Eight summer wines from the Greek Islands (unconventional edition)

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Setting the scene:

Friday night. East London. Greek wine tasting.

I have been following Maria from Southern Wine Roads  on Twitter  for quite some time now and one day, while I was scrolling down my feed, I saw her tweet about organising an evening of Greek wine from the Greek Islands. I could not miss it!

We had 8 incredible wines, so let’s get into the tasting right away.

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Novita 2015, Grampsas Winery, Zante

Grape: 100% Goustolidi

The name of the grape is particularly interesting as it stems from the phrase “tou Avgoustou to stolidi”, meaning August’s ornament, as it used to reach full maturity during the last month of the summer. I love linguistic secrets like that!

Maria mentioned that Novita could be the alternative to Retsina, for those not appreciative of the strong pine aroma and I can certainly see why she thought of that. The wine has quite a light lemon  colour with green highlights. On the nose it has an appetising bouquet of mineral aromas with distinctive tones of rocks and steel. The mouthfeel is very fresh, sharp and quite linear with stoney/steely notes and a waxed lime character.

Food pairing: Maria suggested anchovies, sardines or generally salty small fish. This type of refreshing, lemony-character wine would work excellently with many fish or seafood option. *salivating*
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Gold 2014 by Melissinos Winery, Kefalonia

Grapes:  100% Zakynthino

You have most probably not heard of these grapes before, I sure hadn’t. Both grapes are quite rare with Zakynthino originating (quite evidently) from the neighboring island of Zakynthos, or Zante, and Vostylidi’s history being linked with the viticultural tradition of the island.

The fruit is grown on old, non-irrigated vines, which are organically treated and their blend is what gives this wine its interesting name, Gold. A deep yellow with some green highlights, very clear and welcoming. The glass is bursting with apricot, ripe peach and stone fruit pie aromas with elegant hints of mountain tea, leaves and lemon peel.

The wine is made with either co-fermentation (vinifying the different varieties together) or with blending them later, after the alcoholic fermentation of the must is complete.

Food pairing: We tried Gold with sweet garlic which was sensational! Maria’s suggestion was to try it with a white mushroom stew, which I can’t wait to make. The producer would pair with traditional Cephalonian cuisine; cod-fish pie or a clay pot cooked lamb. Yummy!

Follow them on twitter: Melissinos Winery

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Katsano 2015, Gavalas Winery, Santorini

Grapes: 85% Katsano and 15% Gaidouria

I was surprised to see bubbles in my glass, especially when the wine was bottles 1,5 year ago. Gavalas Katsano was incredibly fresh and mouthwatering and the bubbles just underlined the fabulous acidity of the grapes coming from the volcanic soils of Santorini. The nose was beautifully aromatic with herbal, fresh cut grass notes and an overall tropical profile reminiscent of a tropical fruit bowl, especially green mango! Lemon blossom and tropical fruits dominate the palate leaving a really long, refreshing and aromatic finish. Superb!

*Memory time* (The lemon blossom triggered one of my loveliest memories: every summer of my childhood, I would go to my dad’s hometown where we had a massive (or at least it seemed massive to me back then) lemon tree. I would collect the lemon blossom and fragrant leaves and immerse them in fire water and there was my perfume for the summer! I would make all my relatives and my parents’ friends visiting try it on…)

Both Katsano and Gaidouria are rare grapes and are not cultivated outside Santorini. George Gavalas was determined to preserve them and they now account for almost 1% of the Santorini vineyards. Hence, the production is tiny, get your hands on it while there’s still some around!

Food pairing: Katsano was paired with a stuffed olive which worked very well and you could easily pair it oysters, shrimps, grilled calamari or any type of seafood really! Dare to accompany it with light white meat dishes, too, and you’ll be very positively surprised.

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Chidiriotiko 2014 orange wine,  Methymnaeos , Lesvos

Grape: 100% Chidiriotiko

Could this be the first orange wine made in Greece? Made exclusively from the local grape Chidiriotiko, grown in the volcanic soils of Lesvos, this amazingly surprising wine was my favourite of the evening! It has a certain wow-factor because it seamlessly combines a juicy, citrucy character of mandarin and bergamot with distinctive minerality, an expression of which I haven’t tried before!

Chidiriotiko is a red grape grown in a very uncommon land. The vineyard soil is made of lava, the same on that formed the Petrified Forest of Lesvos. The particularity is that it contains up to 7% sulfur, copper sulphate and other sulphur compounds, offering a natural protection against diseases, not just for the vine but the wine itself. Hence, the Lambrou family are able to make a true organic wine.

Usually, orange winemaking is very similar to red winemaking with just less contact time of the grape skins and the must, so that the extraction of the colour is less, too. Yannis Lambrou however does not rely on skin contact to give its orange wine this magnificent colour. The actual must is tinted from the sulphur compounds of the soil – such is their concentration! The juice is fermented in non temperature-controlled vats in order to deliver the orange colour and the richer body of the wine.

This is an absolute favourite of mine, I loved the citrusy bouquet with its lovely walnut, pistachio notes on the palate and a really long, mouthwatering finish!

Food pairing: This would be an excellent wine for roasted salmon or duck dishes or a sushi platter, as recommended by the producer. I think that it carries the weight and the acidity to easily accompany seafood and meat greatly.

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Sun Rosé, Grampsas Winery, Zante

Grape: 100% Avgoustiatis

The only rosé we had on the evening was this one by the Grampsas brothers. Made from the lesser known grape Avgoustiatis, this is a refresing, elegant rose with interesting mineral, rocky notes. I find it very interesting that both grapes we tried from Zante, Gustolidi and Avgoustiatis, have names related to the month of August.

Sun Rosé is a delicate yet lively and expressive wine with powerful strawberry, cranberry and red berry fruit with a certain minerality and touch of ginger spiciness.

Food pairing: This would be delightful with a tomato and anchovies spaghetti or with a smoked salmon or tuna salad with pickled cucumber and beetroot. I would also have it with a red fruit based dessert or even with  ice cream!

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Mavrotragano 2014, Gavalas Winery, Santorini

Grape: 100%Mavrotragano

Mavrotagano was almost extinct before the the local vinegrowers of Santorini came to action for its rescue.  Its berries are small, with thick skin of deep, almost black colour (Mavro=black, tragano=crunchy).  Although, it was mostly used for the making of sweet wines, this Mavrotragano by Gavalas is a dry, red wine made from ungrafted vines. Santorini’s sandy, volcanic soils protected the plants and Phylloxera never really threatened them.

It’s delicious. Having spent 12 months in French and American oak barrels, it has a developed a rather interesting deep crimson colour and a captivating bouquet of Maraschino cherries, blackberries and a hint of orange peel, blended with notes of roasted almonds and vanilla. Leave it in your glass for a while and you will be surprised by the development of more earthy, animal/leathery  notes forming, that make it a delicious wine to have with hearty dishes. Solid, structured tannins and an appetising mouthfeel.

This is a rare wine of tiny production. Finders, keepers.

Food pairing: Goes amazingly well with hearty dishes, think roasted meats, wild boar, haggis and relatively mild cheeses.

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Avgoustiatis 2014, Grampsas Winery, Zante

Grape: 100% Avgoustiatis

This natural sweet wine from the isalnd of Zakynthos is made from a very rare grape called Avgoustiatis. This an especially localised grape which might be seen, outside of Zante, just in some parts of  the Peloponnese.  It is mainly used for the production of dry red wines but Grampsas identified the potential of making a truly distinctive dessert wine with Avgoustiatis.

Made with the traditional sweet wine procedure, the grapes were laid under the sun for 6-7 days to slowly loose the containing water and end up with the sweet deliciousness of the juice. The final wine was matured in new French oak barrels for 12 months.

This is simply a stunner! The richness on the nose is captivating with an abundance of plums, figs, raisins and boiled apples along with caramel, toffee, clove and honey coated nuts. Very fresh on the palate, luscious and fantastic value.

Food pairing: Maria paired Grampsas Avgoustiatis with a gorgeous aged yellow cheese (I can’t remember the name, it’s killing me), which was topped with walnus and it was a fantastic match! I imagine that it would go amazingly well with blue cheeses and spicy, smoked charcuterie and any dessert with dried fruit and nuts.

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Vinsanto 2008, Gavalas Winery, Santorini

Grapes: Assyrtiko, Athiri and Aidani.

The Nectar of Santorini, the holly wine.  I learn from the producer’s website that Vinsanto is actually “filling the chalices of the orthodox churches, used for the Holy Communion”. It was aged for a total of 5 years, 3 of which spent in french oak barrels.

The nose is absolutely meshmerizing filled with thyme and wild forest honey, dried stone fruit notes blended with dark chocolate, fudge and roasted coffee. This luscious, velvet wine glides around your tongue, hugging your mouth leaving it surprisingly fresh and bursting with such intense aromas of dried figs and apricots, almond paste and roasted walnuts.

The volcanic soils in combination with the strong winds and low rainfall result in tiny amounts of fruit production and limited number of bottles distributed. So, if you find this little gem, buy it; it’s a keeper!

Food pairing:  Foie gras, raw or glazed nuts, chocolate or coffee based desserts

Maria Moutsou from Southern Wine Roads was an excellent host and did a magnificent job pairing all the wines with delicious bites from around the globe, which made the evening even more entertaining!

Stay up to date with her Twitter updates to not miss the chance to join the next Wine Events, I would certainly recommend them!

Maria of Southern Wine Roads and I posing happily after the summer tasting
Maria of Southern Wine Roads and I posing happily after the summer tasting

You can contact Maria to learn more about the wines, as Southern Wine Roads are the distributors in the UK.

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14 thoughts on “Eight summer wines from the Greek Islands (unconventional edition)

  1. Great article, but no list of Greek wines is complete without the amazing wines of Santorini! Just got back from there and the assyrtiko wines are not to be missed. Best on the island are the wines of Hatzidakis and the newest vineyard on the island: Vassaltis.

    1. Thank you for you comment and surely I wouldn’t miss the Santorini wines, hence the Katsano and the Mavrotragano are included in my post! 🙂 Santorini Assyrtiko is one of my favourite wines but it is much more widely known and I have covered the Gavalas wild ferment in a previous post. Hatzidakis is a superb winemaker and I am looking forward to trying Vassaltis. Thank you for visiting my blog, yamas!

  2. Great stuff. I am not a fan of ouzo and thus have stayed away from Greek wines out of fear. I tried one the other night that I liked and your post has given me nice guide to continue my Greek tour. Thanks.

    1. Thank you for your comment. No reason to fear Greek wines, I never drink ouzo myself because I don’t enjoy anise in pretty much anything. There is a vast selection of Greek wines to choose from. Thank you for reading and your kind comment, I hope your Greek wine experience will get exhilarating!

      1. I was fortunate to grow up in a prime wine region and knew four of the world’s top five co-operative winemakers. Pity, thought, that our very best wines never get the attention it deserves due to being oppressed by cartels. It also never get exported. Locally, these are almost an industry secret.

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