Bottle Shop Concepts’ own Peter Marchant spent a week touring the wine regions of Greece with New Wines of Greece. Here’s what he discovered during his time there.
Flying in to Athens, I was struck by one thing in particular: the colours. The shades of the earth, the leaves, the plants. They were so very different to the almost thermonuclear colours of Australia. Compared to our vibrant green leaves, white sand, and blue ocean, the land I was flying over seemed muted. Not dull, but very different.
As we got closer, I saw the olive trees. Their leaves permeated the entire landscape, giving it the silvery gleam I could see from a higher altitude. The brown dirt underneath seemed the most natural backdrop for these life-giving trees and their fruit. I was to learn just how much they meant in the coming days.
During my week travelling through Athens, Naoussa, Amyndeon, Crete and back to Athens, I was privileged to be able to meet the people responsible for some of the most exciting wines I had tasted in recent years.
The responsibility they feel as custodians of this ancient land is almost palpable. They are proud – and rightfully so – of the work they are doing, of their wines and their place.
The wines fit. They make sense. When you sit by the beach eating freshly-caught red mullet and taste Assytriko, it makes sense. When you are high in the hills in Nauossa and drink Xinomavro with a slow-cooked lamb shoulder, it makes sense.
With wine, context is everything. This was proven again and again in Greece. Some wines are for more than a back deck and a packet of Doritos. They require more flavour, more depth, more everything. The generosity of spirit and the hospitality we were shown was incredible. It’s what the wines NEED. Good people, good food, great times.
I had one of the most incredible nights of my life on Crete, in a village called Dafnes. It was incredible because it was where everything clicked for me about varieties I was still trying to get my head around.
Drinking Vidiano in the village square, with the tiniest, most perfect dolmades prepared by ladies of the village while a group of children and teenagers in full Cretan costumes danced for us, made sense.
Then, the Liatiko came with the goat, or the lamb, or both, it didn’t matter. The spiced and slightly herbal red, grown on the hills around Dafnes, had crunchy acid, medium weight and could not have been a better fit for the food.
After spending the afternoon driving through the vineyards and seeing the steep slopes, the wind, the lack of topsoil, it gave me an understanding of the struggle these vines experience each year to produce fruit. It gives them an intensity, a savoury complexity that I haven’t seen in many other wine regions.
I tried to think of other varieties that could work here, with this food, this climate. I don’t need to. I think they have the correct varieties already there.
Three things you need to know about Greek Wine
1. Just because you can’t pronounce it, doesn’t mean you should be frightened of it. Not that long ago, I had a mate who wouldn’t order bruschetta for fear of mispronouncing it. Suffice to say, he was very hungry in the mid ‘90s.
2. The varieties native to Greece, with all of their syllables, are not necessarily familiar. But neither was Sauvignon Blanc, once. Agiorgitiko, Assyrtiko, Xinamavro, Roditis, Malagousia. Don’t be afraid. Open your mind.
3. Xinomavro is not for the faint of heart. After tasting nearly 30 of these wines in Naoussa, the tannins were certainly bracing. I remembered a Barolo tasting years before, and my face felt very similar.
Xinomavro does get compared to Nebbiolo, and this is primarily referencing the tannin. Xinomavro has more flesh, more weight, darker, more briary fruit. It also has perfume, and some of the lighter examples are pretty and have violets and dried flowers with a smattering of spice. As a general rule, these wines aren’t breakfast wines. They require food, they require thought.
We shouldn’t be afraid of tannin. It is a joy when eating, it gives us the ability to cut through protein, particularly anything with intramuscular fat or gelatinous braised dishes. This is where these wines come into their own.