New growers, the use of long-forgotten varieties and an export drive have buried retsina stereotype.
Author: Kerin Hope
New growers, the use of long-forgotten varieties and an export drive have buried retsina stereotype.
Author: Kerin Hope
The World of Greek Wine Program is delivered in Sydney on Saturday, 25 May 2019, in partnership with the National Inter-Professional Organization of Vine and Wine of Greece. The course includes an overview of Greek wine and then focuses on its most famous indigenous grape varieties and their regions.
A short 20 question, multiple choice exam will be given at the end of the course. Pass mark required is 55%. Successful students will receive a World of Greek Wine Program – Level 1 Certificate from the National Inter-Professional Organization of Vine and Wine of Greece.
This course is suitable for members of the wine trade and serious wine hobbyists wishing to gain an understanding of Greek wines
There are no entry requirements for this course.
Please find more details: https://www.sydneywineacademy.edu.au/course/world-of-greek-wine-program—level-1
Dallas, Texas (March 18, 2019) –– TEXSOM Co-founders and Master Sommeliers James Tidwell and Drew Hendricks today will announce the final results for the 2019 TEXSOM International Wine Awards. The Awards garnered 3,294 entries representing 32 countries and 18 U.S. States, a record for the competition.
Entries into the TEXSOM International Wine Awards were blind-tasted and judged by 66 internationally renowned industry professionals from 5 countries. The judges awarded 258 Gold medals, 859 Silver medals, and 1116 Bronze medals, for a total of 2,233 medals. Suggested retail pricing of medal-winning entries ranged from US $2.99 to over $700. Vintages spanned 36 years, the oldest red from 1983, and the oldest white from 1991.
On Monday, March 18th, Judge’s Selection winners — wines judged best for their categories – will be announced by Caro Maurer, MW during ProWein at a reception in the Enterprise Greece pavilion, sponsored by Enterprise Greece. The event is a culmination of a series of award announcements on TEXSOM social media channels, and website of the Award-winning wines. A comprehensive list of winners can be found on the TEXSOM IWA website: http://www.texsomiwa.com/
Greek wines continue to show well at the TEXSOM wine awards, garnering significant medals annually. Enterprise Greece, the government agency responsible for export promotion, is sponsoring some of Greece’s leading wineries at ProWein.
“The international recognition we receive at ProWein, indicates that the TEXSOM International Wine Awards has become one of the most internationally influential competitions in the world. From the caliber of the judges to the quality of the entries, the Awards set the standard for what key tastemakers and industry influencers believe are the world’s top wines.” Says Tidwell.
Award entries were arranged by category of beverage, place of origin, and type. The final list of all winners includes: Judges’ Selections, Traditional Method Sparkling Wines, Other Sparkling Wines, Fortified (Dry and Sweet), Sake, White Wines, Rosé and Blush Wines, Red Wines, Ciders, and Fruit, Flavored and Honey Wines.
Unique among all other wine competitions, the TEXSOM International Wine Awards also includes rising-star sommeliers and writing mentors in what TEXSOM refers to as the Sommelier Retreat. This group in addition to attending seminars and blind tasting practice with a Master Sommelier or Master of wine, are also responsible for expanding upon tasting notes for medal winning wines. These notes will be highlighted as Featured Wines on the TEXSOM International Wine Awards website, and in the TEXSOM publication, SOMMELIER.
A list of this year’s judges may be found at http://texsomiwa.com/.
Founded in 2005, TEXSOM was started by Master Sommeliers James Tidwell and Drew Hendricks to help promote professional wine service standards, outline paths for further wine education and certification, and raise public awareness about the professional standards and certifications for sommeliers. Today the conference draws more than 1,100 attendees, of whom more than 800 are sommeliers and other beverage industry professionals. The TEXSOM group purchased the competition now known as the TEXSOM International Wine Awards in April 2014. One of the largest, most respected, and longest-running in the United States, the competition was founded in 1985 by journalist and wine expert Rebecca Murphy.
Author: Jancis Robinson
In 2005 Greece’s first Master of Wine Konstantinos Lazarakis wrote a book called The Wines of Greece. He freely admits now that it was a bit of a chore. ‘I was struggling to get enough interesting facts in.’ In the second edition, published last year, he wrote, ‘The quality of the wines has changed dramatically. In the previous book the heroes were obvious; now I am running out of superlatives.’
I can only agree. I am often asked to identify up-and-coming wine regions or countries. Financial crises apart, Greece ticks all the right boxes. A wide range of well-differentiated and acclimatised indigenous grape varieties? Tick. Geographically expressive wines? Tick. Relatively modest alcohol levels? Tick.
Lazarakis doesn’t tackle the question of pricing but, on the basis of a recent tasting organised by a pre-eminent British importer of Greek wines, Eclectic Wines, I would also add another tick: that Greek wines don’t seem to be overpriced. In fact some of them seem extremely good value.
It must be so disheartening for the many Greek wine producers who have worked so hard to revolutionise the quality and range available to find that even some wine professionals think that Greece produces nothing more exciting than retsina whose turpentine taste may mask a multitude of winemaking sins. Even retsina has been revolutionised. Producers such as Aoton, Kechris, Mylonas and Tertramythos have shown that if you dramatically shrink the yields of Savatiano, the Attica grape variety most commonly responsible for retsina, you can produce a wine of real quality and delicacy.
Eclectic showed a 2017 Tetramythos Retsina Natur, fermented in amphora and made with minimal additions of sulphur. The background notes assured us that ‘charismatic winemaker Panagiotis Papagiannopoulos is known as the Frank Zappa of Greek wine’. He’s not nearly as hairy as Zappa, but he’s certainly inventive.
All over the world, trend-conscious winemakers are desperately seeking out makers of amphorae and other clay-pot alternatives to oak for fermenting and/or ageing wine. Coaxing some producers out of retirement, encouraging the training of younger craftspeople. But if any nation of wine producers should be using these ancient vessels, it is surely the Greeks.
The Eclectic tasting was partly an excuse for a tasting of old vintages made by the very first producer they worked with, Haridimos Hatzidakis of Santorini, a hugely talented but troubled winemaker who took his own life just before the 2017 harvest. Hatzidakis’ last wine, Skitali 2016, is a marvel, aged for 12 months on its lees and every bit as impressive as a top grand cru white burgundy. I’d say it’s worth every penny of its price tag of about £47 at UK stockists Theatre of Wine, The Wine Society, Duncan Murray, Noble Rot, Quality Wines and Wine & Greene.
Wine & Greene and Theatre of Wine also stock another outstanding dry white from this beautiful volcanic island, Karamolegos 34 (2017, £31.50). Santorini’s most characteristic wine, the wonderfully nervy, long-lived white made from the local Assyrtiko grape, has done far more than its fair share to put modern Greek wine on the map. (Mary Pateras of Eclectic Wines’ picture above right is of volcanic Santorini’s caldera, cliffs on which settlements perch.)
The South Australian wine producer Peter Barry of Jim Barry was so impressed by the wines he tasted while on holiday on Santorini that he was prepared to drag Assyrtiko cuttings through the long-winded Australian plant-quarantine process, and finally produced his first Clare Valley Assyrtiko in 2014. Others who have planted it outside Greece include the hugely respected Eben Sadie of South Africa, Alois Lageder of Alto Adige and Mustafa Camlica of Turkey, according to Greece’s second MW Yiannis Karakasis.
Although, along with Aidani and Athiri, it is just one of three prominent and characterful white wine grapes grown on Santorini, Assyrtiko’s qualities are so obvious that it has now been planted in many other Greek wine regions.
Assyrtiko was the first Greek grape variety to establish a national and international reputation. The leafy dry white wine grape Malagousia has a claim to have been the second. But there is now a profusion of light-, pink- and dark-skinned grapes that can offer flavours and characters encountered nowhere else (until they pop up in foreign vineyards). See below.
In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, ambitious Greek producers were inclined to favour wines made of the well-travelled international varieties, or blends of them with indigenous ones, but today they are much more confident about serving up an all-Greek wine.
It may have been the unexpectedly sleek dry whites that first drew international attention to the modern Greek wine revolution (inspired in part, according to Lazarakis, by the desperate need to export in financially straitened times), but now we can choose from some truly thrilling Greek reds.
Thymiopoulos could claim to have transformed our perceptions of Naoussa in western Macedonia, the most important Greek wine appellation. Instead of being dense and a bit rough in youth, Thymiopoulos’s reds are haunting, fresh and ageworthy. Parallels with Barolo are not far fetched. Earth and Sky (2016, £21 The Wine Society), known as Ghi Kai Ouranos in Greece, is their top bottling, from the family’s oldest vines, but the much less expensive Jeunes Vignes red (2016, £10.95 The Wine Society) and the surprisingly long-lived Rosé de Xynomavro (2017, also £10.95 The Wine Society) are highly recommended too.
The Moraitis family on the island of Paros in the Cyclades is another example of over-achieving wine producers. I particularly enjoyed their Malagousia, the ‘rediscovered’ indigenous white wine grape whose wines seem to taste of green leaves – in a good way.
Then there is Yiannis Economou, who trained in Alba and has worked at Château Margaux and at Scavino in Piemonte but returned to his native Crete to make the most extraordinary local expressions that are available in such limited quantities that his London retailer Theatre of Wine is usually out of stock. Yields are so low, oak so old, ageing so protracted that Lazarakis describes this producer as ‘one of the best and most underestimated winemakers in Greece…the Greek equivalent of Lopez de Heredia’ (a reference to Rioja’s hugely admired arch-traditionalist).
But there are just so many great wine producers in Greece now, virtually all fully conversant with the wines of the rest of the world, and inspired to make thoroughly Greek wines that can match them for quality if not character. As Lazarakis notes, ‘One thing is for sure: the most complex and interesting Greek wines are still to come.’
I was invited by Wines of Crete, a non-profit organisation formed by Cretan wineries less than 10 years ago, to spend 3 days exploring the wines, history and culture of the island.
What I found was a region steeped in vinous history, but which has only recently been rediscovering its potential. In the white variety, Vidiano, they have a high quality, indigenous grape with which to lead the renaissance of the island’s wines and with which to promote a quality perception for Crete wines.
The recent import of Assyrtiko from Santorini bodes well too as it is already producing high quality wines in a less austere style than Santorini, as does the recovery by Lyrarakis of remarkably herb-scented Dafni.
Whilst international varieties, especially Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon are grown, domestic varieties Kotsifali and Mandilari show promise as a blend, and Liatiko as a varietal red, though these varieties are not yet at the quality level of Vidiano.
Here are my notes, thoughts and opinions on the following dimensions of Crete wines:
Crete’s wine culture dates back at least as far as the Minoan civilisation that flourished from 2200BC, through to its decline after the earthquakes and huge tidal wave of around 1450BC, that wreaked destruction around the Agean Sea, as a result of the volcanic explosion of Santorini……. Read the full article: http://winebook.co.uk/producers-places/crete-wines-the-next-santorini-quality-revolution/
When one talks about Nemea, it will classically be described as the largest PDO region of the country with approximately 2.500 hectares under vine. The variety that is considered the ultimate star is, none other, than the charming Agiorgitiko, which produces soft, fruity and easy-drinking wines. This may be a statement that involves much truth, but it is not the whole truth.
Nemea is so much more; it is a mosaic of vineyards that vary in exposure, altitude and soil, and this particular assortment is expressed in the wines. They come in a wide variety of styles and qualities.
One needs to walk through the vineyards and the larger area to fully grasp the diversity of the terroir. It is worth trying the wines of each locality separately so as to discern the breadth of all the different elements and how these are imprinted in the wines. It would not be an exaggeration, I think, if one were to say that Nemea rivals Naoussa in terms of the complexity of terroir.
Nevertheless, what I describe has not been highlighted during these recent years. Not only have these facts not been made known, but the image of Nemea has suffered. Oceans and seas of cheap, bulk wine supply armies of thirsty consumers damaging the reputation of the area, which has come to be associated with poor quality, dubious wine. If one bears all this in mind I actually wonder how well we know Nemea and because I like challenges, and the unattainable even more so, I set up a tasting during the Great Days of Nemea to show the diversity of the area.
Before we start, let’s take a look at the basics because, without them, nothing can be done. The landscape of the zone is defined by 7 valleys which have been formed by the flow of rivers, such as Asopos. These are:
1. Between Nemea, Galata, Aidonia, Petri and Koutsi
2. Ancient Kleones
3. Ancient Nemea
The altitude for the zone starts at 300 meters and reaches above 1200 meters, but vineyards are planted up to 850 meters in Asprokambos. Approximately 50% of the vineyards are up to 500 meters. The climate, although generally Mediterranean, in practice shows great difference even within short distances. The rain is theoretically at about an average of 750 mm and is 80% more common during the winter, however, it does not follow any rule thus affecting what we call a vintage to the maximum. There are years with minimum rainfall (2007 with 408 mm, 2008 with 515, 2013 with 541) and others where it reaches close to 1000 mm (1999 to 908, 2010 to 872, 2014 to 826). And, as if the rain were not enough of a problem, add the cool nights to the equation, and this makes it all the more exciting and complex.
The soils are characterized by the presence of clay and silt, but there is also limestone which seems to add a different feature to wines. Naturally, in the lowlands the soils are more fertile, whereas the farther one goes up to the hills, the soils become shallower, with more rocky features, and at the highest level one encounters marl which gives very good drainage and thus lower yields.
Up to now, all of what I have described above has not been highlighted. Everyone thinks Nemea is uniform without realising its many facets. To a certain extent this is justified by the fact that the majority of wines are blends. Koutsi has been singled out and there has been some discussion about Asprokambos and Ancient Nemea. Personally, I consider this an exciting puzzle that is worth exploring and tasting.
Let’s take a look at the various terroirs using the tasting I organized for the Nemea Winery Association and the Great Days of Nemea as a guide, since the reasoning was to compare seemingly dissimilar areas. // Read the full article: https://www.karakasis.mw/nemea-disclosed
Among all the little-known grape varieties found in the ancient land of Greece, assyrtiko is the one that seems to have broken through. Yet its surfacing has been tentative.
A vanguard of curious and adventurous drinkers recognizes that assyrtiko from the island of Santorini displays many of the characteristics that are associated with great dry white wine. It has been by far the most popular among Greek whites, a category that has grown recently in the United States.
“There has been a significant increase in the sales of Greek wine in the U.S., and especially whites,” said Sofia Perpera, director of Greek Wine Bureau-North America, a trade group. “The hottest category, by far, is assyrtiko.”
Yet most people, including many who consider themselves wine lovers, still regard assyrtiko as something exotic, perhaps even alien.
Spelling itself is a problem. The names of these Greek grapes must be transliterated into English from the Greek alphabet, which sometimes results in multiple renderings.
Having witnessed the rise in the quality of assyrtiko in the last decade or so, I was curious about these other Greek whites. Have they made a similar leap in quality? In an effort to answer this question, the wine panel tasted 20 Greek whites from recent vintages. We specifically excluded assyrtikos because we wanted to focus on these other emerging varieties.
For the tasting, Florence Fabricant and I were joined by two guests: Matthew Conway, general manager and beverage director of Marc Forgione in TriBeCa, and Joe Robitaille, head sommelier at Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud near Lincoln Center.
In a way, I thought, they were a little reminiscent aromatically of a mild version of retsina, the historic Greek white that is flavored with pine sap. I say this with some trepidation as retsina is generally as reviled as it is misunderstood, but I mean it as a compliment. Don’t worry; none of these actually tasted like retsina.
Our favorite was the 2017 Hoof & Lur from Troupis made from moschofilero grapes grown in Mantinia. Moschofilero, like roditis, is a pink-hued white grape, and it can sometimes make wines like this one that might appear to be rosés. Regardless of the tinge, this was a lively, balanced, deliciously herbal wine with citrus flavors.
An unusual wine, our second pick, is made from the ancient muscat of Alexandria grape, which is found all over the Mediterranean. Often, it’s used to make sweet wines, although I’ve had excellent dry examples from Sicily, where it’s called zibibbo. This bottle, the 2017 Terra Ambera from Manolis Garalis on Lemnos, a volcanic island in the Aegean, was dry, perfumed and floral.
Our third wine was the 2016 Theon Dora from Giannis Stilianou in Crete, crisp, fresh and minty. It was a particular study in obscurity, as it was made from three grapes that were unknown to me: vidiano, thrapsathiri and vilana, all indigenous to Crete.
The 2017 Notios from Gai’a in Nemea, an area better known for producing red wines, was our fourth choice. This bottle, made of moschofilero and roditis, leaned toward a more familiar Mediterranean style, but it was very well-done.
The next two wines were both made of malagousia, a grape that was on the verge of disappearing in Greece 30 years ago but has been resurrected and is now found all over the country. The first, rendered malagouzia, is the 2017 from Antonopoulos in the Achaia region in the northern Peloponnese: tangy, fresh and slightly more austere than the zesty, harmonious 2016 malagousia from Zafeirakis in Tyrnavos in the Thessaly region.
It was plain from our tasting that these grapes have the potential to make wonderfully distinctive wines. They are already excellent values. None of the wines in our top 10 cost more than $24, and six of them were $20 and under.
It was also obvious that almost half the wines in our tasting — the ones we rejected — suffered from formulaic winemaking. None were undrinkable, but in wine shops already crammed with generic whites, it’s doubtful that the unfamiliar names have much shot of breaking through.
The niche success of assyrtiko offers a formula of a different kind: Figure out what is not already saturating the market and go for it.
The Greek economy is finally in a period of growth, albeit modest, after years of recession. Investments are increasing and exports are recovering, while unemployment has fallen by nearly 6% in the last four years. And for two consecutive years the Greek government has succeeded in surpassing fiscal targets for primary budget surpluses.
It’s a period of cautious optimism, just ahead of the country’s planned exit from EU bailouts in August of this year.
The recovery will presumably spur an increase in domestic consumption of higher quality wine, as some disposable income returns to the average Greek’s pockets (economic meltdown did little to stop the Greeks from frequenting bars and cafés, as I personally witnessed several times in the last half dozen years, but the average spend was down), which will no doubt lift the mood of domestic wine producers. But in the meantime, they’ve moved on. They’ve found new and receptive markets elsewhere.
The silver lining in all of this for the Greek wine industry, as well as wine consumers worldwide, has been the forced focus on international markets. As local markets dried up (tourists aside), exports became the only option. And the industry, through individuals and collectives, self-funded and government/EU-funded programs, has spent the last dozen years or more spreading the word about Greek wines around the world, with a particular focus on North America. And our world is richer for it.
In the US (the only country for which I could find statistics), export growth has been impressive. In the last decade while Greece was crumbling, exports by value have just about doubled. Volume is up as well, but by much less. But no matter. Value is in my view the most important measure of long term export success. It means that buyers are paying higher prices for Greek wines, 5.29 euros/liter on average in 2017, compared to 3.14 euros in 2007, to be precise. They’re no longer the poor Balkan cousins of fine wine, source of obscure values and not much else. They’re just fine in their own right.
As I reported last year, it’s now commonplace to overhear sommeliers in New York, San Francisco, Montreal or Toronto exchanging thoughts on subtle changes in an established producer’s style, or sharing an untapped source of a particular region or grape new to market, as though discussing the insider subtleties of Burgundy or the Sonoma Coast. Greek wines have definitely arrived. Hopefully you, too, have already experienced some of the decidedly original and horizon-expanding wines that the country has to offer.
Established Successes: The Big Four You Already Know
Among wines that have led the export charge, a handful of grapes and regions stand out. If you’ve had Greek wine before, chances are you’ve had a glass or two of the extraordinary whites of PDO Santorini. I’ve written and spoken many words about this remarkable volcanic island in the Aegean over the years and the truly unique wines made there, mainly from assyrtiko. And nearly a dozen and a half years after having first discovered Santorini, I’m still no less fascinated by the terroir, the torturous conditions under which grapevines grow, the extraordinary lengths to which growers need go in order to extract even a small amount of stony-salty essence, the impossibly old vines/root systems (the oldest in the world), and of course the strong character (and quality) of the wines. We’ve highlighted a few to try, or retry, in the list of recommended wines below.
The pale pinkish-whites of PDO Mantinia in the heart of the Peloponnese, made from moschophilero, have also gained many fans in North America. These low alcohol (c. 11.5%), crisp, bone dry and perfumed wines admirably occupy the style category populated by wines like Pinot Grigio, Albariño and Grüner Veltliner. Further justification for the comparison with pinot grigio in particular comes from moscophilero’s purple-tinged skins when fully ripe (you can make pale rose from it with a little skin contact, like the ‘ramato’ (copper-coloured) style of skin-fermented pinot grigio once again popular in northeastern Italy), and its shared richness in the aromatic compounds called monoterpenes, which give the wine its characteristic floral-fruity (orange blossom, rose petal) profile.
Among reds, agiorgitiko from PDO Nemea in the Peloponnese, and xinomavro from Macedonia in the north (mostly Naoussa and Amydeon PDOs) have gained the most international traction, but for dissimilar reasons – the two grapes couldn’t be more different. Agiorgitiko is the darker-coloured, softer, rounder grape of the two, with its sumptuous plummy fruit and smooth, velvety tannins that bring to mind tempranillo, merlot or GSM blends. Xynomavro, on the other hand, is pale garnet-coloured, firm and dusty, far more savoury than fruity, like nebbiolo, sangiovese, or “pinot noir in blue jeans”, as one clever Athenian sommelier once described it to me. Both have their time and place to be sure.
New Grapes and Regions to Explore
But these four varieties only begin to hint at the depth of what Greece has to offer. Indigenous varieties number into the hundreds, appearing individually but also frequently in blends, making for a near limitless range of wines. You’ll also find a handful of wines made from international grapes, or more popularly, international-indigenous blends. But local varieties account for no less than 90% of Greece’s 110,000 hectares of vineyards (slightly less than the region of Bordeaux alone; Greece ranks 17th in the world for total acreage planted), so the focus is firmly on the grapes that Greece has been growing for the last four millennia.
Another surprising fact is that white grapes account for 2/3 of total plantings. Considering Greece’s location in Europe’s deep south, with a southernmost latitude that crosses the 35th parallel in Crete, and the general impression, abetted by countless postcards, of eternally blue skies and endless summers, one might expect robust reds to flourish instead. But here’s another key factor that explains the country’s vinous diversity: Greece is also particularly mountainous. The highest peak, Mount Olympus, pokes through clouds at almost 3000 meters, and many vineyards sit on plateaus or mountainsides at over 700m, meaning that there are plenty of genuinely cool regions where the climate is far more continental than Mediterranean. Some regions, like Mantinia mentioned above, struggle even to ripen grapes in some vintages. Factor in the natural selection that occurred over thousands of years of experiments in every corner of the country, and the net result is an amazing collection of well-adapted varieties with distinctive profiles. There is much to discover.
Some white grapes to put on your must-try list include exotically tropical Malagouzia from across north-central Greece, flowery-herbal Debina (especially the sparkling versions from Zitsa PDO), ethereally fragrant Kydonitsa from the famous port town of Monemvasia, fleshy, peachy Vidiano and Vilana from Crete, saline and lemony Robola from Cephalonia, shockingly crisp and mineral Roditis from Achaia high up in the northern Peloponnese, and smoky-oily Savatiano from vineyards around Athens, in pure and pine resin-scented retsina form.
For reds, consider exotic leather, dried rose and fig-flavoured Mavrodaphne (in dry red wine form from fresh grapes, also sweet red when the grapes are sundried) from the Peloponnese, the crunchy-peppery Vlahiko from the northwestern corner of the country, bold and structured Vertzami of the Ionian islands, extract, colour and acid-rich Limniona from Thessaly and elsewhere, savoury Limnio from the island of Lemnos, deep-coloured, and earthy Mandilaria and pale and soft Kotsifali from Crete and the Aegean Islands, often blended together, to give but a few examples. See an extended list of indigenous grapes with descriptions on the Wines of Greece website here.