the renaissance in greek wine
The last few years have seen a rise in exports of Greek wine, particularly to the USA. Drinkers are attracted to the really good value of the wines, which are often of far higher quality than their price suggests. Until recently, Greek wines were a tough sell because of difficult to pronounce names and the dubious reputation of retsina (more detail on that below). At last, however, consumers around the world are appreciating the quality, value, and history of Greek wine, and I'm excited to be able to feature a couple in blackpoolmatt's wine club.
greek wine history in a nutshell
- Ancient Greece is one of the cornerstones of the culture we enjoy today, and wine is no exception: wine in Ancient Greece was drunk as a status symbol, during feasts, as part of religious ceremonies, for medicinal purposes, in signing agreements, and during sacrifices
- the culture of Ancient Greece was a huge influence on the Romans, who cultivated the vine across central and northern Europe, for instance in Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Germany
- however, Greek wine fell behind in the third century when winemakers in France started to use the local oak forests to make barrels to age the wine in. Barrels weren't used in Greece until the seventh century. Instead, wines were soaked in pine resin to stop them from oxidizing - the equivalent of modern-day retsina, which has done so much damage to the reputation of Greek wine
- nevertheless, Greek wine remained important and traded across Mediterranean Europe until the fall of the Byzantine Empire - which was in part caused by punitive taxes imposed by Venice, including on wine
- Greece fell to Turkish rule in the mid-1400s, and the production of alcohol was all but banned until Greek independence in the 1820s: any wine made was for home consumption, and thus quite unsophisticated
- for much of the twentieth century Greece was ruled by a military dictatorship and wine remained cheap and poorly made
investment into modern wine technology began in the 1960s, and highly-trained winemakers and viticulturists really pushed the wine industry forward in the 1980s onwards - and now, once again, Greece is an important, modern winemaking country
greek wines in blackpoolmatt's wine club
Domaine Zafeirakis "Microcosmos" Malagousia Tirnavos IGP 2019 ($20)
region Tirnavos IGP, in Thessaly near Mt. Olympus, on a coastal plain on the central Greek mainland
grape Malagousia, a white variety which was close to extinction before being replanted in the 1980s onwards as its quality was recognized. It produces aromatic wines, floral and tropical, while acidity is on the lower end, and the grape could be compared to Viognier.
producer Domaine Zafeirakis, established as a winery by Christos Zafeirakis in 2012 who is the fourth generation of a winemaking family. Considered to be one of the most exciting of Greece's new producers, Christos is committed to making wines that reflect precisely where they come from and created the first organic vineyard in the area in 2005.
winemaking made with native yeasts and minimal sulphur from vines ten to twenty years old planted on clay/flint soils and aged in stainless steel.
wine aromatic and pretty, with aromas of honeysuckle, jasmine, basil, peach, and apricot, gently rich and creamy on the palate, with a stony, gripping texture
Sclavos "Orgion" Slopes of Aenos 2017 ($28)
region Cephalonia is an island off the western Greek coast in the Ionian sea, most famous for Mt. Ainos on the slopes of which the winery's vineyards are located
grape Mavrodaphne (meaning "black laurel") is indigenous to the island, historically used to make sweet, fortified wines as well as, more recently, dry reds. The best wines are smooth and complex, and can be garnet or even tawny in appearance due to long ageing.
producer the Sclavos family has roots on the island dating back centuries. A branch of the family emigrated to Odessa in Ukraine in the 1700s to distribute wheat. They returned after the Russian Revolution and planted vines, including Mavrodaphne, and the family continue to make wines from old vines that receive no irrigation and with minimal intervention in the winemaking.
winemaking from own-rooted 50-year-old vines on limestone soils, fermented with native yeasts, minimal sulphur, no fining or filtering
wine this wine definitely has some funk to it - Sclavos is one of the most natural producers in Greece - with aromas of earth and dirt, but with a lot of complexity to it: wild strawberries, raspberries, wild flowers, tarragon, with lively acidity and grainy tannins
In just these two wines, we get a sense of the diversity, the history, the culture, and the quality of Greek wine - and at very affordable prices, considering the quality. Start exploring Greece now!