In Person: Greek wines: as classic as it gets

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  • by Tara Thomas

Senior editor of Wine & Spirits magazine, recently traveled to Greece and shares her impressions.

NWoG: How has Greek wine evolved over the last 10 years and how has its image in the US market changed?

TT: Overall, the quality of Greek wines in the US market is so much better than it was ten years ago. Part of that is simply what's coming in—the accent used to be on cheap wines for the ethic market, and finding a Sigalas, Skouras, Kir-Yianni, Argyros and such was seriously challenging.

But now that Greek wines have broken out of the ethnic ghetto, more and better wines are available. Part of this has to do with the hard work of the importers, but a great deal of credit also must go to the producers. Quality used to be far more spotty, and there was a dark period of over-oaked international varieties. Now there's a firm stable of consistently excellent wines from every corner of the country—wines that have personality, made from grapes grown nowhere else, that have a lot to offer sommeliers and wine drinkers looking for something different, delicious and very much of a place.

The US wine market has also changed radically in the last ten years—and in a favorable direction for Greek wines. As we've seen at Wine & Spirits through our annual restaurant poll, the economy has pushed people to move out of their comfort zones and look for value elsewhere—and in doing so, they've become far more adventurous and trusting of sommeliers. Sommeliers, in turn, are quite excited by what Greece has to offer, and they've been doing an amazing job of introducing diners to wines such as those from Santorini, Naoussa and the Peloponnese.

NWOG: Tell us about the recent W&S restaurant poll and the significance of Greek wines making the poll.

TT: We've been following restaurant wine trends for 22 years at Wine & Spirits through our restaurant poll. Basically, we ask beverage managers at the best restaurants across the country what their guests are drinking—and you can bet their answers rarely included Greek wines a decade ago. That began to change a few years back, but there were never enough mentions to be statistically relevant until this year, when even restaurants like Charlie Trotter's reported having great success selling Greek wines. Boutari, Skouras and Spiropoulos in fact, made the Restaurant Top 50, the collection of the 50 most popular wines across the board. This puts them in the same company as Veuve Clicquot, Shafer, Sonoma-Cutrer, Muga, Fonseca and other enormously popular, established brands. What a coup!

NWOG: How do you think Greek wines and native varieties compare with some of the other major wine producing regions such as France, Italy, Germany, Austria?

TT: Greece has more unique varieties than any country but Italy, which makes it one of the most exciting countries for a wine lover to explore. And it also has varieties that deserve to be considered as classic as any of the more typical classics. Look at Assyrtiko, which has similarities with Riesling in its unshakable acidity, its combination of strength and transparency of flavor, its ability to channel place through its flavors, and its ageability. Look at Agiorgitiko, which can produce everything from juicy rosés to brooding, black, ageable reds and dessert wines. There's Malagousia, which can be as lush and perfumed as great Viognier, and Xinomavro, which, when made with care, can be as bewitching as great Nebbiolo. And there are so many varieties that vintners are only now getting to know that I feel certain Greece is going to be a source of even more truly great grapes.

NWOG: What future position in the US market do you see Greek wines occupying?

TT: Greek wines will always be a niche category—after all, it's a small country filled with obscure grapes. But it ought to be a source of excitement for a long time, as it's still so much in a period of exploration and discovery, and the wines that are have already been established as great (Santorini, Naoussa, Nemea) will continue to find themselves regularly listed at top restaurants with other wines from well-established regions.