconia
    Light yellow color; oak, tart apple nose; tart peach palate; short-medium finish (86 pts.)

White Wines – Blends

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  • 2011 Antonopoulos Vineyards Adoli Ghis – Greece, Peloponnisos, Patras
    Light yellow color; appealing, tart pear, citrus nose; tasty, poised, tart pear, tart apple, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (blend of Lagorthi, Asproudes, Roditis and Chardonnay) (91 pts.)
  • 2011 Ktima Pavlidis Thema White Drama – Greece, Macedonia, Drama
    Light yellow color; lifted, tart grapefruit nose; tart grapefruit palate with medium acidity; medium finish (87 pts.)
  • 2011 Nico Lazaridi Château Nico Lazaridi – Greece, Macedonia, Drama
    Light yellow color; lemon grass nose; tasty, tart grapefruit, lemon grass palate with depth; medium-plus finish (blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Ugni Blanc) (90 pts.)
  • 2010 Biblia Chora Ovilos – Greece, Macedonia, Pangeon
    Light lemon yellow color; aromatic, Semillon, lemon oil nose; tasty, mineral, lemon oil, tart citrus palate; medium-plus finish (blend of Assyrtiko and Semillon) (91 pts.)
  • 2011 Foivos Manor Pandrosos – Greece, Ionian, Kephalonia
    Very light yellow color; appealing, ripe lemon, floral nose; tasty, tart pear, ripe lemon, floral palate; medium-plus finish (blend of Muscat, Moschatella, Tsaousi and Vostilidi) (90 pts.)

Rosés

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  • 2011 Kir-Yianni Akakies – Greece, Macedonia, Amyndeon
    Dark pink color; focused, tart red berry, pomegranate nose; tart red berry, pomegranate palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)
  • 2011 Foivos Manor Antidote Rosé – Greece, Ionian, Kephalonia
    Light medium pink color; tart orange, citrus nose; tart strawberry, orange palate; medium finish 88+ points (blend of Theiako, Vostilidi, Tsaousi and Muscat) (88 pts.)
  • 2011 Domaine Spiropoulos Meliasto Rosé – Greece, Peloponnisos, Mantinia
    Light orange pink color; pink grapefruit, mineral nose; tasty, tart pink grapefruit, tart lemon, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)

Red Wines – Agiorgitiko

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  • 2007 Skouras Agiorgitiko Grande Cuvée – Greece, Peloponnisos, Nemea
    Dark ruby color; redolent, tart cherry, wild raspberry nose; tasty, tart cherry, wild raspberry palate with integrating oak; needs 2 years; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)
  • 2009 Papantonis Winery Agiorgitiko Meden Agan – Greece, Peloponnisos, Nemea
    Dark cherry red color; aromatic, dried berry, oak, white pepper nose; tart red fruit, tart currant, white pepper palate; needs 3 years; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • 2007 Gaia Estate Agiorgitiko – Greece, Peloponnisos, Nemea
    Medium dark ruby color; tart cherry, ripe raspberry, cranberry nose; tasty, fresh, cranberry, pomegranate, tart raspberry, mineral palate; ready now; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)
  • 2006 Estate Papaioannou Agiorgitiko Old Vines – Greece, Peloponnisos, Nemea
    Medium dark red violet color; menthol, lightly herbaceous, tart currant nose; menthol, lightly herbaceous, tart currant palate; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)
  • 2004 Nemeion Estate Agiorgitiko Hgemon (Sovereign) – Greece, Peloponnisos, Nemea
    Medium dark red violet color; appealing, Rioja-like, dried berry, American oak nose; tasty, maturing, dried berry, spice, tart berry palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)

Red Wines – Xinomavro

  • 2008 Kir-Yianni Xinomavro Ramnista – Greece, Macedonia, Naoussa
    Medium dark red violet color; appealing, lifted, ripe berry, cherry, baked raspberry nose; tight, tasty, tart cassis, spice, red berry palate; needs 5-plus years; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2001 Kir-Yianni Xinomavro Ramnista – Greece, Macedonia, Naoussa
    Lightly bricking medium dark red violet color; lightly savory, tart currant, bright red berry nose; tasty, youthful, tart currant, tart red berry palate; should go 20-25 years; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)
  • 2006 Tsantali Reserve Rapsani – Greece, Thessaly, Rapsani
    Dark red violet color; lifted, green olive, tart currant nose; intense green olive, tart currant palate with medium acidity; needs 4 years; medium-plus finish (blend of Xinomavro, Krasato and Stavroto) (88 pts.)
  • 2008 Domaine Thymiopoulos Xinomavro Uranos Naoussa – Greece, Macedonia, Naoussa
    Very dark ruby color; focused, tart red fruit, hibiscus, ripe red berry nose; tart red fruit, tart cherry, hibiscus, pomegranate palate; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)
  • 2007 Domaine Karydas Xinomavro – Greece, Macedonia, Naoussa
    Medium dark red violet color; olive, tart currant, herbaceous nose; tasty, tart currant, herbaceous, green olive palate; medium-plus finish 87+ points (87 pts.)
  • 2007 Alpha Estate Xinomavro Hedgehog – Greece, Macedonia, Amyndeon
    Medium dark red violet color; tart red berry, tart currant nose; tart currant, tart red berry palate with medium acidity; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)
  • 2007 Boutari Grande Réserve Naoussa – Greece, Macedonia, Naoussa
    Medium red violet color; tart currant, olive nose; tart currant, tart olive palate with medium acidity; needs 3 years; medium-plus finish (87 pts.)
  • 2007 Voyatzis Xinomavro – Greece, Macedonia
    Dark red violet color; tart red berry, tart cherry nose; tart red berry, tart cherry palate; needs 1-2 years; medium-plus finish 87+ points (87 pts.)
  • 2007 Katogi & Strofilia S. A. Xinomavro Averoff – Greece, Macedonia, Naoussa
    Medium dark red violet color; tart red fruit, tart currant, cedar nose; tart red fruit, tart currant, cedar palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (86 pts.)

Red Wines – Other Varieties

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  • 2009 Lyrarakis Kotsifali – Greece, Crete
    Very dark red violet color; tart currant, tart red berry nose; tart red berry, juniper, tart currant palate; needs 2-plus years; medium-plus finish (87 pts.)
  • 2008 Theodorakakos Estate Mavroudi 300 – Greece, Peloponnisos, Laconia
    Medium red violet color; dried red berry nose; intense, tart red berry, dried red berry, pomegranate palate; medium-plus finish 87+ points (87 pts.)
  • 2010 Domaine Porto Carras Limnio – Greece, Macedonia, Sithonia, Côtes de Meliton
    Dark red violet color; juniper, herb, dried currant nose; tart currant, juniper, herb palate; needs 2 years; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)
  • 2006 Domaine Mercouri Mavrodaphne – Greece, Peloponnisos, Vin de Pays des Letrinon
    Very dark red violet color; maturing, mushroom, tart currant nose; maturing, mushroom, tart currant palate; medium-plus finish 87+ points (87 pts.)
  • 2006 Domaine Hatzimichalis Cabernet Sauvignon Kapnias Hatzimichalis – Greece, Attica, Atalanti Valley
    Opaque purple red violet color; iron, tart currant, leather nose; Bordeaux-like, iron, tart currant, leather, olive palate; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)

Red Wines – Blends

  • 2010 Mediterra Mirambelo – Greece, Crete, Peza-Iraklion
    Very dark red violet color; tart red berry, dried red berry, juniper nose; tart red berry, dried red berry, juniper palate; medium-plus finish (blend of Kotsifali and Syrah) (87 pts.)
  • 2007 Domaine Gerovassiliou Avaton – Greece, Macedonia, Epanomi
    Dark red violet color; tart plum, currant nose; tasty, tart currant, tart plum palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 88+ points (88 pts.)
  • 2007 Domaine Costa Lazaridi Oenontria Land – Greece, Macedonia, Drama
    Dark red violet color; tart red fruit, tart currant nose; maturing, tart red fruit, tart currant palate with sharp notes; medium-plus finish (blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Agiorgitiko) (84 pts.)

Sweet Wines

  • 2006 Parparousis A.S. & Sia O.E. Muscat of Rio Patras – Greece, Peloponnisos, Patras
    Medium golden color; aromatic, golden raisins, baked peach, floral nose; syrupy, golden raisins, baked peach palate with an herb note and good acidity; long finish (91 pts.)
  • 2004 Montofoli Estate – Greece
    Medium orange color with ruby lights and pale meniscus; intriguing, baked orange, marzipan, almond nose; tasty, tart macerated cherry, baked orange, tart orange syrup palate; long finish 91+ points (blend of Asyrtiko, Athiri, Aidani and Liatiko) (91 pts.)
  • 2003 Parparousis A.S. & Sia O.E. Mavrodaphne Mavrodaphne of Patras Reserve – Greece, Peloponnisos, Achaia
    Light red color with 1 millimeter clear meniscus; a little oxidized, VA, oxidized apple, tart cherry nose; tangy, tart orange, tart cherry, baked fig, fig newton, dried cherry palate; medium-plus finish (87 pts.)
  • 1990 Argyros Vinsanto – Greece, Aegean, Santorini
    Medium brown color with light yellow meniscus; dried fig, dried apricot, tart blood orange nose; rich, complex, baked apricot, tart blood orange, tart orange, dried cherry palate with medium acidity; long finish 92+ points (92 pts.)
12 Responses leave one →
  1. July 5, 2012

    Richard, I want to thank you for compiling this very helpful post with your tasting notes from the recent Wines Of Greece roadshow. I had the pleasure to attend here in Toronto but I could have never accomplished what you’re kindly shared here. Bravo!

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      July 5, 2012

      Peter,
      That’s very kind of you. Thank you for visiting the site.
      Warm regards,
      Richard

  2. Mary Dailey permalink
    July 7, 2012

    What a wonderful reference. Once I looked up Greek wines on the internet and was so shocked how many there were. It was mindboggling. This will help greatly, as I would love to try many of them. Thank you!

  3. Andreas & Nicoletta Papademetris permalink
    July 8, 2012

    Hi Richard,

    Great article on Greek wines. Good to see them getting some proper coverage.
    We would summarise them as – World Class Sweet/Desert ; Good,Aromatic Whites ; ok reds.
    What dissapoints us is the so many try hard, over engineered, over oaked reds that are springing out.. And its a shame cause as you write some of the “natural” ones are and can be very good. Magic Mountain ( Magiko Vouno) is a good exception but given the “cult” status it has its a bit expensive. Good are also the new age Samos dessert wines like Nopera and so on.

    we also attach our notes from the 2011 Dyonisia Wine festival in Athens: https://www.cellartracker.com/event.asp?iEvent=13217

    Best

    Andreas & Nicoletta
    CT: Papies

    • August 14, 2012

      Andreas and Nicoletta, allow me to disagree. Greece has a unique edge in wine that few other do, such as the vast number of indigenous grapes, the ancient seniority of the vines that have evolved and become part of the complex soil where they’ve grown, and a new generation of passionate and knowledgeable winemakers that can naturally make exquisite wine.

      I suggest you try some of the more obscure wineries (and not just the ones that have become part of the portfolios of large US importers, which are easier to find) and you will surprised. Since you’ve mentioned Magic Mountain, try the new creations of Bakis Tsalkos (the creator of Magic Mountain) that come from his brand new winery in Drama, like En Oeno… (“Feggites” in Greece) or Oenosophist (“Deka” in Greece).

      • Andreas & Nicoletta Papademetris permalink
        September 9, 2012

        Thank you Aris. We will.

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  1. Richard Jennings: Greek Wines: Aromatic Whites and Ageworthy Reds | USA Press
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