We all have our travel stories but when it comes to Greece, mine is shorter than most, due to the sum total of my time there being half a day on Khios, birthplace of Homer and the closest point to Turkey. Not that I knew any of those details when visiting as a young backpacker. We had caught the ferry across the Strait of Cesme after weeks spent playing backgammon, drinking Turkish tea and duty free gin, visiting mind-blowing monuments, such as the library at Ephesus, and quiet rural beaches where a freshly grilled fish cost $1. And one day we decided to take the boat to Greece.
The island of Khios is large and the port was touristy, so we wandered around stone lined streets before eating a lunch of lamb chops, washed down with half a carafe of retsina. Then we got the boat back to Turkey.
As we looked back at the fifth largest Greek island, we wondered why we hadn’t stayed longer.
I wondered the same thing this week when I visited again, only this time it was in my glass, due to the arrival of 12 Greek wines from David Prescott, owner of Wine and More in Albany on Auckland’s north shore. He’s a friend of a friend and asked if I would write about these interesting wines, which are new in New Zealand. So, here goes.
Facts about Greek wine…
The Greeks have one of the longest histories of winemaking on Earth. Evidence suggests wine was made in Greece from the 7th century BC.
Today there are 110,000 hectares of vines in Greece; approximately three times that grown in New Zealand.
Vines grow as far south as Crete and north at Goumenissa, near the Macedonian border.
About 70% of the wine made in Greece today is white and includes international grape varieties, such as Sauvignon Blanc.
Traditional Greek grape varieties dominate, such as Xinamavro – a high acid black grape grown mostly in the north and also in the foothills of Mount Olympus. Wines made from Xinamavro can age extremely well and it was a key ingredient in one of the best wines in this tasting.
Where to buy Greek wine in New Zealand
These wines are imported by Taste Greece Food Trading Ltd in Auckland, New Zealand, phone +64 9 415 9017. www.tastegreece.co.nz
They are available online from Wine and More in Auckland and online: wineandmore.co.nz/
The wine tasting
The majority of wines here are made from grape varieties as foreign as the Greek alphabet is to many of us.
They were also mostly sealed with cork, so it was no surprise to find a mixed bag of quality here from the sublime to the faulty.
Of the 12 bottles here, one was sealed with a screw cap, two with plastic stoppers, two other bottles had strong aromas of cork taint (TCA, trichloranisole) and two had pronounced reduction (both cork sealed), which was modified after pouring into a copper bowl, which made them cleaner and fruitier.
Scores out of 20 listed at end of each tasting note.
2014 Santo Wines Santorini Assyrtiko $29.99, 13% ABV
Assyrtiko is a top quality Greek white grape, which originates on the volcanic island of Santorini and is used mostly to make dry, full bodied and fresh, zesty flavoured wines, such as this – one of the top three in this lineup. It’s full bodied with tangy fresh flavours of ripe yellow fruit. 18/20
Cavino Retsina of Attika $15.99, 11.5% ABV
This retsina is made in the traditional style, which means it had natural pine resin added, as is standard practice for this historically important wine style. It is pale lemon with the unusual dry grass and eucalypt aromas that can characterise retsina. It also has notes of astringent green herbs and a drying finish.
Retsina can be a challenging category for many wine drinkers who may not prefer wines with added flavours, but it’s intriguing that it is still made and appears to retain a following within Greece. 16/20
Ionos Rose $15.99, 11.5% ABV – screw cap closure
This pale pink wine was the only wine of the line up sealed with a screwcap and has straightforward fruity flavours of strawberries, rhubarb and red roses, which may imply sweetness but this is dry wine with a light body and light finish. It’s a fresh drink-now style. Not intended for future ageing. 16/20
2014 Tsantali Kanenas Odyssey Rhapsody Mavroudi Syrah $24.99 12.5% ABV
Pale ruby with an orange hue and strong aromas of burnt rubber, high tannins and high acidity, a light body and drying finish, all of which suggest oxidation – a shame, but this wine had lost all sense of freshness and fruit forward flavours. A different bottle of this may reveal a very different wine but there was little to redeem here. No score – faulty.
2013 Tsantali Metoxi Chromitsa Limnio Cabernet Sauvignon $25.99, 13.5% ABV
Two grapes – Greece’s Limnio with France’s Cabernet Sauvignon – were blended to make this dry, full bodied, black wine with flavours of redcurrant, black olives and dried rosemary – classic Cabernet Sauvignon from a warm climate, which successfully blends here with Limnio – originally from the island of Lemnos in the northern Aegean sea. This wine has the backbone to age for 9-10 years, maybe longer. 17/20
2008 Cavino Nemea Grand Reserve $24.99
This is a big wine made from a low yielding vineyard of Agiorgitiko (red grape) grown in Nemea on the Peleponnese Peninsula in the south of Greece. It’s bone dry, full bodied and smooth, thanks to 24 months raging in oak. It drinks well now or soon. 17.5/20
2009 Tsantali Rapsani Grande Reserve $39.99, 13.5% ABV
Three Greek grapes were blended to make this deep ruby coloured, full bodied, mellow red wine – Xinamavro, Krassato and Stavroto, a combo that makes this intensely tannic red one of my top wines of this line up, with its rich flavours of ripe raspberries, black olives, dried figs, prunes and tart black cherries. A great drink now at 6 years old, with potential (big but smooth tannins) to further evolve for another 4 to 5 years. 18.5/20
2012 Tsantali Rapsani Vin Rouge $21, 13% ABV
This bottle was unfortunately suffering from pronounced musty aromas and astringent, dried out flavours with strong flavours of traditional TCA – aka cork taint. No score – faulty wine.
2015 Tsantali Metoxi Chromitsa Assyrtiko Sauvignon $24, 12% ABV
Dry, citrusy and intensely succulent, this juicy white is made from two the traditional high quality Greek white grape, Assyrtiko, which is blended with Sauvignon Blanc. Their combined presence on the front label adds a strong marketing interest in the wine, which is supported by the intense flavours of green fruit, citrus fruit and balanced but high acidity. The wine has a light body and a long finish. It drinks well now or can hold for another two to three years, which will enable it to retain its straightforward fruit appeal. 18/20
2011 Cavino Nemea Reserve $20, 13% ABV
From Nemea in the Peloponnese Peninsula, this was made 100% from the red grape, Agiorgitiko. It’s dry, full bodied with high acidity (which adds freshness), medium smooth tannins, intense ruby colour and pronounced flavours of red fruit, smoked wood, smoked mushrooms and savoury, earthy appeal. It’s very smooth, very velvety and shows Greek red wine in a stunning light. 18.5/20
2010 Domain Mega Spileo Grand $39.99, 13.5% ABV
Two Greek grapes were blended to make this wine: Mavrodafne (60%) with Mavro Kalavritino (40%), which were grown at between 780 to 880 metres altitude, which accounts from the noticeably stalky green aromas in this youthful dry and full bodied red, which needs another 2 to 3 years to come into its own. 16.5/20
Cavino Patras Mavrodafini $20, 15% ABV
This high octane, 15% alcohol red is made from the Greek Mavrodafne grape and lives up to its front label’s description as a sweet red wine; its pale ruby colour and aromas of honey, toffee and caramelized brown sugar give it a strong similarity to a southern French vin doux naturels, sans the strong aromatic flavours of muscat-based sweet wines. It’s full bodied, sweet with a medium finish. 17.5/20