Last night, Terry Kandylis, our Head Sommelier hosted a Masterclass on wines from Greece, his home country. Terry’s aim for the night was to introduce Members to native grape varieties and styles of Greek wine that are truly unique. We invite you to read his story.
I couldn’t be more thrilled to see a full room of Members and guests eager to learn more about the wines from Greece. There has been high interest in recent years surrounding Greek wine, and having a full house on the UK’s record-breaking July day showed a true commitment from the Members, and proves that Greeks have started to get it right…!
Despite the pressure of a full-house, I was confident that the wines I chose would deliver.
We started with a sparkling 2015 Assyrtiko made by the Santo Wines in Santorini. Santo Wines is the local co-operative on the island with more than 1200 members, established in 1947. The sparkling we had was made by Méthode Traditionnelle, where the grapes are picked early from the village of Pyrgos, one of the most renowned areas on the island.
Having spent 19 months on the lees, in a process known as yeast autolysis, the wine has developed some toasty and ‘bready’ characters, though it remains very fruity. With lemony and slightly peachy/nectarine notes, this makes the wine an ideal aperitif for such a warm day. If you ever visit the winery, you must have a glass whilst watching one of the most breath-taking sunsets you will ever see.
The line-up of whites consisted of:
- 2016 Savatiano ‘Natural’, Domaine Papagiannakos, Attica
- 2018 Malagouzia, Turtle vineyard, Alpha Estate, Amyndeo
- 2014 Preknadi, Domaine Diamantakos, Naousa
- 2018 Assyrtiko, Vassaltis, Santorini
The first wine is from Greece’s most-planted white grape, a varietal that is heavily linked with the production of Retsina, which has most likely caused some of its unpopularity…
Retsina is a style of wine that comes through antiquity, when Greeks started to seal the amphoras with pine resin to prevent oxidation of the wine. This naturally caused the resin to get integrated into the wine, which gave its distinct aromas and flavour.
Unfortunately, the poor examples of the past caused the modern drinkers to steer clear of these styles, and Savatiano together with Roditis (the other grape for Retsina) truly suffered.
Producers like Papagiannakos and others in the area of Attica must be given credit as they have maintained the old ‘bush’ vines of Savatiano, that with their low yields and concentrated fruit could give wines of real interest and character. With the most artisanal approach, this fermented Savatiano from a 60 yr old parcel was full of lively lemon freshness and delicate apple nuances.
The second wine, Malagouzia, has a fascinating story. Having been almost bought into extinction in the 70s, the grape was rescued by Professor Logothetis from the Aristotle university of Thessaloniki, and it didn’t take long for Evangelos Gerovasiliou to realise its potential. Today, this variety is planted in almost every corner of the country. From warmer sites, these expressions show tropical and ripe fruit characters, whilst those from cooler or high altitude climates show notes of basil, lime and unripe nectarine.
In my opinion, this aromatic variety will remind you of a more reserved Viognier, fresh, crisp and lacking the creamy and buttery nature of the Rhône varietal. Malagouzia planted in Alpha expresses the cool characteristics of the grape, with vibrant peach and nectarine notes, herbal and limey nuances.
Third on our list, Preknadi is a rare grape found in Naousa. Only two producers cultivate the varietal to my knowledge and Domaine Diamantakos is one of them. The name comes from the word ‘freckles’ in Greek as there are some spots on the skin of the grape.
The moderate acidity and fairly neutral characters suggest some relation with the Swiss grape Chasselas, but this link has not been scientifically proven. The bottle ageing of this particular wine has created some wonderful honeyed notes, with an oily and creamy nature on the palate, not dissimilar to some older examples of Rhône whites.
We couldn’t host a Masterclass on Greek wines without a white wine from Santorini. Greece’s most premium wine region is synonymous with the Assyrtiko grape. A world class varietal, which has gained attention not only from the winemakers in Greece but also around the world, making its way from Clare Valley in Australia to Alto Adige and South Africa.
Vassaltis; Sharp, focused and steely, is the true definition of a ‘mineral’ wine. Delicate notes of lemon, green apple, with a candied character on the palate showing more the textural and phenolic aspect of the grape.
Keep your eyes peeled for the second instalment of this article where I will discuss the red wines chosen, and share with you another handful of some of my most-admired Greek producers.