Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Greek Wines: Why Aren't You Drinking Them?

It still remains difficult to find Greek wines at local wine stores. There is a fair number of wine stores that don't carry any Greek wines, and even the ones that do usually only carry a couple. The most common reason I have heard for stores not carrying Greek wines is that they don't sell.  Is that really the case?  And if so, why don't they sell.  Why aren't more wine lovers drinking Greek wines?

Earlier this week, I attended a trade tasting of Greek wines held by Athenee Importers.  I had attended their last year's tasting, and had been impressed with the Greek wines. I have also tasted more Greek wines at other events, as well as at home.  At this week's Athenee event, there were twelve producers, showcasing almost 75 different wines, and I tasted about 65 of them.  This tasting only confirmed and solidified my opinions on Greek wines, and I highly recommend that all wine lovers start tasting Greek wines.

Why follow my recommendation?  Well, let me offer a list of ten things I have learned about Greek wines and hopefully that will motivate you.

First, Greek wine has a lengthy and fascinating history.
Wine making in Greece extends back over 4000 years, and wine was an integral element of ancient Greek civilization. The Greek word for wine is "oenos" and it can be traced back over 3000 years.  Few other countries can boast of such a lengthy wine making history. Plus, some of their indigenous grapes have been around since the days of ancient Greece.  For example, you can now enjoy wines made from the Limnio grape, which was written about by Plato and Aristotle.  What a sense of history, such a connection to the ancient past, to drink such a wine.         

Second, Greece has many unique, indigenous grapes.
There are over 300 indigenous grapes in Greece, though only about 15% are used regularly.  Aidani, Assyrtiko, Malagousia, Robola, Roditis, Agiorgtiko, Limnio, Mandilaria, Mavrodaphne and Xinomavro are but a few of the names of these grapes. They present unique flavors and aromas, though still offering some familiarity. Any wine lover seeking to broaden their palate, to experience something new, should seek out such unusual grapes.

Third, Greece grows some international varietals.
You can find grapes like Chardonnay, Sauivignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah planted in Greece. You will even find Tempranillo!  Some producers use these grapes in blends, while others make single varietal wines. Though they make good wines with these grapes, they can seem like wines made from any other part of the world. I much prefer the Greek wines made from indigenous grapes, as they offer a better sense of place. Some producers feel they must make wines with international grapes as that is what consumers seek.  It is a much easier sell than trying to get consumers to embrace Malagousia or Mavrodaphne. 

Fourth, Greek wines are diverse.
Though about 70% of the current Greek wine production are white wines, they also produce sparkling, rose, red, dessert wines and retsina. Plus, the wines come in a variety of flavor profiles so there should be something available to appeal to any personal preference.  In addition, there are many different terroirs in Greece, which further leads to diversity in their wines.  Greek wines are multi-dimensional, and there is much to discover in that multitude. 

Five, Greek wines are made for food.
Greek wine is a natural pairing for food, especially Mediterranean cuisine, though its versatility extends into many other cuisines as well.  Many producers have told me that their wines were specifically produced to accompany food. And I have yet to hear a Greek producer tell me that their wines were created not to pair with food.  So if you purchase a Greek wine, you can be almost assured that it will pair well with food.  Dependent on the type of food, there is also probably a type of Greek wine which will work well with that dish.

Six, there are plenty of value priced Greek wines
You can find a fair number of good Greek wines for under $15, making them very affordable options.  The fact Greek wines are not as popular means they are more hidden value wines. Some wine regions, due to their popularity, raise their prices commensurately.  Greece produces high-end wines too, but those on a budget will find much to please them.   

Seven, there are many organic vineyards in Greece.
The eco-system in Greece is very conducive to organic agriculture, especially due to conditions which limit potential diseases, so the use of chemicals in vineyards is often unnecessary.  A number of wineries have received organic certification, though others have not sought certification yet still engage in organic agriculture. And as agriculture has been such a significant aspect of the country for millenia, many farmers take a more holistic approach to agriculture.  

Eight, consumers will enjoy Greek wines.
There is no reason why consumers won't like Greek wines.  The wines offer plenty of delicious tastes, pair well with food, and offer value. I have seen plenty of consumers taste Greek wines, and be pleasantly surprised at how much they enjoyed them. The reason they often do not sell is more due to unfamiliarity and ignorance. Most consumers know little about Greek wines so they gravitate instead to what they already know. That can be overcome with greater education and more tastings. People need to be shown they are missing out on these delicious Greek wines.

Nine, give Retsina a chance.
Many people turn their nose up at Retsina, having had very unpleasant previous experiences with this wine. My own experiences with retsina, up until last year, were nasty, reminding me of Pine Sol. But I have now tasted a few Retsinas which I actually enjoyed. The pine element was more in the background, adding an interesting element to the wine without overpowering, and they also possessed a pleasant herbal character. Try one of the newer Retsinas and maybe you too will change your opinion.

Ten, Greek wines are delicious.
It is a simple thought but sometimes gets forgotten amidst everything else. In the end, the most important part of wine is that it tastes good.  No matter what else a wine has going for it, if it does not taste good then it has failed. I have tasted many good Greek wines, certainly not everything I have tasted, but the majority at least. And I have tasted good wines of all types, whites, reds, roses, dessert wines and retsina. I may appreciate Greek wines for many different reasons, but first and foremost still remains their taste.

So, are you convinced to give Greek wines a try?

Tomorrow, I will provide some specific Greek wine recommendations. 

Addemdum:  Just FYI: The specific recommendations will actually come on Friday, not tomorrow.

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