Amid a plethora of economic woes over the last decade, the sun-blossoming, historic nation of Greece persists in being a trailblazer in innovation, charm, and spirit.
Though wine has had its place in Greek hearts for over 4,000 years, it has strained to reach the Olympian heights outside of the Mediterranean country. While Spain, France, and Italy dominate the wine lists and supermarket shelves of the Emerald Isle, an arduous test of spirit faces Greek winemakers in how they can translate their ancient charm into the wine bottle.
With an abundance of over 300 grape varieties spread over eight wine regions across the country, Greece offers a serious diversity of wine styles and choices. The toast of Greece’s finest wines come from the areas of Macedonia in the north, and the island of Santorini, in the south of the country, where notable wineries such as ‘Kir-Yianni’ and ‘Argyros’ thrive domestically and overseas. While mainstream grapes like Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet, for instance, exist throughout Greece, the cream of the crop is their indigenous grapes such as the white variety ‘Assyrtiko’ and red variety ‘Xinomavro’.
Assyrtiko culminates and reaches an apogee in Santorini, planted in 70 percent of the vineyard area of the island. This grape produces a bone-dry, steely wine that has deliciously intense citrus aromas infused with an earthlike, mineral aftertaste reminiscent of the volcanic soil of Santorini. Owing to its notable mineral profile, Assyrtiko is a grape also popularly blended with Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and the native Greek grape Malagousia. The Assyrtiko from the brilliant winery Argyros is available in Ireland from the corkscrew.ie for €26.95, a reasonable price for a wine of this exceptional quality.
Assyrtiko, Greece’s premier white wine grape, has also made its journey to the shores of Australia, where the iconic Irish/Aussie family of Jim Barry in the Clare Valley have just produced their first ever vintage of the wine, available to Ireland soon.
Xinomavro, Greece’s signature indigenous red grape, is likened somewhat in particular to the delicate and delicious Nebbiolo of Northern Italy, and Pinot Noir from Burgundy, France. Noted for its long aging potential, and rich tannins, Xinomavro showcases subtle and soft red fruit, with hints of olive, spices, and dried tomatoes. A fabulous example of this bang for your buck wine is ‘Ramnista’ by Kir-Yianni produced in the area of Macedonia. Imported by Liam Cabot of Cabot Wines (brother of our fabulous food writer Red), this wine is an absolute cracker - available for only €22.50 from Cabotandco.com.
The challenge now for the Greek wine industry is to educate people in the new way of Greek wine. Investment in the development of Greek wine remains the definitive piece of the puzzle before the Greek wine industry can once again reassume its status as one of the superior producers of quality wines worldwide.
> Philip Dunne is Head Sommelier at Ashford Castle, Cong. Trained by the Court of Master Sommeliers, he is part of the team voted the Best Wine Experience in Ireland 2016 at the Restaurant Association Awards in Ireland.