The rise and rise of Greek wine: Why it's fast becoming the next big thing
There are few cultures quite as easy to stereotype as Greece. The Acropolis, souvlaki, a general reluctance to pay taxes, idyllic islands, guys called Nick and George and Yianni with shirts unbuttoned to the navel. And if you’re a wine drinker, retsina: the classic Greek village wine that’s been a rough hewn companion to Hellenic meals for centuries – but hasn’t been a help to the Greek wine industry’s attempts to convince the world that it’s now a serious winemaking nation.
When I first came to Greece a decade or so ago, as I’ve mentioned before in this column, Greek wine was an underwhelming prospect, with retsina still the best known – and in many cases, only known – Greek grape. But with every subsequent visit, the quality of wine I’ve tasted has improved appreciably, to the point that wine from Greece is as exciting as any being produced at the moment.
From restaurants in Athens, to specialty wine store Vinoterra on the island of Spetses, to a local taverna in the village of Mavromati that now has a wine list where once existed a barrel of murky white, it’s an industry on an upward spiral.
But the best illustration of all came with a visit to a small but brilliant winery in Laconia, just down the road from Sparta in the Peloponnese. I’d been invited in the usual Greek manner; my father-in-law’s friend’s brother-in-law made wine, and would I like to visit? And so a winding trip through some unexpectedly beautiful terrain (more Switzerland in summer than Mediterranean) got me to Lacovino Winery for a quick half hour visit that lasted four hours…
Lacovino has been going for just three years, borne of winemaker Adamantios Farantatos’s passion for making wine. He has turned a hobby into a business that now produces 85 000 bottles a year: one red, a very savoury, Syrah-based Rosé, and five whites that offer a fascinating perspective on Greek wine.
There’s a double-edged sword to white wine in Greece; many of the varietals are largely unknown to the rest of the world, and so the more cautious drinker will seek the safety of Sauvignon Blanc’s familiarity over a grape that’s a complete mystery. But that very mystery and intrigue appeals to the adventurous wine fan for whom the appeal of something novel, something untried, leads to a new experience. And in the case of the wine of Lacovino, the collective experience rewards the plunge into the unknown.
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Tasting commences with the kidonitsa, a white to suit the palate of a Sauvignon Blanc drinker, understated fruit playing off the metallic base that stainless steel tank fermentation offers. The fileri has a nose of Muscat, but the sweetness vanishes the moment you try the wine, replaced by a dry, fruity grape that’s quirky but fun to drink. The Gilofos (name of the blend, not a grape) sees Malagouzia meet Chardonnay for a deep, intense white that’s made for the sea bream and sea bass that pepper the menus of island restaurants, while the Philosofia – celebrating Adamantios’s winemaking philosophy, is a union of two local varietals, kidonitsa and monemvasia. And lastly, my favourite: Astrolabe, named after the space telescope, and uniting assyrtiko, kidonitsa and monemvasia is as layered and complete a white blend as I’ve had in Greece.
The lone red, an Agiortgitiko, is a reminder of Argentina’s fruit bomb Malbecs, made soft and alluring to be drunk instantly, and while it’s not a style of which I’m overly fond of, the tannin-free velvet of the wine is an admirable effort for a vintage that’s not yet a year old.
There’ll be more reds to come, though, and they’ll develop as Lacovino grows under Adamantios’s steady hand. It’s an estate I suspect the world will hear more of in the coming years – just as Greek wine is ready to cast off the shackles of retsina, and add another dimension to the wine-drinking world.
What I’m drinking this week:
I get a warm fuzz when I find South African wine in unexpected parts of the world, and the aforementioned Vinoterra in Spetses offered exactly that. Amongst the Greek treasures, and litres and litres of Whispering Angel, assorted South Africans: Paul Cluver Pinot Noir, Pinotage from Kanonkop and Simonsig, Rustenberg and Klein Zalze Chardonnay – and Ataraxia chardonnay. I picked up a couple of bottles of the wine Springbok Duane Vermeulen swears by (he’s twice my size, so I won’t argue), and the Ataraxia is every bit as good overlooking a Greek beach, as it is in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Not too much wood, perfectly balanced fruit and acidity, lovely mouth of morning bakery, and a wonderful advert for South African wine abroad.
Want to see what else Dan Nicholl has been drinking? Watch his latest episode of Dan Really Likes Wine!