The latest episode in my long-standing love affair with Greek white wines took place on a Sunday afternoon (May 15) at the Royal Ontario Museum, where 47 Greek wineries presented about 140 wines at the Wines of Greece Grand Tasting event.
Not surprisingly, my first infatuation was with Assyrtiko from Santorini, a love that has continued and strengthened over time, and rightly so. What I think of as the Santorini expression usually has some citrus/lemon at its core, but what really defines the wine is its stony and saline minerality that pushes everything else into the background. The 2015 Argyros Santorini Assyrtiko that was presented at the tasting was released in early April in Ontario, and my review captures the spirit of what I am getting at. (Check the “find it” link, to see if some is available near you.)
ARGYROS ASSYRTIKO 2015, PDO Santorini
Vintages #387365 • $22.95 • 750ml. • 90/100The wine is light straw, with a bracing stony-mineral nose — briny, fresh, lemon-tinged sea shells. Elevated acidity brings with it more lemon and apple fruit on the palate, but what intrigues me so much is that there is some weight on the palate that actually heightens the minerality that lingers forever. A very good example of Assyrtiko.
Tasted April 1, 2016 • THE KOLONAKI GROUP INC (Agent) • Find it at your nearest LCBO • Share Recommendation
Argyros also presented their 2015 Argyros Estate Assyrtiko that takes the expression to another level: both more focused and mineral, and yet richer and deeper at the same time. Quite lovely. Santorini Assyrtiko was also well represented by the 2015 Thalassitis from Gaia, and the 2015 Santorini Assyrtiko from Sigalas.
But an intriguing sidebar to Assyrtiko is that we are seeing more expressions from places other than Santorini. The several I tasted seemed to me to take on a more fruit-forward character — still with a nice base of acidity and minerality, but definitely tilted more towards apple and citrus fruit. These are interesting but perhaps more approachable alternatives to Santorini. Pictured at right are the 2015 Idisma Drios Assyrtiko, PGI Drama (north eastern Macedonia), from Wine Art Estate, and the 2015 Voila Assyrtiko, PGI Crete, from Lyrarakis, that both fit this alternative expression of the grape.
I also was able to reaffirm my interest in dry to bone-dry aromatic grapes from Greece. Moschofilero is one great example of this, and I found a nice selection presented here. One of my favourites was the 2015 Skouros Moschofilero, that I reviewed in March 2016.
SKOURAS MOSCHOFILERO 2014, PGI Peloponnese
Vintages #442178 • $17.95 • 750ml. • 88/100Moschofilero is a very aromatic (usually darker-skinned) grape from the central Peloponnese in Greece, and this is a very nice introduction to it. The wine is a light straw colour, with a very fragrant and complex nose that suggests rose petals, peach blossoms, ripe peach, apricot and Meyer lemon, complemented by crisp, stony minerality. The wine is dry, with very modest alcohol and elevated acidity. The fruit and floral notes replay on the palate, where a slightly bitter apricot pit note nicely contrasts with the firm acidity that carries into a long, aromatic finish. I think this qualifies as a "wine discovery" wine, that will take you a little off the beaten path. Excellent value.
Tasted March 4, 2016 • THE KOLONAKI GROUP INC (Agent) • Find it at your nearest LCBO • Share Recommendation
Other very good expressions of the grape included the 2015 Mantinia Nasiakos Moschofilero, PDO Mantinia, from Semeli Winery, and the 2015 Troupis Mantinia Moschofilero, PDO Mantinia, from Troupis Winery.
Then there is another aromatic variety, Malagousia, that was rescued and propagated in the 1980s, and is now grown in many parts of Greece, though on a relatively small scale. There were at least four examples presented, and the one pictured on the left is the Wine Art Estate 2015 Techni Malagousia from PGI Macedonia. The grape is rather aromatic, and this wine shows bright peach blossom, lemon, tangerine, red apple and peach, in a crisp, dry frame with a surprisingly full body. Other examples presented included the 2015 Porto Carras Malagousia, PGI Sithonia, and the 2015 Papagiannakos Kalogeri Malagousia, PGI Attica.
But there is so much more — a panoply of lesser-known varieties with unique, focused and precise characters. Just take the grape Dafni, which I first tasted on Sunday.
The grape is native to the island of Crete, and was saved from extinction in the 1980s by the Lyrarakis winery. Now, according to Wine Grapes, there are about 15 ha in production. Dafni means “laurel” or “bay leaf” in Greek, and the wine is named for the striking and distinctive bay leaf aromas. The example pictured left, the 2014 Dafni from Lyrarakis, PGI Crete, featured dominating aromas of bay leaf and rosemary, with some richness on the palate, an underlying layer of citrus-grapefruit, and a spine of stony minerality. Lovely, arresting, and unique!
And here are six additional varieties that I knew little or nothing about:
- Debina: from Domaine Glinavos (a still wine) and Zoinos (a sparkling wine) in PDO Zitsa in north west Greece in the mountains near the Ionian coast. Debina is the only variety allowed in PDO Zitsa, and makes fairly neutral, high acid wines with light and fresh apple and citrus aromas, very appropriate for crisp, fresh sparkling wines.
- Katsano: a rare secondary grape from Santorini, from Gavalas Winery, labeled as PGI Cyclades, possibly the only commercial bottling of the grape. It is much lower in acidity than Assyrtiko, but they harvest early to create a fresh and crisp, lightly floral, citrus and grassy wine.
- Kidonitsa: a rare variety from PGI Lakonia in the south east of the Peloponnisos, this example is from Monemvasia Winery. The name means quince in Greek, and evident aromas of quince can often be found, along with citrus and mineral notes.
- Robola: the grape is mostly found in the Ionian Islands off the west coast of Greece, examples from Gentilini, the Robola Cooperative of Cephalonia and Sclavos are all from the PDO Cephalonia. The grape is fresh but with moderate acidity, lightly aromatic with citrus aromas and flavours.
- Vidano: another variety rediscovered on Crete, and now being propogated. The example I tasted was the 2015 Klima White (PGI Crete) from Karavitakis, with aromas and flavours of stone fruit and citrus, with brisk acidity.
- Vilana: widely grown on Crete, this example from Mediterra Winery is the 2015 Xerolithia, from PDO Peza, which must be 100% Vilana. The wine is fresh and aromatic, with white flowers, citrus and apple.
And finally, I want to mention Retsina. Yes, many of us may have some very strange memories from our youth that we’d best forget, but I implore you to keep an open mind! Perhaps the closest example to what I think of as traditional Retsina, is from Domaine Stelios Kechris: the 2014 Kechribari, Traditioinal Designation Retsina, made from Roditis. This is the first bottle shown below, and certainly exhibits its rather dominating pine resin makeup. An acquired taste, but fascinating nevertheless.
The second example is rather different, also from Domaine Stelios Kechris, but this is the poetically named “Tear of the Pine”: the 2013 Tear of the Pine, Traditional Designation Retsina. This wine is 100% Assyrtiko, and the firm structure of the grape, combined with barrel fermentation, some new oak, and six months on lees, gives this wine a depth and breadth that balances the effect of the pine resin infusion.
And finally the third example pictured is the very sophisticated Tetramythos Retsina, Traditional Designation Retsina. This wine is made from Roditis, in amphora, and with wild yeast fermentation. Pine notes are very subtle, with some citrus, apple and pear fruit, herbal notes, and an underlyng layer of honey and beeswax. All these are very much worth exploring, especially for those on a “winediscovery” adventure.
Wine Grapes: Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz, ebook version, September 2013.