Leslie Williams on the best wines from Greece

A focus on Greece this week, a country whose wine industry has gone through massive changes for the better in recent years.
Leslie Williams on the best wines from Greece

A focus on Greece this week, a country whose wine industry has gone through massive changes for the better in recent years.

Hardly a newcomer, we know from Homer that highly prized wine was made in Greece in the 8th century BC, and through archeology that the vine has been cultivated there for more than 4000 years.

Political instability over centuries meant that wine regions were slower to develop than in neighbouring countries and it is only since the financial crash of 2008 that winemakers have properly begun focusing on exports.

With young winemakers, unusual, high quality indigenous grapes and scope for organic and natural wine, I’m optimistic about their prospects for the future.

What prompted me to write about Greece was some interesting Greek wines in Lidl and the arrival of some new low-intervention Greek wines imported by Wines Direct - a new focus for the company.

Recommended below are a red and white from the Kioutsoukis family who have just 11 hectares of vines in northern Greece near Thessaloniki.

The grapes are farmed organically and are ‘natural’ in the sense that they use wild yeasts, add zero sulphur and do not filtrate.

Wines Direct also have some new Pé-Nat sparklers and organic wines from Crete which I will report on once I've tried them.

Greece’s most famous variety is Assyrtiko, best expressed (and experienced) on the gorgeous volcanic island of Santorini where the long lived ungrafted vines are grown in a circular fashion (like a nest) to protect from wind - some roots are up to 500 years old.

I’ve tasted solid versions from New Zealand and Australia and if you haven’t tried it yet I’ve recommended Assyrtiko from Marks & Spencer (Atlantis), O’Briens (Gaia) and the Lyrarakis Vóila from Crete which is available from Bradleys, Martins, Mortons, Whelehans and JJ O’Driscolls.

Agiorgitiko and Xinomavro are the two red grapes you are most likely to encounter, the former is the most versatile and can be complex and long lived (e.g. Gaia).

Xinomavro is more temperamental but probably the finer grape, offering Barolo like complexity and structure when treated with care.

Wine suggestions this week include two from SuperValu’s Italian wine sale that runs until June 10th, a bargain fragrant Greek dessert wine from Lidl and three minimal intervention wines from Wines Direct.

To see some online tastings of Wines Direct wines check out Fionnuala broadcasting from Cork @wineshedwestcork and Gareth and Gavin Keogh’s video conversations can be found @garkeogh.

Wines Under €15

Masi Campofiorin Ripasso, Veneto - €15.00

Stockist: SuperValu

Part of SuperValu’s Italian wine sale and reduced from €17.49 so a bit of a bargain.

This was the first ripasso style wine where the wine is re-fermented with a portion of dried grapes to give the wine some characteristics of Amarone (made from all dried grapes).

Classic Valpolicella cherry aromas but with raisin edges, more fleshy cherries and plums on the palate, lingering and ripe.

Ammasso, Terre Siciliane, Italy - €15

Stockist: SuperValu

This is a blend of Sicily’s two best red grapes Nero d’Avola and Nerello Mascalese, plus some Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to round things out.

Made from partially dried grapes (as is the Campofiorin above) this has blackcurrant and liquorice aromas and big gobs of juicy black fruits.

If you want a similar flavour at a lower price the Il Capolavoro Appassimento is on offer at €10.

Lidl Muscat of Samos, Samos, Greece - €9.99

Stockist: Lidl

Lidl has had a Greece focus the past few weeks with dolmades and other goodies and last week I mentioned their sweet cherry flavoured Mavrodaphne dessert wine.

This is even better, Samos is the best known Greek island for dessert Muscat and this has charming candied orange and floral aromas, honeyed tangerine and yellow peaches on the palate with orange flower water lingering on the finish.

Perfect match for sponge cakes.

Wines Over €15

Kamara Estate Shadow Play Assyrtiko, Thessaloniki, Greece - €25.45

Stockist: Wines Direct Mullingar and online at www.winesdirect.ie

Assyrtiko originates on Greece’s islands (e.g. Santorini) rather than here but it has become Greece’s white wine calling card.

Natural ferment, zero sulphur, lots of lees contact and bâtonnage (lees stirring), this has a little more weight and heft than you might expect with herbal citrus aromas, textured lemon and pear flavours and some crunchy touches on the crisp finish.

Kamara Estate Nimbus Russus, Thessalonik PGIi, Greece - €26.65

Stockist: Wines Direct Mullingar and online at www.winesdirect.ie

Family run minimum-intervention estate in Thessaloniki, an emerging region in rugged Northern Greece with a more continental climate.

This is 35% Xinomavro with Merlot and Syrah used to fill out the wine a little and pours a dark ruby red with a minty black fruit aroma, ripe soft blackberry fruits with structured peppery edges and lovely purity.

No sulphur added but clean and characterful.

Château de Montdomaine ‘Le Breton’ Cabernet Franc, Loire - €16.99

Stockist: Wines Direct Mullingar and online at www.winesdirect.ie

Ch. de Montdomaine are in Touraine and are currently operating on minimal intervention principals and moving towards organic certification.

This gorgeous wine has that classic soft fruit low-sulphur flavour but with Cab Franc’s classic structure in the background.

Red berries but also darker fruit aromas than is usual with soft plum and textured blackcurrant fruit complexity.

Beer of the week

Sliabh Liag Dark Silkie, 46% ABV, 75cl — €42

Stockists: sliabhliagdistillers.com, Celtic Whiskey Shop Dublin and Killarney celticwhiskeyshop.com, Dicey Rileys, Amazon, Independents.

Donegal-based Sliabh Liag has taken the brave step of launching a sherry-cask peated whiskey with the aim of recreating the taste of 19th-century Donegal whiskies when barley was typically malted over peat fires (more common in Ireland than we imagine).

Sliabh Liag’s Dúlamán Gin (with seaweed botanicals) is also worth a try as is their first whiskey release ‘Silkie’.

Sweet apple and peat fire aromas with a touch of (my dad’s) Mick McQuaid pipe tobacco — soft and pleasingly fruity on the palate with spice and pepper notes.

With water drops it opens out further with mellow apple tart flavours and a lingering peat and dried-apple finish. Excellent.

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