Greek Natural Wines: Perfect for Summer
Greece, as one would expect, is an ancient wine culture with over 4000 years of documented vine cultivation. Ancient Greeks held philosophical debates called symposia, and wine was poured to fuel conversation and appetites.
Back then, wine was vinified in clay amphora pots from vineyards co-planted with several varieties. They had their own appellation system, well before the French, using different amphorae shapes to distinguish wines from different regions. A favorite of the civilizations throughout the ancient Mediterranean, the Greeks delivered their wine far and wide through their complex trade networks.
By the end of the 20th century the use of amphorae had faded away, and in the past few decades Greece has been focused on developing a strong export industry.
Many Greek winemakers have trained as oenologists in Bordeaux, and returned home eager to plant “international varieties'' like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and to vinify them technologically to fit the tastes of the market, with lots of new oak and plenty of additives.
While there are certainly some standouts making wines this way, many are devoid of any regional characteristics and fail to capture any of the qualities that make Greek wines uniquely delicious.
With the help of a crop of winemakers dedicated to Greece’s traditional wine varieties and the country’s diverse terroir, unique and ancient vine regions are being rediscovered or reinterpreted.
From the mainland to the islands, several artisanal producers around the country are taking a peek back into pre-modern times to re-discover Greek winemaking.
They are harnessing Greece’s multitude of indigenous grape varieties, varied traditional methods of production, and a staggering number of individual microclimates to produce wines that are getting the world's attention once again.
I have to admit that Greece was a blind spot for me. I was relatively familiar with the delicious whites of Santorini--in particular the sublime wines of Hazadakis. But, until a year ago that's sorta of where my knowledge ended.
I wasn't aware of the vibrancy of their natural wine scene. Of the enormous variation is styles and varieties throughout the small but highly variegated nation. With the help of some intrepid importers I've had the pleasure of being impressed time and time again.
The wines below all come from the mainland and from wineries not too far from one another.
But this short distance is a perfect lens into how the varied microclimates, terroir and wine making practices of the Greeks can produce staggeringly different wines.
While they are all infused with a Mediterranean quality, they are a snapshot of the variety of natural Greek wines available today. There is no better time to set out of your own personal Grecian wine Odyssey.
Kalogris Organic Winery is located in the birthplace of the grey skin Moschofilero and has been run by the same family for multiple generations. Almost exclusively dedicated to the variety, Kalogirsi produces the first natural and Organic Moschofilero imported into the US. Having mastered this ancient aromatic variety, Master Helios is redolent with the aromas of fresh cut flowers and crushed stone fruit. The wine has texture and weight that is cut with an electric sterk of acidity.
Located in the foothills of mount Agrafa, in two distinctive terroirs between Kanalia and Dafnospilia partners Andreas Kontozisis and Aphrodite Tousia are working passionately with the area’s indigenous varieties with increasingly impressive results. All of their vineyards are certified organic and they make their wines with no addition, less for a touch of sulfur before bottling. Drop by Drop is their delicious take on white Roditis. Stealy, lifted and clean this leads with minerality, with citrus, melon, pineapple and some savory stuff not far behind.
The Amber (Orange) version of the wine above. It spends 28 days on its skin resulting in an intense and piercing expression of the Roditis grape, with concentrated yellow fruit and hibiscus aromas. Piercing and vibrant with a touch of stony minerality.
Anna Halkia is an amazing woman who farms and makes natural wine with care in Nemea, Greece. She makes this Assyrtiko the oldest school way, letting it sit on its skins. Yet with only four days of skin contact the wine retains a delicate freshness. A very light amber with Mediterranean citrus with delicate floral aromas. Bright and with a touch of yogurt and very delicate tannins.
This is Agirgtiko at its most fun and carefree. The most planted grape in all of Greece, Agiorgitiko often gets made into heavy dark reds but this little treasure is something wholly different. The juice is pressed and allowed to flow free with minimal skin contact. The resulting elixir is a deep rose color with aromas of wild strawberries and forest fruits. Medium bodied, with just a bit of grip this is summer sipper with a serious side.
The papras wines are a staff favorite and based on how quickly we sold out the last batch, y'all seem to like them too. Despite the suffocating, stagnant heat of Tyrnavos, Stergios Papras is producing some of Greece's lightest, freshest and uniquely exciting wines. This almost neon orange garnet “rosé” gets its color naturally from 10 days of maceration and then a quick press of the black-skinned, ferociously aromatic Black Muscat of Tyrnavos. It smells like opulent tuberose flowers and drippy, juicy nectarine but the palate is dry, tart and a tad salty, with a hit of pleasant bitterness under the pretty flowers. Perfect with Indian curries as well as Malayasian and Indonesian fare.
25 days on skins gives this a lovely bronze color, with citrusy and mineral notes, and a salty and dusty palate. This is all about salt both in its saline texture and salt inflected flavors of honeycrisp apple, madarin and brisk lemon. This is the perfect choice for sushi or really anything fatty from cold, dark waters.
100% Badiki with 25 days of skin contact gives this a yellow amber glow. Citrus blossom, spiced orange rind, quince, and apricot with a soft texture that is punctuated by bright minerality. This is the perfect picnic bottle as it pairs beautifully with all manner of provisions, from cheese and tin fish with crusty bread to fried chicken and summer salads.