That old expression- “It’s all Greek to me”- should no longer be applicable to Greek wines. You can still continue to use the expression for other topics that are arcane and remote. But Greek wines are in a state of evolution and the avant- garde of Greek winemakers are producing world class wines.
This was proved to me recently at a trade tasting in New York and a tasting I conducted for Wine Lovers of Connecticut. Both the Greek whites and reds have shown tremendous improvement in the past decade. One of the leading importers of the finest Greek wines is Athenée Importers; they have sought out the best wine producers and are introducing them to the American market.
Let’s go on a quick geography tour of Greece. First, the islands. There are over 3,000 of them but wine is only produced on a few. The most notable islands are Crete with a very nice white made from Vilana and a red from the indigenous Liatiko; and Santorini, the more spectacular from a tourist and wine lovers’ perspective. This is the home of vinsanto (the Greeks have petitioned the E.U. to prohibit Italy from using this term, and won!) and its delicious white from the Assyrtiko. The trellis system used on Santorini is unique to the island: winemakers train the vines into a basket so the grapes grow on the inside and the leaves grow on the outside.
On the mainland, the most important wine producing area is Nemea in the Peloponnese. Its claim to fame is the delicious red made from the Agiorgitiko and perhaps the most famous producer is Gai’a Wines. This grape has a deep color, spice and red berry aromas and excellent acidity with balanced tannins.
Closer to Athens is the Attica area and Domaine Vassiliou stands out as a great producer. In this region you’ll find indigenous grapes as well as many international varieties. It’s also home to the famous-or infamous- retsina.This is wine made by using tree resin to seal casks and amphorae in order to reduce oxidation and evaporation. This method of producing and storing wine was common throughout Greece for almost 2,000 years and unfortunately most of it was poorly made. But a well made retsina can be delightfully crisp and a delicious complement to grilled calamari. For a mild example try the retsina from Attica by Vassiliou.
You can consult Athenée’s website for more information; try asking for a copy of their Wine Passport of Greece, an example little pull out booklet.