Homer mentioned them in The Illiad and The Odyssey. Dionysus, the god of celebration, embodied them. Ancient philosophers held their symposia around them. For nearly 4,000 years, in fact, wine has been an integral part of Greek life. Yet it is only in the past decade, after the country made tremendous strides in modernizing its winemaking, that the rest of the world has discovered Greek wine. Made mostly from native grapes virtually unknown in other winemaking countries, Greek wines can now be found in wine shops across the country at prices usually ranging from about $10 to $23.
Among Greece’s white wines I’ve recently enjoyed is Domaine Mercouri’s Roditis 2008 from the Foloi area of Ilias; pale, fresh, tasty and dry, it is the perfect apéritif. Sigalas Assyrtiko 2008 from the island of Santoríni, on the other hand, is a full-bodied, assertive white that can easily accompany full-flavored entrées.
Greece’s prime red grape is Agiorgitiko, and it makes some of the country’s best rosés and reds. For a rosé, I highly recommend Gaia Estate’s Agiorgitiko 14–18 2008 from Nemea, a delicious wine with a beautiful strawberry-pink color and a long, appealing finish. And made as a red wine, I recommend Gaia Estates’s Agiorgitiko 2005, also from Nemea — round and velvety with a hint of cardamom in the aroma and a lingering aftertaste. The country’s second-most popular red grape is Xinomavro, often used in a blend, as it is with Krasato and Stavroto grapes in a 2003 reserve wine by Tsantali in the region of Rapsani.
For a sweet finish to a meal, pour a glass of Parparousis’ elixir-like Muscat of Rio-Patras 2003. For a taste of Greece’s own dessert wine, try the red Mavrodaphne. An example is Kourtaki Mavrodaphne in Patras. A non-vintage wine, it is liqueur-like in texture with a high sugar count. I like to sip it after a meal, its sweetness tempered over ice and with a twist of lemon.
Because the names of these grapes and wines are transliterated to English from the Greek alphabet, there are often variations in spellings — an “i” on one label may be a “y” on another, for example. In any spelling, however, Dionysus still reigns.
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