Sure, a lot of Greek wines are hard to pronounce – mala-gou-what? But they are freaking delicious and you shouldn’t let a little thing like pronunciation get in the way of some good drinking! And during this frustratingly gross in-between-winter-and-spring time (enough already with the gray skies and cold weather!), these wines get me excited about cracking a bottle on my deck, awash in sunshine and warm breezes.
I recently went to a tasting of Greek wines (thank you Pure Wine Company) and was gobsmacked by how delicious they were. (Full disclosure: not all the wines below are represented by Pure Wine Company.) Before this tasting, my exposure to Greek wines had been somewhat limited to one big brand that I used to work with, so it was fun to taste a slew of Greek wines from several producers all over Greece. Ready to do a little Greek island wine hopping with me? Come on!
Malagousia (Mahl-a-goo-see-ya) – This crisp white wine from Thessaloniki in Northern Greece almost went extinct, until winery owner Evangelos Gerovassiliou rescued it from certain death! He was a student at the University of Thessaloniki in the 1970s, studying enology, when he came across a few Malagousia vines. He planted them, they thrived, and 1977 saw the first vintage of Malagousia in no-one-knows-how-many decades. Evangelos went on to plant Malagousia on his own estate in the 1980s, and he shared cuttings to help propagate this iconic Greek varietal. Today, Malagouisa is the #1 selling white wine in Greece and it represents 90 percent of Gerovassiliou’s entire production.
Gerovassiliou Malagousia 2016 – I loved this wine! It’s got medium-body, and a hint of oak. It’s fresh and sassy with zippy acids and notes of sunny yellow lemon, flowers and honey. The wine is juicy and crisp, and screams sunshine, blue skies and warm weather!
Assyrtiko (Aah – sear-tea-ko) This white grape is native to the island of Santorini – that idyllic island that rises from the blue Mediterranean Sea like a mesa dotted with bright, white buildings. While Santorini is Assyrtiko’s home, the grape is grown throughout Greece. Santorini’s volcanic soil means great minerality, and you’re also going to get fresh citrus notes and subtle nutty almond flavors.
This Tselepos Laoudia Santorini 2016 was aged in amphorae (big concrete vessels) and it was beautiful: zesty with fresh n’ fruity lemon peel, stone fruit and almonds.
Assyrtiko is traditionally fermented in stainless steel, unless it’s not – in which case the name changes! If you see a wine called Nykteri, that will be Assyrtiko that has been aged in oak. I really like it, because it softens the sharp acids of the grape a bit.
Fun Fact: The island of Santorini is really windy, so winemakers have devised a way to train the vines to grow lotto the ground, in a circular style, forming a sort of basket in which the grapes grow, to protect them from the winds. Cool, right?
Moschofilero (Mas – co – feel-ero) This dark pink grape makes a delicious dry white wine that is spicy, floral and fruity all at the same time. You’ll pick up aromatics of stone fruits like apricots and peaches as well as nuts – specifically almonds. It’s ridiculously drinkable – a classic “porch-pounder” if ever there was one). Please note the raging debate over spelling.
This Skouras Moscofilero 2016 is effing delicious. Full of bright fruit, zippy acids and no sweetness, this wine will make your mouth water for a Greek salad brimming with salty Feta cheese and black olives, oregano and ripe cherry tomatoes, or grilled shrimp, any type of cheese, or pasta with pesto or with butter and Parmesan.
Xinomavro (Zee-know-mavrow) Time for some reds! Xinomavro is a signature red grape of Greece and it’s a big boy – bursting with red and black fruits, pencil lead and leathery notes and tannins that can slap you in the face – in a good way. Xinomavro wines have been compared to Barolo wines – made from the Nebbiolo grape in Piedmont in northeast Italy – because of their powerful tannins and high acid levels.
I tasted the Valos 2014 wine from Domaine Katsaros (100 percent Xinomavro) and I had to hold on to the table. I got immediate aromatics of cherry pie filling with attitude. There was a sharp edge to it like someone sharpened their pencil over it. And yes, the tannins did wallop me. I immediately wanted a burger or barbecued ribs, because this wine wants to be friends with fatty foods like that.
Agiorgitiko (Ay-your-ee-tea-ko) This is the Greek workhouse of red wine. Agiorgitiko can be made into big, blockbuster reds sporting huge tannins, or softer reds, and of course, rosé (which gets it color from limited time spent with red grape skins during fermentation). As of 2012, Agiorgitiko became the most widely planted red wine grape in Greece.
This Areti 2015 from Biblia Hora Winery in Pangeon (Northern Greece) is 100 percent Agioritiko. It’s a powerful but elegant wine fueled with red and black fruits, zesty acids and sexy tannins. I want this with a braised lamb shank right now and with a grilled steak come summer time!
As you get start dreaming of sunshine and warmer days, think about drinking like a Greek. And I would write “Cheers” in Greek, but I Googled it and it’s a lost cause. So: Cheers!