Let's start off by saying that the supermarket shelves are not brimming with Greek Wine. Most of them don't bother at all - including my go-to stores for wines off the beaten track, M&S and Waitrose.
So, I've partly resorted to online shopping, for which I apologise, and can only hope Greek wine starts emerging as a player on the supermarket shelves soon. They have a lot going for them as their native grapes thrive in the hot arid conditions, and the Greeks produce wine in a range of styles. Whilst grapes are grown more or less all over Greece, there are three emerging wine regions that are gaining recognition on the export market.
In the North East of the country, near Macedonia, the vineyards can be up to 400m in altitude, giving cooler growing conditions. The Xinomavro grape is grown widely here, a bold red that can be compared to the Italian Nebbiolo. It has high levels of tannin and can be aged well, developing complex spice and earthy aromas.
In Southern Greece, the Peloponnese peninsula has a range of vineyards across different altitudes, meaning they can make red wines that have high acidity, but also make wines that can be overly jammy in their fruit flavours. The red Agioritiko grape is widely planted here.
For white wines, the island of Santorini is famed. It's a windy, volcanic island, and the vines have to be shaped into baskets to withstand the strong winds. Wines from the Assyrtiko grape have the highest reputation.
Wine One - Lyrarakis 'voila' Assyrtiko 2018, Majestic Wine £11.99 (£9.99 on a mix 6)
As mentioned above, the Assyrtiko grape is more famously associated with Santorini, where the wines take the concept of ‘minerality’ to the extreme. However it also does well in the high-altitude vineyards on the eastern side of Crete, which is where this bottle comes from. This is one of those lovely, crunchy white wines bursting with citrus and white-fleshed fruits, as well as a dusty, chalky quality, as if you were driving up a gravel track through a lemon grove.
This wine has won numerous gold medals and a rating of 16.5 points from Jancis Robinson, which translates as somewhere between "distinguished" and "superior" on her scale. It demonstrates Majestic Wine's first venture back into Greek wine after a 10 year break, so they must be impressed!
You could pair this perfectly with Greek roast chicken and potatoes with lemon, garlic, rosemary and nutmeg.
Wine Two - Thymiopoulos Rapsani Terra Petra 2016, Wine Society, £20
In the north east of Greece, from the foothills of Mount Olympus, this family run winery have been refining their wines over the years, which are predominantly made from the xinomavro grape. This wine benefits from the addition of other local grapes, Krasato, and Stavroto. It possesses qualities similar to that of modern Barolo or Rhone wine, with powerful, concentrated ripe fruit, spicy flavors of raspberry, anise, fennel, cherry, and occasionally olive, with tannins that build slowly on the palate. It has excellent acidity and good ageing potential. Like Barolo, it was improved by decanting the wine to soften its tannins.
Xinomavro actually means ‘sour black’ and this gives a good description of its key characteristics: a dark colour and high acidity. Winemaker Apostolos (who has been called one of Greece's rising stars) lets the vineyards’ character shine through by not interfering with nature too much. For instance, he does not prune the vines so they can find their own balance, and he is careful not to over- irrigate as it can lead to unpleasantly dominant tannins. Various pests are an issue – in particular, wild boar from the surrounding woods have a very sweet tooth – but Apostolos uses nature to counteract them. For instance, to counteract a plague of locusts in 2012, he released fifty guinea fowl into the vineyards who quickly devoured the problem!
This will taste great with lamb (moussaka!) and gamey red meat
Wine Three - NYX Mavrodaphne of Patras dessert wine, Asda £6.25
This sweet port-like wine is made from the Mavrodafni grape. Mavrodafni means black laurel, although there is folklore surrounding the name being linked to a lover called Daphne who died before she was able to marry. She had black eyes apparantly. The grape gives its name to the sweet, fortified wine first produced from it by Gustav Clauss in around 1850. Gustav was a Bavarian who bought 60 acres in Patras (on the Peloponnesian mountains) at an altitude of 500 meters. His initial interest was in blackcurrants, but he built a summer residence there, where he planted a few vines as a hobby. The rest is history....
Mavrodaphni is a dark, almost opaque wine and presents aromas and flavours of caramel, chocolate, coffee, raisins and plums. If you're not a Port connoisseur, you may get away with believing this is port, although it is slighter lighter in body. If not, it's still a cheap, intense and pleasant wine with lot of dried fruits flavours .
It is made by fortification - the wine reaches a certain level of maturity, then fermentation is stopped by adding distillate prepared from previous vintages. Then the Mavrodaphni distillate and the wine, still containing residual sugar, is transferred to the underground cellars to complete its maturation. There it is "educated" by contact with older wine using the solera method of serial blending.
As well as this example in Asda, you will often find Tesco, Waitrose and Sainsburys selling other makes ofi Mavrodaphne for a similar price, between £5 and £7.