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Inspired stories about wine and taste makers.
By L.M. Archer, FWS | Bourgogne ML
The first Friday of every month through 2016, I’ve invited some of my fellow wine writers the opportunity to join me here on binNotes | red Thread™ to shine a light on a rare, obscure, or under-appreciated wine region for which they feel a special passion.
This month I’m excited to introduce a new voice to the wine writing world – Demetra Molina. This spunky, brilliant-hued Millennial, WSET wine student, social media guru, and lifestyle blogger at Boozy Life schooled me on Finger Lakes garagiste wine makers at WBC15 FLX , so I couldn’t wait for her to share her other passion here – Greek wines.
Guest Wine Writer Series | № 9 | Beyond Retsina
7 reasons You Should be Drinking Greek Wines
by Demetra Molina
I am the first generation, American born daughter of a proud Greek immigrant father. My dad, along with his parents and a younger brother, emigrated to the United States when he was a young pre-teen. I was raised on and with Hellenic culture, stories, and especially the flavors of their home country. Red and white wines (often homemade by a friend of a friend) were an ever-present staple during meals, along with laughter, feta, and olives. I grew up with Greek wines, and didn’t realize that I had a distinct advantage in knowing that wine is a very intuitive part of any culture. Wine is served, but it also serves to enhance the food, the conversation, and ultimately, life. My grandmother (that I’m named after) always had room at her table, food to share, hospitality to give.
As an adult, I realized that my exposure to Greek wine was something relatively unique. Unlike Italy and other Mediterranean areas also suited to viticulture, Greece had not kept up with the international wine trade business. Thousands of different grape varieties, scattered throughout mountains and villages, made it difficult to zero in on a focus. During the mid 1970’s, Retsina wine was pushed to the forefront as the specialty of Greece, and the international marketing campaign and exporting unfortunately stuck. To this day, the pitchy, pine sap flavored white wine is most often the reflex response to the question, “Have you ever tried any Greek made wines?” That, and a scrunched up nose of mild disdain.
Despite a terribly challenging economic climate with international debt and trade issues, Greece’s exporters are working hard to bring distinctive, high quality wines to the world marketplace. Here are seven reasons to search out and experience Hellenic wines–virtually (all) free of pine resin….you’ll be glad you did:
1. The Greeks have been growing grapes and making wine for over four thousand years. Wine was used for barter as well as for trade currency in ancient times. The Greek God Dionysus was the God of grape harvest, winemaking, and fertility. Historically, Ancient Greek grape growers even had appellation designations before such a thing scientifically existed. Indigenous grapes are still grown in these areas, along with other well-known modern grape varieties such as Merlot and Syrah.
2. Not every Greek white wine tastes like pine resin! Retsina is a white wine, made mainly of the delicate, floral Assyrtiko grape blend, and the recipe originated from the ancient Romans. The white wine was found to last longer if it was preserved with pine tree wood and pitch. The pine flavors infused the wine and became the aggressive main tasting note. While supposedly lovely with the right food pairings, I have never been much of a fan. The flavor is mainly from the pine, not from the grapes, and is the definition of “acquired taste.”
3. The Xinomavro grape, of Naoussa, Macedonia is an earthy, dominant red wine grape native to northern Greece. (KSEE-No Mahv-ro) Do not be afraid of a grape based on scary spelling! This red grape (xino means sour or acid, mavro means black) is sometimes compared to creating wine akin to an Italian Barolo style red. Dry, fruity, ruby-red in color, these food and often wallet friendly wines have notes of red berry, olive, and sage. Look for some lovely dry rosés made with Xinomavro as well, following the popularity of the ‘drink pink’ trend. (Thymiopoulos Vineyards Young Vines Xinomavro 2012, $23. Lighter/Medium body. Ripe red fruit, dry with a balanced fresh acidity, herbal finish with kalamata olive notes.)
4. The Assyrtiko grape, is a white grape indigenous to the island of Santorini. The grape vines are trained to grow into a basket or bird nest style, low to the ground to protect the vines and grapes from the strong ocean winds. Planted in volcanic soil rich with ash and nutrients, some of these vines are upwards of fifty years old and still producing. These white wine grapes are sometimes blended (such as in Retsina) to balance out their higher acidity. Assyrtiko is sometimes compared to a Sauvignon Blanc, but with a more saline notes from the ocean air. Fantastic with seafood, this pairing works perfectly with a Mediterranean diet of citrus, olive oil, fresh produce, and all manner of delicacies from the Aegean Ocean. (Greek Wine Cellars Assyrtiko 2013, $19. Fresh, lemon and citrus nose with light floral notes, saline and a light salt combine with clean acids.)
5. Almost all Greek wines are made to go with foods enjoyed during the enjoyment of living every day life. A mezze afternoon/evening, or “family style” meal, will have vegetables, dips, olives, feta, seafood, grilled meats, breads, all over a sitting of hours. Wines were often made by the men of the village, specifically to enhance and add to local flavors. The Mediterranean climate is hospitable to a variety of grapes in many different microclimates, and wine regions vary greatly in seemingly small distances. Several, like on the island of Santorini, are protected areas for grapes that originated and still flourish there.
6. Greek wine was often made in the garagiste style, very small batch, to be consumed locally and not exported. Flavor profiles varied by region and preference. Luckily, as the international marketplace has advanced, these smaller vintners (and the larger, for that matter) are finding outlets for their wine on a worldwide scale. Xinomavro reds are enjoying a renaissance as one of Europe’s most quaffable and economically priced value wines.
7. Hellenic wines are gaining recognition with wine drinkers that are willing to be a bit more adventurous. Distribution in larger areas, such as New York’s Astoria, has given the green flag to major NYC dining establishments looking to enhance their wine lists. Diners and patrons want something different, but are looking towards the past for the future. Organic vegetables, locally sourced meats, and seasonal menus are on the rise everywhere. Why not look to ancient Greece for modern wines?
Whether out for dinner at the latest restaurant, or just perusing your local wine store, venture out of your normal comfort zone and try something different! Greek wines are delicious, versatile, and quite easy on the wallet. Yamas and Yasou! Good luck and enjoy the journey.
About the Author
When not in a classic RV touring North America, Demetra Molina writes about wine adventures, tattoo travel, and fun discoveries along the way on her lifestyle blog Boozy Life. She, along with her husband and two dogs, are currently in the process of relocating from the Finger Lakes region of Upstate NY to San Luis Obispo, California.
Story and images printed by permission of the author, Demetra Molina. Photo of Demetra Molina ©Stu Gallagher.
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