Greek Wines: (Not) All Greek to Me

This week, a friend and I went to a local Greek restaurant for dinner. Planning ahead, we knew the wine selections by the glass would be pricey; we opted to BYOB and pay the corkage fee. Offering to bring the wine, I chose a Greek red blend I have enjoyed in the past. I thought it would be a good match with the theme of the evening, as well as a good wine choice with dinner.

Since entering the European Union, Greece has experienced a surge in the wine world with some indigenous and not very well-known grapes of their own. There is, however, over a 4,000 year wine history in Greece, dating back to the Middles Ages, when they exported wine around the Western world. This went dormant for some time due to heavy taxation imposed on wine exportation.

Retsina is the most commonly known Greek wine, with over a 2,000 year history. A white wine typically made from Greece’s most widely planted grape, Savatiano, the wine was sealed in porous clay amphorae with thick resin from the Aleppo pine tree. This gave the wine a distinct flavor, often compared to turpentine (yum!). Modern day winemakers have taken a crack at retsina production and have supposedly made it more palatable.

The red I chose for our Greek dinner is a blend from the Rapsani region, located on the slopes of Mount Olympus. The three grapes in this blend are:

  • Xinomavro (Ke-see-no-mav-roh) – This is the dominant grape of the blend. Dark cherry fruit, licorice, allspice, and high-tannins make this grape very similar to the Nebbiolo grape of Italy.
  • Krassato – Exclusively used for blending, this dark-skinned grape is not widely grown in Greece.
  • Stavroto – Another exclusive blending grape, this late-ripening grape is responsible for the ruby-red color of the blend. It also mellows the more hearty Xinomavro grape.
Red Blend paired with moussaka.

We paired the blend with an appetizer of saganaki, a Greek fried cheese. The full-bodied wine was a perfect match with the tanginess of the cheese dish. Our main course was moussaka, which is a traditional dish of eggplant, potato, ground meat and spices. The rich tannins of the wine blended well with the many flavors of this delicious classic entrée.

There are other indigenous grapes located throughout the country that are worth trying –  and fun to pronounce. Here is a brief list:

  • Agiorgitiko (Ah-your-yeek-tee-ko) – This is another red grape, similar to Merlot. It hails from Nemea, a region in Peloponnese. Wines produced from this grape are full-bodied with flavors of sweet raspberry, black currant, and nutmeg with smooth tannins.
  • Assyrtiko (Ah-sear-tee-koh) – A white grape originally from the island of Santorini, these wines are fruity, with a touch of minerality on the finish. Those labeled as “Nykteri” (nith-terry) are always oak aged. The wines are full-bodied with notes of lemon, cream and pineapple.
  • Malagousia (Mala-goo-zee-yah) – This white grape was almost extinct until a winery in northern Greece breathed new life into when it started growing it again. The wines from this grape offer notes of peach, lime and orange and can be either dry or sweet.

Ya Mas (Cin Cin)!

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