In a new series, wine expert, author and regular Borough Market columnist Jane Parkinson explores the international wines available at Borough’s specialist traders. This month: the Greek wines of Oliveology
This article comes with a warning: banish all thoughts of holiday wines that don’t travel well before reading any further, because this article is all about Greek wine.
You see, if you haven’t paid much attention to Greek wine recently and you put faith in this article and go out and buy some, chances are you will be pleasantly surprised (at the very least).
Even though viticulture is thought to originate in this part of the world many centuries ago, Greek wine fell into the doldrums leaving only retsina to fly the flag, but modern Greek wine is oh-so-different, with many delicious and distinctive wines up its sleeve.
Bags of potential
Granted, we might not be able to pronounce the grapes or regions quite as easily as say, merlot or Bordeaux, but don’t let that put you off. Thanks to modern winemaking techniques combined with better-travelled winemakers picking up experience abroad, the wine scene in Greece is already hugely exciting, but also has bags of potential for the future.
Greek wine can vary hugely, though: in general, the north likes rich, tannic wines, while the Peloponnese region on the southern edge of continental Greece makes everything from fruity dry whites, to intense reds capable of ageing well. The Aegean islands have charming wines too—Santorini especially is a haven for crisp dry whites.
That’s a whirlwind tour of the geography, now what about the grapes? Well, thankfully Greece hasn’t totally succumbed to the modern temptation of going all international with popular and ubiquitous grapes. Instead, it continues to champion its own native grape varieties (and so it should) while allowing a few of the international varieties such as chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon to sneak in here and there. You might say it has the best of both worlds.
Xinomavro is one of Greece’s most important local red grapes and it excels in many regions, but especially in Naoussa. High in chewy tannin and acid (its name is a combination of acid and black) it’s not a wine for the faint-hearted, but it is seriously tasty with a nice plate of slow roasted lamb.
For whites, Greece’s front-runner surely has to be assyrtiko. Native to Santorini, this makes a magical fresh and flavoursome white and comes in two styles; a perky and crisp youthful white that’s perfect as an aperitif, or with extra time resting on yeast [lees] to lend it extra weight and giving it extra body to match with richer fish dishes. And as you can see below, assyrtiko has also blessed us with its relations too, albeit in super-small quantities.
Speaking of Greek islands, it’s most famous, Crete, has a very distinctive grape scene too. Liatiko is arguably the most interesting of these, if only for its colour—the grape is very dark, yet the wine itself rarely reflects that and instead turns garnet in colour pretty quickly.
There’s so much to choose from; this hasn’t even scratched the surface of all that’s great and good about today’s Greek wines. So get involved—head to Oliveology, and go Greek. There’s so much to discover and enjoy.