Thanks to Greece's Mediterranean climate and mountainous terrain with challenging soils, Greek wineries today use (in addition to all the expected international cultivars) 38 distinct indigenous grape varieties, some nearly lost over the years as a result of changing weather patterns and lack of market demand, are being cultivated. Thanks to the Greek wine industry's new interest in increasing imports worldwide, this is a better time than ever for consumers to gain access to some extremely tasty and unique vintages that were unheard of outside Greece just five years ago.
The mythical history of Greek wine seems to make it entirely possible that each wine hailing from a particular vaunted island or mainland vineyard has evolved to specifically match the flavors of each region's ancient cookery. Here are three of my recent favorite Greek wines:
Rhous Dry White 2015 ($18)
The family-owned and -operated Rhous Winery, in the village of Houdetsi on the island of Crete, produces this estate blend of 80 percent moschato Spinas (muscat of Spina, a local muscat clone) and 20 percent vidiano, a rare Cretan variety. Once it's in your glass, the yin of the muscat's floral, honeysuckle, and chamomile meets the yang of vidiano's hints of ripe pear and white peach. The color is a pale yellow with green highlights, and the wine is clear and bold on the nose with a light floral bouquet. Fresh spring greens and watermelon initially envelope the palate, building to the extreme clarity of spicy green apple; it finishes with pear sweetness and hints of caramel. This would be good cheese wine — its solid minerality cutting through sharp cheeses and enlivening the creamy curds of mellower ones. The name Rhous, the ancient Greek word for “flow,” embodies this vineyard's embrace of nature's continuous progression. Once on the verge of extinction, the indigenous vidiano and moschato spinas grapes were lovingly revived and now serve as standout examples of what can be accomplished by wineries in small markets facing fierce global competition.
Parparoussis Oenofilos 2011 ($25)
Parparoussis Winery uses only native yeasts in this blend of 70 percent cabernet, 30 percent mavrodaphne (a black grape native to the northern Peloponnese). Aged for 12 months in 80 percent new French oak, the wine displays a deep garnet hue, and showcases flavors of eucalyptus, mint, fig marmalade, spice, and black tea. Optimal locally recommended food pairings include roasted lamb leg with savory date nut bread pudding or braised pork belly with blackberry compote and mushroom polenta. Founded by Athanassios Parparoussis and his two daughters, Erifili and Dimitra, in 1974, the winery is located on the northwestern coast of the Peloponnese peninsula, a region perfect for producing organic, world-class wines based on indigenous varieties little-known even among the Greeks. Buy an extra bottle or two, because this one has an aging potential of 10 to 15 years.
Ktima Biblia Chora Biblinos 2011 ($35)
This extremely dry, slightly salty red is a mystery wine made from an unnamed local variety found growing on the southern slopes of Mount Pangeon in Kavala, just 50 miles east of Thessaloniki. Vassilis Tsaktsarlis and Vangelis Gerovassiliou established their vineyard here in 1998 on rocky barren limestone clay soil that guarantees exceptional drainage across 118 acres. Cool breezes from the Aegean and Mount Pangeon fan the terroir on which the grapes are hand-picked before undergoing alcoholic and malolactic fermentation in stainless steel tanks, and then aging for at least 12 months in French oak barrels. Out of the bottle you have a bright and cutting palate cleanser punctuated by sharp peppery cloves that quickly dissipate into bramble berry with a lighter sweeter edge. Tannins are aggressive but quickly retreat. You get a brief burst of heat with tasty complexity across the palate, making this wine a divine complement to red meat juices and rich sauces. Tsaktsarlis and Gerovassiliou recommend blind-pairing it with your friends over a dinner of beef short ribs accompanied by caramelized cipollini onions and garlicky broccoli rabe.
This coverage was made possible by my participation in a sponsored tasting.