As the wine world grows even more global, I have found that indigenous Mediterranean varietals, whether Greek Athiris, Basque Txakolis, Italian Cortese, or Spanish Tempranillos invariably beckon and reward me. There are some I struggle to pronounce, but each offers the extra benefit of palate travel—cheaper than an airline ticket.
I especially liked Domaine Diamantakos’ 2008 Xinomavro, mildly tannic with fresh acidity, similar to a Barolo. Refreshing and earthy, aged 12 months in oak, perfect with steak, lamb or dolmas. Estate Chrisohoou’s 2010 Xinomavro 30 year old vines grow on the slopes near the city Naoussa. Softer tannins than the Diamantakos, reminiscent of Nebbiolo. Dalamara Winery’s 2011 Xinomavro is rich, deep, organic and closer to a cabernet sauvignon.
Domaine Porto Carras is a wine resort occupying a peninsula i northern Greece. Home to Melissanthi (a fresh white wine blend of Assyrtiko and Athiri), crisp, high acidity, perfect with sea food. The peninsula has several four and five star hotels, vineyards everywhere, and world class wines, including many French varietals.
As I said, we tried more wines in two hours than anyone other than a competition judge should attempt, but it told me this: there was nary a wine I wouldn’t buy, if I could find it. The Naoussa wineries are consistently good, each producing a different variation on the vine—depending on soil and winemaker. These grapes are almost all grown on small lots, many an acre or less, so they will be combined into their final product. If you can find a Xinomavro from Dalamara Winery, Damatakos Estate, Elinos S.A., Estate Chrisohoou, Foundi Estate, Karydas Estate; Kelesidis Estate, Kir-Yianni Estate, Kokkinos Stavros Vineyard, Domanine Porto Carras, Melitzanis Winery, Thymiopoulos Vineyard, or Vaeni Naoussa Co-Op, buy it.
The reds: start with Limnio—Plato’s favorite wine, Trojan soldiers in the Odyssey relaxed with this 6000 year old red varietal. The color of ruby cabernet, tasting of ripe currants, bay leaves, pepper and cinnamon. Similar to a Nebbiolo—only more robust.
Move on to Xinomavro—(for pronounciation, try “so no mav ro” and a memory trick: "Sonoma fro"—if you say it fast). This is Naoussa’s main red varietal. Depending on the vineyard and the winemaker, Xinomavro has a breadth of incarnations, from relatively light Nebbiolo styles to rich, deep, cabernet sauvignons, and spicy, rich Syrahs.
Start with the vines that are unique to Greece, resurrected ancient varietals and a few that have flourished for 2,000 years.
Recently, Naoussa wineries and the Greek Agricultural Ministry invited us to try 22 wines from 13 Naoussa wineries. It would take too much to review each wine individually—rather let me tell you about some of the varietals and wineries.
What I love about Greek wine is its taste of the sea, its history (Bacchus, after all, is the God of Wine), its uniqueness (Greece has 330 or more indigenous varietals), and the challenge of pronunciation. What I really love about Greek wine is its nuance and the emergence of world class wine from some 630 wineries. Taste a Greek wine and you immediately are transported to the place—whether the wind-swept rocks of Santorini or the mountains of Naoussa, in northern Greece. Sharing California’s latitudes, fronted by the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, the wines have a crisp natural acidity, an earthy minerality.
This year I have fallen, head over heels, for nuanced seducers and seductresses, earthily robust, sometimes slightly bubbly, always true to their origins, offering sensations of mountain and sea.
Bracingly refreshing, sometimes rounded, feminine whites, powerful masculine reds: I am speaking, of course, about today’s Greek Wine, many made by the winemakers above. Since the late 1970s Greek winemakers have reborn Greek wine. I can still find Retsina, a truly acquired taste, but now I find more wines that appeal across the board.
On the whites: Assyrtiko, slight perfume on the nose with some grapefruit flavors, similar to Sauvignon Blanc. Athiri, crisp with high acidity, bringing fresh citrus flavors. Malagouzia, an ancient white variety with a slight muscat aroma, slight bubbles, rich and fruit filled. Similar to a sassy Arneis or Roussane.