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20 May 2018

Greek wine: Sidestepping monotony

Nowadays, there is so much diversity in the world of wine. Just a few decades ago everyone talked solely of Bordeaux, Burgundy or the Rhone, whereas, in the recent years, regions or countries such as Ribeira Sacra, Jura, Etna and Greece, have risen impressively. One could think of many reasons to explain this, but one thing is definite; as the level of education rises, consumers will be actively seeking for new tastes and flavours.

The notion of terroir, a singular sense of place, seems to have found its ultimate expression and vigour in the hugely varied landscape of mainland Greece and its islands. Fascinating terroirs, with phenomenal heterogeneity in the soils, which ranges from limestone in Nemea and Cephalonia, schist in Naoussa and Rapsani, gravel in Mantinia to granitic and volcanic soils in the Aegean islands. Altitudes that go up to 1000 meters in Siatista and Metsovo rival the rugged landscape of the vineyards of Aigialia in the Peloponnese. Old vines – in Santorini the age of some vines is not exactly known, but well exceeds the century – and an abundance of characterful indigenous varieties synthesize an authentic harmonious melody.

Even if a terroir has great potential, this condition is not enough on its own. It needs to be complemented by the vignerons and winemakers who will express it, much in the way a composer puts together the instruments that will communicate his conception. The evolution in this field has been amazing. As viticultural and winemaking practices are constantly improving, so are the producers developing their understanding of the inherent properties that govern the vine. Moreover, some vintners are experimenting with biodynamics, and others with fermentation/maturation in amphoras, or production of wine with minimal interventions.

A new generation of producers, some of which produce a mere few thousand bottles, is taking wine to another level by stripping it of some of the excesses of the past; these include the high levels of ripeness, the long extractions and the luxurious oak. These producers place emphasis on the quality of their grapes, and their aim is to express the authenticity, individuality and purity of a variety, with wines which are ultimately terroir driven. This is not an invention they have come up with, but a reversion to our heritage and tradition; this is a conclusion they have arrived at through observation and experience. They believe in our indigenous treasures.

Only a decade ago who had heard of Assyrtiko, Santorini, Naoussa, Nemea or Malagousia? Today, these terroirs and varieties have become the center of attention for many wine enthusiasts in some of the sophisticated social circles in the various cities around the world. This momentum could even be described as a renaissance in the world of Greek wine. 

Yet the wine enthusiast should not be confused. Greek wine is not mainstream. It is quite far from international, generic styles of wine. Greek wine is about emotions which offer an alternative to many wines from Italy, Spain or France. In musical terms Greek wine is not pop music, but instead it is jazz or blues, and there is much room for different types of music in the world of wine.

I am confident that the future seems bright, provided that producers will continue to invest in the vineyard, and to well designed marketing strategies. Greek wine has already moved forward from the dark ages of the past (and the reputation of cheap, bad Retsina) and is now delivering terroir-focused, hand-crafted wines, which are very well priced for their calibre. The whites combine tension, crystalline texture and minerality, all in rare harmony. The reds emphasize structure and freshness, while the sweet wines are among the best in the world. Even the celebrated resinated ''Ritinitis'' wine is being reintroduced; this time it has been approached differently and gives wines which are often ageworthy. 

Ιn an international context the new trends are in favour of indigenous varieties; if additionally to that we take into account the impressive quality of the wines, their food friendliness and the more than 30 million tourists expected in the country during 2018, then there is real cause for hope and celebration.


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