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So old, but so new: magnificent red wines from Greece

It may seem paradoxical to view Greece as an emerging wine producer, given the ancient lineage of its vines and wine production.

But in the world market for fine wines, this is exactly how Greece should be seen.

It’s not about how long a country or region has maintained a wine-making culture, but how long ago its bottles started appearing in remote parts of the planet.

By this standard, it is only in the last 20 years or so that the rest of the world has had the opportunity to learn firsthand the beauty of wines from Greece, or, for that matter, other cultures ancient vineyards, as in the Caucasus. and, in fact, lesser-known regions of France, Italy, Spain and Portugal.

With Greece, and especially in the case of its red wines, 20 years can be an exaggeration. Finding Greek red wines in New York even 15 years ago would have required a trip to Astoria, Queens, a Greek enclave where wine merchants would cater as best they could to the tastes of their local clientele and recent immigrants.

Often times this meant the kind of straightforward tavern wines that had long dominated wine production in Greece. These wines had only recently found their way into individual bottles, rather than the traditional demijohns in which they had long been sold locally. A few more ambitious bottles could accumulate dust on the shelves for years until a curious soul pops a cork, to find a sad, oaky, oxidized wine.

So much has changed, and so quickly. In February, while shopping online at a handful of Manhattan wine stores, I was able to find 12 gorgeous Greek reds without leaving my office (although trust me I would give anything these days for an in-person shopping experience).

What could explain this evolution?

“The pursuit of quality rarely goes hand in hand with the quest for survival,” Konstantinos Lazarakis noted in his authoritative book “The Wines of Greece” (Infinite Ideas, 2018).

In other words, during the last third of the 20th century, Greece had to develop an economy prosperous enough to support both a quality-oriented wine industry and consumers willing to pay for these wines. This has been accomplished and continues, despite the financial crisis of the past decade that has so desperately afflicted Greece.

On the contrary, said Lazarakis, the financial crisis has helped Greek wine producers try to sell their wines internationally as the financial crisis has reduced what had been a thriving domestic market.

In a sense, Greece finds itself in a similar situation to what happened in Italy and Spain, although it has lagged behind by several years. In these countries, lesser-known regions needed to develop confidence in their native grape varieties and traditions, as well as an infrastructure that would allow them to send the best examples of these bottles to faraway places.

The process is not fast and can be slowed down even further by producers trying to emulate styles that seem to be successful in international markets. We’ve seen this in Greece, with plantations of popular red varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, used to produce powerful, oaky wines. We have seen the same in Italy and Spain.

Just as these countries have gained confidence in their own traditional varieties, so has Greece. Each of the 12 wines I have selected is made from Greek grapes like xinomavro and agiorgitiko, which the rest of the world has come to know, and a few like mavrodaphne, mandilaria, limniona and vlahiko, which the global consumers may know for years to come.

Greece even has a nascent natural wine culture, motivated as much by the revival of traditional practices as by working with fewer chemicals in the vineyard and less intervention in the cellar.

These bottles, identified by questing importers like Eklektikon and DNS Wines, among others, are among the most interesting. But like most natural wines, they are made in small quantities, so it is difficult to find them.

My 12 selections are far from the only Greek reds to discover. Different regions of the United States and other parts of the world will have other bottles available. If you can’t find these wines, you can check out a previous article on Greek reds. Or, if you prefer whites, the Greek selection is excellent and more widely distributed.

If you can’t find any bottles, remember these are the first stages of Greek reds. I am sure that the selection of good, distinctive Greek wines will only grow.

Here are the 12 bottles that spoke to me, in order from low price to high.

Gaia 2019 Agiorgitiko Peloponnese Monograph $ 14

This juicy, inexpensive and laid back wine is a great introduction to the world of Greek reds from Gaia, one of Greece’s leading producers. Gaia has two wineries, one in Santorini, which makes excellent whites, and the other in Nemea in the Peloponnese, which focuses on reds and retsina. This bottle is made entirely from the Agiorgitiko grape, one of the most common grape varieties in Greece. It’s simple and it goes down easily. (Winebow / Craft & Estate, New York)

Stilianou Crete Great Mother Red Mandilaria 2018 20 $

Mandilaria is one of the main native grape varieties of Crete, where Giannis Stilianou grows outside of the city of Heraklion. The grape is known to produce deeply colored and fiercely tannic wines, but this wine is ruby ​​in color and not at all mellow or astringent. Which give? It macerates on the skin for a single day, almost like a rosé, before fermenting. Mr. Stilianou works naturally, so nothing is added to this wine beyond a tiny amount of sulfur dioxide. The result is an honest expression without intermediaries, slightly fruity, earthy and delicious. (Eklektikon, Wilmington, Del.)

Glinavos Estate Ioannina Vlahiko 2018 $ 22

Ioannina is found in northwest Greece, in the region of Epirus, west of Thessaly and bordering Albania. Glinavos, which produced its first wines in 1960, was one of the first small wine producers in this region, dominated by cooperatives. This wine is made from two local grape varieties, vlahiko and a smaller amount of bekari. It’s fresh, spicy and juicy, beautifully balanced, with lots of peppery fruit flavors. (DNS Wines / T. Elenteny, New York)

Diamantis Siatista Moschomavro 2018 $ 22

Siatista is located in a mountainous region in western Macedonia, where the Diamantis family has long cultivated grapes. They grow xinomavro and moschomavro, a lesser-known red grape that was often used to make sweet wines. This one, however, is dry, crisp, and delicious; with juicy, well-concentrated aromas and flavors of flowers, red berries and herbs. (DNS Wines / T. Elenteny)

Sant’Or Patra Krasis 2018 $ 24

This wine, from the Patra region in the Peloponnese, is made from the mavrodaphni grape variety, long associated with sweet and fortified wines. But this bottle is dry, light and fruity, almost like a pinot noir. Because it is dry, however, the name of the grape is not allowed on the label. Panagiotis Dimitropoulos, the owner of Sant’Or, cultivates biodynamically and without irrigation. In the cellar, it works naturally, adding very little sulfur dioxide to the wines. (Eklektikon)

Zafeirakis estate Tyrnavos Limniona 2017 $ 25

This wine has been a favorite of mine for at least five years, and it illustrates the sometimes precarious situation of native grapes all over the world as they can easily be squeezed out by more well-known varieties, especially when the goal is to sell. internationally. Christos Zafeirakis, the owner, almost single-handedly resuscitated limniona by planting it in the Tyrnavos region of Thessaly in 2000. Others joined him, and it’s easy to see why. In the hands of Mr. Zafeirakis, the limniona makes a spicy, juicy, agile, fine wine, with floral, herbaceous and spicy flavors. In his book “The Wines of Greece”, M. Lazarakis compares limniona to mencía, the main red grape from Ribeira Sacra, and to Bierzo in northwestern Spain. It’s a very good call. (DNS Wines / T. Elenteny)

Kontozisis Vineyards Karditsa Sun Red 2015 $ 25

Kontozisis is an organic producer in Karditsa, in the southern part of the Thessaly region. Sun Red is a simple dry red made with equal parts of xinomavaro and limniona. It’s an auspicious blend, with the graceful and elegant limniona pairing well with the more tannic and potent xinomavro. This wine is rich, earthy and deeply flavored, with a pleasant grip that will pair well with steaks and other grilled meats. (Eklektikon)

Kir-yianni Naoussa Ramnista Xinomavro 2016 $ 27

This exceptional xinomavro comes from Kir-Yianni, one of the main estates of Greece, located in the Naoussa region of Macedonia. It is well balanced with deep flavors of black fruit, licorice and herbs, an accent of oak and fine tannins. He’s polite and modern, but not in the sense that his Greek identity is fuzzy. (Diamond Wine Importers, Chicago)

Sclavos Aenos Orgion tracks 2017 $ 29

It is a fascinating wine from the slopes of Aenos, on the island of Kefalonia in the Ionian Sea, where the Sclavos family has been cultivating biodynamically since the 1980s. Like Sant’Or, it is made from the mavrodaphne grape, traditionally used. for the production of sweet red wines. This is a dry red and therefore it is not allowed to use the name of the grape on the label, hence the property name Orgion. It could not be more different from Sant’Or, flavored with tobacco, intensely herbaceous and reminiscent of a Médoc. Delicious! Try it with lamb chops. (DNS Wines / T. Elenteny)

Sigalas Estate Cyclades Mandilaria / Mavrotragano 2018 30 $

Sigalas is perhaps better known for its white wines than for its red wines. But he was one of the main Greek defenders of the mavrotragano grape, a red grape native to Santorini, which was slowly disappearing. If he’s starting to gain attention now, it’s because of wines like this. In this bottle, the mavrotragano represents 60% of a mixture with the mandilaria. Together they produce a bright and fresh red scented with wild berries, citrus fruits and herbs. (Importers of diamond wines)

Vaimaki family Mater Natura 4 Xinomavro 2009 40 $

Vasilis Vaimakis buys grapes in Macedonia only from organically grown vineyards, and this wine, with no added sulphites, is certainly considered a natural wine. The wines in his Mater Natura series follow a staggered numbering system in which the 2010 xinomavro was released before 2009. I don’t know what the logic is, but this wine, the current vintage at 11, is magnificent – rich, deep and dry, with aromas of plum and licorice and fine tannins that are barely felt. It is made in small quantities, so it will be difficult to find. But a wine like this demonstrates the aging potential of this excellent grape. (Eklektikon)

Domaine Tatsis Macedonia Xinomavro Old Roots 2016 $ 40

This is another superb xinomavro, made from grapes from old vines cultivated in biodynamics. It’s complex and bright, with a deep licorice flavor accented by citrus and herbal flavors that seem to be soaring in all directions. It is a wine worth considering, which can be tasted now or aged to see where it will go. (DNS Wines / T. Elenteny)

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