‘Which Greek wineries do you rate?’ my new kind-of-colleague asked when we broke for coffee.
‘Thymiopoulos,’ I said, hoping and praying that either our Italian colleague would interrupt, or that the meeting would start again soon. The conversation wasn’t going well at all. As a wine professional, I am used to being asked by new acquaintances how I got into wines, which wines I like, and sometimes what is my favourite wine. I have a selection of stock answers which have served me well through the years. I had recently added to my repertoire an interest in Greek wines for an added flourish. I’d tried a couple of Xinomavros and liked them.
My new acquaintance was however not just interested in wine but knowledgeable too. He also happened to be Greek.
I eventually cut my losses and admitted to my poor knowledge of Greek wines. I did however decide to try and learn more if only never to be caught in such an awkward situation again. I ordered a mixed case from Greek and Maltby, with the help of my new Greek friend – someone who catches you making a fool of yourself and doesn’t take advantage deserves to be promoted to friend – and a few wines from the Wine Society for good measure.
The first hurdle was the language barrier. As a French native speaker, I’ve had a definite advantage when it comes to pronouncing and memorising the language of wine. Apologies for the easy pun but Greek labels, varieties and producer names turned out to be all Greek to me and difficult to memorise. It made me respect even more wine professionals from countries with different alphabets and languages to those of wine producing countries.
Frustrated by my lack of progress, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and booked a return flight to Thessaloniki to attend Map of Flavours, a two-day consumer event which takes place every year in early December. I was unfortunately out of the country at the time of the London Greek trade tasting back in June.
On arrival, I was lucky enough to bump into Mary Pateras, one of the leading importers of Greek wines in the UK, and her husband. They were accompanied by Matt, the Greek buyer from the Wine Society, a true fan of Greek wines and the real Mc Coy to my feeble posturing.
Armed with a few recommendations, my very patient Greek guide and I plunged in. One of the first things that struck me was the young age of attendees compared to a similar even in the UK. Good for the future of the wine trade in Greece, maybe not so good for us.
Still on the age thing, a lot of exhibitors were young, as were their wineries: most of them had been in business for 20 years or less, a marked difference to what I am used to. Hatzidakis winery, now run by a talented bunch of youngsters, is a good example, and their Rampelia 2021, a 100% Assyrtiko was particularly impressive. I felt like I was back in the nineties when dynamic young New World producers were popping up left, right and centre and sweeping aside complacent French behemoths. Yet the variety of grape varieties and winemaking techniques on offer definitely had an Old World feel. Could Greece be the best of both worlds? Facile, I know but a valid point, I hope.
It would be unfair to form an opinion on the Greek wine industry on the basis of a two-day visit to Maps of Flavours – there were a number of notable Greek wineries missing from the exhibitors’ list, but it provided a valuable shortcut and a much more memorable experience than reading a book or tasting Greek wines in London.
Because what was great is that in many cases – with the disappointing exception of Thymiopoulos – people manning the stands were mostly winemakers and sometimes owners of wineries, as opposed to marketing and PR peeps. I have nothing against marketing and PR people, as I’m one of them, but there is nothing that beats a chat with the man or the woman who made the wine you’re tasting.
I inevitably loved the story of Edward Maitland-Makgill-Crichton(M-M-C for short), who has built a winery on Syros Island where he lives with his Greek wife and three children and has ‘a lot of fun’ – his words, not mine – making pretty fabulous wines from ungrafted old vines with the help of the talented half-French and half-Greek consultant, Spyros Zoumboulis. Their Serifiotiko 2022 was particularly delicious. It is the Katie Jones story all over again, with the same appeal to those of us who live in crowded cities under grey skies for more than six months of the year. And what a privilege to spend 20 minutes tasting his whole range in an unhurried way and listening to his tales. Note to Tim, he’d make a great interviewee for Cork Talk. (Noted. Ed)
You mentioned women, I hear you ask. Well, that’s the other piece of good news. There seem to be quite a few young talented female winemakers in Greece. One of the wineries which impressed me most was Rouvalis. Their winemaker, Theodora Rouvalis, couldn’t be in attendance as she was in the last stages of pregnancy, but her wines spoke for her: great definition and elegance. Tsigello Single Vineyard 2020 is structured with an excellent fruity core.
I was also impressed with Estate Argyros and its young director and MW student Dimitris Motsos – Cuvée Monsignori Santorini 2020 is a beauty – as well as Alpha Estate. We’d driven there on the Friday and that winery could have been plucked out of the Napa Valley and transplanted to Amyndeon. The wines match the architecture of the place: glossy with lush fruit and expensive oak. I loved the fact that they have a Tannat in their range too and an excellent one to boot. It shows that little bit of originality or weirdness which makes a person or human enterprise endearing.
While we’re on varieties, I tasted Athiri, Aidani, Malagousia, Mavrodaphni, Assyrtiko, Vidiano, Agiorgitiko, Preknadi, Fokiano, Kydonitsa, Sklava, Robola, Moschofilero, Savatiano, Lagorthi, Roditis, Vlachiko, the very rare Serifiotiko and Xinomavro, as well as a few international varieties. Assyrtiko and Xinomavro are the undoubted stars of the show: intrinsically qualitative varieties, easy-to-pronounce names and international appeal with the added advantage for Assyrtiko to be associated with Santorini, a picturesque holiday destination. Let’s hope that prices do not go too mad after the disastrous 2023 harvest.
While we’re on the subject of prices, the prices of some of the wines are my only concern when it comes to the future. Despite being ‘trade’, I do not receive samples nor benefit from a company discount. Every bottle I buy is paid for with my own hard-earned cash. It makes me possibly a bit meaner than some critics because, if I like a wine a lot, I want to be able to afford it. There are already too many in the world of wine I can only lust after and try at trade tastings. And unfortunately, Greek wines aren’t cheap and some of my favourites were out of my league.
It was however a joyous experience to learn about wine again and to discover so many new and exciting wines. There are too many to mention but the 34 Santorini 2021 and the Louroi Platia Santorini 2022 from Artemis Karamolegos, the Santorini 2021 from Mikra Thira, the Mikros Vorias Rosé 2022 and the Agathoto 2022 from Kir Yianni and the Limniona 2021 from Theopetra impressed me.
Now I feel like inviting Peter Pharos to Sancerre to give him the same experience. Or asking Tim if he’ll let me carry his suitcase on his next trip to an exciting destination.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash