There has never been a better time to explore Greek wine. Although Greece was once the epicenter for winemaking, decades of political unrest prevented the cultivation of quality wine. Today, thanks to stricter wine laws and a new generation of winemakers led by Boutari, Greece is enjoying a much-awaited wine revolution.
For most wine drinkers, the first step in exploring the modern wines of Greece is trying to decipher the names and flavors of the unfamiliar grape varieties. Start by reducing the playing field to the major red grapes: Xinomavro (ksee-no-ma-vro) and Agiorgitiko (ah-yor-yee-ti-ko); and white grapes: Moschofilero (mos-ko-fee-le-ro) and Assyrtiko (a-seer-tee-ko). Next, make native Greek varieties more approachable by creating loose comparisons with familiar varieties.
If Nebbiolo is the king of Piedmont, then Xinomavro is the champion of Greek wines. Grown in the northern region of Naoussa, Xinomavro (meaning "acid-black") produces wines that are full bodied with plenty of tannins and acid, making it a great bottle for cellar aging. For a softer wine, try the Agiorgitiko variety from the southern Nemea region. Also known as "St. George," the wiies made from Agiorgitiko produce full-bodied, fruity wines with soft, moderate tannins much like Merlot.
In the north, the white wines from the pink-skinned Moschofilero grape are often likened to Alsatian wines; refreshing crisp acidity and subtle floral aromas make it a perfect quaffing wine. On the island of Santorini, the top-quality white Assyritko grape finds its home. This wine's crisp acidity and neutral flavors are "squeaky clean" on the finish, much like an Italian white.
Native wines from an ancient wine region are like drinking a page of history. With one sip, you'll agree that Greece has got its game back — just in time to carry the torch for the 2004 summer games.
MaÉianne Frantz, founder of the Cleveland Wine School, is joined by native Clevelander and master sommelier Larry O'Brien of Paterno Wines International in selecting wines for this month's Cellar Notes.
2001, Nemea ($13): Made from the Agiorgitiko grape, this is a full-bodied, ruby wine with aromas of plum, vanilla and spices, and a velvety finish.
2001 Naoussa ($13): Full-bodied from the Xinomavro grape with intense notes of red fruits, olive, cedar and baking spices. Firm tannins require a bit of age or some cheese.
2002 Moschofilero, Mantinia ($16): Crisp acid and floral aromas of orange blossom make this a great patio wine, perfect with seafood, fish and cheese.
2001 Santorini ($15): The Assyrtiko grape makes this well-balanced white wine with lemony acidity. Aromas of peach and grapefruit are complemented by a hint of mineral.
1998 Grande Reserve Naoussa ($18): Full of character, acidity and complex notes of olive, fig and spice. "Grand Reserve" indicates the wine has been aged four years.
Mavrodaphne of Patras ($12): End on a sweet note that offers great value. This red sweet wine is all prune and fig with just the right level of acid and alcohol (15 percent) to handle the sweetness.