Wines of Greece: Drinking Like a Local

Wines of Greece: Drinking Like a Local
We rented a fabulous place, Villa Arkadia, here in the hills of Nafplio. The benefits started before we even got here. Those being that due to our late arrival the caretaker was willing to stock the house with groceries based on our direction. Knowing that we would be rolling in with a minimum of 24 hours of travel under our belts I certainly wanted some wine to be on hand. In truth, I thought champagne may be more appropriate after extensive travels with two children but I digress. I literally added it to our grocery list as just “wine” curious to see what would be waiting upon my arrival.

So what did I find waiting for me? The Tsantali Medium Sweet Red. In the fridge of all places, color me skeptical. A magnum bottling, 11% alcohol by volume, price unknown. The first evening it was impossible to be objective. We were here. We all made it one piece without killing each other. With all of our luggage to boot! Sitting on our terrace looking at a lighted castle in the distance this just needed not to be terrible and it easily delivered on that. Over the next few days I took a closer look at the label and came to realize the wine label one I had come across during my preview of Greek Wines. The winery, Evangelos Tsantalis, seems to cover all ends of the market here in Greece from the cheaper bulk wines to the more premium selections. This one certainly falls more towards the former than the latter checking in at 5.50€ for 1.5L. No nose worth mentioning. On the palate, the sweetness is on the dry side which I prefer, medium bodied and slightly tannic on the finish. The closest parallel I can draw is to an Aussie Sparkling Shiraz. The chilled aspect certainly helps, not sure I would want to meet this one at room temperature. I’ll trust the local, who left it in the refrigerator, on that one thought the bottle advocates for serving at 61 degrees. Good for drinking, not tasting, which makes it a perfectly acceptable sipper for a nice spring evening on the patio.

Wines of Greece: Drinking Like a LocalThe Saturday following our arrival the caretaker, Mattina (pictured with yet to be mentioned dinner), offered to meet us down at the local weekly market to help us pick out some good food. Fortunately for us she wasn’t all that impressed with what was on offer and decided to bring us a homemade Greek meal for dinner that evening. What a stroke of fortune that found our way to her. She was a tremendous help throughout our stay in Nafplio, especially when she took my wife to the local medical facilities when her ear infections were near dehabilitating. Thanks again Matina!

Back to the wine, along with that meal she she brought her 2nd offering of wine. Let’s call it the Matina Cola Reserve NV White. The ultimate in blind tasting. Obviously nothing else to go by, all Matina tells us is that this is a house made wine she gets from a friend and “das ist gute”. She speaks German, me very little but fortunately my wife is fluent. Based on my limited knowledge of Greek wines I was able to deduce and/or assume a few things. First off the wine must be young given they don’t age their whites. Second, based on the golden, translucent hue to the color it can’t be 100% Moschofilero as that would require zero skin contact which would be difficult to achieve in a home wine making arrangement. Now to the wine, at first the nose seems nearly pungent, perhaps it was the plastic. With time it became indescribable. Meaning I was continually searching for an answer but having difficulty pinpointing one. I finally settled on a medley of fruits; banana, peaches and maybe even cantaloupes. I noticed there is an ever so faint presence of bubbles in the glass, perhaps residual from the soda that use to reside in this bottle. On the palate you first notice the fullness of the body weight on your tongue which is unexpected. You quickly find some citrus notes towards the back of the palate but this fullness keeps them at bay until the end. In the mean time, the aforementioned fruits our rotating through the palate. There is little to no acidity to be found in this wine. I’m guessing it is a blend of the Moschofilero and Roditis varietals. Right or wrong, a fantastic wine experience and a pleasant afternoon quaffer at that.

Stay tuned for more! Next up, my adventures at the local wine store and supermarket…

Wines of Greece: Tasting in the Peloponnese

Peloponnese: Wine Roads of Nemea
As mentioned in my last post when trying to learn more I discovered All About Greek Wines. Given the vast amount of information they had available I decided to write them to ask for tips on where I should pay a visit. I let them know I had tried the wines of Domaine Skouras and Domaine Tselepos and asked for their recommendations. They kindly responded noting that the two I mentioned were great and gave me some others to consider visiting. This was the list:

  • Domaine Spiropoulos which has a very nice winery in Mantinia, close to Domaine Tselepos and another one in Nemea (which I subsequently learned is not yet ready for visitors).
  • Gaia Wines which is located in Nemea in the village of Koutsi.
  • Palivos Estate which is located in ancient Nemea.
  • Semeli Wines which is located in in Nemea, in the village of Koutsi very close to the Gaia Winery.

Armed with the information I was ready to begin making my arrangements. Right about then my wife came down with a combination of strep throat and double ear infections and my son’s pink eye made a return visit tying me to our home away from home for most our week in the area. Most unfortunate as the Easter holiday weekend virtually shuts down Greece and we are set to move on the day after. I was able to make one appointment with Apostolos Spiropoulos from the Domaine of the same name who I am excited to be visiting shortly. As for the others I am trying to rearrange some travel plans to return for a day towards the end of my journey

Lastly the map above is the best that exists for Nemea, I’m sure to get lost at least once. They are in need of a good winery map if there are any cartographers available. If you are lucky they might even pay you in wine…

Wines of Greece: A Preview

All About Greek Wine: Winemaking Regions

Shortly after we decided on Greece for our holiday my better half sealed the deal with an introduction to Greek wines and varietals by bringing me home an assortment of bottles from K&L Wines; 3 were from the Peloponnese and 1 each from Macedonia and Thessalia. The five bottles averaged in at just under $16 a piece and I’ll have some notes on each below. At the time I was much to excited about exploring new regions and varietals to notice that my wife had sublimely already decided where we would be traveling during our time in Greece. Most of you are probably quicker then me and noticed 3 wines from a single region. You guessed, just about the entirety of our holiday will be spent in the Peloponnese. The most well known region in the area is Nemea which will be my first stop. With that in mind, I opened the first bottle and decided to educate myself a bit on the wines of Peloponnese.

Where to start? How about by finding out more about the new varietals in the these bottles. There were three from Nemea; two white (Moscofilero and Roditis) and one red (Agiorgitiko). Here is a quick description of each from my go to resource when exploring new varietals; the Winegeeks:

  • Moscofilero (mos-co-FEE-le-ro) – A grape of Greek origins with a rosy hue and a spicy flavor. Grown throughout much of Greece but especially in the Peloponnesian islands where it is used to make a dry and bold wine with lots of spice and perfume. Can have similar characteristics to the Muscat.
  • Roditis – Deep-hued Greek varietal that is often used as part of the resinated wine “Retsina.” The Roditis grows best in the warm climate of the Peloponnesian islands. Despite the amount of time that Roditis needs on the vine to achieve ripeness it still retains a high acidity level, something that is prized in the hot climates in which it is found. Known for flavors and aromas of citrus fruits and almonds.
  • Agiorgitiko (ah-yor-YEE-ti-ko) – Also called ‘St. George’ due to the town it originates from, the Agiorgitiko is a light and lively grape grown almost exclusively in Greece. A productive variety, it is often fruity and easy-drinking but can lack the acidity necessary to make a substantial wine. Agiorgitiko is frequently produced by Carbonic Maceration, a method in which whole clusters of grapes are fermented under pressure to acheive maximum extraction from a lighter wine. It is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to make the popular table wine Katoi. Agiorgitiko is the 2nd most planted varietal in Greece. The best examples of Agiorgitiko come from the Peloponnesian region of Nemea located on the eastern coast of Greece. Though lighter in style, when grown at high elevations it can produce serious reds of both quality and ageability, exhibiting aromas and flavors of red and black currants and exotic spices. Agiorgitiko also works well as a rose.

Now that I had the varietals down, time to find out more about the region. Some effort led me to All About Greek Wines which offered me this gem of an article from Sante (pdf), from April 2008. Here I learned that phylloxera wiped out the grapes in the late 19th century and wine making did not truly emerge again until after World War II. Even still, wines were rarely focused on export until the Euro Zone opened the doors to a wider market. Beyond the history I learned that Peloponnese is filled with mountainous terrain creating a plethora of micro-climates and Agiorgitiko is also referred to as “Lion’s Blood”. Perhaps most interesting of all I learned that all wines bearing the designation of control (DOC) of Nemea must be 100% Agiorgitiko. Rather strict no? It seems that even if a wine is 100% Roditis from Nemea it has to be labeled a regional wine of Peloponese. Even stricter, wines that are 100% Agiorgitiko but bottled as a rose can not bear the name. Hard to believe that can be best serving the interest of the winemakers!

So now, back to the wines. What did I think? Let’s get to the notes:

2007 Skouras Moscofilero, Greece

2007 Skouras Moscofilero ($16) Per K&L “In this wine we have Moscofilero in all its fragrant floral and spicy glory. This most precocious of Greek whites is as wonderful on the patio as it is at the table with simply roasted branzino or grilled octopus salad.” My Take: Above I saw this mentioned as having similar characteristics to the Muscat. I kept looking for those but couldn’t find them. It was a nice offering but simple. Looking forward to some other bottlings when in Greece.

2007 Skouras White Roditis/Moscofilero

2007 Skouras White Roditis/Moscofilero ($10) – Per K&L “This great value is a refreshing blend of Roditis and Moscofilero, two of the most important indigenous Greek whites. Roditis adds body and texture to the blend being fairly neutral in flavor, allowing the Moscofilero’s highly aromatic and bright nature to shine through creating a delicious wine for times when you need something to quench your thirst.” My Take: I actually found this one by the glass at a restaurant (Town Hall in San Francisco) and was very pleased I did, very nice and refreshing with a nice crispness. Definitely want to try some more of these.

2005 Domaine Tselepos Agiorgitiko Nemea

2005 Domaine Tselepos Agiorgitiko Nemea ($18) – Per K&L “From the Southern Greek region of Peloponnese, which is famous for its red wines based on the indigenous agiorgitiko grape of Nemea. Yiannis Tselepos is one of the great winemakers of Greece and he makes the most of some of the best vineyard sites in Nemea. Spicy, rich and just the thing for grilled lamb served with yogurt.” My Take: The signature grape of Nemea, this one was a nice introduction with flavors of cherry and spices. The heaviest of the reds at 13%.

2000 Hatzimichalis Xinomavro Naoussa

2000 Hatzimichalis Xinomavro Naoussa ($17) – Per K&L “This dry red, made from the Xynomavro grape in the Naoussa region of Greece, has a bright ruby color with spicy and cinnamon flavors and aromas. With ample tannins to support a balanced structure, this wine can be drunk now or kept for up to 5 more years.” My Take: An offering from Macedonia, this one was super dry and light (12%) and slightly on the thin side. Showed some earthy components with a green aspect as well. Coats the palate nice on the finish.

2005 Evangelos Tsantalis Rapsani

2005 Evangelos Tsantalis Rapsani ($18) – Per K&L “This wine is a blend made exclusively from Greek varieties (Xynómavro 33%, Krassato 33% and Stavroto 33%). It is an appellation Rapsani from high elevation (800 meters) fruit from open canopied, untrained vines. Vinification is designed to maximize the best features of the varieties; controlled temperature fermentation, 6-8 days of skin contact, a year in first and second year barrels and at least two years in bottle. It offers smoky notes and layers of red cherry fruit like rich cherries. Great tannic structure makes it ideal with lamb doused with rosemary.” My Take: An offering from Thessalia, this one uses three indigenous Greek varietals and delivers loads of cherry aromas and flavors with leather and a dose of tannins on the finish.

With the preview down we have much more to cover. What do the locals recommend? How about the wine store? And where will I go tasting? Stay tuned for that and much more…