Lauren Friel on August 9, 2016 0 Comments Northern Greece – Macedonia + Thrace Grapes: Xinomavro, Agiorgitiko, Malagouzia 1. Naoussa Naoussa’s hilly landscape – coupled with its granite-rich soil and relatively cool climate – have earned it a flattering nickname: The Next Piedmont. It’s not just the terroir that’s in this Northern region’s corner, though; it turns out the local grape xinomavro (ksee-NO-mahvroh) has a lot in common with that Piemontese darling of the fog, nebbiolo. Both grapes are naturally high in acidity (xinomavro translates to “acid black”), with strong tannin and tremendous aging potential. You can find those classic tar and roses notes in xinomavro, too, but they’re pleasantly fleshed out by just a bit more ripe black fruit than you’re likely to find in Barolo or Barbaresco. If you’re looking for a place to start for a serious study of Greek wines, this is the place. Discover Unique Greek Wine Here Look For: Karydas: Konstantinos Karydas is largely understood to be the grandfather of Naoussa wines. He hasn’t been in the area the longest, but his wines speak volumes for his integrity and skill in the region. His wines are austere, powerful and cerebral. Thymiopoulos: The young Apostolis Thymiopoulos took over his family’s generations-old estate in the Valley of the Muses around 20 years ago, and his determination to preserve and promote the beauty and history of the biodynamic production they’ve practiced for decades is paying off. Look for his “Young Vines” cuvee for an answer to Greek Beaujolais, or spring for “Uranos” if you’re hoping to a deep and spicy foray. Kir-Yianni: A descendent of – and defector from – the Boutari corporate wine family started Kir-Yianni in the late 90s. Today, his son, Stellios, oversees the family’s growing estate. These Greek wines are approachable and well-built, and their “Akakies” sparkling rosé of xinomavro is an excellent gateway drug to the wonders of the region. 2. Epanomi Just outside the large port city of Thessaloniki on Greece’s Western coast is the revival village of Epanomi, anchored by Ktima Gerovassiliou, a 56-hectare estate producing some world-class Greek wines. Look for: Gerovassiliou: Founded by Evangelos Gerovassiliou in the late 1980s, Gerovassiliou took his skills and experience as chief oenologist for several Bordeaux estates back to his home village, where he single-handedly revived the near-extinct aromatic Greek variety, malagouzia. Today, malagouzia is heralded as one of Greece’s great vinous treasures, and Gerovassiliou’s cuvee takes medals at the Decanter World Wine Awards year after year. 3. Drama Drama, in Northeastern Greece, has staked its claim as the modern Greek wine region, its continental climate perfectly suited to international varieties like sauvignon blanc, syrah and cabernet sauvignon along with native Greek grapes assyrtiko and agiorgitiko. Look for: Pavlidis: For several years, Ktima Pavlidis had the benefit of employing one of Greece’s most talented young oenologists, Nikos Karatzas, and the wines still show the finesse and balance of his skilled hand. Often a blend of native and international varieties, Pavlidis’ wines are easy to love. The Peninsula – Peloponnese Grapes: Moschofilero, Roditis, Malagouzia, Agiorgitiko (aka St. George), Mavrodaphne 1. Nemea Daytrip-able from Athens, Nemea combines the moving beauty of Ancient Greek ruins with a thriving wine region. One of the oldest winemaking regions in the world (scientists have put the origins of viticulture here between 4,000 and 7,000 years ago), the high hills and deep valleys make for tremendous versatility – you’ll find aromatic whites and rich reds alike. Look for: Skouras: George Skouras, like Gerovassiliou, resurrected a near-extinct aromatic white on his estate in the hills of Nemea. Moschofilero, which has the potential to drink like a New Zealand sauvignon blanc or a dry Riesling depending on the climate, is now one of Greece’s crowning glories for its crisp, delicate expression. Skouras is renowned for his mastery with reds, too, producing award-winning and age-worthy barrel-fermented agiorgitiko wines. Gai’a: Yiannis Paraskevopoulos is the brains behind this benchmark Greek estate with wineries in the Peloponnese and Santorini. Paraskevopoulos is a Professor of Enology at the University of Athens and an important voice behind the Greek wine movement. Look for the “14-18h” rosé of agiorgitiko, a meaty and rustic rosé for all seasons, or sink into their Estate red, a powerful and complex red made from 100% agiorgitiko. 2. Mantinia In the heart of the Peloponnese lies the heart of Peloponnese moschofilero production. Aromatic whites reign supreme here, though you can find easygoing agiorgitikos to take the place of merlot any day. Look for: Spiropoulos: This small, family-run estate is charming and secluded, a simple and honest winery making simple, honest Greek wines. Their “Ode Panos,” a sparkling cuvee of moschofilero, is a delicious, easy-drinking alternative to Prosecco that’s just a bit denser and more expressive than most of what’s coming out of the Valdobbiadene these days. Tselepos: Tselepos’ wines might be some of the best values available in the Western market these days. Find their well-made Mantinia-classified or sparkling moschofilero for short money, or go for their reserve agiorgitiko without thinking twice about your wallet. 3. Patras Situated in the Northwestern Peloponnese, Patras is perhaps best known for its sweet wines, Moscato Patron, Moscato Rio Patras and Mavrodaphne de Rio, but some serious dry wines are also produced from local grapes roditis and sideritis, most notably from the strong-minded oeuvre of Athanassios Parparoussis. Look for: Parparoussis: In contrast to the easy drinkability that’s become the hallmark of the Peloponnese peninsula’s wines, what you’ll find at Parparoussis are deeply complex, heady, and at-times challenging expressions of native Greek varieties. The estate’s “Gift of Dionysus” white of 100% Sideritis holds its ground against the most serious White Burgundy wines, and his traditional sweet wines are balanced in their fruit and acidity. The Islands Grapes: Assyrtiko, Athiri, Vidiano, Liatiko, Mavrotragano 1. Santorini Santorini, along with Naoussa and Nemea, is one in the trifecta of most-beloved Greek regions, owing to its native grape assyrtiko’s mineral snap and freshness (it doesn’t hurt that the island’s reputation as a global honeymoon destination lends a nostalgia factor to the wines). The island’s perfect combination of high winds, volcanic soils and harsh, dry climate means most of the island is free to produce without chemical intervention, and the stress factor for the vines is high, leading to excellent quality grapes with little added effort. Those volcanic soils also mean phylloxera never hit the island, so you’ll find root systems dating back 300-400 years. In short, Santorini a viticultural dream, and the wines deserve the world’s attention. Don’t miss the classic sweet Vinsanto, either; the EU recently granted Greece its historical origin, taking it back from the Italians and acknowledging that the name originally meant “Wine from Santorini,” not “Sacred Wine.” Look for: Gai’a: The aforementioned Nemean estate has important stakes on Santorini, too; his time, Paraskevopoulos is digging in the dusty vineyards of the Santorini caldera, working with some of the island’s oldest vineyards. Try their “Thalassitis,” named for the Ancient Greek tipple that mixed saltwater with wine for health and longevity; there’s no seawater added, but the naturally dense, briny minerality might fool you. BONUS: The estate also recently opened a craft brewery, Crazy Donkey, and the beers are worth a sip. Sigalas: Sigalas is the most modern-drinking of the boutique Santorini wineries (there are other, bulk wine producers that aren’t worth a try). Lots of technology and a global view of the wine world has given Sigalas a leg up in approachability; the wines show polish and finesse that help them bring home award after global wine award. Their Estate assyrtiko is structured and dense, but look for their “Kavalieros,” a lees-fermented expression that shows incredible length and mineral depth. Don’t miss their Vinsanto, either, for a stunning example of taste and tradition. Argyros: Every region has its ornery godfather, and Yiannis Argyros is it for Santorini. Unflinchingly old-school, Argyros’s wines are craggy, snappy and laser-sharp – much like their maker. His Estate assyrtiko is perhaps the best value on the market – naturally organic, from old vines and with incredible complexity. You can also find his “Atlantis” line of entry-level wines for everyday enjoyment without sacrificing expression or integrity. 2. Crete The largest Greek island also accounts for the highest-volume production of bulk wine, but there are a few small estates producing boutique wines that are worth a second look. Look for: Douloufakis: This small, third-generation family winery makes just a few traditional Greek wines based mostly on the local grapes Vidiano and Liatiko. Their “Dafni” wines – one red and one white – are a favorite for incredible value and interest. The Dafni white is a unique expression of the oft-overplanted vidiano grape, and it’s a gorgeous, bright and fresh chenin blanc alternative. The Dafni red drinks like a rare Loire Valley darling, lean and peppery, with wild bramble and herb notes. Karavitakis: A fourth-generation estate this time, and Greek wines that blend the traditional with the contemporary. Approachable and affable, Karavitakis produces just a few wines as well – their “Little Prince” line is for your everyday enjoyment, while the “Klima” series brings in international varieties like merlot, kicking things up a notch while remaining wallet-friendly. 3. Ikaria This far-eastern island where the residents “forget to die,” is one of the world’s five Blue Zones, and we’d like to think some of that health-giving energy finds its way into the wine. Production on the island is tiny, but if you can find these Greek wines, they are unique expressions of the island’s complex cultural history. Look for: Afianes: Nikos Afianes is also the island’s pharmacist, but he doesn’t let his double-duty distract him from producing some of the world’s most meticulous wine. An obsessive oenological historian, Afianes has replicated as many Ancient Greek techniques for vinification he can, from fermentation in clay pithos to native yeast inoculation using a mixture of honey and seawater. The results are not only fascinating from an historic point of view, but truly a delight to drink. Look for his orange wines made from the native begleri or pinot-rivaling reds from fokiano. For dessert, his Tama is an unparalleled balance between sweet, savory and salty.