Sipping Santorini (and other Islands of the Aegean)

by artfuldiner on January 23, 2022

in Artful Diner Review, Breaking News, Opinion, Wine

Santorini WinesDuring the first half of our recent cruise – which began in Athens and then took in a number of the Greek Islands before visiting several ports in Italy and disembarking in Rome – my permanent dining partner and I had ample opportunity to sample a variety of outstanding Greek wines.

There is absolutely no question that the wines of Greece are difficult to spell – and even more difficult to pronounce – but they are, on the other hand, extremely pleasing to both the palate and the pocketbook…. But the real difficulty with Greek wines has always been finding them. Seeking them out usually required a road trip to specific specialty shops in Greek neighborhoods. Now, thankfully, they are carried in numerous fine wine shops in equally numerous locations. Listed below are several Greek varietals and wineries that may be of interest. I have personally tasted all the wines noted… and all (with one exception) are available through Pennsylvania State Stores.

Santorini Assyrtiko 20182018 BOUTARI ASSYRTIKO SANTORINI: The Boutari family has been producing wines from Greek varietals since 1879. Since that first vintage, the family has become a pioneer of Greek wines, now crafting wines from six different regions, utilizing grapes that are grown nowhere else in the world.

Boutari has been named International Winery of the Year by Wine & Spirits magazine 19 times; only five wineries in the world have received the award more times. Achievements such as developing the modern style of Santorini wines to reviving lost varietals have garnered praise from the wine press and spawned a generation of high-quality Greek wines.

And nothing could be more indicative of Boutari’s winemaking prowess than the 2018 Assyrtiko Santorini, their benchmark treatment of Greece’s iconic white wine grape (as I discussed in a previous article, Assyrtiko originated from the Cyclades Island of Santorini, but is now planted to most Greek wine regions, becoming, in terms of quality, one of the most important native varietals).  Wine critic Jeb Dunnuck bestowed a whopping 96 points (100-point scale), noting: “It’s deep, rich, medium-bodied, and concentrated on the palate, with perfectly integrated acidity and a monster of a finish. It’s pure class.”

Exhibiting a bright yellow color in the glass, with beautiful aromas of exotic and citrus fruits, this is a zesty, refined wine with an intense minerality and fabulous finish. Highly recommended. $31.99.


Mylonas Assyrtiko 20192019 MYLONAS ATTIKA ASSYRTIKO: Located in the city of Keratea in Attika, far down the peninsula that extends south from Athens, the history of Mylonas Winery goes back a century and has been passed down from father-to-son for three generations. Now run by the Mylonas brothers – Antonis, Tasos, and Stamatis – they work with local grapes and experiment with new varieties in this emerging region. In this part of Attica, Savatiano is actually the most famous grape. But the story here is quite different…

About twenty years ago, or so the story goes, before Santorini was recognized as a world class wine production site, mainland winemakers would buy grapes from the island to bulk up their production, Stamatis Mylonas found some Assyrtiko grapes mixed in with the red grapes he was using to produce his rosé. He was curious and journeyed to Santorini to acquire some vine cuttings… And the rest, as they say, is history. Today, the Assyrtiko is hand-harvested, fermented with native yeasts in stainless steel tanks, spends about three months on the lees, and yields wines of true concentration, character, and finesse.

The 2019 Mylonas Attika Assyrtiko, for example, received 91- and 92-points from Wine Enthusiast and Wine & Spirits, respectively.  This is a superb wine, with excellent body, an appealing creaminess, and a lingering clean finish with a subtle salty spin. As K&L Wine Merchants noted: “This expression of Assyrtiko calls to mind the wines of Santorini but at a much more inviting price.” $15.99.


Alpha Estate Malagouzia 20192019 ALPHA ESTATE MALAGOUZIA: Alpha Estate is not a new name to the premium wine trade, as wine writers Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, and Robert Parker are all enthusiastic fans of this top-quality Greek winery. Established in 1997 by viticulturist Makis Mavridis and oenologist Angelos Iatridis, Alpha is recognized as one of the pioneers of modern Greek wine. The winery combines international with traditional grapes and has its own nursery developing colonial selections. The winery is so state-of-the-art it can direct underground irrigation to specific vine roots and change the air in its wine cellars three times a day.

Located at a very high altitude in the sandy Amyndeon plateau in northwestern Greece, Alpha is particularly famous for its Xinomavro, a complex, collector-worthy red that is often compared to the far more expensive Barolo and Nebbiolo wines. But Latridis also excels with his red blends and, given the climate, quite naturally with white wines.

His Sauvignon Blanc is the most sought-after in Greece and his Malagouzia, specifically the 2019 Alpha Estate Malagouzia, is nothing short of pure delight. The “Turtle Vineyard” Malagouzia is a single-vineyard white that is completely the product of stainless-steel fermentation. In the glass it exhibits a straw color with an explosive-expressive nose and touch of flintiness. Light and lively on the plate, there is a slight effervescence with Riesling-like qualities and a touch of subdued spice similar to a Gewürztraminer. A positively lovely wine, the 2019 Malagourzia received a 90-point rating from both Robert Parker and Decanter magazine. $18.99.


Domaine Skouras Zoe 20202020 DOMAINE SKOURAS ZOE: Located in Nemea on the Peloponnese Peninsula, Domaine Skouras was founded by George Skouras, who was graduated from the University of Dijon with a degree in oenology. After working for a number of wineries in France, Italy and Greece, he finally fulfilled the dream of setting up his own small wine-making facility in Pyrgela in 1986. This was quickly followed by the creation of a boutique winery in the Nemea Appellation area, in the village of Gymno.

The Domaine Skouras and its associates cultivate the local grape varieties of Agiorgitiko, Moschofilero, Rodhitis, and Kydonitsa, as well as the foreign varieties such as Viognier, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah. Many of the vintages produced are everyday wines, while others are unique & innovative (and rather pricey) varietal combinations that are rare, limited, and terribly difficult-to-find.

The wine I sampled from this producer was the 2020 Domaine Skouras Zoe, an intriguing white blend of 60% Roditis and 40% Moschofilero, two grapes that are probably not terribly familiar to most wine lovers. Roditis is a pink-skinned grape traditionally grown in the Peloponnese region of Greece. Today, it is most commonly blended with Savatiano in the making of Retsina, a famous (or infamous) Greek wine infused with pine resin. Moschofilero is an aromatic white grape with a pink/purple skin, spicy flavor, and excellent acidity.            The result is a wine with a complex aroma of fresh flowers, a luxurious texture rife with flavors of citrus fruit, and a marvelous acidity that moves across the palate to a clean, refreshing finish. The price is pretty refreshing as well… $13.99.


Nasiakos Agiorgitiko 2019 (2)2019 NASIAKOS AGIORGITIKO: The vineyards of the Nasiakos families lie in the heart of the two largest and most important wine regions of Greece. One is in Mantinia in Arcadia; the other – the highest point on Nemea – in Corinth, Peloponnese. Leonidas Nasiakos is the viticulturalist, winemaker, and producer of the wines that bear his name. Under the Nasiakos label, 6,500 cases of wine are produced from the indigenous appellation varietals such as Moschofilero and Agiorgitiko. Nasiakos wines have been rated by publications such as Robert Parker, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and Wine & Spirits for over 15 years, with ratings from 87 to 93 points.

Of particular importance is Agiorgitiko, the most widely planted red wine grape in Greece. It is one of the more commercially important indigenous varieties; and it can exhibit a wide range of characteristics, from soft to very tannic, depending upon factors in the growing and winemaking processes.

The 2019 Nasiakos Agiorgitiko is most definitely of the latter persuasion… In the glass, mesmerizing aromas of vanilla, blackberry, and currant quickly capture your attention… carried over to invitingly ripe fruit flavors on the palate. This is a wine with a surprisingly light – almost ethereal – touch. It goes down as smooth as silk and is also marvelously food friendly. A lovely wine on all counts. $15.99.


Boutari Kretikos 20162016 BOUTARI KRETIKOS RED: As noted above, the Boutari family has been producing wines from Greek varietals since 1879 and has become a pioneer of Greek wines, crafting vintages from six different regions, utilizing grapes that are grown nowhere else in the world.

… And the 2016 Boutari Kretikos has helped to set the quality standard of Cretan wines worldwide. Kretikos, which means “originating in Crete,” is a carefully selected blend of 60% Kotsifali and 40% Mandilaria, both indigenous grapes. Kotsifali – Mandilaria blends are quite common in the red wines of Greece, but particularly so on Crete, the southernmost and largest of the Greek Islands. Such a beneficial blending brings together the aromatics, sugars, and corpulence of Kotsifali with the strong color, acidity, and tannins of Mandilaria.

Both Kotsifali and Mandilaria are most often blended with other varieties, as neither is famed for the quality of its wines when vinified as a single varietal. Only the very finest vineyard sites can produce complex and balanced wines from either grape alone… but combining the two is quite a different story. Kotsifali – Mandilaria blends can be aromatic, complex, colorful, and beautifully balanced.

It is not certain at what point in history Kotsifali and Mandilaria were first deliberately blended, but the benefits are quite apparent… as the 2016 Boutari Kretikos Red clearly demonstrates. This beautifully balanced wine features a brilliant ruby color, pleasant aromas of red fruits, velvety tannins, and a lingering finish. It also has a decidedly earthy note, which I very much enjoy. I also enjoy the price tag: $8.99. Snatch it up while you can.


Zacharias Assyrtiko 2020One closing note: Since we have been discussing Greek wines, please do not overlook the extraordinary 2020 Zacharias Assyrtiko, which I mentioned in last month’s article as one of my favorite white wines of 2021. Hailing from the Peloponnese Peninsula, the 2019 Zacharias Assyrtiko recently received 91 points and was included in the “Top 100 Best Buys of 2021” by Wine Enthusiast (but is impossible to find)… The good news, however, is that the 2020 is even better.

Just be aware that this is the one wine that is not available through Pennsylvania State Stores. The best price I discovered online is $12.99 per bottle (plus shipping) from Central Wine Merchants in Flemington, New Jersey.


Be Safe & Stay Well


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