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Wines: Greece is the word

03 April 2015
Wines: Greece is the word

Greek wines are not new in the UK. They have been around since the late 1990s, mainly available through Oddbins. But in recent years there has been an emergence of small, quality-focused, modern wineries. Although there are some pretty special wines being made with more common grapes, such as Chardonnay, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc, grapes such as Assyrtiko, Malagousia, Agiorgitiko and Xinomavro are here to stay.

Despite - or because of - the financial issues in Greece, their wineries are some of the most modern and best-equipped in Europe, with highly trained winemakers. In general, the white wines are incredibly intense, fresh with minerality and lifted, persistent acidity, making them perfect with food. They are Greece's trump card. The reds continue to excite, but you do need to search for them as some can be quite big and heavy.

Santorini, a volcanic island halfway between the Greek and Turkish mainland, continues to set the pace in terms of quality. Assyrtiko-­Santorini wines are rare and distinctive. These wines are born from the indigenous Assyrtiko grape, cultivated in some of the world's oldest vineyards, dating back 3,500 years.

Assyrtiko-Santorini produces a dry white wine of distinctive character and great minerality, unoaked and pleasant to drink young. However, there are examples of oaked Assyrtiko which age well and offer a luxurious, deep texture - similar to aged Sémillon but with a hint more citrus.

The grape thrives on the island, despite the hot Aegean climate and the dry conditions, and its fruit aromas are very fine, elegant and restrained - more along the line of citrus fruit than tropical fruit. Assyrtiko-Santorini also has the uncanny ability to retain high acidity as it ripens and accumulates sugar - a trait it shares with Riesling. Hence, it produces wines with great freshness and wonderful vibrancy.
The best wineries on the island are Gaia, Hatzidakis and Argyros Sigalas, though in recent years other wineries such as Gavalas, Koutsoyannopoulos and SantoWines have made huge strides in quality.

Alpha Estate

Alpha Estate in Amyndeon - the coldest winegrowing region of Greece - is making exceptional wines from international and indigenous varieties. Its old vine Xynomavro is very good, as is its estate red blend. Alpha also makes great Malagousia and a Sauvignon, including the Alpha Estate Sauvignon Blanc. This is another Gold Award wine: clean, crisp gooseberry and sweet pink grapefruit on the nose; flinty berry aromas; and on the palate it is mineral with crunchy orchard fruit.

Biblia Chora Winery

This organic producer from Kavala is making great white wines. The Biblia Chora Estate white is a blend of Sauvignon and Assyrtiko, and it also produces a top white blend called Ovilos. This is a blend of Sémillon and Assyrtico and is barrel-fermented, giving a wonderful elegance and layers of complexity, as well as spicy fruitiness and long ageing potential. It is similar to white Bordeaux in an old-world style, and would be beautiful with a plate of simple grilled Dover sole and English ­asparagus.

Monemvasia Winery

The best red wine I have tried from Monemvasia was simply called the '300' 2005 - a blend of Agiorgitiko and Mavroudi. It is richly structured with hints of blackberries; smokey, complex and, with 10 years' age, delivers a lovely, silky wine.

The comprehensive supplier of Greek wines in the UK is Hallgarten Druitt, which encompasses Novum Wines (www.hdnwines.co.uk)

Winery spotlight: Gerovassiliou

The first modern boutique producer in Greece was Vangelis Gerovassiliou, who makes exquisite white wines and has spearheaded the growth in popularity of the aromatic Malagousia. This grape was once at the point of extinction and is now widely planted throughout Greece.

Vangelis has recently finished building a state of the art tasting room, wine museum and visitor centre, offering tastings and food matching. He also has one of the greatest corkscrew collections in the world, with over 2,500 examples.

Gerovassiliou's Syrah-inspired reds are beautifully balanced, structured and very Rhône in style. Look out for names such as Avaton and Evangelo, but my picks are these whites.

Malagousia, Single Vineyard, 2013 Gerovassiliou

Partially barrel-fermented and then matured on its lees for a few months to give it extra depth and texture, this wine is straw-coloured with an aroma of pears, mango and unwaxed citrus fruit. The rich flavours are balanced by lemon zest - similar to a bright, new-world Sémillon.

Viognier, 2013 Domaine Gerovassiliou

Gerovassiliou's Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are excellent, but my pick of his 'recognised grape' wines is the Viognier.

It is fermented and aged in oak and it has fooled many a top wine critic. It is very much new world in style, with bright, fresh tropical nuances, ripe white stone fruit and is fresh and juicy with a tantalisingly smoky finish.

This wine works well with food with some spice, such as skate with dried chilli flakes and kaffir lime leaves. It has also won Gold at the recent World Wine Awards.

Winery spotlight: Gaia

Gaia was founded in 1994, and the company owns two modern wineries: one at Nemea on the mainland of Peloponnese and the other on the island of Santorini.

The aim of the two founders, Leon Karatsalos and Yiannis Paraskevopoulos, is to highlight the indigenous grape varieties of the regions and make Assyrtiko a global name.

Gaia focuses more on Greek grape varieties for its red wines, with Agiorgitiko highlighting the quality of this indigenous grape. Its translation into English is St George. The range of wines deliver a Rhône style, highlighted by the Gaia Estate, which has a hint of new oak delivering a long, lingering, full-flavoured, juicy wine. Top of the class is Gaia S, which has a new-world twist with 35% Syrah, adding some spice and soft coconut nuances.

To end my visit to Gaia I tried a spectacular Vinsanto 2005 - aromatic with clean, deep flavours of juicy white peaches; intense but not over-sweet.

Thalassitis Assyrtiko, 2013, Gaia

This stainless steel-fermented, clean, zesty wine is full of bright, fresh flavours and delicate honeysuckle aromas. It's a cross in flavour between Riesling with its lovely acidity, and Sémillon with its depth and structure.

Wild Ferment Assyrtiko, 2013, Gaia

This is Gaia's star wine. Aged in oak it has slight citrus and orange blossom aromas, well-combined with elegant oak notes. It's honeyed with a rich mouth feel, crisp acidity, intense mineral flavours and a long finish. Aided by decanting, this wine has a lovely texture and depth.

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