(TORONTO, ON) – I had the pleasure of attending a Wines of Greece Grand Tasting at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. Forty-one wineries were present, offering tastings and explanations of the wines which they were serving.
Eight of these wineries had no Toronto agent, which means most likely you’ll never see their wines on the LCBO shelves. This also means that if you want to really experiment with these wines you’ll have to private order from the winery or from agents who have stock.
I can’t see the LCBO taking much leadership to expose the public to Greek wines. I suppose we have to ride the waves of Canadian, Italian, French, American, and Spanish wines for the time being.
Greece has over 300 grape varieties, some of which are here in Canada and selling at a very good price point. There have been great changes in the last decade, in terms of new wineries and vintners, and a shift of mentality.
There is a misconception that Greece is a hot Mediterranean country. While true for some parts, northern Greece does see snow in the winter and its mountains are ideal for cool weather grapes. Disease pressures are minimal, so the use of chemicals in wine growing is at a minimum.
Greece has had centuries to determine which grapes make the best wine. It is the 17th largest producer of wine in the world with 110,000 hectares are under cultivation. It is up to Greece to increase the export of quality wines and there is a need for a new wave of winemakers to shake things up.
Greece is primarily a white wine producer, as only one third of the wine produced is red. The top four grapes are Savatiano, Roditis, Muscat, and Agiorgitko. The major grape producing centres are Crete, Peloponnese, and Macedonia. There are 33 Protected Denomination of Origin areas in Greece.
I tried 11 grapes in a tutored tasting conducted by John Szabo. I had never tried wines made with four of the grapes. Incidentally, there were 156 people on the waiting list to attend this tasting, so we can say, in terms of influencers, the interest in Greek wines is there.
- Zoinos PDO Zitsa, Semi Sparkling 2016. This is made from a grape I have never even head of; Debina. It’s grown in higher mountainous areas so it retains its acidity better than grapes grown at a lower altitude.It’s got a nose full of apple, pear banana, guava, and a bit of funk. Light gold in colour with a slightly sweet taste full of Turkish Delight. Not a wine of great complexity, but good for a hot day. This PDO area is making a name for itself with its sparkling wines. 87/100
- Porto Carras Malagousia PGI Haldidiki 2016. This grape was rediscovered in the 1970s and is making a comeback. On the nose, grapefruit, mango, banana, and pineapple. Tastes of honey and marmalade with a thick finish. 87/100
- Skouras Moschofilero PGI Peloponnese 2016. At the present time, this is my go to spring and summer white. It is high-toned and full of mango, lychee, and peach on the nose. This platinum coloured wine tastes of peach, mango, and tangerine. Moschofilero really tastes somewhat between a Gewürztraminer and a Pinot Grigio. 91/100
- Troupis TOMH Rose Moschofilero PGI Arkadia 2016. Troupis is one of the best producers of Moschofilero in Greece. This one has a slight pinkish gold colour with an aroma of strawberries and almonds. A bit of a let down by Troupis on this one. 88/100
- Papagiannakos Savatiano PGI Markopoulo 2016. Savatiano is the workhorse white Greek grape, often over cropped and flabby when cultivated in the wrong hands. The old Greek school emphasized quantity over quality or mistook quantity for good quality.The colour is mid-golden with a nose of peach, nectarine, and golden delicious apple. On the mouth, there is a bit of an acidic zing and the tart bitterness of lime and grapefruit. 85/100
- Karavitakis Klima Vidiano White, Varietal White 2016. The wine has a pale gold colour with a bit of a strange nose of turnip, cauliflower, lemon, and honey. A very serious body to this wine, with moderate acids. 88/100
- Santo Wines Santorini, Assyrtiko PDO Santorini 2016. While I say, “All Hail to Moschofilero,” wine writers seem to be stumbling all over themselves over Assyrtiko, as the Greek white grape from heaven. I leave it up to you to make your choice. The soils of Santorini are volcanic and the island is whipped by winds which make it bone dry one minute and terribly humid the next.This wine has a light gold colour and on the nose there is honey, lemon, and citrus. But, all the while, the wine holds its essence back in some secretive fashion. The taste is high toned melon and rather flinty. 87/100
Santorini is a tourist mecca and has applied to UNESCO to become a World Heritage site, driving up the cost of land, hence grapes, dramatically. Be prepared for price increases for Santorini wines.
- Papaioannou Estate 2010 Agiorgitko PDO Nemea. Yet again, I find myself running against the wave of wine writers who simply can’t stop clamouring for the Greek red grape Xinomavro. Unless aged for at least a decade, Xinomavro is harsh, stringent, and tannic.Agiorgitko, on the other hand, is very approachable and full of happy black cherry notes. This wine has a garnet colour and on the nose replete with black cherry, mint, herbs, red currant, and dark earth. Some serious acids on the taste with cherry and fig. 88/100
- Vassillou Nemeion 2008 Agiorgitko PDO Nemea. This garnet coloured wine has a deep sweet black cherry nose with hints of licorice and cured meat. Good acids on the taste with black fig and black licorice. Hot at the end with a tart and tannic finish. 89/100
- Tslilis Limniona 2013 Limniona PGI Meteora. This is a garnet coloured wine. On the nose, funky, earthy, and barnyard. Pleasant to a degree. Rather tannic, dry, and uneventful on the palate. 85/100
- Boutari Grande Reserve 2010 Xinomavro PDO Naoussa. Pardon my personal views, but this is a grape I am beginning to love to hate. At best, we can say flinty and astringent cherry on the nose. As for taste, wood, tar, and big tannins.While the Italians have made great strides in making their Barolos more accessible, with mid-term ageing, the Greeks might want to think about doing the same for their Xinomavros, or just provide a label warning, “Please age for 10 years prior to opening.”
Let’s finish with the Malagousia grape. When I go to one of these big tastings, I focus on a particular grape or style of wine instead of going into palate overload by trying too many different grapes. In this case, I focused on Malagousia, an unknown white grape to Canadians. As far as I know we grow none of it in Ontario.
I was not impressed with several Malagousias I tried, finding many with a strong grapefruit taste and a tad of bitterness on the finish. Just when I was about to give up I encountered an oaked Malagousia; the Malagousia Oaked 2016, PGI Atalanti Valley from Domaine Hatzimichalis.
The French oak tamed the bitterness and tartness of the grape, giving it some serious body and power. This wine is not yet available in Canada, but email Alex Patinios at Dioynysus Wines regarding how you can get this wine.
May has been a non-stop blitz of wine tastings and, I’ll be honest, these are repetitive and boring events. But, a gem like the Malagousia oaked makes everything worthwhile.