Greece is the word right now, and super bins are pouring out of its islands and northern region of Macedonia, says Adam Lechmere
I recently went to Opso, a Modern Greek restaurant in London that encapsulates the exciting buzz around Greek wine. Unsurprisingly, it had as much in common with the classic dolmades-and-kefte outfit as retsina does to the zesty Greek whites you can find if you know where to look.
Opso is cool and uncluttered, serving modern offerings like intense grilled salmon with celery root purée. The accompanying tomatoes had a vivid flavour I’d forgotten tomatoes could have. With it, I particularly liked a tangy, fresh Moschofilero Nasiakos, which had aromas of peach and apricot and a tannic palate that teamed beautifully with the food.
The Greek wine industry is similarly authentic. Producers in the Seventies may have chased international markets by planting varieties like syrah, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, but there has been a revolution in the past 15 years. Greek winemakers have gone back to their roots and revived some wonderful indigenous grapes.
Some of these producers, like Gentilini from the island of Kefalonia, have enthusiastically grubbed up acres of international vines in favour of native varieties. So, while there are some fine cabernets, merlots and sauvignon blancs coming out of Greece, the most excitement is to be had from the white assyrtiko, roditis and savatiano, and the reds: aghiorghitiko, mavrodaphne and xinomavro. Wineries like the multi- awarded Alpha Estate, Gentilini, the Vaeni cooperative in Macedonia, Kir- Yianni and Karavitakis are producing wines that are of an international standard, yet unmistakably typical.
From a country that is indelibly associated with shimmering summer heat, it can come as a surprise that the best Greek white wines have such tingling acidity. But as importer George Lemos points out: ‘Greece is very vertical – there are vineyards at sea level on the islands, rising to 1,200m in the far north.’ The higher the vineyard, the cooler the nights, so the better the grapes can retain acidity. Greece has a varied and unusual terroir – and nowhere more so than on the island of Santorini. The native grape of this volcanic paradise is the white assyrtiko, which is capable of producing wines of such aromatic complexity that its reputation has spread throughout Greece, making it probably the most recognised of the country’s grapes.
Look out for the Hatzidakis Santorini assyrtiko when you’re next in a branch of Waitrose. The grape malagousia, which makes luscious, full-bodied whites, is also worth searching out on winedirect.co.uk or in independent wine shops.
The most eye-catching reds are found further north, where the climate becomes more continental than Mediterranean, with very hot summers and much colder winters. It’s in the Macedonia region that you’ll find powerful reds, the predominant grape being xinomavro. The much-awarded and very slick Alpha Estate produces a syrah/xinomavro/merlot blend of astonishing power, but I prefer its single-varietal Xinomavro (below).
Finally, you can’t talk about Greek wine without mentioning retsina, the pine resin-infused white wine, so often dismissed as a concoction for tourists. Give it another chance.
Vidiano Klima Karavitakis 2014, £9.95
Bright sweet lime and stone fruit on the nose, then delicately sweet key lime pie palate. Fresh and aromatic. Drink with feta and cucumber Greek salads.
Available at:The Wine Society
Skouras Moschofilero 2014, £12.95
A crisp, fresh wine, with flavours of grapefruit and freshly cut pear, perfumed with delicate rose petals on the nose. Pair it with falafel, and tzatziki.
Available at:Berry Bros & Rudd
Mediterra Xerolithia 2012, £10
Fine aromas of fresh- cut grass and ripe citrus fruit. It is deceptively light and the palate has bright acidity and a slight tannic edge. It goes remarkably well with fried squid and aromatic aioli.
Alpha Estate Reserve Old Vines Xinomavro 2010, £19.99
Superb savoury red wine, with plenty of sweet red fruit, strawberries and balsamic and a hint of Marmite and powerful tannins. Drink with sweet fatty lamb kebab.
Available at:Noel Young Wines
Vaeni Naoussa Grand Reserve Xinomavro 2006, £14
Lovely red fruit aromas that remind me of beaujolais. Very bright, fine and fresh, dancing acidity and brisk tannins. Excellent with roast lamb.
Available at:Greek Wine Shop