Getting to Know Greek Wines
Though Greece has been making wine longer than (probably) everyone else, they still remain pretty mysterious to most Americans.
Greek wines have always seemed as mysterious to me as Greek culture. You can’t blame me for my naïveté, really, once I tell you about one of my first sweethearts during my freshman year in high school. She was a beautiful Greek girl who stood next to me every day in art class, as we sketched figures on easels with pastel chalks. This was long before cell phones, so when I called her family phone, her mom picked up, too. Her mom interrupted us, told her to hang up, and warned me to forget her daughter. Entirely. “Do you know the story of Medusa??” her mom asked me. I assured her I had. “Good. then think of Medusa when you see my daughter, and never look at her again!?” Turns out, her family had hopes for her to marry the son of friends. And that was that.
“Since then, Greek wines have always seemed as forbidding to me …”
Since then, Greek wines have always seemed as forbidding to me, too. While I’ve researched plenty of them when I studied to become a sommelier, and tasted many of them since then, I’ve never really committed the time to learning them really well, until recently. Thanks to my editors at Departures, I am just back from a whirlwind week in Greece tasting with George Spiliadis, son of iconic Greek restaurateur, Costas Spiliadis (owner of six Milos restaurants around the world), who founded Cava Spiliadis a decade ago in an effort to gain attention and respect for Greek wines.
While you can read all about this trip and these wines in an upcoming issue of Departures, you can get started thinking about, and more importantly, tasting, Greek wines right now. The first thing to know is that the quality of Greek wines has improved dramatically in the past 20 years, and more of them have been appearing in the United States. For fans of lively whites, like Albariño, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc, Greek white wines offer astounding quality for pretty modest prices. Greek reds can be a little more tricky, though my favorites seem to be made with the Agiorgitiko and Xinomavro grape.
Here are the Greek Grapes you need to know to get started:
Assyrtiko (ah-sir-tee-ko): Great for mineral, bone-dry, citrus-scented wines.
Athiri (ah-thee-ree): Lovely, stone-fruits aromas waft from these wines, like golden plums and nectarines.
Malagousia (mah-la-goo-see-ah): These wines boast a bouquet of jasmine, plus just-sliced melon. This grape was nearly extinct before winemaker Evangelos Gerovassiliou championed its revival.
Moscofilero (mos-ko-fi-ler-oh): These wines smell of torn tangerine peel and honesuckle blossoms.
Roditis (ro-dee-tis): Supple and elegant, this pink-skinned grape produces crisp whites and ros?s.
Agiorgitiko (ah-gee-or-gee-tee-ko):?This red grape produces plush, silky reds with cherry-berry flavors.
Xinomavro (zhee-no-mav-ro): Spicy reds with floral aromas, firm tannins, and vibrant fruit.
Anthony Giglio is a Contributing Editor to Food & Wine, as well as the Wine Director for The Centurion Lounges by American Express.