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Greeks bearing vines

Referring to the wooden horse full of soldiers that led to the destruction of the city of Troy, Virgil, a Roman writer, quotes one of his protagonists saying something really scary in Latin which we now simply translate as “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.”

Hah! Don’t you believe it!

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Greek wines This Magnificent Life
Small but perfectly formed vineyard on Samos

That was over 2000 years ago when many of the Mediterranean civilisations had been beating each other up for centuries.

Greek Wines This Magnificent Life
Blue sky, old temples, fresh young wines; where else could you be?

Today in Australia we are happy to receive the many gifts the Greeks have brought us over the years.

Slow roasted lamb with lemon and rosemary, anyone?

Spanokopita, feta, haloumi, dolmades, souvlaki, tzatziki, mousaka, baklava … we are all now familiar with these delicious dishes. Cities and towns right across our young land have traditional Greek restaurants to seduce our senses and fill our tummies.

Unfortunately we are less familiar with the wines that go with that food.

A wide wine land

Some of us have gargled on a pitcher of pungent retsina while holidaying on a Greek island and wondered if a cool beer might be a better accompaniment. Nothing wrong with a frosty Alpha, Fix or Mythos.

But Greece is a big and varied country from the rugged islands in the blue-watered south to the steep and green mountains of the north and the locals have been cultivating grapes and stomping them many thousands of years before the time of that Roman chap and his warnings.

Greek Wines This Magnificent Life
Well you could be tasting on an island, instead of Athens

No bottles back then, goatskins or clay amphorae were the preferred methods of packaging and modern tipplers probably would not have enjoyed the stuff … sweetish and oxidized, but it did the trick and was lustily celebrated by gods such as Dionysus and Bacchus.

Since then, as in many Mediterannean countries, the majority of wines have been made in villages or even single households and drunk within a few hundred metres of where they were grown.

No wonder we knew nothing about them.

Welcome the modern wines

All that is changing and our eyes are being opened. The New Wines of Greece is a travelling show heading our way to present the myriad varieties and flavours this ancient land now has to offer.

The names of the varieties will be your first challenge. Although some modern Greek winemakers are experimenting with names you know like cabernet and sauvignon blanc, most of the grapes will be as tongue-twisting as the wines are enjoyable.

Greek wines This Magnificent Life
The Assyrtiko grape makes the delicious wines of Santorini

Assyrtiko will probably be your star. This is the white grape of the island of Santorini tasting crisp and dry, something like a pinot grigio. Spectacularly refreshing on its home island it stands up well to travel. Just close your eyes and think of sunshine on white and blue.

Other whites are Athiri (a bit like a riesling), Aidani, Malagousia and the richer fruitier Vidiano.

Greek Wines This Magnificent Life
Greece produces an amazing selection of reds you’ve never heard of

Reds? Yes, Agiorghitiko (think lighter reds like merlot), Xinomavro (much weightier and serious), Mandilaria and Mavrodaphne.

They come to you from all over Greece, from the small touristy islands of the Aegean and Ionian, way up in the mainland hills and the big islands of Rhodes and Crete.

Don’t try to remember them. Enjoy the tasting and take notes of the labels you like. You should be wanting to buy more in the future.

ps You may be able to try some modern retsinas, lighter on the pine resin, just a whiff to remind you of those pungent old days.

The New Wines of GreeceThis Magnficent Life

Consumer Dinners:

Aqua Dining

When:6.30pm on Tuesday, 21 June

Where: Paul Street & Northcliff Street, Milsons Point

Bookings: or (02) 9964 9998

Price: $95 per person – four courses with matched wines


When: 7pm on Friday, 24 June

Where: 81 Burke Road, Camberwell

Bookings: or (03) 9882 8877

Price: $100 per person

Here are the Trade & Media venue details:


When:        Monday, 20 June

Where:       Establishment

252 George Street, Sydney

Details:       Trade tasting and masterclasses


When:        Thursday, 23 June

Where:       The Westin Hotel

205 Collins Street, Melbourne

Details:       Trade tasting and masterclasses

For more info and to make bookings for master classes and dinners stir your adventurous spirit and go to

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Ian MacTavish

Mr MacTavish is a celebrated writer and one of Australia's more respected Wine reviewers, appearing regularly in national magazines, in print and on line. So far, he has never been heard to say 'no' to a wee dram.

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