Greek Wines – beyond Retsina
You could certainly be forgiven for overlooking Greek wines. Deterred by an unpleasant experience with Retsina, or repeated encounters with cork taint, few associate Greece with superior wine. Travellers visit the Greek Cyclades for breathtaking vistas, ancient culture and exquisite cuisine, but the wines seem insignificant, especially considering proximity to the utopian wine regions of Europe.
While Europe enjoys an idyllic grape growing climate, complete with fertile fields and protected landscapes, Greek vines are battlers. Grapes grown on Santori island, Greece’s premier wine region, have fought the odds for centuries in order to survive. They grow in barren, volcanic ‘soil’, are battered by harsh winds and receive precious little rain. The vines must be trained into baskets to protect the fruit. Perhaps it was the vines strength of character that caught the attention of Peter Barry of Jim Barry Wines while holidaying on the island back in 2008. After all, most Aussies have a soft spot for a battler.
Peter Barry’s ambition to bring Assyrtiko vines to Australia has now finally come to fruition, quite literally. The importation and quarantine procedures involved in the transportation and propagation of those vines was daunting, but Jim Barry Wines in the Clare Valley is now home to three hectares of Assyrtiko vines with more plantings scheduled. Initial reviews of the first bottles produced have been overwhelmingly positive – perhaps it is time to revisit Greek wines… a trip to Santorini wouldn’t hurt either.
Peter Barry’s experimentation with Assyrtiko comes at a time when Greek wines are being actively promoted throughout the western world. The once overlooked wines of Greece are slowly and steadily attracting a following. We are seeing higher quality products that appeal to a wider market.
Greek wines for me, offer a distinct and refreshing flavour. I find their fresh, crisp and vibrant personality remarkably versatile and refreshing. Some of my favourite producers, include Kir Yianni, Argyros, Gaia and Douloufakis – examples of which are in-store and ready for you to try.
Even the humble Retsina has evolved over time. More dignified examples such as Gaia Ritinitis Nobilis and Malamatina, are working hard to reverse the stigma and entice new fans with subtle pine resin flavours replacing the traditional pine mallet effect.
Wine has been evolving over thousands of years, but never more so than the last few decades. It is an exciting and liberating time to taste the wonders of the world. While Greek wines may have taken longer than some to meet the current trends, they are coming of age. There are now several varieties on my favourites list and I’m sure with some experimentation, you will find some too…