Expert champions Greek wines for ‘their energy and unique flavour’

PUBLISHED: 17:00 17 May 2016

Training a vine into the traditional basket shape on Santorini

Training a vine into the traditional basket shape on Santorini

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Greece isn’t the place where wine originated, but there are few countries with such a long, consistent history of fermenting grapes.

Yet Greek wine is way down the list of UK favourites.

Why should that change?

“Because the wines are great and have a unique flavour profile. For me they are wines that have energy: today so many wines are technically perfect but seem dead.”

Those words come from Steve Daniel, who in the heady 1980s heights of Oddbins first brought modern Greek wines to the attention of Londoners.

He’s still preaching that gospel, supported by a raft of excellent wines imported by Hallgarten Druitt, of which Daniel’s Novum Wines company is part.

Tasting through a good number of them, and others available here (the Greeks have woken up to the need to promote their wares), was an unexpected pleasure – unexpected partly because I had no idea how broad and good the modern choice is, but also because they do taste different, in a very positive way. Much of that is down to the grapes.

While there are international varieties, mostly used in blends, the overwhelming majority of wines at that recent tasting were from heritage grapes which grow nowhere else. More than 40 featured that day.

Some growers suggested, quite rightly, that wines from assyrtiko, one of the most widely planted whites, can resemble the lovely lean-yet-satisfying freshness and minerality of chablis.

Other whites hinted of viognier or guwürtztraminer, and there was a red blend which might, blind, be taken for a Loire cabernet franc.

The pleasure, though, is not in finding similarities, but in celebrating differences – and what is so good in modern Greek winemaking is the determination to do just that.

Care in the vineyard produces good grapes, and work in the winery emphasises their flavours. Where barrels are used, it is with discretion.

And there is interesting experimentation – classic-method sparkling wines, for example, or new retsinas which are a pine-edged pleasure to drink – alongside the celebration of tradition, as in fine, non-treacly, vin santo-style sweet wines.

Prices, while not bargain basement, are sensible.

Examples to try are listed here, and their stockists have more to offer, as do Greek delis, plus some supermarkets and high street chains (M&S has been a pioneer).

Be adventurous, and you’ll find Steve Daniel is right.

One frequent, satisfying characteristic of Greek wines is their freshness, both whites and reds, and you’ll find that in all these.

Among Daniel’s imports (prices are approximate): Thiasos white and red Peloponnese 2013, £7-£8; Monemvasia Winery Kidonitsa White Laconia 2014, £12; Domaine Gerovassiliou Single Vineyard Malagousia Epanomi 2015, £16; Gaia Thalassitis Assyrtiko Santorini 2015, £17; Biblia Chora Ovilos Semillon-Assyrtiko Kavala 2015, £19-£21; corkingwines.co.uk, strictlywine.co.uk, winedirect.co.uk and thedrinkshop.com each stock all or most of them.

For a rich choice in one place, go to maltbyandgreek.com, the comprehensive on-line store which has developed from the Maltby Street, Bermondsey, market stall of a group of Hellenic food and drink enthusiasts.

Here are some I’ve enjoyed: happy fizz Domaine Karanika Cuvée Speciale Brut NV, £26; Domaine Sigalas Barrel Santorini Assyrtiko 2015, £24; Mylonas Winery’s Attica whites, Savatiano 2014, £13.20, and Apopsi Assyrtiko-Savatiano 2015, £14.50; and a softly spicy, savoury red, T-Oinos Mavrotragano-Avgoustiatis 2011, £45.

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