Wines From Greece

It is a theme I come back to time and again; the magical way wine can transport you to lands far away without ever having to board a plane. The transporting can take a nostalgic bend if you reminisce about the time you visited said place; or, if you’ve never been to said place, a single sip of wine from there allows you to smell it, if not downright taste it. Greece is where I’ve been visiting; the island of Santorini via Domaine Sigalas’ lovely Assyrtiko, the Peloponnese via Domaine Skouras’ juicy Saint Georges and Northern Greece via Alpha Estate’s modern-styled Axia. On my first trip to Europe, a 5-week adventure with my best friend over summer break, the itinerary was left loose. We landed in London and Greece was to be our ultimate destination. After a nightmarish train ride from Venice to Athens (what ever were we thinking?), we took the first ferry out which landed us in Paros. Beautiful yes, but it was crawling with Brits and every pub was blasting U2. We had just been to England–where was my Adonis? I wanted to experience Greece (I now know that what I was looking for is not found on the islands in summer). Fed up after 2 days, we set sail to Mykonos for a 48-hour bender to celebrate my birthday. Mykonos felt familiar, a SF vibe with whitewashed buildings, and was a complete blast. I was able to convey to the nice people who ran the hotel where we were staying that I wanted a recommendation on a fine restaurant that Greeks would frequent, not just the tourists. Their recommendation was exactly what I had in mind. A tiny restaurant with outdoor seating located down a narrow, winding path in the town’s interior. The food was freshly prepared and unlike anything we’d eaten up to that point. We did drink wine and remember it to be delicious, though I don’t know what it was. Since then, my exposure to Greek wines has been limited to the rare visit to a Greek restaurant. I’ve always had the feeling I was probably missing out on some good juice. A chance introduction to an impressive Greek wine portfolio has opened up my wine world even further, and I am thrilled that, just possibly, we can open up your wine world too with these three Greek selections. Each provides a new taste sensation and are overwhelmingly food-friendly.

100% Assyrtiko, a native variety characterized by its high acidity and minerality, this vibrant white has a delicately perfumed nose (kinda reminds me of a white Rhone) and a fresh, racy finish. Though the acid structure is potent, it is neither bracing nor harsh. You can easily sip this one on its own, but shellfish is probably the way to go. It’s so balanced and refreshing, I don’t think I could tire of it. I read somewhere that the vineyards where Assyrtiko are cultivated on the island of Santorini are considered the oldest continuously cultivated vineyards in the world at over 3000 years-talk about tasting History! Not quite so old, the vines for this bottling average 50 years.


The winery was established in 1988 by Dijon-trained winemaker Georges Skouros. From the Nemea appellation, this Saint George, aka Aghiorghitiko, is soft and juicy with fine-grained tannins. It reminds me of a lighter-styled Zinfandel. Neither overly fruity nor heavy, the 2007 Saint George is medium bodied with plenty of red raspberry and tangy plum flavors. It is fermented in stainless steel and then aged for 12 months in used barrique, spending 6 months in bottle before being released. Lamb kebabs, anyone? Lots of value here.
This estate is considered one of the most cutting edge producers in Greece. Axia is a blend of Xinomavro and Syrah. I’ve only tasted a 100% Xinomavro once and it was one of the strangest reds I’ve ever tasted. That said, the 2006 Axia is not at all what I would characterize as strange. It does, however, contain unique flavors of earth and bright red fruit. The acidity is fresh, the fruit is fragrant and the spice component is subtle. Xinomavro means ‘acid black’. It is a late-ripening varietal that is reputed to be Greece’s most serious red grape, and is often compared to Nebbiolo. I drank this recently on my birthday with Ribeyes and Zucchini 3 ways (grilled, steamed and stewed). My guests preferred the Axia over the very expensive California Cabernet I popped open hoping to impress. My daughter, who is currently obsessed with stories from Homer’s Odyssey, was overjoyed by the fact that she tasted a wine from Greece. Place, history, myth, romance; all captured in a bottle.Anya Balistreri

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