Greek wines surprise, delight the palate
November 24, 2008 · Updated 6:28 PM
Just before the holidays, there are many trade and press wine tastings. I was at the Columbia Tower, enjoying wine, fantastic appetizers and the stupendous view when a colleague tugged on my sleeve. “You’ve got to try these great Greek wines!”
Good Greek wine has typically been an oxymoron. When friends would come back from Greece talking about the good wines, I would reject their comments with a “Right time-right-place” dismissal. Of course, I knew Greek wines were the most important wines in antiquity, but for most of my life they have had poor reputations.
After all, I mostly think of retsina, which is wine reflecting the ancient history of using pine resin to seal and coat jars that were used to store and transport wines. Retsina smells and tastes like turpentine. The other Greek wines I had tasted were barely drinkable at best. During the past two decades as Greek wines improved, I ignored them because of past prejudice.
Thus, I approached the Greek wine table with trepidation. I was shocked! The wines were well-made and delicious. However, I had a hard time understanding them because they were not made from grapes that I had tasted before. That’s no surprise, since there are nearly 300 varieties of grapes grown in Greece, most of which are grown only in Greece. Here are some of the varieties you might see referenced on a back label of a Greek wine:
Aidani (ah ee tha’ nee): Aidani is an ancient Greek grape variety. It is pleasantly aromatic with flowers similar to jasmine. The wine has a medium alcohol content and acidity.
Athiri (ah thee’ re): This grape is small, juicy with a fresh, fruity taste. The bouquet is of lemon blossom and citrus peel with grapefruit, melon, peach and pear. The flavors have nuances of pineapple and banana.
Assyrtiko (a seer’ tee ko): This grape maintains its acidity as it ripens and yields a crisp bond-dry wine with citrus aromas. It blends well with other white wines to accompany shellfish.
Roditis (ro dee’ tees): This grape has a rose-tinted skin and produces light white wines with citrus flavors and a pleasant finish.
Sideritis (see the re’ tis): A late-ripening grape harvested in mid-October. Sideritis translates directly as ‘iron’ and the wine actually has nuances of iron. It is often compared to the Gr