‘Xinomavro’, ‘agiorgitiko’, ‘assyrtiko’, ‘moschofilero’, ‘malagouzia’. Tongue-twisters are the last thing you expect when you arrive at a wine tasting.
Learning new words, however, is part of the process of discovery, and those who participated in the Greek Wine Masterclasses presented in Sydney and Melbourne in the past couple of weeks seemed to be fascinated by the experience.
“There is a great interest in new wine,” says Yannis Karakasis, who delivered the masterclasses, along with Grigoris Michailos, leading the ‘New Wines of Greece’ roadshow in Australia. The showcase was organised by the Interprofessional Organisation of Vine And Wine of Greece, which brought 27 wine producers from Greece – both established and emerging – to Australia.
The two men are nicknamed ‘the Greek Commanders’, and their webpage (www.winecommanders.com) is a point of reference for the Greek wine community, making them ideal spokespersons for this venture.
“We have many high-profile professionals attending, who are very interested in tasting Greek wine,” says Yannis Karakasis.
“Most of them know next to nothing about Greek wine, they are still stuck in the retsina perception, this is why they are very excited by this tasting.
The average consumer is bored by the same tastes and needs a challenge. Greek wine can do that. We produce wine that goes well with many styles of cuisine – from the simplest to the most complicated dishes – while providing great value for money.
We tasted xinomavro during the masterclass, which is sold in Greece for €7-10 ($10-15) and is great after 15 years. How many wines from other countries in this price-range can do that?”
One of those familiar with Greek wine is David Lamb, who has been importing Greek wine since 2006, thus becoming an unofficial ambassador of the wine.
“It is very important, seeing producers set competition aside and join forces. It wouldn’t happen with other European producers,” he says of the roadshow, which has allowed him make “quite a few contacts and discover new wineries”.
As for the marketability of Greek wine, he believes that “its history alone can be a selling point, let alone its quality. People here are very interested in good food and wine,” he says, hopeful that this could be an important factor.
Eleni Blouchos, project manager of the ‘New Wines of Greece’ roadshow and masterclass, couldn’t agree more.
“Australia has a very healthy and mature wine market; it is experiencing a boom in gastronomy and gourmet restaurants, and the average Australian is a wine-drinker, open to Greek wine,” she says.
“Greece produces wine of high quality, in small quantities. Our strategy should start from that fact. Our aim is to enter a premium market, approaching experts and slowly expanding recognition of Greek wine.”
GREEK WINE IS A SLEEPER
Greek vineyards are found on diverse soil and terrain, at altitudes varying between sea level and often in excess of 1,000 metres. They are largely found on mountain and semi-mountainous terroirs and, to a much lesser degree, on terroirs of continental features.
In geographical terms, Greek vineyards are distinguished into those of northern Greece, central Greece (Attica included), Peloponnese and the Ionian Islands, the Aegean Sea islands and those of Crete. These regions are further subdivided into smaller ones, each with their own particular soil, climate, and topographical features – all of which, when combined with mainly native cultivars, give Greek wines their unique and diverse character.
Assyrtiko (Santorini) wines are rare and distinctive.
These wines are crafted from the indigenous assyrtiko grape, cultivated in some of the world’s oldest vineyards, dating back 3,500 years, on the volcanic island of Santorini. These terroir-driven wines have distinct characteristics structured on minerality and density and complement both seafood and meat dishes. They reflect both the unique volcanic and anhydrous soil of Santorini.
Xinomavro (Naoussa/Amynteo) wines are dry red wines, aged for two years minimum and noted for their bright pale to deep red colour, high acidity, strong tannins and complex aromatic character. The place of origin and most important growing area of the indigenous xinomavro grape is northwestern Greece, in the mono-varietal appellations of Naoussa and Amynteo. These distinguished reds are ideal for food with intense and rich flavours.
According to wine expert Mark Squires, who covers the wines of Greece for the Wine Advocate, a bible for wine connoisseurs around the world, Greek wine is ‘a sleeper’. His statement appeared on a Wall Street Journal report on Greek wines.
“Greece is your classic emerging region”, he is quoted as saying. “When you look at what is happening in Greece, this is a country that is simply a great wine-producing region – they just don’t have much to prove it with yet.”
Angie Giannakodakis, a champion of Greek cuisine through her work for Elyros and Epocha restaurants, begs to differ, and calls for the support of the Greek Australian community.
“The Greek community is not used to Greek wine, given that, in the past, the quality that came to Australia was very poor, for a variety of reasons. But today we have the opportunity to taste very high-quality wine from Greece, from all regions of the country. Greek Australians should drink Greek wine; it is a way to support Greece and help the economy.”
Exports are, in fact, vital for Greek winemakers, given the current situation. “It is the only thing that can support us in a period of crisis,” says Petros Markantonatos, owner of the Gentilini winery in Keffalonia.
“When the Greek economy collapsed, exporting was the only option; it was what supported not only my winery but also many others. Exports will help us grow, produce more and have a safety net outside of Greece, helping the industry survive.”
Find out more at www.newwinesofgreece.com