A few weeks back I worked with a corporate client on a Greek wine tasting at Athena Restaurant. The wines are very fun because not only are there some great indigenous grape varietals but there's also alot of wine history. Earliest evidence shows that wine has been produced in Greece since at least 6500 BC, and also held high prestige in trading during the Roman Empire. Today, quality is stepping up in many regions, with wines made from Assyrtiko, Moschofilero, Roditis, Muscat, Agiorghitiko, Xinomavro and Mavrodaphne grapes.
I also recently received some samples of wines from the volcanic island of Santorini. Most farmers grow Assyrtiko, which makes white wines known to be citrusy and full of minerality, though Athiri and Aidani are grown as well. Due to the fact it is such a small island, Santorini does not produce alot of wine, but produces even less because of low humidity, high temperatures and age of their vines- they're ancient! But they are able to make high quality white wines and sweet wine known as Vinsanto, which is made from the local grapes being sundried and aged for long periods in oak. Here's a bit about the wines I tried:
2008 Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko ($22). A well made white with mouth-watering acidity, lemon, minerality, chalk, salinity and a hint of both grapefruit and tropical flavor. Would be great with shellfish. (89 WG)
2008 Santo Wines Nykteri Reserve ($20). This is a blend of the three white varietals: Assyrtiko, Athiri and Aidani, which are aged in oak for 9 months. There are bold citrus like meyer lemon and gold grapefruit along with toasted oak spice and cinnamon. Lacked the great acidity of the former wine, but had a very lengthy flavor. (88 WG)
Estate Argyros Oak Fermented Assyrtiko ($25). 100% Assyrtiko oak fermented and aged for 6 months. Acidic bite of lemon, along with almonds and spicy persimmon. Also has a buttery mouthfeel with vanilla flavor. I like this with grilled chicken and smoked, mild cheeses. (89 WG)
1999 Canava Roussos Vinsanto ($188). This wine is made of all three white varietals which were sundried for 15 days and aged for four years. Extremely concentrated dried figs, golden honey, toasted nuts, vanilla bean and candied oranges are all jumping out onto your tastebuds. A very good dessert wine, but many good Vinsanto wines can be had for much less. (91 WG)
Red wines are also being made on the island from the Mavrotragno and Mandilaria varietals, creating wines much like Zinfandel with jammy red fruit with a hint of berry sweetness and spice. There is much to be said about these wines as well as many others from Greece as well, as they are currently stepping up quality, technology and production. We'll look forward to seeing more from this emerging wine country.