When my daughter was nine or 10 she went totally nuts for Greek mythology – a situation that has never entirely cleared up, but that’s another story. At 10, she demanded to be taken to “the Ancient Lands” (Rick Riordan, you started this, can we borrow some drachmas, big guy?). I said I’d be happy to take her to Delos and Athens, on one condition. For context, she had to also go to Rome.
“Oh, please, Mom. Rome? Everyone knows they just ripped off the Greeks.”
It is a lot more complicated than that. The Romans ripped off everyone, not just the Greeks; and let’s face it, we kind of owe Rome for stuff like sewer systems and roads. But Italy eclipsed Greece as a winemaking powerhouse a long, long time ago, so it’s easy to forget that the Greek wine scene was sophisticated and rich with tradition back when Italy was in diapers and “France” was still “Gaul” and was considered the armpit of the Empire. Many Italian wines have Greek roots. “Greco di Tufo?” Tufo is Sandstone. “Greco” is QED. “Aglianico” comes from the same root as “Hellenic.” Vin Santo? It does not mean “holy wine,” but “wine from Santorini.” See where I’m going with this? Greece has been romancing the grape for over six thousand years. Let’s just say there’s some expertise there.
Yet Greek wines don’t get seen in this country as much as those produced by their neighbors to the north and west. And it is just possible that they rank among the most underrated wines on Earth. Why? My daughter would tell you it’s the Octavian’s fault, and his expansion of the Roman Empire. I’m less clear on that. What is clear is that underrated wines steeped in tradition equals very exciting price point to yum-factor ratios. Here are some Greek bottles to look out for.
Ktima Tselepos Mantinia
This refreshing white (though Moschoflero is a pink grape from which a vin gris can also be made) is a perfect picnic wine. The very aromatic nose is heavy on white flowers, citrus and roses, all of which are characteristic of this native Peloponnesian grape. The fruit comes from Arcadia, an ancient part of the Peloponnese said to be the home of Pan, one of the most ancient Greek gods and the patron deity of wilderness – and wine. This one is crisp and fresh thanks to late ripening in a cool microclimate, and expresses some similar characteristics to dry Gewurtztraminer and muscat. It’s definitely a warm-weather food wine, and can even stand up to notoriously hard to pair veggies like spinach and those assertive greens that show up in a lot of Greek dishes. (SRP $17)
Ktima Gerovassiliou Malagousia
Photo via Gerovassiliou
This winery stands literally in the shadow of Mt. Olympus, on the Aegean and surrounded by wetlands. If you’re actually headed to Greece, the property apparently has an impressive art collection and a wine museum. If you’re visiting virtually by cork-popping, not to worry, you’ll have plenty to keep you interested. Malagousia is a native grape of Western Greece that has recently been brought back from the brink of extinction and I for one am glad it was saved! Malagousia wines are pale green-gold in color, full-bodied and soft. This one is dry, rounded, and quite nicely structured, with pear and basil on the nose and an elegant little touch of mango. This is also a wine that stands up to “wine-killing” veggies. Think artichokes. It also handles pasta dishes nicely and is practically begging for braised leeks and salmon. (SRP $23)
Biblia Chora Areti White
It comes from the heart of Dionysus-worshipping Mount Pangeon, and it’s organic. What’s not to love? One of Northern Greece’s only 100% Assyrtiko wines, which come from a white grape native to Santorini and often used as a blending grape. Assyrtico is a lover of volcanic, ashy soils, and tends to express a pronounced minerality with a hefty acidity. The southern slopes of Mt. Pangeon offer richer soils that result in a lean, elegant wine filled with hints of almond and citrus. Perhaps because of its island roots, this wine begs to be paired with seafood. (SRP $23)
Mercouri Estate Foloi 2014
Made from a blend of Roditis and Viognier from the western Peloponnese, this is a dry white with an intense bouquet and a supple finish. Notes of neroli, peach (for which you can probably thank the 10% Viognier in the blend), green apple and honeysuckle. If your menu involves creamy sauces or any kind of cheese, this is your guy. It’s delicious. ($15)
Mediterra Mirambelo 2011
The only red on my Big Fat List is something of an oddball, and in a good way. Primarily made from Kotsifali, a grape from Crete with a rich flavor profile that generally yields a medium bodied, higher-alcohol wine. It is often blended with Mandilaria (as in this case), which gives a lighter body and a stronger color. This concoction is vibrant ruby, with a quite musky nose; palate is all red fruit, especially strawberries. Little bit of tobacco, tiny hint of vanilla, lingering finish. ($19)
Greek wine. Explore. It could get… well, epic. On which note, I leave you with the words of Homer:
“It is the wine that leads me on,
the wild wine
that sets the wisest man to sing
at the top of his lungs,
laugh like a fool – it drives the
man to dancing… it even
tempts him to blurt out stories
better never told.”
Is there really such a thing as a story that’s better never told? Maybe, but you won’t find one in any of these bottles.