A long, long time ago most ports in the Mediterranean witnessed the arrival of the biremes and triremes of the ancient Greeks.
Depending on whether you were friend or foe, you may have caught up with the crew to crack an amphora of the wines they carried below decks.
We are a couple of thousand years too late to enjoy a goblet or two.
Not any more.
Today, the men and women behind the Wines Of Greece are ensuring we make up for lost time and lost toasts.
For the fourth year they have brought their Wines of Greece Roadshow and Masterclasses to this country.
Presenting in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney they recently gave us another opportunity to take in the flavours of some fabulous wines previously foreign to us and also to listen to the passion and erudition of Yiannis Karakasis Master of Wine.
In his introduction, he patiently reminded us of the nuances at play in the modern Greek symphony of wine, composed as it is of many unknown, and some familiar, instruments. From the quiet green valleys of the north to the well-known much-visited stony islands of the south, the soil, the climate and the rainfall tune the grape varieties, ancient and modern, into variations on themes whose discovery excites us in this modern world.
Yiannis describes his country’s wines as being far away from the mainstream. The solid central current carrying France, Italy and Spain whose wines and influence are everywhere. “We are not pop music,” he says, “we are Jazz music.”
In Australia we are very proud to have some of the oldest producing vines in the world, well over 100 years, but in parts of Greece there are some that have been offering their grapes for 3 to 400 years.
There is a lot to learn. A lot to appreciate. Here are some first steps on the journey to discover the Wines of Greece.
We taste the wines. Whites first.
First up a complete surprise. From Zoinos Winery the Zitsa Classico 2016 , from a tiny region on the mainland not far from Corfu in the Ionian Sea. The grape is Debina an elegant white with lemony, green apple flavours. Crisp and fresh in the mouth, it would be perfect with fresh seafood.
Next the Ampeloeis Winery Malagousia 2017. A very different white grape. This one is open hearted, floral and generous. A huge bouquet of ripe peaches and flowers. Medium bodied with moderate acidity. A real crowd pleaser beside chicken or pork dishes.
There followed three wines made from the Assyrtiko grape, the noblest Greek variety said to have originated on the island of Santorini, which today produces the benchmark examples. We are to taste how results vary depending on the terroir.
The first is Ktima Pavlidis Emphasis Assyrtiko 2017. This comes from way up on the mainland at Drama. The mainland wines are usually fruitier with less minerality than their island cousins. This is charming and sherbety with gently sweet fruit. A fine wine with subtlely sauced seafood dishes or Mediterranean salads.
Next the Tselepos Estate Santorini 2017. A gentle nose, shy and seductive, but it blossoms in the mouth, floral and flavourful but still fine and pure The Greeks may have known this taste for over 3000 years. Pour it generously with chicken and roast potatoes.
The Sigalas Santorini Barrel 2017. “My favourite” says Iannis, “The best of Santorini.” This is a much more serious wine, spending 6-9 months in French oak barrels, 30% new, the rest second or third year.
Not a huge nose, but an assured richness and complexity of fruit with a touch of firmness from the oak. It should age many years.
This wine is priced around $70 today, but may become even more of a luxury. Not long go there were 3000 acres of vineyards on Santorini, but they have been built on by the hotel-hungry tourist trade. There are only 1100 today. The quality is still there but scarcity now plays a part.
Oh well, there are less expensive examples and they all have an exotic allure. Settle on a beach with a bottle or two and some octopus grilling in front of you. Heaven.
Reds coming up.
A modest easy-going start. From a beautiful isolated area right in the middle of the mainland, the Messenicola grape is blended with 15% Syrah and 15% Carignan. A dusty little number but firm and positive. Medium bodied with a soft follow through. ‘A lunch wine’ we are told. It would be fine with kebabs on the barbie.
Domaine Skouras St George Nemea 2015.
This is 100% Agiorgitiko, a famously fruity red from Nemea on the Peleponnese. It is a mid weight wine that has a nice balance of fruit, firmness and complexity. Great with grilled or roast lamb or tomatoey pastas.
Ktima Biblia Chora Areti 2010
Also 100% Agiorgitiko but from Pangeon, 500 miles north and with a measure of age to influence the picture. This is a sharper wine, more extractive and savoury with noticeable tannins. Definitely a food wine … red meats and game.
From the Xinomavro grape, the quintessential red wine, you can picture Dionysus with an overflowing goblet of this. Bright red colour, savoury fruits, lovely texture, well managed tannins. “Not too serious, but worthy of respect.” A bottle beside every steak or lamb shank.
Kir Yianni Ramnista 2015
Again all Xinomavro, again from Naoussa in the mountains of the north. A grander expositon of this grape, with careful oak maturation making it suitable for ageing. Savoury red fruits with firm tannins, an excellent pairing for all red meats and game.
Thanks again to the Greek winemakers who make the journey to show us their precious works. There is a lot to learn for us Downunder and maybe not many will take the time. The wines are different to our shiraz and sauvignon blanc palates and we would need to pay attention. But that is the world of wine. Well worth the journey to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield. So much to enjoy.