PERSONAL THOUGHTS ON GREEK WINES (updated in 2017)


A PROPOS: Greece has been producing wine since the beginning of history. Some Greek wines, were coveted in antiquity, and the last claims to fame vanished in the 16th century. Since then, wine quality started going only down.

Turkish occupation has helped the area enter into the "Eastern middle ages". It did not help wine, in the sense that it did not encourage wine production. European Traveller's accounts from the 18-19th century tell the horrors of Greek wines. Up until 1970, Greek wines were mostly undrinkable (with rare exceptions), except by the locals. There were very few small areas in Greece, which have produced wine that was honorable. Such places include (but are probably not the only ones) Naoussa, Santorini, Samos, and Archanes/Peza in Crete.

In the 1970s, the work of some visionaries, who have seen up-close the huge gap and progress of Western European wine production, started the renouveau of Greek wines. This is a slow process that is still in evolution.

There is a huge difference in the wines one finds in the marketplace today. To start with, many if not most are drinkable. And some can also provide pleasure in drinking. This should be compared to the wines I drunk in the seventies and eighties that at their (rare) best were neutral.

There is also a (small) difference in the attitude of Greeks towards wine quality. Although the vast majority still do not care (and cannot distinguish) whether they drink wine or vinegar, there is a small minority that strives to get to know, and drink better wines. This minority is composed mostly of the nouveau-riche society of Greeks that, along with other things, they also ask for good wine, although they are not yet seasoned connoisseurs. It also includes the intelligentsia, which has always asked for good quality.

Below is my personal view on some Greek wines I consider interesting. My views are based on tasting, on many occasions, wines at various times of their developments. I would like to thank in this, a group of colleagues and friends with whom we have had numerous tastings.




WARNING:

1) Unless otherwise stated, tasted wines were bought in (provably) good condition and cellared in optimal conditions (12 C, constant temperature and 75%-85% humidity). I should also stress here that most wines one can buy in Greece, especially whites that are more fragile, are damaged by high temperatures. I found no place in Greece, including wine cellars in posh areas in Athens, that keep their wines under acceptable conditions. The result is that you can get a white that has not been cooked, only if it has been transported during mid November-mid March, did not stay in the van during a sunny day and was bought in that period. Chances that all of the above are true are very small.

By talking to wine merchants, you find two types: The "educated" ones, who will expand on being careful how to keep the wine etc, but who keep it in a cement-warehouse at 40 C in the summer. And those, that do not even know the theory.

2) In general do not trust the views of wine merchants, especially if they seem authoritative. I have spoken to many of them in Crete and Athens. I have found none that was really knowledgeable. A friend I trust tells me that he knows one. Even the most posh merchants are not experts in wine. There are two types: those that know nothing and those that claim they know. The first category is innocuous since they will not give you advice. The second is dangerous, since you will be offered authoritative advise, which almost always is invariably wrong or misleading or both.

The same applies to resident "wine critics" that write in the press. Although they make an effort, they do not have the long tasting experience at international level to be trustworthy. This is the reason that "oak juice" according to several of them is an excellent wine. I still remember the statement, several years ago, of a wine-critic of a major Greek newspaper, after we had a long conversation and after he realized that I know something about wine: "I am proud since I can tell when a wine is corked". I am definitely sure there are exceptions to this rule. I was not lucky enough to meet them.

3) There are many wines I have never tasted. There are also wines that were tasted under difficult conditions, so that I could not have a reliable opinion. There are many more wines that were tasted but which I cannot recommend. None of the above appear below.

4) There are no world-class white Greek wines, although there has been progress recently because of appropriate infrastructure . This is probably because it seems easier to make a good red instead of a good white in the south. It is also because it is difficult to keep the fragile properties of most whites because of their handling. All Greek whites under normal conditions should be drunk during their first year of age. Some do not survive even that. Some if not mishandled might survive two years. Most are already dead after their first trip.
That being said, several selected fruity whites that were bought in pristine condition and impeccably cellared (see above) had the fruit last 3-6 years.
On the other hand, I think white wines hold much more potential for the future than the reds in Greece. I also think that many of them if aged properly improve with age.


After following several whites for the last fifteen years I came to the conclusion that there are some that improve with age. The grapes responsible for this is one hand the Lagorthi, a rare variety almost extinct that was resurrected by Antonopoulos. It has some similarities to Semillon and seems to improve with age if properly cultivated and vinified.

The second is the Asyrtiko grape. I have had several examples of well made Santorini wines that from 5-10 years of age started showing noble and sometimes complex mineral flavors characteristic of Alsacian dry Rieslings. Moreover, although most of them start life with a rather neutral character, the acquire an enormous body with age. I think (and I am not the only one) that asyrtico has a great future ahead.

The third is the Vidiano grape of Crete. It ia grape saved from extinction and has been now vinified from good vintners for about 10 years. Although my results are preliminary, they are convincing that Vidiano ages superbly in a mix of mineral and fruit aromas that are very interesting while it gains wight in the mouth.

From the indigenous reds, Xinomavro from Naoussa stands out as the main red greek variety that provably ages superbly.

I would add to this two Cretan varieties: the first is the Mandilari grape (a very late-maturing grape by Greek standards) that untill Lyrarakis did it properly, it was a blending grape. My tests indicate that the Mandilari of Lyrarakis if properly cellared, aged gracefully and substantially improves in the bottle. The 2007 vintage tasted in 2017 emerged with a luscious body and high complexity.

The other is the Liatiko grape and its two variations (in Dafnes and Ziros plateau).




Tasting notes




My
"tasting notes. of the best not well known Greek wines I tasted in Oenorama 2012 (the largest Greek wine fair).



My "tasting notes (unfortunately only in Greek) of the best not well known Greek wines I tasted in Oenorama 2008 (the largest Greek wine fair).






THE WINES OF CRETE



Crete, is a problematic viticultural region because there are few (if any) temperate areas that could produce good wine. There are however a few spots that are promising. There is a wide and interesting profile of local and international grapes that are cultivated.

My favorite Cretan wines are :

(a) Douloufakis Winery This is located in the village of Dafnes, at rather high altitude.

Douloufakis makes two wines from the Vidiano grape. The Aspros Lagos white" is made from 100% vidiano grape that is barrel fermented and aged. It has an interesting profile.

But my preference goes largely to Dafnios white wine that is made of 100% vidiano grape and is raised in steel tanks. In its youth it is complex and aromatic with excellent body. However it ages superbly and with a few years the fruity aromas mix with mineral aromas adding a new layer of complexity that is spectacular. In view of its price it is a great bargain. The 2016 is a ``vin d'anthologie".

Douloufakis has a portfolio of other wines both from indigenous and international grapes that are all very well made. I will mention also his Dafnios red (100% Liatiko grape) that in recent years has improved substantially. The 2015 marks a new era and I am looking forward to further progress.

(b) The red wine by Economou, an idiosyncratic effort from a very knowledgeable and traveled wine-maker. He has worked for several years in Margaux, Mosel and Piemonte. The wine is produced on the Ziros plateau in south-eastern Crete in a slightly oxydative/phenolic style from a clone of the Liatiko grape. It is produced from 60-70 year old prephyloxeric, non-irrigated vines, with very low yields of about 20 hectoliters/hectare, minuscule not only by Greek but even by French standards.

I also tasted in his winery an unusual but very interesting white, that I have never seen in the stores.

(c) Karavitakis Winery This is located near the village of Kolymbari at the western side of the island of Crete. It produces several cuvees.

For two years he produced the Lithos white cuvee, probably the most idiosyncratic and original white in Crete. It was made from soultani grapes (sourced from vineyards near Heraklion) that are used for the production of dried raisins. It had a mineral aromatic profile, an oily texture and an interesting body.Moreover from my own experience the wine (that is now 5-6 years old) is evolving superbly in bottle. Unfortunately this wine was discontinued.

Another wine that I tasted this year for the first time is the 2015 Asyrtiko. It is a superb wine, with an open character, the vinosity and huge body of asyrtico and drinks well even now. But in my opinion it will be even more complex with ageing.

The red wine Elia made from Refosco grapes is a sensuous wine that merits attention.

There is another Elia cuvee made from the Sangiovese grape. This is rich, tanic and potentially interesting, but needs time. The 2006 cuvee needs 2-3 more years of patience.

(d) Domaine Lyrarakis is an important winery located in the village of Allagni, south of Heraklion. It is one of the first recognised quality producers on the island. Recently the young generation has gone far by producing several wines from indigenous grapes, most of them highly original.

The first is "Dafni" made from the little known Dafni white grape. It is a very original and mineral wine, with distinct and clear laurel aromas that make its name fitting. It can pair very well with difficult courses for wine, like asparagus courses, green-beens, green fava beens and other dishes dominated by vegetal aromas that "cut through" most white wines.

Another, is the only serious effort I know in mastering the Mandilari grape (common in the Aegean and Crete and used as a blending variety to add structure and color to reds). It is a VERY late ripening varietal that is never picked ripe, except in this case. Picked from Late September to mid-October, this makes a huge difference compared with grapes picked in late August-early September in Crete. Very structured but rich it has a lot of potential although I do not think the final word has been said in the Mandilari variety.

The winery's wine from the local plyto grape is also very promising. It has subtle fruity aromas in the beginning that slowly mix with mineral flavors as it evolves. It is a wine to follow.

The recent wine made from the asyrtiko grape sources from the Voila vineyard near Sitia is very promising. The 2016 marked a new advance and it is a wine which is interesting, drinkable young, but will be much more interesting in 10 years or so.

There is one more wine that seems promising, a joint effort between the Manousakis winery in Western Crete (see below) providing Romeiko grapes to be blended with the Mandilari of Lyrarakis. The wine is called Mazi ("together" in Greek) and is a very interesting wine in its youth. I found out that in order to get the maximum out of this wine it should be served at 18 C and not lower (neither much higher of course).

(e) Manousakis Winery owned by Cretan expatriate Manousakis, and located around the Vatolakos village south of Chania. They produce the line of wines under the name "Nostos" that is mostly exported in the US. The winemaker is the very knowledgeable and forward-thinking Costis Galanis, seconded by his son Ioannis who is in charge of the vineyards. Alexandra Manoussaki and Afsin Molavi are in charge of the commercial operations that are expanding with time.

The winery deals mostly with Rhone varietals and produces an excellent Rousanne wine, that is very interesting. They also produce a very good blend of Syrah-Grenach-Mourvedre (Nostos blend) and several single varietal wines from Grenache and Syrah. The blend needs time to evolve and passes sometimes through strong reductive phases but they always come out after 2-3 years. These are very interesting wines that keep evolving and have not yet reached their full potential.

The blended cuvee Alexandra, is an irresistible forward red, that should be tasted!

Recently the winery produced the Mazi wines with Lyrarakis (see the relevant part above) as well as a Vidiano wine which is superb young and whose future looks very promising.

(f) Ktima Miliaraki (aka Minos wines) is an important producer of wines under the label Minos. Under the direction of Nikos Miliarakis they now produce some limited production cuvees that are very interesting.

The white made from 100% Vidiano grape has a very interesting aromatic profile that turns to mineral and is subtle. It has also a very good/interesting body. The 2009 was tasted recently and was remarkably complex and full bodied.

The Ktima Miliarakis red made from Kotsifali, Madilari and a bit of Mourverdre can be extraordinary with a burgudian nose (due to kotsifali mostly), a very interesting and balanced body, a few tanins and a good finish. This is prominent in the 2015 and I think Miliarakis is the only one to have such a profile from Kotsifali.

The domaine produces also a dessert wine made from sundried Liatiko grapes that is aromatic and pure, one of the best efforts on the island.

The domaine has produced since 2011 two new cuvees. One is a single vineyard cuvee blending Syrah-Grenache-Mourverdre that is promising. It is named Chelona (Turtle) Red (from the name of the lieu dit). The second (Chelona White) is a blend of Rousanne-Souvignon, (first produced in 2012) with an exotic nose dominated by the Rousanne, when young, that is complexifying with age.

(g) Silva Daskalaki Winery . Mrs Daskalaki has been the pioneer of biodynamic wine culture in Crete. The vineyards are near the village of Siva in the Daphnes area, south of Heraklion.

The white Enstikto wine is a blend of 80% chardonay and 20% vidiano. It is a very good and balanced white wine.

The red Enstikto wine is a blend of 70% syrah and 30% indigenous kotsifali. It is a smooth, aromatic and sensuous wine.

(h) Strataridakis Brothers' Winery This is a relatively new winery located in the south of the island in the Moires area.

They are famous for producing probably the best dry wine from Muscat of Spina grapes (a local muscat variety). It is a very elegant muscat and can compete positively with the best Alsatian dry muscats.

They are also producing other interesting wines. Their white wine from the local Vidiano grape called Aspra Harakia is superb. Complex, aromatic and elegant is unbeatable at that price. Moreover as other similar wines from that grape, it improves with age.




THE WINES OF PELOPONESUS



(a) Antonopoulos Wines near Patras.

The white "Adoli Yis", a white wine made primarily from the grape Lagorthi is worthwhile. It is one of the Greek white wines that I have found to improve with age. I always thought that it starts life as a neutral, rather acidic wine until I tasted it young at the winery, where i realized that it has a rich fruity profile. It expands with age and in 5-6 years develops complex and noble aromas reminding aged Roussane wines.

Another wine that I appreciated only when I tasted in their premises is a special cuvee of Moschofilero, called "Gris de Noir" made from a selected parcel in Mantineia. It has a superb complex aromatic profile dominated by rose aromas, that remind a bit gewurtztraminer, but are far superior because they are understated and elegant. The new onwnership though decided to oak this cuvee. What a bad decision!!!

Their Mantineia is also very good with complex aromatics. I defy anyone to find them in pristine condition without going to the winery! Even in a recent tasting the winery organized in Heraklion the Gris de Noir was gone!

(b) Ktima Mercouri (or Ktima Merkouri ). A good producer. The Ktima Mercouri Red is a well made, expressive, forward red that can be drunk for several years. I have followed the evolution of this wine since the 1993 vintage. I can state that it can evolve for ten years and although not really improving, it can give pleasure. Its nose becomes fragile though and if more than 3-4 years old, it should be served with care. Their white, "Foloi" made mostly from the local Roditis grape, is an example of a simple fragrant white that should be drunk in its first year of life. Both wines are correctly priced.

(c) Parparousis. A very good but not widely known producer near Patras.

His Taos wine, produced occasionally from 100% Mavrodaphne grapes (an absolutely dry red wine) is highly original with notes of tar, menthol and leather at its youth. The 2004 and 2008 are now on tertiary aromas evolving towards leather and spices with some menthol. Although at youth it is monolithic and bizarre, it develops a complex aromatic profile with age. In many respects the 2004 today reminds me of the aromatic profile of Heinz "Martha Vineyard's Cabernet" from California. This is a very interesting and singular wine and makes the case that the mavrodaphe grape must be experimented upon beyond the traditional sweet wine use, to find out its full potential.

His inexpensive Oinari, made from Agiorgitiko grape is probably the best bargain for a red wine in Greece (with only serious competition from Moraitis' Paros red). It is sensuous, and it evolves gracefully for 10+ years.

His entry-level white, "Dora tou Dionysou" is an interesting light white wine made from the Sideritis grape.

His reserve Agiorgitiko is excellent but should be drunk in its 5-6 first years of age.

In some years he also produces a special white cuvee, "Dora tou Dionysou, Cava" from Athiri and Asyrtico grapes, that when young has a very original flavor profile, and is very interesting. IT passes afterwards from a mute period and reemerges with mineral aromas that remind an old Riesling (this is the asyrtico contribution). The 2004 has reopened this year.

Parparousis produces also a collection of excellent brandies and two sweet muscat wines that are worth searching.




THE WINES OF THE NORTH



(a) Yiannis Boutaris. This is a good producer, producing a portfolio of wines based on Xinomavro mostly.

The "Ktima Yanakohori" is a xinomavro based wine that I have followed since 1994. It is not very charming at a young age. It needs 10 years to absorb its tanin and it develops a fragrant nose that is interesting.

The Ramnista wine is also based on Xinomavro but seems better. In a recent vertical tasting of all vintages starting with 1996 till the 2006, the 1996 has won the night eclipsing the 1997 (that had started life more promising than the 1996). The message is that older vintages needed 10-15 years at least to shed some of their tanning, but some of it was hard and will never disappear.

However, starting with the new century the tannins seem to have become softer and the 2005 was the first effort in which tannin seemed fully ripe. However, the new generation has changed many things and rearranged blends. For almost 10 years now Ramnista has lost its best grapes that went into Diaporos wine, the flagship of the the domaine. An excellent Syrah that the domaine produced also disappeared and is now blended in Diaporos.

The result is that Ramnista is still interesting but not what it used to be. It has been relegated to the second category. Diaporos has the quality of the old Ramnista maybe a hint more, but at triple the price!

(b) Dalamaras winery . This is an excellent producer of Naoussa wine, the only one to my knowledge that competes with the Domaine Boutaris. His Paliokalias cuvee is a superb xynomavro based wine, that ages gracefully and improves for 10-15 years. I have seen recently however that also this wine had his price go off the roof.




THE WINES OF OTHER ISLANDS



Santorini is a singular viticultural area, with very old vines (some close to 150 years old), a special microclimat and special grapes. The most interesting grape is the assyrtico grape and the most interesting wine the sweet "Visanto" made from mixture of white and red sun-dried grapes, that is further aged as a tawny port. The dry white wines can be very good, and in general age well. An upcoming varietal is the red, "mavrotragano" that produces an interesting aromatic profile, but whose tannins have not been tamed yet. It is interesting to follow its evolution although its first efforts have been overpriced. The most interesting producers are

(a) Argyros Estate. He produces a very interesting Visanto, aged typically for 20 years is large foudres. It is a well balanced superbly complex wine in the class of top 20 year old tawnys but with a very distinct character. It is unfortunately very expensive. The un-oaked standard dry offering, Domaine Argyros, can be a very good wine based on the Asyrtiko grape. I do not like much the oaked versions of Santorini wines as I think that oak does fit the profile of that grape and does not improve its long-term behavior.

(b) Sigalas Estate. He produces an excellent Visanto that is aged for 3-4 years. The 1996 recently tasted was rich and complex, simply superb. His standard Santorini offering is excellent and usually tops the island's dry white offerings.

(c) A relatively new producer is the Hatzidakis winery which in the last 10-15 years has proved its worth.

His asyrtico wines as well as the Nyxteri have come to the top echelon of the appellation.

(d) The cooperative cave of the island, Santo Wines for many years has produced average to mediocre wines without interest. In the last decade slowly but steadily the wind changed. In my Oenorama 2012 tastings, the dry Santo wines made a very good impression. Their Nyxteri as well as the Asyrtiko Grand Reserve were excellent, and full of potential.

Samos is another island that built its modern reputation since the beginning of the century on sweet muscat wines. The producer is the local cooperative that is exemplary for Greek standards. The most interesting wine is

(a) Samos Grand Cru: A sweet muscat, made in the style of Muscat de Frontignan, with nice exuberant aromas of the muscat grape. If properly cellared, it can be drunk during at least 9-10 years without losing its aromas.

(b) Recently a dry muscat has been produced, "Psiles Korfes", from specially selected grapes in mountainous vineyards of the island. It is dry, elegant and complex, reminding such Alsatian benchmarks as the muscats of Domaine Kientzler and Burn. The flagship aged wines of the cooperative were Anthemis and Nectar. Sadly, their quality went down in recent years.