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…

Tasting in Dry Creek

My dad was visiting with his wife last week and they had yet to make the trek to the wine country and wanted to see what it is all about. I had hoped to make it up during the week as fewer people usually mean a better experience. Alas, that job got in the way again and the calendar was on Sunday. With their return date looming we hopped in the car and headed for Sonoma County. I found a few wineries in Dry Creek that piqued my interest so we headed in that direction knowing that I had a few favorites in the Alexander Valley next door.

Our first stop was Pedroncelli, this one caught my eye as it did not seem like a massive operation but still had a number of wines that you could take home in the neighborhood of $10. I wanted to make sure that if my dad was going to buy something he could get it at reasonable price point. Further more, I wanted to go here first so they could see the difference in prices as you went from winery to winery. The experience here was very nice, the staff were very friendly and they had plenty of wines available for tasting and I don’t think any of them were more than $20, I knew I should have saved my tasting sheet… Just checked the net and all 13 of those currently listed for sale were available at the tasting bar. None of them were bad, none were remarkable. Fair value for the dollar would be the best way to sum up our experience here. I am a sucker for a good rose when out tasting, but never barbeque so they end up piling in the wine rack. Nonetheless there is a new one know as I picked up a bottle of the Zinfandel Rosé ($10). The Port ($16), which I always seem to come home with as well, was very nice and made the shopping bag. Lastly, the Petite Sirah ($14.50) seemed worthy of a buy, if any are going to disappoint it may be this one. Very nice wine for the price but may have rather rolled the dice on something else. When tasting my wallet tends to open wider that when in the store so this one found its way to the car and we were off.

By this point the intentions of those along for this ride were clear and everyone was more interested in a day in the wine country than in tasting, except for me of course. So upon leaving here we immediately headed to the winery I wanted to visit the most, Martin Family Vineyards. I am not sure how I knew of them but I was sure I did. I think a friend brought over a bottle of their wine sometime back, though maybe not. Here nor there, we entered the tasting room and cozied up to the bar. Most of those mentioned here were available for tasting. First on the menu was their Chardonnay ($14), those of you that read here often know that I am not a fan, but boy was I impressed! They let the grapes do the talking, most chardonnay all I seem to here from is the barrel. I enjoyed this one so much that I likely should have grabbed more than the bottle that I did but I was attempting to be fiscally responsible. Next up was another Zinfandel Rosé ($14) which was again a very nice wine. Had it not been for me walking out of our previous stop and promising myself no more rosé or port this would have been headed back to San Francisco as well. We followed that up with their Merlot ($18), which I like even less. I have posted 98 reviews here and if you look closely there is a grand total of zero for this varietal. At the time, this one was more or less making its way home with me. Sadly, it appears this was the last time the Chardonnay and the Merlot will be available. Most of the fruit for these was usually sold, I believe to Clos du Bois, and apparently the business plan had changed and these vines were uprooted. From there we tried a few other offering which were all very high quality efforts before our kind hostess pulled a bottle of Old Vine Red Rooster Zinfandel ($31) out from underneath the counter to share with us. Apparently this was one of the 21 bottles left, which I could have afforded them all. A stunning effort I was ready to buy at first taste, what made it a no-brainer is when my wife was on board with me purchasing it. This was a great stop! I think I am likely to join this wine club once I figure out which one I can drop. The quality of all of these wines plus their interest in trying things, there was a Carignane that I saw listed and was hoping to taste and they were selling futures for an Alicante Bouschet I would love to try, oft the beaten path match perfectly with what I am looking for. These are bottles that you can look forward to receiving not only because the wines are good but because they are also interesting and likely to be rewarded by learning something new about wine, your palate, or maybe even yourself.

Hope I didn’t lose anyone there, obviously really enjoyed the experience at Martin Family. Back in the car it was clear my dad and his wife were only interested in seeing what the wine country was all about. Thoughts of quickly heading over to Sausal and/or Ridge were rapidly disappearing. Though I was tempted to run in and see if they had any of the 2003 York Creek Zinfandel left. I was able to buy some of the ’04 but sure would have loved another try of that ’03. Common sense and/or fiscal prudence overcame nostalgia and we headed into Healdsburg for a quick bite before returning home. Time to start saving for next time!

Tasting at Rosenblum Cellars in Alameda

Last Friday, I went over to the Rosenblum Wine Club party over in Alameda. It is an annual event they hold for the members of their wine club. Given that I belong to a few of these, the best thing about this one is that it is near the city. I can take BART or a ferry over there. Rosenblum is known mainly for sourcing and bottle single vineyard wines which means that the price points are a bit higher than I am usually comfortable paying. Given that they have never disappointed me though I decided to join their wine club anyway and tonight I was going to get some extra pleasure out of that expenditure.

Anyhow, they had music, food and 20+ wines available for tasting. They had two whites, The Kathy’s Cuvee Viognier and a Rousanne that were both quite nice, though at $18 a piece. Tonight, all of the wines were on sale for 25% off though so these were a consideration. In addition to that they had mostly Syrah and a slew of their Zinfandels paired up with both the 2002 and 2005 versions available for tasting. Sadly, I was not familiar with any of those available via the wine club. I was hoping to see the Richard Sauret as this has been one of my favorites for years. Largely I left disappointed. I’ll try to do some research on the 2002 vintage but most of these showed poorly. The one truly exceptional wine that I had that night was the ’02 St. Peter’s Church Zin, wow! Given that it was listed at $72 though I guess that should have been expected.

Leaving the event, empty handed which was amazing given the discount, I found myself disappointed in the experience, I guess I was expecting too much. Couple this with the fact that they sent me a bottle of Chard, not my fave, in my last shipment and some port in the one before that I was thinking whether my wine dollars may not be better deployed elsewhere. Then I started thinking that I had never been disappointed in a bottle they had sent me. So as I continue to ponder this I will likely being doing so at home over a glass of their wine.