Agiorgitiko, Asyrtiko, Kotsifali, Malagousia, Roditis, and Xynomavro. Are those names familiar to you? They may not be, and they are difficult to pronounce, but you might enjoy knowing more about them. They are all indigenous Greek grapes and Greece is using these and many more strange-sounding grapes to produce some excellent wines. They produce many wines that you should be trying out.
Yet Greek wines don't seem to receive sufficient publicity and can be difficult to find in local wine stores. These are both items that should be changed. So let me try to help out and give some needed coverage to their wines, to show you some delicious options.
I have previously tasted and enjoyed a limited number of Greek wines but have always wanted to try more, to extend and expand my palate. The opportunities to do so have been limited so I made sure to concentrate much of my time at the Boston Wine Expo on tasting wines from Greece. Fortunately, the Expo had several tables with a few dozen Greek wines so I was able to taste a fair share of their wines. What I found impressed me.
The history of wine in Greece extends back over 4000 years, something few other wine regions can say. The Greek word for wine is "oenos" and can be traced back over 3000 years. The ancient Greeks loved wine and it figured into much of their life. Even their philosophers waxed poeticaally about wine. It is fascinating to read about the role of wine in ancient Greece. During the last twenty-five years, the Greek wine industry has undergone much renovation and change, bringing their production processes into the modern world.
In the Greek appellation system, wines are divided into two major categories: Table Wines and VQPRD (French for Quality Wines Produced in a Determined Region). There is a superior category for Table Wines which is referred to as Vins de Pays. There are also two categories of VQPRD: Wines with Appellation of Superior Quality and Wines with Appellation of Controlled Origin (which is only used for dessert wines). There are 28 appellations in Greece: 20 of Superior Quality and 8 of Controlled Origin. As wine is grown throughout Greece, you can find wines from regions such as the Peloponnese, Macedonia, Santorini, Rhodes, Crete, Nauoussa, and more.
Though you can find well known, international grapes in Greece, such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, the best part of Greek wine is all of their more unusual, indigenous grapes. They have over 300 indigenous grapes, though only about 15% are used regularly, and some of the varieties have been grown in Greece for over thousands of years. You truly can drink history, a grape that might have been used in a wine drank by Socrates or Aristotle. About 70% of the current Greek wine production is in white wines though they also produce sparkling, rose, red and dessert wines.
You will find that many Greek wines have an exotic taste, the unique flavor and character that their indigenous grapes give to the wines. The grapes have their familiar components yet the wines don't feel like the same old things. And I found this to be true with the wines I tasted at the Expo. I even got to try two different grapes that I have never tasted before.
In all, I tried Greek wines from over a dozen different producers and found some very compelling wines, including a number of value wines. I found plenty of diversity including some surprises. You will be able to read my individual reviews over the next week or so and I hope they entice you to try some Greek wines.
What also impressed me was the knowledge and passion of many of the distributors behind the tables. Some of them are even preparing a major publicity push for Greek wines in the near future and are hoping to reach out to wine bloggers and social media. I wish them well in their efforts as people should learn more about these wines.
For more information on Greek wines, check out All About Greek Wine and Greek Wine Makers.
You can also read the newest issue of Food & Wine magazine (March 2009), for their articles: 7 Greek Varietals to Know, Best New Greek Wines: White, and Best New Greek Wines: Red. At the Expo, I actually tasted a few of the wines on the Food & Wine lists.
So what are you waiting for? Go find some Greek wines to try.