The UK saw a surge of interest in ‘new wave’ Greek wines in the 1990’s, almost single-handedly created by a man called Steve Daniels. Then the head buyer for the dominant Oddbins group, he introduced dozens of wines that surprised and delighted: the shock of discovering that there was a lot more to Greece than Retsina and cheap taverna blends.
Steve Daniels now runs Novum Wines, still very much involved with Greek wines, but the selection below comes from one of the latest, super-enthusiastic fans of Greek wine: Ken Miller of Borders Wines, an independent merchant operating in the Scottish Borders, but of course shipping wines nationally via their website.
Ken has been adding dozens of wines from Greece, both mainland and island wines, to his portfolio over the past year to become one of the UK’s leading Greek specialists. Although Greece is producing some excellent wines from ‘international’ varieties like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, there is a real celebration of indigenous grapes here too. Some, like Assyrtiko, have gained something of a cult following, especially the salt spray-licked wines from the island of Santorini, but there’s a growing recognition that other varieties like Xinomavro (where the mainland region of Naoussa is a stronghold) are capable of quite profound quality.
Borders Wines’ offers a wide range of wines from carefully-chosen estates. A few months ago I reported on six wines they are offering from Avantis Estate on the island of Evia, but here 12 more wines also really impressed. Greece has a new generation of confident, outward-looking winemakers, perhaps also partly inspired by Steve Daniels and his pioneering work on the export market, and it fantastic that a small, passionate company like Borders Wines is once more getting behind them in the UK.
Ken Miller points out that the entire wine production of Greece is around one-third that of Bordeaux, so almost all operations are ’boutique’ and generally family-owned. Note that those attending my Edinburgh Festival of Wine on November 9th 2019 can meet Ken and taste through his wines.
(2019) A blend of Assyrtiko and Malagousia, grown in poor, sandy soils on the island of Paros, this has a fragrant lemon-balm and apple scent, just a faint hint of almond or crushed oatmeal, but it's all about the fruit. On the palate fresh, zippy but substantial, a pithy lemon and grapefruit acidity drives those cool orchard fruit and citrus flavours, with a little mouth-watering hit of salinity in the finish.
(2019) A blend Of 90% Assyrtiko with 10% of Athiri and Aidani from Artemis Karamolegos, this is a superb example of Santorini at its best. Flooded with fruit, but also basil and lime leaf, and that salty ozone lick of the seaside. I am not sure if there is any oak here, but there is a nutty and natural/earthy sub-text that adds to the complexity. In the mouth it is vivid, vivacious and full-fruited, with that sweep of taut, saline acidity into its long finish.
(2019) A white wine, blended from 80% Roditis and 20% Malagousia, this is a highly aromatic wine, a subtle spritz on openining seeming to release a waft of jasmine and honeysuckle, over mango and more crisp, apple and citrus fruit notes. Unoaked, the palate zings with that delicate but substantial flavour profile, very zesty, a touch of Mandarin orange to the acidity keeps it dry and fresh, but very approachable. An aperitif style for sure, but could be lovely with thai or spicy szechuan dishes.
(2019) Its fame on the island of Santorini has perhaps spurred on many modern Greek producers to grow Assyrtiko, undoubtedly a - if not the - star white wine grape of Greece. From vineyards at an altitude of 700 meters and poor, sandy soils, this is typically crisp and zesty and is unoaked. It doesn't have the ozoney seaside freshness of some of the Santorini wines, but instead a yellow plum and lime freshness, lees ageing adding to the texture to give it quite a full and grippy presence, the finish bone-dry and hinting at river stones and saltiness.
(2019) A wine from the Peloponnese peninsula, and a domaine established in 1986 by Burgundy-trained Georges Skouras. This blends Agiorgitiko and Cabernet Sauvignon, the nose fragrant and brightly-lit, juicy cherry and red fruits as well as a peppercorn note. On the palate there is loads of sweet, concentrated fruit, both a crisp, lighter raspberry character and more substantial black fruit backing it up. There's a little coffee and liquorice adding a bittersweet edge to the tannins and acidity, in an approachable if leaner style.
(2019) From organic vineyards (certified) planted at altitude in the north of the mainland's Peloponnese peninsula, there's a vivid crimson colour here and an equally vivid aroma: red liquorice, cherry and a definite floral note, a touch of ash too. In the mouth it is a vivacious wine, those bright aromas transferred directly into flavour, so cherry and red fruits dominate, no oak, but a nicely tempered backbone of noteable acidity and tightly-grained tannins to give a supple, fresh appeal.
(2019) This was the first unoaked Xinomavro to on the market a decade ago, after several years of experimenting in how to tame the tannins of the Xinomavro variety. Decanter magazine obviously thinks they've managed that, awarding this vintage 93/100 and naming it one of their 50 'Most Exciting Wines of 2018'. Ruby in colour, there's a lovely cranberry and pomegranate, maybe dried fruit character on the nose, a little exotic note of strawberry/lychee in the background. In the mouth that sweet softness of pulpy red fruits is there, not underripe, but cool and herbal too, enough of a roughening edge of tannin and acidity to give it energy, in a lovely medium-bodied wine that is agile and light, and very moreish.
(2019) From Naoussa and 100% Xinomavro, this comes from a small, single-vinyard plot. Deep ruby in colour, there is real lift and fragrance, wild garrigue herbs and flowers, Laspang souchon tea, and taut black berry fruit, quite dry and mineral. In the mouth it is both fruit-forward and subtly mineral, very precise, slaty acids and dry tannins, but the inherent sweetness and intensity of the black fruit, cherry skins and tart blackcurrant, gives elegance and polish. Long and concentrated without every throwing its weight around, it is a lovely, lovely wine.
(2019) Blending 50% Merlot with equal parts Xinomavro and Syrah, this is a robust and characterful red, very deep in colour and mixing a cherry and briar, herbal quality with rounded berry fruit. That sweet fruit of the nose translates to the palate too, backed by a little chocolate bittersweetness, perhaps a touch of olive, and a grippy rusticity to the tannins that, along with nicely pert acidity, freshness the finish nicely.
(2019) Greek wine lover Peter Pharos recently wrote an article for wine-pages all about the region of Naoussa and the quality of its wines made from the Xinomavro grape, specifically citing this wine as "one of the best value-for-money wines globally." Another densely-coloured red, there's an intriguing lift of kirsch and over-ripe red berries on the nose; not stewed, but super fragrant and pungent, Italian tinned tomatoes, clove and liquorice and fascinating herbal qualities too. In the mouth it is a structured, dense and firm wine, big dry tannins immediately clamping down, that meatiness and balsamic quality, the savoury olive and umami character much more on the black fruit spectrum as sinewy acidity and those tannins, matched by fruit concentration, drive the finish. Needs a steak or venison maybe, and perhaps an hour in a decanter before serving. A much bigger wine than the other Xinomavros in this portfolio.
(2019) What a lovely expression of Xinomavro from 60-year-old vines, herbal, gentle and almost Pinot-like in character from its transluscent, lighter colour to its fleeting aromas of red fruits, truffle and balsamic strawberries. The palate is dry and carries both those not too ripe herbal characters and that strawberry pulp softness and sweetness through. For me, though an element of tartness in the finish, that just adds an extra ounce of fresh, agile character to a most enjoyable wine.
(2019) A Syrah-dominated blend, along with 30% Merlot and 10% Xinomavro, fruit comes from Naoussa and the wine is aged for 16 months in small barrels, of French and American oak. What an elegant and sophisticated nose on this wine, all graphite and cedar, some wild herbs and flowers, smokiness and an intense blue-black fruit. In the mouth it is smooth and rich, supple tannins and an integrated black cherry acidity barely ruffling the plum and blueberry fruit. Quite grippy in the finish as the tannins bite a little more, but spicy, intense and a bit of a star.