Esquin Wine Buyer Jeff Fournier recently took a two-week trip to Greece with Athenee Imports to gain more in-depth knowledge on one of the world’s most ancient wine regions. Here’s some of what he found.
I was impressed with the diversity of climate and terrain. Many people think of Greece and imagine white beaches and bright blue waters but there is a lot more to this beautiful country. More than half of Greece is mountains and I drove and wound thru a lot of them. But let’s start with my first stop. After flying into Athens and a walk up to the Acropolis we headed for the island of Crete the next day.
Crete is the southern most of the islands and the largest. We feasted on fish soup, sea urchin and octopus, and drank wines from the Karavitakis Winery. We had a Malvasia Aromatica, A Vidiano & Assyrtiko blend, and The Little Prince, which can be found here at Esquin which is 65% Viana and 35% Vidano for around $12. All of these wines had bright acidity with lemon-lime zest and of course the savory richness in the Assyrtiko. Check out these pictures of the slate in my hand and the rocky soils that provide the bright acidity in these wines.
The next day took us to the far north and the town of Drama. We visited cool-climate vineyards close to the Albanian border and the Pavlidiis Winery, which sits in a valley surround by mountains that was once a lake. Old boat anchors have been found in the hills. The vineyards are planted to Agiorgitiko, Tempranillo and Syrah for reds and Assyrtiko, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc for whites. We have a couple here at Esquin and the wines tend to be sophisticated and elegant with a modern flare.
Next stop, and one of my favorites, was the northern town of Naoussa and biodynamic producer Thymiopoulos Winery. The vineyards are cultivated biodynamic and are certificated organic. The soils have dark-green granite, light green schist and lime stone with cover crops of wild chamomile, clover, grass and wild roses. These mountain vines are 50 years old see pictures below. Xinomavro is the focus here and Thymiopoulos’ could be a good ringer in a Nebbiolo blind tasting. This is a very small winery that uses only wild yeast fermentation, no inoculation. Check out the Young Vines Wine in the store now at $17.99.
Another one of my favorites is the Mercouri Estate, on the western coast of the Peloponnese, near ancient Olympia. Mercouri has a section of 140 year old Refosco vines in front of the winery. There are three wines currently here in the store you may recognize: the Foloi Label, always a favorite, blended with 90% Roditis and 10% Viognier for complexity. Check out the Domaine Mercouri and the Mercouri Cava. Both are blended with around 80% Refosco and 20% Mavrodaphne. Ask me about them next time you are in the store.
Next, a ferry ride to the island of Cephalonia and some fabulous Robola grown at high elevation on steep slopes from the Gentilini Winery. We have the Cellar Selection here in the store. This wine has citrus dry white flowers, thyme and herbs with chamomile. Check out these pictures of the rocky soils, wild thyme.
Last but not least, everyone’s favorite the island of Santorini. The eruption that created Santorini was the second largest known on the planet, only to Krakatoa, and created a tsunami estimated between 150 to 500 ft. that destroyed Crete, and some believe caused the destruction of Atlantis, if it actually existed. Volcanic soils filled with pumice stones give these wines bright acidity. After a scary plain landing because of the wind, I now realize why the grapes are grown close to the ground. The method of coiling the vines is called Koulura, a technique I have never seen before and unique to Santorini.
I visited two brilliant wineries. First, Estate Argyros – we have two wines in the store right now, which are the Atlantis red and white. For $21, the red is 90% Mandilria and 10% Mavrotragano. It is fruity with good tannin and spice. The white is Aidani and Athiri, it is bright with lemon blossom and great with seafood. My favorite is the Aidani, a rare indigenous variety with tropical notes scented herbs and flowers but very dry. I hope to have it in the store soon.
Next off to the Gaia Winery. We carry the Thalassitis Assyrtiko, beautifully rich and complex with tropical fruit and alittle spice at $29.99. My favorite, the wild ferment Assyrtiko has more complex layers of fruit, spice and earthly minerals for $33.99. Gaia also makes a good Retsina that is 100% Roditis with a delicate balance of the pine resin that goes great with garlic sauce. And for red, we carry the Agiorgitiko, good fruit nice peppery notes, a little like Sangiovese but not as tannic and with more spice at $23.99.
Look me up next time you’re in the store and looking for Greek wines, I’ll be happy to talk with you!
-Jeff Fournier, Wine Buyer.