Greek Wine: Hard to Say But Easy to Drink

Wine Folly Assyrtiko DrawingWhen Mr. Spittoon and I were backpacking around Europe, Greece was on the must-do list. We made it as far as Sofia in Bulgaria. However due to a sudden unrest in Greece involving international trains not running and violent protests, after much deliberation we had to change our plans and instead flew to Rome. We were guttered as I knew the wine and food in Greece were going to be amazing.

I may not have made it to the actual country but thanks to Mayfair Lane, I got to experience a little bit of Greece, right here in Perth. For $80pp Mayfair were holding an Introduction to Greek Wines evening where we tried 3 Greek white wines, 3 red wines, a sweet wine and plenty of Greek ‘street food’ to match.
Mayfair Lane - Introduction to Greek Wine ClassMayfair Lane Perth - Wine Tasting Class Menu

Our host for the evening was the lovely wino Foni Pollitt who is of Greek heritage. Needless to say her pronunciation of all the indigenous Greek grape varieties and regions put my attempts at saying them to shame! Foni is bubbling with wine knowledge, so if you ever get a chance to attend one of her wine events at Mayfair Lane, then do it!

I really loved the ‘sensory table’ set up so you could have a whiff of all the different scents you may pick up in Greek wines.
Sensory Station - Mayfair Lane Perth

I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, so much so that I wanted to share some of my newfound Greek wine knowledge with you guys! Long story short, if you get the opportunity to taste Greek wine, do it!

Quick facts

So first things first, what are some basic facts about Greek wine that I can tell you? Who knows these may come in handy at a quiz night or to impress a new date!

  • Greece was the first European country to produce wine and is one of the oldest wine-producing countries in the world
  • In fact there’s evidence that Greek wine was around 6,500 years ago!
  • Dionysus (son of Zeus) is the Greek God of wine (aka the wino God!)
  • The wine laws of Greece are closely modeled on the French AOC classification system
    • These include two Protected of Dominated Origins (PDO) and two Protected Geographical Indication (PGI)
    • For all those uber wine geeks out there, you can read more about Greek wine classifications here
  • Retsina is what put Greek wine on the map internationally all those years ago which you can read more about below

Most Greek wine you taste over here is crap because they keep all the good stuff in Greece for themselves – typical Greeks” – Foni Pollitt

Mayfair Lane - Bread and Wine Retsina

What’s a blog post on Greek wine without a mention of Retsina? It may not be to mine, or many people’s taste these days but this wine is a significant part of Greece’s wine history.

Basically Retsina is a ‘resinated wine’ which means the wine has been exposed to tree resin, typically pine resin. How does the wine come across tree resin you ask? Well before oak barrels were a thing for maturing and storing wine, amphorae were used. Amphorae are basically clay jugs with a thin neck and two handles, and they were often sealed with pine resin. Hence how Retsina came about.

Initially the resin infusion was a side effect, but soon it became characteristic to the wine and its fame. It’s worth a try, who knows you may like it!

Greek wine names and how to pronounce them

If you ever spot a bottle of Greek wine on a liquor shop shelf or see one on a restaurant wine list, I bet you’ll struggle to pronounce it. So here are a few of the more common grape varieties you may come across and how to ‘attempt’ to say them:

White Grapes:

  • Assyrtiko = ah-seer-ti-ko
  • Malagousia = ma-la-goo-SEE-ah
  • Moschofilero = mosh-co-fil-lairo

Red Grapes:

  • Agiorgitiko = ah-gee-or-gee-tee-ko
  • Xinomavro = zhee-no-mav-ro

Despite being hard to say, the wines are pretty darn easy to drink though!

Greek white wines

At the Mayfair Lane tasting we tried two indigenous white wine grapes, Assyritko and Moschofilero alongside a Viognier from the Epanomi region. I didn’t write tasting notes on the night, as I was too busy eating and drinking however thankfully Foni and the Mayfair Lane team had put together a handy little booklet for us all to take home. So here’s the low down on what we tried, a bit about each grape variety and the food to match:

2016 Domaine Tselepos Moscofilero from Mantinia
As Foni put it, the Moscofilero grape is a very pretty and feminine grape. For the everyday drinker it can be likened to a Pinot Gris, not just because of the taste but also like Pinot Gris, the grapes are a grey-ish colour and the wine has a very slight pinkness/blush colour to it. It’s light and floral – perfect for smashing back in summertime.
2016 Domaine Tselepos Moscofilero from Mantinia

Yiannis Tselepos is the winemaker at Domaine Tselepos and is known to be the master of this grape variety in Greece. His vines are at an altitude of 750 metres which contributes to low temperatures and late ripening of the grapes.

We started our night off with this wine as it’s a nice crisp, refreshing tipple that is perfect as an aperitif wine and palate cleanser. It was a delight with a grilled tiger prawn with lemon, sea salt and olive oil!

2016 Argyros Assyrtiko from Santorini
The Assyrtiko grape is Greece’s unsung hero, the country’s most noble white grape. It’s like the Gruner of Austria and the Riesling of Germany. It’s crisp and clean with a chablis-esque nature as Foni put it. It can be likened to Sauv Blanc and Riesling with its ‘rocky’ minerality and citrus notes.
2016 Argyros Assyrtiko from Santorini

Argyros comes from the magical island of Santorini in the Aegan Sea. Santorini has an incredible history from invasions to earthquakes to volcanic activity and of course the stories of Atlantis. The result of all these historical events has lead to a wine growing area with a unique terroir.

Our Greek food match was a grilled sardine with lemon, olive oil and tomato concasse – I am not normally a massive fan of sardines, however I seemed to easily demolish this with the wine. A great match!
Sardine & Greek white wine at Mayfair Lane Perth

2016 Gerovassiliou Viognier from Epanomi
Obviously Viognier is not an indigenous varietal of Greece but my oh my do the Greeks know how to make a good Viognier, well Ktima Gerovassiliou certainly does. This was my favourite of the night and was matched with the ‘Graviera Saganaki’ aka grilled cheese with lemon – it was a match made in heaven!
2016 Gerovassiliou Viognier from Epanomi

Plus we also found out this wine was among the highest scoring wines at the recent 2017 Decanter World Wine Awards and received the Platinum Best in Category-Best Greek White! I definitely can understand why.

The wine spends time in French oak barrels and also time on its lees to give it a nice creamy mouthfeel and has lovely notes of apricots and peaches on the palate.

Greek red wine

So now, let’s move onto the reds! Agiorgitiko (ah-gee-or-gee-tee-ko) and Xinomavro (zhee-no-mav-ro) are the most prominent red wine grapes in Greece. Here’s what we tasted:

2012 Kir Yianni Ramnista Single Vineyard Xinomavro from Naoussa
Xinomavro is the second most planted red grape in Greece (after Agiorgitiko) and can be likened to Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo with its decent acidity. It is also made into rose wine and sparkling wine quite often. If you see the name Nauossa on the label this will mean it’s 100% Xinomavro and not blended with any other grape varieties.
2012 Kir Yianni Ramnista Single Vineyard Xinomavro from Naoussa

Wines made from Xinomavro can be cellared for a number of years due to their rich tannins. At the tasting this was matched with a Horatiki Salad (Greek village salad, with barrel aged feta, day old bread, tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, olive oil and dried oregano) – of which the feta was sent over from Greece by Foni’s Dad as it was impossible to find barrel aged feta here in Perth! Personally this wasn’t my favourite match, but separately I enjoyed both.
Horatiki Salad & Greek Red Wine at Mayfair Lane Perth

2015 Agiorgitkio by Gaia from Nemea
I loved how Foni explained this grape, it’s the ‘Sparta’ of Greek grapes. It’s the ‘James Bond’ of red grapes of Greece with its tight structured tuxedo and alpha-male aura. It’s the most widely planted red grape in Greece and can be likened to Cabernet Sauvignon as it has similar dark fruit flavours and tannins. Aka the perfect accompaniment for a nice big hunk of meat.
2015 Agiorgitkio by Gaia from Nemea

This Agiorgitkio produced by Gaia went down like a treat, especially with one of the tastiest moussaka’s I have had. Moussaka is a traditional Greek casserole dish with eggplant, cheese and a meat sauce topped with thick bechamel sauce.
Moussaka & Greek red wine at Mayfair Lane Perth

2013 Gerovassiliou Avaton Limnio Mavroudi Mavrotragano from Epanomi
Now that’s a mouthful to say! What does all it mean?? Well ‘Gerovassiliou Avaton’ is the producer and Limnio, Mavroudi and Mavrotragano are the three grape varieties in the blend. Limnio is one of the most ancient red grapes of Greece and lucky for us it is the dominant part of the blend. This wine ferments in wooden tanks before spending 18 months in oak barrels.
2013 Gerovassiliou Avaton Limnio Mavroudi Mavrotragano from Epanomi

Foni described this wine as ‘big and it’ll give you that little bit of lip’ which someone in the room replied back saying that it ‘must be like a Greek woman’ – as you can imagine roars of laughter filled the room!

This intriguing wine was matched with a garlic and herb lamb chop with Greek style potatoes and tzatzaki – the only problem with this one is the serving wasn’t big enough, nor the room left in my stomach to devour more!
Lamp chops & Greek red wine at Mayfair Lane Perth

Greek sweet wine

Not only have I now tried a number of white and red Greek wines but I have also tried a sweet Greek dessert wine and what an experience it was…

2009 Argyros Vinsanto 4 Years Barrel Aged Assyrtiko Aidani Athiri from Santorini
Oh my, now this was an eye-opener. To be honest I didn’t think much of it on the nose, other than it being an alcohol bomb. But wow as soon as it hit the palate, I was in love. As Foni put it, it’s ‘golden nectar on the tongue, aka liquid gold’ – she was right. On the palate the bright acidity balanced out that sweetness so well.
2009 Argyros Vinsanto 4 Years Barrel Aged Assyrtiko Aidani Athiri from Santorini

This dessert wine is made from 3 grapes; Assyrtiko (80%), Aidani and Athiri. And speaking from experience it matches beautifully with Galaktoubouriko (don’t even ask me how you say that one!) which is a flaky phyllo dough custard pie which wasd teamed up with a cinnamon infused syrup. Wow, so good and by that stage of the night I was stuffed to the brim!
Greek Dessert Wine and Galaktoubouriko at Mayfair Lane Perth

Where can you buy/drink Greek wine in Perth

Of course Mayfair Lane have some of these wines on their restaurant list for you to try + Foni also mentioned she may look to do a Greek Wine Masterclass at some point so stay tuned! You can also do some Greek wine shopping at the likes of La Vigna and Dan Murphy’s. As I come across more places, I’ll be sure to add them and likewise if you know of anywhere, please comment below.

So it’s safe to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my wee trip to Greece without having to leave Australia. I am really intrigued about Greek wines now and no doubt will be hunting more out to try alongside getting my Greek on in the kitchen – moussaka is first up!

6 thoughts on “Greek Wine: Hard to Say But Easy to Drink

  1. Great article! We always love finding new regions to discover and I have to confess this one hasn’t been on our radar. Will definitely keep an open mind and see what’s available here to start trying. Cheers!

  2. I have no idea how to pronounce them, but know that I like greek wine. One of my best travel memories is sitting at a restaurant in Athens on a hot summer’s night overlooking the Pantheon and drinking Greek wine – it was served chilled and it was like having a sip of Greece.

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