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Off the beaten rack: Oliveology

Categories: Expert guidance

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.

Chewy tannin
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.

Alpha Estate Xinomavro Hedgehog 2014, £17
We can’t explain the hedgehog reference (maybe Marianna at Oliveology can tell you directly?) nonetheless is this is a fresh and robust red made with one of Greece’s darling reds, Xinomavro. It’s fresh because it’s from the mountainous region of Amyndeon where the altitude of vineyards is relatively high (so cooler, fresher wines) at 620-710 metres above sea and it’s rich because the grape is blessed with punchy, spicy flavours and black fruit.

Douloufakis Dafnios Liatiko 2015, £16
Coming from a winemaking family that dates back to the 1930s, this liatiko comes from Crete’s only liatiko specific appellation, Dafnes. Here, the wine must be 100 per cent liatiko (although it can be blended in other regions). Fermented in stainless steel to hone the freshness of the red fruit and the grape’s natural acidity, it would make a great partner with lighter red meat dishes.

Alpha Estate Malagouzia Turtles 2016, £15
Malagouzia is a super-aromatic grape that’s usually found in central Greece and this one comes from the mountainous northwestern region of Amyndeon. It has a youthful yellow colour with green tints, and an attractive aroma of rose petals and lychee, then very full and green herb flavours on the palate. Fabulous with seafood mezze. 

Gavalas Katsano Santorini 2015, £24
Not many Brits will have the luxury of trying such rare grapes, so try it now, while you can. Both the grapes in this dry white, 85 per cent katsano and 15 per cent gaidouria, are related to Santorini’s supreme grape Assyrtiko. Bright yellow in colour with honeysuckle and citrus fruit characters and fresh and crisp thanks to its island coastal location, it’s a real pep up your palate white.

Gavalas Assyrtiko Santorini 2015, £20
It is said that this wine comes from the oldest vineyard in Greece, at a whopping 500 years old. This dry assyrtiko has a lovely concentration and depth of flavour, being bright with citrus intensity, vibrant with a sea salt breeziness and a long-lasting finish.

Domaine Spiropoulos Mantinia Organic Moschofilero 2016, £14
Here’s another perky native variety, moschofilero, which is a pink-skinned grape usually found on Greece’s Peloponnese peninsula, as with this wine. Think of it as Greece’s answer to muscat, because it champions that flower blossom prettiness and white pepper spice so well. This domaine version is organic.