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I have been fascinated with the wines of Greece this year. The Greek mainland and the Greek isles have an incredibly long and storied viticultural history, with a multitude of indigenous grape varieties, varied traditional methods of production, and a staggering number of individual microclimates and terroirs. Wine is made throughout the majority of the country, in small amounts and primarily for home consumption; the commercial, organically farmed wines that we are presenting today are relatively recent arrivals to the scene.
Today's wines are from all around Greece, from the mainland to the islands. I hope that the attached map, with today's producers labeled, helps to show the breadth of different areas within Greece that are now producing interesting, well-farmed, conscientiously produced wines. These regions have different soils and microclimates, and the resulting wines, while all infused with the Mediterranean, show the variety of Greek natural wines available today.
The first producer we'd like to highlight is Papras Bio Wines, in the area of Tyrnavos in Thessaly. Founded by Stergios Papras, the estate has been organic since 1990. Stergios works with many of the local varieties, but today we have three wines, made from Badaki, Roditis, and Black Muscat, that show an interesting approach to skin-contact white and rose winemaking. All are aromatically complex, with delicate tannic structures, and fresh, boisterous exuberance.
Kamara Estate, near Thessalonikki in Macedonia, is a new project focused on low intervention organic winemaking, founded by Dimitrios Kioutsoukis. Their Retsina is my favorite that I have tasted: delicately resinous, with notes of ginger and lots of freshness. It's great on its own, or with a large variety of cuisines.
In Achaia in the Peloponnese, Sant'Or is a Demeter-certified Biodynamic winery making fascinating wines from local varieties, including the only varietal wines of the local Santameriana grape. Their amphora-aged, skinicontact 2018 Santomeri Santameriana orange wine is especially interesting, with a honeyed texture and notes of apricot and green herbs.
Sclavos Wines, in Cephalonia, is the oldest producer highlighted here, tracing its roots back to the early twentieth century, and a pioneer of low-intervention winemaking and organic farming in Greece. All of the Sclavos wines show the intensely mineral character of the island's terroir. The Tsaousi, made from an indigenous grape variety of the same name, is a fascinating and beautiful Mediterranean wine with beautiful lift and salty, mineral intensity.
In Crete, Giannis Stilianou is making impressive natural wines with organic grapes grown in hot, sunny vineyards cooled by Mediterranean winds. To tame the concentration of the tannic and dark Mandilari, he macerates the juice on the skins for only a single day, yielding a lighter wine with more delicate tannins but dark fruit character.
Returning to the mainland, Troupis Winery, in Mantinia in the Peloponesse, is producing the most fascinating expression of Moschofilero that I've found: made from organic grapes, fermented with native yeasts, and with a day of skin contact, it pours a light rose color. It is a fascinating expression of one of the most interesting indigenous Greek grapes.
I've enjoyed expanding my knowledge and my palate through exploring Greek wines in 2019 - and I hope you will join me in tasting these unique expressions of Ancient tradition, modern transformation, and Mediterranean terroir in 2020.
Retsina is the ancient style of resinated white wine native to Greece. Wines have been flavored with the sap or resin of the Aleppo Pine for at least 2000 years, and the unique profile is (when well done) very friendly to the spiced seafood and other Mediterranean fare that forms the core of the Greek diet. I like to drink retsina with cured fish, with olives, or with Asian food. This retsina is the most impressive I've tasted, and very reasonable in price: the grapes (from young vines belonging to Kamara Estate near Thessaloniki) are vinified in stainless steel tanks with small bits of Aleppo Pine resin added to the must. The profile is clearly resinated (think of the aromas of pine sap and bark, rather than aggressive menthol notes) but the fresh character of bright Assyrtiko and Roditis grapes certainly comes through (typically, modern retsina is made with neutral, fleshier Savatiano - the use of Assyrtiko and Roditis makes this brighter, fresher, and more interesting to my palate). Retsina sometimes gets dismissed but I hope you'll try this as either a fun apéritif or a great pairing for well-flavored seafood, garlicky dips, or charcuterie. Ben Fletcher
Naiads (in ancient Greek mythology, the nymphs of the freshwater springs) is the new wine in the series of Nymph-named bottlings from Papras Bio Wines. Made from the indigenous Greek grape Badiki, this is fermented in the same method as the Oreads and the Pleiades: indigenous yeast fermentation, ten days of maceration on the skins, and then bottling unfined and unfiltered with a small addition of SO2 (10mg). Of the three wines, this was the lightest. Naiads showed higher toned aromatics with notes of lime blossom, chamomile, and quince on the nose and a more delicate palate with lighter tannins than Oreads or Pleiades. A beautiful, gentle new addition to the trio of Nymphs! Ben Fletcher
Oreads, named for the nymphs of the mountains, is the rosé wine of the nymph-named trio from Papras Bio Wines, made from Black Muscat of Tyrnavos, which has been planted in Tyrnavos (near Mt. Olympus) for more than one hundred years. Like the Pleiades and Naiads, the organically farmed grapes are fermented with indigenous yeasts, macerated on their skins for ten days, then bottled without fining or filtering and with only a small addition of sulfur (10mg). This year's Oreads is slightly darker in color than last year's, and shows beautiful pink flower, dried rose, and orange blossom aromatics. The palate is dry, crisp, and salty with lots of floral and citrus character: pansies, lilacs, the juice of blood oranges, salted pink grapefruit, and lemon zest. A great expression of this unique aromatic grape, and an instant reminder of spring time. Ben Fletcher
The Pleiades are the nymphs of the stars, and this bottling is made from the rosy-hued Roditis grape. Of the three nymph-wines from Papras this is the spiciest and perhaps the most clearly an "orange wine". It is made in the same method as the Oreads and the Naiads: the grapes are pressed, fermented with indigenous yeasts, macerate on their skins for ten days and finally bottled without fining or filtering and with only a small (10mg) addition of SO2. Pleiades is aromatically spicy, with melon, white pepper, yellow flower, and ripe orange on the nose. The palate is dry and surprisingly structured, with elegant tannins and plenty of citrus-driven acidity that complement flavors of quince, pineapple, Bergamot, and green tea. This is my favorite version of Pleiades that I've tasted. Ben Fletcher
This wine comes from the nearly unknown Santameriana grape, found only in the village of Santomeri, where the Sant'Or Winery is based. Sant'Or produces the only varietal wine from this grape, which Panos Dimitropoulos has worked to recover from obscurity. For the skin contact wine, the grapes are macerated on the skins for 20 days, before maturing it for six months in clay eggs. The resulting wine is medium to full bodied, with some delicate tannic structure and notes of apricot, bitter herbs, and honey. Ben Fletcher
Sclavos is a long-time organic winery on the island of Cephalonia in the Ionian sea, off the West coast of Greece. This wine is made from the local Tsaousi grape, from an old, biodynamically farmed vineyard on the slopes of Mount Ainos, the mountainous island's tallest peak. The wine has an intense aromatic character, with notes of yellow flowers, sea and mountain air, and chalk. The palate is bright and clear, with abundant, mouth-watering acidity and notes of yellow apple, chalk, crushed clam shells, and a delicately savory finish. Drinking this makes me want shrimp, mussels, or octopus. Ben Fletcher
(Was $27.99) Giannis Stilianou and his son tend 3 hectares of indigenous Cretan grapes near Heraklion, the capital of the dry, sun-beaten, Greek island of Crete. The Great Mother Red is a wine made with Mandilaria, an intensely dark and tannic grape native to the Aegean Isles. In order to produce a more lightly colored and delicate wine Giannis macerates the juice on the skins for only one day - yielding an aromatic and intensely flavored wine that is eminently drinkable. With aromatic notes of forest herbs, salt, and red fruit, the palate is bright, clean and fresh with red cherry and salted plum notes. This was great with lamb burgers. Ben Fletcher
Siflogo is an organic wine project begun by Maria and Dionysis Papanikolopoulos on the picturesque island of Lefkada in the Ionian sea, off the west coast of mainland Greece. Here, ungrafted vines of indigenous grape varieties (Vertzami, Vardea, Mavropatrino) struggle on poor, very rocky, limestone soils. Keropatis, the name of this wine, is a local term for light red wines that are close to rosé in terms of body. Made from the dark, black grape Vertzami, this is a pretty, mineral and delicately fruity light red wine made with a short maceration and without the addition of sulfur. It shows notes of cranberry, candied sour cherry, and lots of limestone minerality. I've been drinking it with a slight chill - and it disappears very quickly! Ben Fletcher