August 14, 2002
Want to taste something different? Perhaps wines with
real character and regional distinctiveness? How about wines that
are refreshing and delicious on their own but also great with food?
And could you go for some real bargains while we're at it? Turn
to Greece. With 250 indigenous grape varieties and an extraordinary
range of growing conditions, Greece holds the potential to challenge
the world's greatest wine-producing countries. Very high quality
is already an accomplished fact, yet reputation lags behind reality
in international markets, so open-minded consumers will find that
Greek wines are often priced at half the cost of their qualitative
equals from elsewhere.
My enthusiasm for the Greek wines I've been tasting
lately led me to the country for a week of tasting earlier this
year, and the experience left me convinced that the wave of the
future is lapping the shores of Greece and its beautiful islands.
I'll limit my recommendations to whites for the moment, but will
return with Greek reds when the weather cools down. The wines are
listed in order of preference, but all are very good, and since
the grapes and styles vary rather widely, you shouldn't take the
pecking order too seriously. Regions of origin, approximate prices
and local wholesalers are indicated in parentheses:
Mercouri Estate (Vin
de Pays de Pisatis) "Foloi" 2001
($11, Vina Mediterranean, 301-599-8380): A lovely rendition of the
Roditis grape from vineyards near Mount Foloi in the western Peloponnese.
Floral aromas lead the way, followed by ripe citrus fruit and finishing
with crisp acidity.
2001 ($9, Dionysos, 703-550-2250):
A delicious wine at an unbelievable price, this is a blend of Savatiano
and Roditis. Notes of straw and herbs lend complexity to the subtle
but ripe fruit, which is perfectly dry but substantial.
"Classico" 2000 ($10,Vina Mediterranean):
A subtle, nuanced blend of Tsaoussi, Robola and Moschofilero, this
is crisp and refreshing but sufficiently substantial to work with
moderately robust fish dishes.
2001 ($14, Ithaka, 703-237-6518):
Although this wine is very lean and absolutely dry, its intense
flavors of citrus fruit, herbs and chalky minerals stand up very
impressively to food.
Santorini) 2000 ($16, Ithaka): This
is one of the biggest, weightiest wines I have experienced from
Santorini, with deeply flavored fruit that manages to shine through
the (arguably overabundant) oak.
Robola ($9, Vina Mediterranean):
Full of flavor but still refreshing and refined, this shows robust
fruit recalling melons and figs along with herbal scents and a fine
(Patras) 2001 ($9, Dionysos): Round
and juicy, this shows the lovely melon fruit of the Roditis grape
with appealing accents flowers and herbs.
Argyros Estate (Santorini)
2001 ($15, Vina Mediterranean):
This textbook Santorini showcases the Assyrtiko's dual nature as
a subtle and reserved sipping wine that seems to gain power and
intensity when paired with food. This will work with anything from
delicate oysters to strongly flavored fish.
Moschofilero "Megas Oenos" 2000
($14, Dionysos in Virginia and Washington; Constantine in Maryland,
410-992-1400): An impressively meaty and intense rendering of Moschofilero
with floral and citrus aromas and excellent acidity.
Boutari Kretikos (Crete)
2001 ($10, Ithaka): Very interesting
with scents of chalky minerals and dried herbs, ripe fruit flavors,
and a pleasantly lingering finish.
2001 ($11, Dionysos): An exotic
wine that is as clear as water but filled with attractive aromas
and flavors of herbs, minerals and very ripe fruit.
(Mantinia) 2000 ($12, Ithaka): A
light, refreshing wine with citrus and apple notes and lots of zesty
Vin de Pays de Pallini) 2000 ($18,
Ithaka): This blend of Assyrtiko, Roditis and Savatiano (from the
Roxane Matsa estate in Attica) blends delicious melon-flavored fruit
with interesting smoky undertones.
Domaine Katsaros (Krania
Olympos) Chardonnay 2000 ($23, Vina
Mediterranean): I confess to having approached this bottling with
trepidation, since I worry about Chardonnay displacing Greek grapes
from top vineyard sites. However, I was totally converted. It's
a formidable competitor to any $35 Chardonnay made anywhere in the
world. Beautiful peach fruit is augmented by perfectly integrated
oak, with nice mineral complexities and a very long finish. A complete
wine that is completely convincing.
Biblia Chora (Vin
de Pays de Pageon) 2001 ($9, Vina
Mediterranean): This is a crisp, complex blend of Sauvignon Blanc
and Assyrtiko with delicious citrus and melon fruit and nice accents
of herbs and minerals. Abundant ripe acidity makes this supremely
refreshing, but the wine is not remotely tart or sour. Available
here in early September.
Viognier "Cuvee Larsinos" 2000 ($18,
Constantine): This very pleasant Viognier gains a bit of complexity
(though at the cost of some varietal character) from 30 percent
aging in oak. Rich and rounded in texture, this will do well with
Muscat NV ($9, Dionysos): Rich and
full of flavor, this sweet dessert wine features lovely notes of
flowers, honey, and mandarin oranges. A remarkable bargain.
Union des Cooperatives de
Samos (Samos) Muscat NV ($11
Constantine): A classic Samos dessert Muscat with more than enough
flavor and sweetness to cover the 15 percent alcohol. This is even
in quality with the Kourtakis noted above, and was bumped down a
couple of slots solely because of price.