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Clustered within the Aegean and Ionian seas, 227 of Greece's 6,000 islands are inhabited and a few of these support some impressive wineries. Thanks to a wide-ranging Mediterranean climate with sundrenched days, deep blue seas, and mountainous terrain with challenging soils, 38 distinct indigenous grapes varieties, some nearly lost to the ravages of market demand and changing weather patterns, are still growing strong. Thanks to newly invigorated interest increasing imports worldwide, now has never been better for gaining access to extremely tasty and unique vintages unheard of outside Greece just five years ago.
The mythical proportions of Greek wine seem to make it entirely possible that each wine hailing from a particular vaunted isle has evolved to specifically match flavors of fresh seafood and ancient cookery that abounds here. Nothing for instance is more heavenly than pairing a dry white Mantinia made from Moschofilero grapes with sea bass ceviche or spice-rubbed roast quail with herbed couscous. Similarly, a white blend of Vidiano and local Muscat paired with seared scallops garnished with citrus sauce, fried zucchini blossoms, and pistachio vanilla amply propels your palate to an Acropolis-grade flavor experience.
Here are three of my recent favorites to get you started:
We’ve all heard of Cabernet Sauvignon blends, but Parparoussis Winery uses only native uninnoculated yeasts in its 70-percent Cabernet Sauvignon/30-percent Mavrodaphne blends. The resulting dry wine aged for 12 months in 80-percent new French oak displays a deep garnet hue that upon uncorking and sipping showcases flavors ranging from eucalyptus, mint, fig marmalade, and spice to black tea. An optimal locally recommended food pairing involves your choice of 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, their winery is located on the northwest coast of the Peloponnese peninsula, perfect for producing organic, world-class wines based on indigenous varieties little known even among Greeks. Buy an extra bottle because this one has an aging potential of 10-15 years.
This extremely dry yet slightly salty red is a mystery wine made 100-percent 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 privately owned vineyard in 1998 on rocky barren limestone clay soil that guarantees exceptional drainage across 118 acres of vineyards. Cool Agean Sea and Mount Pangeon breezes fan this terroir on which grapes are handpicked, undergo alcoholic and malolactic fermentation in stainless steel tanks, and then age 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 divinely complementing red meat juices and rich sauces. Tsaktsarlis and Gerovassiliou recommend blind pairing it with your friends over a short rib beef dinner accompanied with caramelized Cipollini onions and garlicky broccoli rabe.
Another family-owned and -operated vineyard, Rhous Winery located in the village of Houdetsi on the island of Crete produces this estate blend of 80-percent Muscat of Spina (a local Muscat clone) and 20-percent Vidiano. Once 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.
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 restored and now serve as standout examples of what can be accomplished even in small markets facing fierce global competition.
The results are a pale yellow hue with green highlights clear and bold on the nose with a light floral bouquet. Fresh spring greens and watermelon initially envelope the palate building to extreme clarity of spicy green apple. The resulting solid minerality notably cuts through sharp cheeses as well as enlivening the creamy curds of mellower fromage. Finishes with sugars of pear and hints of caramel.
Coverage made possible by participating in a sponsored tasting. Photos: www.visitgreece.gr/en & Steve Mirsky