Sunday, July 7, 2013

It’s Greek (Wine) to Me!

In Classical Greek literature, there are abundant references to wine, drinking, drinking vessels, and drinking games. They even had a god of wine, Bacchus, from whose name the word “bacchanalia” is derived, which loosely translated means "drunken revelry." They really knew how to party in ancient Greece!

But modern-day Greece does not usually come to mind when thinking of thriving
wine-producing regions. The country is mostly in the news for its economic woes. Greece, however, offers 200+ different varietals and some of the oldest vineyards in the world. In spite of its financial instability issues, its entrance to the European Union in 1981 opened up its ancient wine industry to more modern approaches, and some young, worldly wine makers are making a mark for themselves. New varietals have been introduced from France, while ancient varietal plantings have also increased.

A mountainous country with rocky soil, Greece has a Mediterranean climate with sometimes blistering heat and also cool breezes; sometimes too much rainfall but often drought. The areas that are protected from the harsher elements offer the best growing conditions. Of its 200+ varietals, many are grown only in Greece, as they have adapted to its harsh growing conditions, and many distinctive wines are produced, both red and white.


Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko vines
The island of Santorini, for example, is a windswept volcano, with lovely scenery and beaches but hostile growing conditions. To address this, a unique basket-like vine training system is used to protect both the vines and the grapes (see photo to right). Assyrtiko, grown using this vine management system, is a hardy white wine grape variety native to volcanic Santorini, but is also one of the mostly widely planted varietals in Greece.


A tasting at the recently opened Bar and Garden in Culver City, Calif. (http://barandgarden.com/) offered me the opportunity to taste an Assyrtiko and two other unique Greek varietals – Limniona and Xinomavro – which, like most wines at Bar and Garden, are artisanally made and pesticide-free.

Domaine Sigalas 2012 Assyrtiko (http://www.sigalas-wine.com/english/index.asp) is a nice example of this popular white varietal wine. It has Mediterranean flowers (chamomile, for example) on the nose, and a nice minerality (due to volcanic soil) on the palette. This elegant white is priced around $22.

The Limniona grape is a thick-skinned varietal that produces dark red wines with fruity spice and herbs, which can age well. One of Greece’s young winemakers, Christos Zafeirakis, honed his winemaking skills in Northern Italy, but returned home to Tyrnavos, in the southern foothills of Mount Olympus, to make his wines. His 2008 Domaine Zafeirakis Limniona (http://www.domainezafeirakis.com/) is a rustic red wine, with notes of plum, black cherry, and herbs, and pairs well with hearty but simple Mediterranean food. It’s priced around $24.


The third varietal I tasted was Xinomavro, which is similar in style to Italy’s Nebbiolo, with high tannin and acid, and aging ability, which can lead to the development of complex spices and earthy aromas. The 2009 Kir Yianni Ramnista Xinomavro (http://www.kiryianni.gr/Default.aspx) is a complex, intense red, with fruit and spices, calling out for rich Mediterranean dishes. This is priced around $25.

So, for your next bacchanalia, serve up some Greek wines and party like it’s 499 BC!

Until next time, Ya sas!

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