Here’s something I wrote about five years ago when I was the sommelier for the Balkan Restaurant in Banff! This was meant for the new staff to ease into Greek wines. Here’s some info on two reds and two whites. The most commons ones… Have fun. I’ll also put down some good producers to check out! Opa!
Common Varietal Similarity : Nebbiolo
Xinomavro is the most planted red grape in Greece. The main growing region is NAOUSSA in Macedonia. The wines made from Xinomavro are known for their superb aging potential and their sharp tanic character. High in tannin and acid its wines have traditionally had a light to medium purple color depending on extration and ageing. They tend to lack fruit in their youth but will surprise you over a decade. Some enjoy them young too. As with Nebbiolo these wines are long lived and can develop complex spice and earthy aromas with age. Some winemakers are now choosing to make their wines in different styles. Some are more deeply coloured and less tannic; and some are aged in new oak, etc. Their complex aromas combine such as blue fruits, with hints of olives, spices and dried tomatoes. The wines, when young, can be harsh, but again age very well.
Note : Xinomavro is very powerful. You will often find it in blends. It acts as the structure. It brings lots of tannin, spice aromas and a little bit of black fruits. Think of it as the “backbone”. It’s like the Cabernet Sauvignon to the Merlot in in international Cab/ Merlot blends. To understand this better you can look at Alpha Estate AXIA Red 50% Xinomavro and 50% Syrah. In this case Syrah is the body and the depth of fruit and rounds out the Xinomavro to create a beautifully balanced and complex wine.
Common Varietal Similarity : Pinot Noir, Merlot, Petite sirah
Agiorgiko is one of the most noble of the Greek red varietals and is mainly grown in the NEMEA region of the Peloponnese. It is Greece’s second most planted red grape. It produces wines that stand out for their deep red color, remarkable aromatic complexity and intense bouquet of stewed red fruits. Agiorghitiko’s soft tannins, in combination with its balanced acidity lead to the production of many different styles of wine, ranging from fresh aromatic reds to extraordinary aged reds. It also produces pleasant aromatic rosé wines. Fruit from hotter lower slopes can be overtly jammy and tends to be made into fruity wines for early consumption. The fruit from higher slope has higher acidity and less fine tannins. It can add freshness to a red blend but it is best suited for rose production. The best wines have deep ruby color with high levels of well rounded tannins, moderate to low acidity and sweet spice and red fruit flavours. These wines have a great affinity for new oak and age well.
Note : Agiorgitiko in a blend is like Merlot to Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot conventionally makes lush, plummy, velvety wine that can soften Cabernet’s more austere frame and, usefully, matures much faster. The agiorgitiko brings the body down a bit and adds rich flavours of red fruits.