Greece is the 14th largest wine producer in the world, an astonishing fact considering the country’s total land mass is slightly larger than the state of Tennessee.
It’s not easy to plant vineyards there either. Of Greece’s 50,000 total square miles, 70 percent is mountainous and 20 percent is made up of islands.
Up until the 1960s, the Greek wine industry was nondescript, lacking in quality.
Ahhh, but how things have changed since then.
Greek producers have recaptured the glory of ancient times, when Plato and Socrates wrote about wine’s value in living a healthy, productive life. (The philosophers were the first to endorse moderation, saying three glasses of wine, mixed with water, represented a good daily limit for all who imbibed.)
Modern facilities and the global marketplace have spurred the Greek transformation. More important, however, is nationalistic pride in reviving long forgotten and dying native grapes, like the delicious Malagousia.
Recently, I tasted three phenomenal Greek wines distributed in the U.S. by Cava Spiliadis (cavaspiliadis.com). If you seek something special and unique for a holiday party or dinner, I highly recommend the following:
- Parparoussis Petite Fleur Rosé, $17 — This is made from 100 percent Sideritis, a thick, pink-skinned grape grown in the western Greek village of Movri Achaias. The color is mesmerizing — yellow gold with pink hues — and it’s exotically fragrant. While delicate on the palate, Petite Fleur makes a wonderful impression with sour cherry and stone fruit flavors that are balanced with crisp, clean acidity. The dry, long finish begs for another sip. It’s a great welcoming drink.
- Ktima Biblia Chora Areti Wine, $23 — The Assyrtiko grape, Greece’s dominant white varietal, is famous on the sun-swept island of Santorini. Winemaker Vassilis Tsaktsarlis has made it thrive inland, on the rocky, barren slopes of Mount Pangeon in Kavala, which is east of Thessaloniki. Hand it to the Greeks for turning such difficult land into a miracle maker. I love oysters, mussels and steamers, and the gods probably had this elegant wine in mind for such occasions. Areti stimulates the senses: it’s got island-hopping aromas of lemon, apple and grapefruit with nice, smooth citrus flavors to match. Sip this in a chair facing the sun, eyes closed, and you’re transported to the starboard side of Santorini.
- Ktima Gerovassiliou Malagousia, $23 — The ancient Malagousia white grape was headed for extinction until agronomist Evangelous Gerovassilou resurrected it in the 1980s at his small winery in Epanomi, located southwest of Thessaloniki in northern Greece. Here, along the windswept Aegean Sea, the vines grow in a circular fashion — called kouloura — which form a ground level basket to protect the fruit. Gerovassilou has devoted his life to creating fine wines, and this is a stunner. It’s very aromatic and full bodied. What sends you over the moon, however, is the ripe, crisp flavors that mix with spicy herbs. Think lemon, apple, and pear with a sprinkle of white pepper and orange bitters. The taste is fascinating and mouthwateringly long and dry on the finish. I loved this wine. While it’s best with seafood dishes and Greek salads, I wouldn’t hesitate to drink this with any white meat dish like chicken or even pork. Glory be to Gerovassilou that Malagousia lives on!