Drinking history in Greek wines
I'M particularly fond of wines that are rich in cultural heritage. In other words, I love drinking history. With this in mind, it shouldn't be a surprise that I have a growing fondness for Greek wines.
Recent meals and wine tasting with Greek friends here in Shanghai have greatly stimulated my appetite and curiosity for Greek wines. I have gained from the insights of my erudite gourmet friend Fortis Manoussakis and the renowned Greek winemaker Mihalis Bourtaris who is also chairman and winemaker of Sunshine Vallley winery in west China's Gansu Province.
Recognizing that learning about Greek wines may be somewhat challenging in the beginning and resisting the temptation to say "it's all Greek to me," I invite readers on this worthwhile journey of wine discovery.
The highest appreciation of anything artistic involves more than just the physical senses, it involves imagination. By drinking Greek wines you are appreciating something both enjoyable and timeless that offers a liquid journey into the very formation of what we call wine culture. By themselves the top modern Greek wines are delicious but with historical and cultural awareness they take on a deeper beauty.
New discovery is another pleasing aspect of wine appreciation and although Greek wines are among the most ancient of all wines, they are still relatively undiscovered by the wine world outside of Greece.
As many wine connoisseurs continue to taste the same varietals and styles of wine over and over again, it is indeed refreshing and stimulating to drink something decidedly different, and very good!
When Bordeaux was a swamp and the Iberian and Italian peninsulas didn't know the vine, the mainland and islands of Greece were already making some of the world's best wines. In fact, winemaking in Greece dates back an incredible 6,500 years and while Greece is most likely not the world's oldest wine making culture, it was the first ancient civilization to take the art of winemaking to new heights and spread this knowledge throughout the Mediterranean.
It was the Greeks who first introduced the vine to Italy in Sicily, to Spain in Jerez and to France near Marseilles. More than just spreading vines, Greece was responsible for spreading a deep-rooted and sophisticated wine culture.
No longer was wine merely a beverage, it was becoming an important part of Mediterranean and European culture and the role of Greece in the evolution of this viticulture awareness was fundamental.
Wines with character
There aren't a whole lot of Greek wines available in Shanghai but a few of the ones I tasted offered a combination of quality and distinction. If you favor white wines, try the Cava Athanassiadi, a white wine from Marathon Valley in Attica, Greece.
The wine is made of the Assyrtico and Savatiano varieties and is aged in French oak. The result is a white wine with straw yellow to pale gold color, aromas of citrus fruits with hints of wax and honey and nice yellow fruit flavors and a clean acidic finish.
If red wines are your thing, I recommend two wine from the producer Kir-Yianni, the delicious Xiynomavro wine Ramnista that features a deep ruby red color, aromatic nose of red fruits and black olives and lots of ripe red fruit flavors with palate-coating soft tannins and balanced acidity, and the Xiynomavro and Syrah blend named Diaporos that has a deep red, almost blue color, intriguing nose of ripe black fruit, cigar box and chocolate and concentrated ripe fruit flavors with fine tannins and a weighty, velvety texture and impressively long finish.
Both wines are from Naousa region in Macedonia, Greece, and are good examples of seamlessly blending tradition with modern winemaking. For a good value red wine, I recommend the Harlaftis Argilos that's a quite pleasant example of the important Agiorgitiko grape.
The wine has a dark ruby red color, aromas of dried red and black fruit, vanilla and spices and ripe plum and stewed fruit flavors with smooth tannins.
While history and culture are significant attributes for wine, for success in international markets including China, there must also be high quality.
For most of the 20th century only a minority of Greek producers focused on quality, while the majority was happy to service domestic consumers with inexpensive, rather ordinary wines.