Wines of Greece – A Review

by artfuldiner on August 28, 2017

in Artful Diner Review, Breaking News, Wine

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IT’S ALL GREEK TO ME! …is an idiom in English, which expresses the fact that something is not understandable.… And, unfortunately, this is precisely how most people feel about Greek wine. Part of the reason for this, of course, is lack of availability. While Greek wines are now more widely distributed than they were just a few years ago, access to these wines, depending upon the rules and licensing requirements of individual states – and the idiosyncrasies of individual retailers – can sometimes necessitate a spirited treasure hunt.

Let’s take the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as Exhibit A. The PA Liquor Control Board does stock Greek wines; but… and this is a mighty big BUT… they are few and far between. In the Devon store, which I tend to frequent, for example, Greek wines are to be found in the “Other Imports” section one shelf up from the bottom – all five (5) of them! Well, you get my drift. Even retailers like Total Wine, which usually display a wider variety, are unlikely to carry the more upscale highly rated bottles. In search of specific Greek wines, your best bet is googling and ordering online.

Then there’s the matter of lack of familiarity with the grapes… With over three hundred (300) indigenous varieties, and numerous international grapes, the pantheon of Greek wines appears somewhat daunting. In reality, however, there are just a few varietals that you’re most likely to encounter during your wine-buying excursions…

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Assyrtiko (Ah-SEER-tee-ko): Greece’s most popular wine in America, Assyrtiko appeals to fans of dry, focused white wines with fresh minerality and a refreshing “sea-salt” complexity. Assyrtiko was originally grown in the volcanic soil of the Aegean island of Santorini, where wines from producers like Gaia Estate and Domaine Sigalas command an almost cult-like following. Santorini Assyritko yields are relatively low – a natural result of the island’s old vines, volcanic soils, water stress, and exposure to strong Aegean winds. Visitors to the island are often surprised by the unorthodox appearance of the wild-looking shrub vines, which are woven into a basket shape to protect the fruit from the harsh elements. “Santorini Assyrtiko balances abundant fruit with high acidity and minerality, and once people try the variety with bottle age, they see its potential,” notes Paris Sigalas, owner of Domaine Sigalas. “It offers a unique complexity not often found in white wine, but its overall style is one with which Americans can identify.”

Greece - Boutari WineryMoschofilero (Mos-ko-FEE-ler-o): Moschofilero is an exotic, intensely aromatic white wine with rose and violet undertones and fresh, balancing acidity. Though its grapes are pink- and purple-skinned, the wine is made into a floral, fruity white very popular in Greece. Relatively unknown in America until recently, its light body and spicy, slightly perfumed nature is increasingly attracting global attention. Moschofilero’s traditional home is in north-central Peloponnese, but it’s widely planted throughout Greece. Most commonly a still wine, it also makes excellent rosé, sparkling and dessert wines that may be enjoyed alone or paired with seafood or Middle Eastern and Asian cuisines. A longtime champion and pioneer of Moschofilero (and responsible for most of its popularity in Greece), the Boutari Winery (pictured) has actively promoted the wine as an affordable discovery, especially for consumers new to Greek wines. “Moschofilero is an approachable wine for young people and new wine consumers,” notes Yannnis Voyatzis, chief enologist at Boutari Winery. “The profile – low in alcohol, balanced – means it matches very well with international, vegetarian and tapas cuisine. It’s a truly modern wine.”

Greece - Kamal Kouiri, Wine Director Molyvos, NYCAgiorgitiko (Ay-yor-YEE-ti-ko): As a red wine variety, Agiorgitiko produces a wine that is gentle and refined by nature, lending itself to myriad styles and expressions. At is simplest, Agiorgitiko is undoubtedly Greece’s most approachable red; and it pairs exceedingly well with almost any dish. At its best, it is a collectible and terroir-driver vintage with world-class appeal. Also known as St. George, Agiorgitiko is typically grown in Nemea OPAP (Controlled Appellation of Origin of Superior Quality) in the northeastern Peloponnese; and it is one of Greece’s most planted grapes. Grown in six valleys with varying soil compositions and microclimates, Agiorgitiko is favored for its rich, red fruit, sour cherry flavors & anisette flavors. It is often compared to Sangiovese in style & structure. Agiorgitiko’s versatile nature is incorporated into many different variations. Light rosés, fruity, Beaujolais-style reds and “Super Nemean” blends – often with Syrah – appeal to most palates. Bolder Styles of Agiorgitiko pair well with dishes like grilled lamb and game, while more subtle expressions complement delicate dishes like grilled vegetables and salads. Despite so much to recommend it, however, Kamal Kouiri (pictured), wine director of Molyvos restaurant in New York City, still believes that Agiorgitiko’s more serious side has been overlooked. “Oak-aged Nemea Agiorgitikos can age very well, and can be great wines, made in great terroir,” he explains. “The wine offers good structure and character and so much diversity. Once people taste it, they’re hooked.”

Xinomavro (Ksee-NO-ma-vro): Xinomavro is Greece’s classic, collectible, cellar-worthy red wine. Xinomavro offers the complexity and structure of Nebbiolo or Pinot Noir with a Greek, terroir-driven edge. And like the aforementioned grapes, Xinomavro can be difficult to cultivate. The wine is most successful in the regions of Naoussa, Amyntaion, Rapsani and Goumenissa, but is grown throughout Greece. Xinomavro is so unique that the country’s top enologists are developing specific winemaking techniques to handle the grapes potentially astringent tannins. The result has been the production of multifaceted, robust wines characterized by olive, dried-fruit and exotic spice flavors. Styles vary from lean and acid-driven to more generous, oak-influenced and extracted vintages. Xinomavro is being used in Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet and indigenous grape blends, as well as in rosés. In the cellar, Xinomavro ages well; and it is not unusual to find 30-plus-year-old vintages still at the peak of drinkability. Top producers include Kir-Yianni, whose founder, Yannis Boutari, pioneered the modern Xinomavro movement in the 1960s, and Tasantali, whose Xinomavro and blends deliver benchmark elegance. “Xinomavro gives wines that imprint the terroir, the homeland,” notes Panagiotis Kyriakidis, head enologist at Tsantali. “During recent years, a notable evolution has been witnessed, and winemaking has moved from the ‘rustic’ character in favor of a more cosmopolitan approach, but the distinctive Xinomavro profile is still evident and alluring.”


I’ve always enjoyed Greek wines. I’ve inevitably found them to be extremely food friendly, light and delicate on the palate… and equally light on the pocketbook. So, for your drinking pleasure, listed below are a few favorites that I’ve managed to lay my hands on recently…

Greece - Boutari Wines2015 Boutari Nemea Red: Boutari Nemea is produced from 100% of the aforementioned Agiorgitiko grape. It is a modest, nicely balanced wine that was aged for 12 months in oak barrels. Displaying a bright ruby color in the glass, it’s round and velvety on the palate with attractive hints of plum and cinnamon. If you’re searching for a red wine that’s sufficiently light (12.5% alcohol) & enjoyable for summertime quaffing, Boutari Nemea is a prime candidate. Serve it around 60 degrees and it will make the perfect accompaniment for red meat dishes hot off the grill. Purchased for $17.99 in the Devon State Store; but I’ve seen it for sale online for as low as $11.24.

2015 Boutari Moschofilero: Boutari’s Moschofilero is a perennial favorite among wine lovers, garnering 90 point scores (100-point scale) from both the Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast for several years running. There are floral notes on the nose; and it is marvelously light and crisp (11% alcohol) on the palate. Great refreshing acidity here and a long mouth-watering finish as well. If you want to impress your friends and serve them something they’ll have a hard time pronouncing, let alone spelling, this would be a great wine for warm weather parties on the deck or patio. And the price is right. It will cost you $15.99 in PA State Stores; or you can purchase it online from for as low as $10.95 per bottle (plus shipping). A marvelous wine at a terrific price point. J

2015 Boutari Kretikos: Kretikos, which means “Originating in Crete,” hails from the southernmost and largest island of Greece. This white wine blend is crafted from carefully selected indigenous Vilana grapes along with a small percentage of other indigenous varietals. Sporting only 11% alcohol, this is a light, citrusy flavored wine with a nicely balanced structure and medium-long finish. Kretikos Boutari is an award-winning Cretan wine that is significant for being the first wine to find success beyond the borders of the island. Perfect for hot weather quaffing. $14.99 in PA; as low as $8.95 online.

2016 Skouras Moschofilero: In the glass, the 2016 is a light white/yellow. On the nose, aromas include white flowers and notes of citrus fruits and lime. Full-bodied and sporting a fabulous acidity, this wine is elegant and perfectly balanced with a long, lingering finish. The wine received 92 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, which noted: “… This is crisp, focused and intense, with a steely finish. It is all about the structure and the tension, but it is in perfect balance. It tastes great, too. It is completely transparent. If you like crisp, young whites, then this is a beauty.” The average price online is $14.00; but I’ve seen it as low as $11.98 (Wine Library, Springfield, New Jersey). An incredible bargain.

Greece - 2016 Sigalas Assyrtiko2016 Sigalas Assyrtiko Santorini: What can I say…? I’ve saved the best for last… According to Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate: “Sigalas is one of Greece’s finest white wine producers – in fact, a short list candidate for the best.” And the 2016 Assyrtiko is obviously living proof of that accolade. A majority of Greek white wines are on the lighter side; several noted above, for example, are a mere 11% alcohol. Conversely, the 2016 Sigalas Assyrtiko Santorini weighs in at a hefty 14%. This is a heady medium-bodied wine, a superlative combination of concentration and intensity; and yet it is also wonderfully elegant, exhibiting a marvelous balance of fruit, alcohol and acidity. But, as the Wine Advocate notes, this is still a very young wine; and it needs a few years to smooth out in the bottle. However, it should age quite well, perhaps being at the top of its game around 2020. Available online from at $24.99 per bottle (plus shipping). Given its overall quality, a relative bargain. Definitely worth a try.



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