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Friday, November 02, 2007

Fine Greek Wine, More than just a Mythology Reference…

I stopped into one of my favorite little wine shops, Western Reserve Wines, on my trek out to Cleveland last week to taste a handful of newly released Greek wines. Every Saturday is a tasting day at the Western Reserve, featuring unique gems from regions such as Washington, Burgundy, Alsace, Champagne and the like. This past Saturday’s line up was not only one of their most adventurous, but perhaps their most surprising.

The wines of Greece have undergone a revolutionary fast track towards quality in the 21st century, with the past couple vintages receiving an abundant amount of favorable press from the Wine Spectator. While the word may be out, it has yet to strike a chord w/ the vast majority of the United States wine consuming public, and I, personally, have only a trivial amount of Greek experience under my belt to boast about. Although my Greek resume is small, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned with you.

While there are sparse plantings of French varietals on Greek soils, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Viognier, the native grapes are the ones receiving the buzz. Names like Moschofilero, Roditis, Assyrtiko and Agiorgitiko may be difficult to pronounce, but have demonstrated singular, rewarding character from their native soils. Three regions, in particular, have demonstrated success in producing native white varietal wines with distinctive perfume, lithe acidity and noble minerality. These regions include: the island of Rhodes (with the Athiri grape in particular), Mantinia (a northern district of the Peloponnese) with Moschofilero and Santorini. The heights that Santorini has already achieved, via the Assyrtiko grape, has confirmed my belief that this country can produce world class wines.

Santorini is not only a beautifully remote island getaway; it is a viticultural realm at the extreme limit of cultivation. Severely arid summer winds force vintners to reinforce the vines by wrapping them around baskets, which are protected in a basin of the island's volcanic soils. Yields are naturally minimal, but the best exposures of the island offer steep slopes with generous, southern exposures. Managing a Santorini vineyard is labor intensive and expensive, which leads me to believe that prices will likely rise quickly if the demand becomes more substantial. Santorini is demonstrating, much like the Mosel or Cote Rotie, that the rewards of severe viticulture can be rich, as evidenced by the character found in some of the island's top Assyrtiko bottlings.

The tasting consisted of four wines from Domaine Skouras and an Assyrtiko from Domaine Sigalas. Although I tasted a mere five wines that Saturday, I believe they encapsulate some of the diversity and potential that Greece possesses. Don't forget, this country has the richest, most storied tradition of wine growing on the planet. Perhaps they've still got a few from the vine up their sleeves....

2006 Domaine Sigalas, Santorini
A very perfumey, tightly knit Assyrtiko that slowly unfolds in the glass. Subtle suggestions of the exotic are juxtaposed to bee pollen, sliced apple skin and a smoky, gun flint note that pierces throughout the palate. The depth and length to this wine is as outstanding as the minerality is precise. This 2006 Sigalas is a very impressive; Grand Cru Chablis-like effort that should prove to not only endure, but evolve w/ grace, 91+ points. This is the finest dry white I’ve tasted from Greece. Sigalas also makes a barrel fermented version, which demands additional bottle age to unfold its lovely varietal character.

2006 Domaine Skouras White Peloponnese
This is the lowest tier cuvee that Skouras makes and it certainly does not fain any sense of sincerity. This inexpensive white (priced around 8 dollars) is intended for summer quaffing, offering up clean and breezy aromatics that are a touch soft, but certainly refreshing with a crystalline purity in its purpose. Delicious, if not complex, 83 points.

2006 Domaine Skouras Moschofilero
A dead ringer for a Viognier in the nose, this Moschofilero shouts out peachy, tropical notes that are supported by additional dimensions of pineapple and coconut in the in the palate. A ripe, but defined example of the grape that shows demonstrates the importance of cut with its ample acidity, 87 points. What interested me most about this wine was that nearly all Moschofilero expressions I’d had before were full of citrus notes and briny minerality that screamed for shellfish. This grape certainly has versatility and offers intriguing dynamics when planted in different sites.

The following two reds come from the Agiorgitiko grape.

2004 Domaine Skouras St. George Nemea
Out of the two red cuvees Skouras makes, this is the lower end, more moderately priced version. The aromatics of this red were lacking in inspiration, but the palate made up for what the nose missed out on. Notes of bitter toffee, smoky plum and pepper notes are wonderfully lifted and supple in the mouth, allowing a clear sense of minerality to sweep the body through to the finish. The acidity of the grape is a tad higher than most reds and the skins are somewhat thinner, allowing for greater transparency of site, 85+ points.

2003 Domaine Skouras Grand Cuvee Nemea
The best of the lot goes into the ‘Grand Cuvee,’ and this ’03 was mighty impressive. The aromas were so much more compelling than that of its younger sibling, evoking a dazzling array of graphite, ripe strawberry, damp earth, chocolate and sweet tobacco. Riper, more generous and even more defined in the mouth, this Agiorgitiko reminds me of a hypothetical blend of a Barbera’s texture with the perfume and acidity of a Nebbiolo. Both of these examples from Skouras showcase detailed minerality, crunchy acidity and soft tannins. Should be excellent with food, 89+ points.


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