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Greece: The Wine Word in Greek

Posted: Wednesday, 26 October 2016 13:26


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Greece: The Wine Word in Greek

Oct 26: Greece had not been making quality wines till a few years ago but now several small size wineries have come up with high quality as the objective and with so many local interesting grapes available, they are ready to find their place on the international shelves, writes Dan Traucki who attended a Masterclass by Yiannis Karakasis MW, where he could taste wines from 20 Greek wineries and came out as a fan of the Greek wines

Click For Large ViewThose lucky enough to enjoy a holiday in Greece or on any one of the dozens of Greek islands scattered around the Aegean Sea, know that wines of Greece are now excellent. Especially the whites are a perfect match for the Greek sun-filled lifestyle and their delicious cuisine. For the rest, Greek wine is still a mystery, with hard to pronounce names and unknown grape varieties. This is a shame as they make some sensational wines that we should be enjoying as they suit our lifestyle.

Over the last two years a concerted effort has been made to educate the Australian wine trade into understanding Greek wines so that they in turn can educate Australian wine drinkers into the joys of Greek wines.

In June this year, a Greek wine trade roadshow was conducted in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, "New Wines of Greece Roadshow and Masterclasses".The wines of 20 Greek wineries were on taste and Master of Wine, Yiannis Karakasis MW, one of the only two MW's in the Balkans and Southeast Europe conducted a series of four masterclasses on Greek wines.

The first and fourth master classes were a vinous overview of Greek wines.They covered the regions from north to south, encompassing quite a number of native varieties, both red and white, to show the diversity of style from the different microclimates.

Click For Large ViewThe second masterclass was all about Assyrtiko, their superstar native textural white variety. It has great structure and density creating a powerful wine with high alcohol and acidity which are beautifully in balance, making it a very crisp and classy wine.

Assyrtiko is indigenous to the island of Santorini, which has a unique grape growing environment. The island is an extinct volcano that is comprised totally of volcanic soil, is wind swept by the hot Aegean winds and is very steep sided. Great examples of the wines from this amazing island included:

Gaia Wines Thalassitis 2015 Assyrtiko – complex with great depth of flavour. Made from some of the oldest living grape vines on the planet

Argyros Estate 2015 Assyrtiko – Lovely minerality, multi-layered fruit, classy and elegant

Santo Wines 2015 Nykteri (night harvest) – complex, rounder, bigger and slightly softer less acidic

Domaine Sigalas 2009 Barrel Fermented – lovely, light golden colour, stone fruits on the nose, smooth, well rounded, with a hint of saltiness on the finish. A great food wine!

Spreading of Assyrtiko

In the latter half of last century as its popularity grew Santorini’s Assyrtiko spread to other wine growing areas of Greece. Today it is grown right across Greece. Examples from other areas tasted included:

Domaine Hatzimichalis 2015 Alepotrypa (from Atalanti)– not quite as crisp as the Santorini examples, just a little bit broader but delicious.

Click For Large ViewDomaine Porto Carras 2015 (from Halkidiki)–this wine had been matured on lees in oak for six months and was very tactile and elegant.

From the region of Drama came Domaine Costa Lazaridi 2015, Chateau Juliaand Ktima Pavlidis 2015 Emphasis, both excellent wines with slightly higher pH than those from Santorini, which was explained by the fact that they are grown in clay soils rather than on volcanic soils.

Assyrtiko in Australia

The one wine in this bracket that was totally out of left-field was Jim Barry 2016 Clare Valley Assyrtiko. This is the only Assyrtiko (or any other native Greek variety) produced in Australia thus far.  A few years ago Peter Barry holidayed on Santorini and fell in love with the Assyrtiko wines he tasted. He brought some cuttings back home, and after the usual trials and tribulations with AQIS, finally got a handful of cuttings back. From there they have been steadily increasing the production and next year they hope to have sufficient volume to be able to release the wine commercially. Keep an eye out for it because it is superb. A clean, precise, “Riesling-esque” wine which is just a tad less acidic/crisp than the Santorini Assyrtiko. A stellar start for the variety here in Australia.

The third masterclass was “The Rising Stars: Emerging Greek Varietals” which covered 10 rising varieties, that most people in the southern hemisphere would not have heard of. Starting with the white variety Vidiano which is tipped to be the next “big thing” in Greek white wines after Assyrtiko:

Vidiano 2015 from Alexakis Winery was an outstanding wine with great sweet peas and apricot aromas, crisp, delicious and fruitier than Assyrtiko but still steely and crisp. This wine has been rated at 92 points by Robert Parker. Vidiano comes from the island of Crete and its wines are best described as Viognier-like in style.

Next we moved on to Robola. Gentilini Wines 2015 Robola of Cephalonia (one of the Greek Islands) was a delectable, fresh, crisp wine that had lovely floral aromas, lots of minerality and flavours similar to Assyrtiko but a tad softer and smoother. The vines are bush vines on incredibly rocky ground and as the variety oxidises very easily when being vinified, it is given great attention to detail, so as to ensure that this does not happen. They also produce a stunning and complex Robola called Gentilini 2015 Cellar Selection Robola made from very old vines, with 20 percent of the wine being oak fermented and lees-matured. This is a sensational, classy wine. Incidentally, all the Gentilini wines are sealed under screwcap, a trend that is just starting to take off in Greece.

Click For Large ViewWe then tried two very interesting 2015 Moscofilero wines from Domaine Skouras and Semeli Mantinia Nassiakos. Moscofilero is a very aromatic white variety with pink/purple skin. The wine’s aroma and taste is quite similar to Muscat but with more acidity and complexity.

This was followed by two lovely 2015 Malagousia wines from Cavino, Domaine Mega Spileo and Domaine Porto Carras. Malagousia is considered by some in the Greek wine industry to be the “next big thing” to follow on from Assyrtiko for them. It has been touted that “A new star has been born”. They are very low in acid compared to Assyrtiko, thus being a softer, rounder and fleshier wine. Certainly it’s a variety to watch out for and try when the opportunity presents itself.

In the native reds we started with a 2012 Limniona from Theopetra Estate. An interesting wine which at four years old still had a considerable amount of tannins showing.

Then we moved on to one of the oldest recorded Greek red grape varieties, Limneon – yes, it is a different variety from the Limniona tasted before. The 2012 Domaine Porto Carras Limneon had cloves and spices on the bouquet, a lovely appealing palate but finished a tad tannic. It is bit of a cross between modern and rustic wine. I think that with time it will smooth out and become more elegant.

Next we moved on to the “big daddy” of native Greek red varieties, Agiorgitiko, which to me is somewhat akin to a lighter style, but big flavoured Merlot. Having said that, Palivou Estate 2014 Ammos Terra Leone from Nemea was quite Cabernet-like in style but lighter bodied.

This was followed by Thymiopoulos 2013 Earth and Sky Xinomavro, an excellent wine with beautiful red fruit aromas. Xinomavro is sometimes referred to as the “Greek Pinot Noir” in that it is very similarly challenging and cantankerous to grow, has a similar taste profile, but with a bit more oomph – like a Pinot that has been working out at the gym. Cropping levels are critical because if it is cropped too heavily, it will have the aromas of olive paste and tomatoes and be watery on the palate.

Click For Large ViewThe next wine that Yiannis Karakasis MW presented was made from a variety that I think has huge potential over time, the Mavrotragano, which literally means “Black and Tender”. The Domaine Sigalas 2014 Mavrotragano had beautiful depth of colour, an elegant complex nose and a smooth alluring palate with fine grain tannins and a lingering finish. A really classy wine. The final red in this masterclass was Mandilari the deepest coloured Greek red variety that will appeal to those who like big tannic wines such as Petit Verdot and Tannat. Lyrarakis Wines 2014 Mandilari was a big, bold, bodacious wine with a mass of tannins that means it needs to be either tucked away for a long, long time, or decanted several hours before serving.

The other wine style showcased was Vinsanto, which is a fabulous dessert wine. It ismade by harvesting and sun-drying, fully ripe, white grapes for 8 to 10 daysbefore they undergo a slow fermentation and long maturation (usually 36 months), in older, small oak barrels. The wines look very similar to Australian Muscat and Tokay (or whatever its’ E.U. PC name is) but Vinsanto is not fortified and is usually from 9 to 15 percent alcohol. As Yiannis MW says, “An ideal energy drink for breakfast, with fruit or crumbly cheese, to get your day started”. These wines, like the Santo Wines 2008 Vinsanto and Gaia Wines 2005 Vinsanto are truly sublime world-class stickies.

There was a time, not so long ago, that if you mentioned Greek wines to most Aussies, they would shudder as they conjured up images of Retsina. Back then there were only around 30 to 40 big wineries/co-ops making wine in Greece and in general they were churning out volume rather than quality. In contrast, today there are more than 600 wineries. Most of these newer wineries are smaller boutique wineries making exceptional hand-crafted wines.

As this masterclass amply demonstrated, in recent times Greek wines have advanced in leaps and bounds, so that today they are world-class wines that are sensational, especially those made from their native grape varieties. So one can really say when it comes to wines that “Greece is the word”.

Dan Traucki

DAN TRAUCKI is a wine journalist and a wine industry consultant specialising in assisting with exports to Asian markets. He has written the Article originally for the September/October issue of WBM magazine. Though the Article was focused on the Aussie readers, it is equally applicable and relevant in India where Cavino wines are already being imported. A few others are in the process of entering the Indian market. Pictures are by Subhash Arora during his trip to Greece earlier this year. You may contact Dan at

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