I’ve never been hungrier after a Wine Talk: Greek Wines

Posted July 13, 2016

Stacy Brody

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More than any other, our recent Wine Talk Wednesday on the wines of Greece made my mouth water.... and it wasn't only the acidity of the wines.

 

Greek cuisine is all about fresh food: seafood caught off the coast just minutes ago, olive groves that stretch to the horizon and aromatic herbs freshly picked. On the Greek table, at every meal, there is a marriage of delectable food and wine.

 

And Greeks are as proud of their wine as they are of their food.

 

At least one Greek man is.

 

Sotiris Bafitis has been importing Greek wines for over 20 years now, bringing to the states the best selections from Greece's artisan estates. You may find him making sheep’s milk feta one day after he quits the wine business. That may be our next chapter. In the meantime, he showcases the best wines his home country has to offer.

 

Sotiris got started in his 20s. He was born in the states and grew up in Greece, fishing off the coast and pressing olives. “Our (Greek) olive oil is exceptional,” he says. No one, Italian, Spanish, Chilean or otherwise took the opportunity to debate this. There was no official olive oil challenge on this particular evening to prove his claim. Making the audience (and myself) quite envious, Sotiris continued to expound on the unrivaled deliciousness of fresh seafood and sea urchins, olive oil and wines. He, like many other Geeks, grew up eating "slow food" and came to take it for granted.

 

So it was a bit of a shock when he came back to the states for his college education. He immediately took notice of the dearth of good Greek wines (and also of good Greek food) stateside. He wondered why none of the Greek wines he loved ever made it to the states

 

He wondered for a short while.

 

Then decided he could be the man to fix the problem. At least with regard to the lack of good Greek wines. Though he still thinks there’s not enough Greek feta being made. Again, that may be our next installment.

 

Through four selections, Sotiris led us on an exploration of the grape varieties and wine regions of Greece. We discussed the unique cuisines of each region as well. I’ve never been hungrier after a Wine Talk.
 

  1. Santorini. From the sunburnt, windswept island of Santorini, we sampled a bright white wine made from the Assyrtiko grape. Assyrtiko on Santorini is like Cabernet in Napa, Riesling in Mosel, Pinot Noir in Burgundy. It’s perfectly suited to the unique terroir, not to mention the seafood-driven cuisine of the island. Santorini's climate is arid and windy, the soil volcanic and dry. There has been no phylloxera on the island, and there probably won't ever be due to the challenging soil composition. Many vines are therefore grown on their own roots whic reach down in the soil to grab deeply buried nutrients. A classic example of Santorini Assyrtiko, the 2015 Karamolegos Feredini Assyrtiko is refreshingly dry and mineral-driven, with a hint of salinity imparted by the surrounding sea. Undoubtedly, it pairs perfectly with the seafood entrees and briny cheeses served on Santorini. 

 

  1. To get away from the intense sun and sea breezes, we went north to Macedonia where we enjoyed a refreshing rose made from the indigenous variety Xinomavro. The 2015 Dio fili Xinomavro Rose is dry and refreshing - perfect for the muggy summer heat we have been trying our best to avoid with air conditioning. Driven by aromas and flavors of fresh red berries, this rose offers delicate sweet spice on the finish. In the north, the cuisine centers around sweet red peppers, mushrooms and slow braised meats. What grows together goes together.
    P.S. Barolo and Barbaresco drinkers may enjoy traditional red wines produced from Xinomavro (and at a fraction of the price of Barolo and Barbaresco). 
     

  2. Then back down south to the Peloponnese peninsula to get started on the reds in our sampling. First a Greek meets France encounter: the 2011 Antonopoulos Private Collection Red is a blend of the indigenous variety Mavrodaphne and the French grape Merlot. Winemaker Antonopoulos learned his craft in Bordeaux, France. Not only did he bring back the lessons of French winemaking, he also brought back French varieties, hence the Merlot. Aged in French barrique, this wine is gorgeous now, benefiting from decanting, and is a worthwhile, affordable cellar selection. 
     

  3. Lastly, staying within the Peloponnese region, another gorgeous wine, the 2014 Ktima Mitravelas Estate Red. This wine originates from Nemea, a red wine appellation in the northeastern corner of the peninsular. This wine is 100% Aghiorghitiko, a native red variety also known as St. George. This variety is the only one allowed in wines labeled Nemea. And, as with Assyrtiko in Santorini, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better terroir-to-grape match. The 2014 Ktima Mitravelas Estate Red is an extraordinary expression of the variety, with all the bells and whistles you can ask for - the raspberry note dominates pleasantly, with a surprising freshness and there’s a bit of oak on the finish. This wine is a perfect pairing for pork dishes. The regional specialty is pork cured in salt and olive oil. You can enjoy this wine now…. and 10 years from now. It’s another affordable cellar selection.

 

By the time the seminar came to a close, we were all anxious to get to Greece... or at least enjoy an authentic Greek meal.

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