Greece has been in news lately for all the wrong reasons. A floundering economy, the country on the verge of exiting the euro-zone due to its debt crisis, inability to turn the corner ; the list of its economic woes goes on and on. However there are two bright spots in this entire Greek tragedy. Tourism and Wines. Let’s talk about Greek wines here.
Even though Greece is one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world, with production dating back to thousands of years, we still don’t know much about Greek wines. It may have something to do with the fact that it isn’t always easy trying to decipher the label on the wine bottle due to the almost illegible script. We are also not familiar with the Greek varietals and even if we are, it is quite a challenge trying to pronounce names like Agiorgitiko, Xinomavro, Assyrtiko, Moscofilero and so on. They don’t come that easily on the tongue. However the world is slowing waking up to increasingly good quality Greek wines which are available at pretty affordable prices and the country is seen as an emerging wine region.
There are several reasons why Greek wines are in the spotlight. One is that since there is not much bulk production, most wines are of high quality. Yes, Greece has come a long way from the low quality, heavily oxidated wines of yore, which often tasted like turpentine. Due to the diversity of terrain and terroir there is also a wide variety of styles. The focus of the Greek wine industry, which has seen revitalization in the last 20 years, is shifting from domestic market to exports due the ongoing economic crisis in Greece. It is this desire to tap the foreign markets which brought Fountoulis George, President of the Board of VAENI Naoussa Co-Op to India and present his wines at the Embassy of Greece New Delhi, in the hope that the Indian importers would become interested enough to introduce them in the Indian market.
Naoussa in north-western Macedonia is a viticulture region where a wine revolution is taking place as the clayey and chalky terrain is just right for making top quality age worthy reds. It is the most important and also the first appellation of Greece (1971). Xinomavro which means “acid black” is the dominant grape varietal in this area. It is claimed that with age the best made Naoussa wines can acquire a bouquet like the finest Barolo since Xinomavro is similar in character to Nebbiolo, having the same tart and austere qualities. Not quite sure about this as in my humble opinion Barolo is really very unique. Since this is a varietal with high acidity, it makes dry tannic wines which can be aged for a long time in the bottle.
Four wine labels were presented for tasting to a select audience at the Embassy of Greece, all made from a single varietal Xinomavro and all from Naoussa region in Macedonia, in northern Greece. Most Indians are familiar with Macedonia because of Alexander the Great, who was born here. It was way back in 334 B.C that he embarked on his Asiatic expedition which brought him to the banks of river Indus. The president of VAENI Naoussa jokingly referred to his visit as the second expedition, this time to conquer the Indian markets.
The first wine that we tasted was Makedonikos 2014, an off dry white (Alcohol 11.5% vol) made from the red grape varietal Xinomavro, in the Blanc de Noir vinification style. An easy drinking floral and fruity wine which lacked some crispness. It was liked by everyone present and paired very well with the lightly spiced chicken and fish dishes.
The next wine Naoussa 2010, a popular red wine of this region (Alcohol 12.5% vol) aged in French oak barrel for one year and six months in the bottle before release. It was quite spicy though the tannins needed a bit more refining. Acidity was good and I can see it pairing well with mutton dishes and biryani.
The third wine Damaskinos 2011 (Alcohol 13% vol) was more complex with varietal aromas of prunes, tomatoes, olive and chocolate. I could detect a lot of peaty smoky notes which was due to ageing in French oak with heavy burn. With lively tannins and a lot of black fruit, cherries and even some leather this was a rich and robust wine and it would pair wonderfully with mutton burra and other tandoori dishes.
The last wine Naoussa Grande Reserve 2008, a classic red from Greece, was the wine of the day for most people present. With a lovely garnet brown colour it was well rounded and balanced having gone through maceration in stainless steel tanks, malo-lactic fermentation and two years of ageing in French oak and another two years in the bottle. It had some beguiling aromas of truffles. I just felt that the wine should have been allowed to breathe for a little longer for the aromas to develop fully.
All the wines were very well structured showing exactly why the Vaeni Naoussa Co-op is one of the most progressive wine-producing units in Greece which is redefining the wine industry in Greece. The tasting was very well organised by the Embassy of Greece and i2i Consulting. Let’s hope that Indian wine lovers won’t have to wait long to taste these fascinating wines with incredible aromas and flavors.
By : Lavina Kharkwal
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