Updated: Dec 1, 2020
The hallmark of Thursday Night Wine Club has been the desire for us all, professional or amateur to push our vinous horizons and try something new. Often we are introduced to a new region or grape variety by what someone else is drinking, a form or vinous teasing leading to thirst jealousy which encourages our wings spread. This is how such a strong interest in Greek wine flared up amongst the group, so much so that 2 members decided to take their summer holidays in Santorini leading to more jealousy!
If you are going to host a masterclass on Greek wine, there is one man you want hosting it; Steve Daniel, wine buyer for Hallgarten Novum and the man responsible for first bringing Greek wines into the UK during his time as Buying Director for Oddbins.
We were sent a carefully selected mixed case including unusual indigenous grape varieties such as Xinomavro, Agiorgitiko, Assyrtiko, Malagousia and Vidiano. More than an introduction to these wines, Steve bought an incredible sense of the history of Greek wine, charting its place in antiquity, its gradual decline and its sudden burst onto the modern wine scene in the 1990’s resurrecting historic varieties and tending them with a modern hand. Their viticultural and winemaking facilities are world class and stand as an example to be replicated by many and at their disposal they have a treasure trove of indigenous varieties. The results, as we saw, are extraordinary.
First up we tasted the Ktima Gerovassilou Malagousia 2019 Single Vineyard from Epanomi. It was thanks to the efforts of Vangelis Gerovassilou that the Malagousia grape was saved from extinction, for he discovered some ancient vines, nurtured them and planted more and today it is one of the signature white grapes of Greece.
The nose is very floral, with an almost Muscat aromatic quality combined with some richer peach and apricot notes. The palate has beautiful texture and freshness with subtle notes of chamomile and dried flowers. It is concentrated and rich on the palate and has a delicious saline finish. A lovely food wine, especially with Asian fusion cooking. The Whisky Exchange £16.95
Gaia Wines Wild Ferment Assyrtiko 2019, Santorini. This surely has to be Greece’s star white grape variety, particularly when grown upon the unforgiving volcanic ash of Santorini. It is believed that the Assyrtiko grape was planted in Santorini by the Phoenicians and has made its home in these arid soils ever since. With soils too extreme for the phylloxera louse which devastated European vineyards in the late 1800’s, these vines are still on their original rootstocks, often hundreds of years old. The vines are woven into baskets where the grapes grow on the inside, this protects them from the strong winds, and the basket structure captures the sea mist to water the roots during their dry hot summers. The Assyrtiko grape has a higher natural acidity than Riesling, making it perfect in these warmer climates.
The wine is incredibly intense with preserved lemon, wild herbs and a mouth-wateringly saline, mineral core. Half the wine is aged in barrel (some Arcacia, some French and some American oak) giving it wonderful texture and richness on the palate, but not the ‘oaky’ flavours. The wine seems to pulse with energy and the finish is long, fresh and energizing. Corking Wines £29
Alpha Estate Xinomavro Reserve Vieilles Vignes Single Block Barba Yannis 2016, Amyndeo. Quite the title, and it is quite the wine! This is from the north of Greece on a high altitude plateau which experiences a surprisingly continental climate. The winery has incredibly advanced technology and viticulturalists from all over the world come to see the subterranean root deficit irrigation system and the gas chromatographer. Xino means acidic and Mavro means black and it is often a grape variety likened to Nebbiolo, however, here the winemaker believes it is more akin to Sangiovese.
The nose is rich, earthy and funky with intense sundried tomato and soft red fruits. On the palate ripe red fruits, sun dried tomato and tobacco vie with fennel seeds, cedar wood, roasted red pepper and a hint of paprika. Complex, mature, unusual and a delicious food wine. Vinum £20
We are left with 3 other exciting wines to taste in our own time, a Vidiano from Crete, an Agiorgitiko from Nemea (where Hercules fought the fabled lion) and a 2013 blend of Agiorgitiko and Mavroudi which has only just been released to the market hails from Laconia (THIS IS SPARTA) which apparently tastes like a combination of a Gran Reserva Rioja and Barolo with svelte rich, ripe fruit, truffles and mushrooms. Yes please!
Thank you Steve, our Greek adventure has only just begun….