So you want to get geeky? The Jura’s hot today, and so is Sherry, but if you want to get geeky without fleeing the mainstream how about Greek wines? The geek in you can be satisfied by the Limnio, Agiorgitiko, Mavrotragano and Xinomavro yet your friends and family won’t be completely freaked out by the wines themselves. It’s time to generalize folks so hold on. I think for most people, myself included, saying Greek red wine is about as narrow as you can get without losing the thread of a conversation. Before we can actively begin discussing the nuance of Nemea versus Pangeon, vs the Peloponnese we have to start drinking some of the wines, which can be a challenge since they are often not widely distributed.
I tasted through a small selection of some of the wines that have been or are currently available at retail to take the pulse of this great wine producing region and see what’s going on. As I tend to do I chose to opt for wines that relied mostly on indigenous varieties because I’d rather taste an average Xinomavro and learn something about a producer, the grape and the region than taste another Syrah that tastes like so many other Syrahs because the same recipe is being followed. And speaking of recipes, it seems that the Greeks have not all jumped on the formulaic, let's make creamy smooth wines that get 90pts bandwagon. Which of course is a good thing!
For those of us who love to learn about new varieties and wines, Greece is a gold mine. Even their most famous wines, things like Santorini’s Assytiko’s, remain under the radar and wickedly delicious values. Now it’s time to let the reds take the stage for a turn. Confusing, though easier to understand today now that the labels are mostly in a familiar script, Greece is all about old regions, and old grapes that are new to us. It takes time to learn the intricacies of each, even for those producing the wines since the market for these sort of wines is ever in flux, so we’ll all have to bear with the Greek wine industry as each region and producer finds their path.
From this small selection of wines one can draw a few conclusions. First off the indigenous varieties are obviously well adapted to their regions, which may seem like a silly thing to say but I say it only to make a point. Greece is a hot country, many of the vineyards lay in warm regions with temperatures that might be too much to produce a nuanced Cabernet for example. Though the appreciation of nuanced Cabernet is quickly going the way of the Dodo. In any event, these wines are remarkable in that they tend to share a certain balance and clarity of fruit that only comes from perfectly ripe fruit, which in turn is all too often the result of that age old blend of indigenous varieties and intelligent farming.
A second point worth making is that the adoption of more modern production methods seems to be moving smoothly in Greece with the typical spread of producers ranging from over-eager adopters to hard line traditionalist who eschew any new fangled developments. The general level of over-oaking, over-extraction, or similar over taking advantage of new toys in search of ginormous point scores seems to be well under control. That may just be my imagination, but it also might be because these wines seem to tend towards nuanced and elegant, if rustic, as opposed to massive, opulent, and pointy. One would like to believe that this is recognized within the Greek wine community and lays behind the general philosohical bent that drives these rather balanced and attractive wines.
Even the wines that seem to be rather fruity on first glance, because of course they are rather fruity, quickly morph into something more focused and fresh in the mouth with their fine acidities and nice mineral bases. There’s a lot to like in many of these wines, but at the same time there is something, well, one might say off, that makes them stick out. Is it rusticity? Is it terroir? Only time, and more tasting, will tell but in the short term I can say that these wines are intriguing. They really pique one’s curiosity and satisfy the geek’s urge to learn, and then you can still serve to your mother! Now with how many wines can you say that?