Agiorghitiko. Assyrtiko. Moschofilero. Xinomavro. Sound Familiar? Maybe yes, maybe no, but these are probably thebest-known wine grapes native to Greece. But add in Aidani, Dafni,Tinaktorogos, Kotsifali, and Mandalaria to name just a few more varietals that I discovered last week-end at the Taste of Greece, and you are blown away by the breadth of material available to wine makers in that country.
One comes to realize, too, that because there are so many islands that are part of Greece, such as Crete and Santorini, strains of grapes have been able to develop in isolation and retain their distinctiveness.
In the case of the white grape Dafni, not only is it likely just grown on Crete, Lyrarakis may be the only winery producing it. It may also be one of the oldest varietals in the world, with evidence of its production dating back to the Bronze Age; in the 1980’s Lyrarakis brought it back from the brink of extinction.
The Dafni displayed aromas of bay and rosemary – the name actually means ‘laurel’ - and initial fruitiness gives way to more of that herbal character along with good citrus flavours.
Ktima Brintziki, a winery located near the ancient Olympia, is the only one producing Tinaktorogos, a delicious, full-flavoured white, and they also poured a distinctive red, Avgoustiatis, which had some good tannic grip but also displayed cherry-like fruit.
The island of Santorini is well known for its white wines made from the Assyrtiko grape, especially those grown on low basket-shaped vines grown in the caldera left by the volcano. This shape has been adopted to protect the vines from the salty air as well as too much sun.
Argyros Santorini Assyrtiko 2015, currently in Vintages for $22.95 is very crisp and lemony, crying out for seafood, especially if it has been grilled or fried, such as calamari. There is also a saline note associated with these island whites.
After enjoying the Taste of Greece, I opened a bottle of Idaia Kotsifali/Mandalaria 2010 on sale now in Vintages for $14.75. There is still some in the warehouse, and if your store doesn’t have any, I would recommend you ask them to bring it in. It is delicious and smooth, with dark fruit and herb on the palate, and very decent depth.
Apparently the two grapes are so complementary, that it is almost a rule that they must be blended together. The wine received a bronze from Decanter.com and a gold at Berlin.
On the May 28 Vintages release, Amethystos Red 2012 from Domaine Costa Lazaridi, $23.95, is a departure from the focus on native grapes, in that it is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Agiorgitiko. Having spent 12 months in oak, 25 percent of it new, it has developed deep dark fruit flavours and soft tannins with balance and length.
Many of the wines, however, at this first ever ‘Taste of Greece’ in Toronto are only available on consignment, and some are not in Canada at all yet. With ‘consignment’, you have to order directly from the agent, and then it must be by the case.
I was told that the consignment wines are often available by the bottle just at the LCBO store on the Danforth in the heart of the Toronto Greek community, but I haven’t been able to confirm this when checking on line. I will have to explore this further when I am next in Toronto.
I can tell you this: though these wines for Greece may not be easy to find, if you do happen to spot them, don’t hesitate to try them. I think you will enjoy the experience.
Limited Time Offers, May 24 – June 19
Oyster Bay Chardonnay, $15.95 (-$3), a Vintages Essential from New Zealand, is balanced with some creaminess to the texture and just a kiss of oak. Apple and peach are followed up by lemony citrus at the end.
Peninsula Ridge Semi-Dry Riesling, $11.95 (-$2) from Niagara is just off-dry with good stone fruit up-front and lime-like acidity balancing the moderate sweetness on the finish.
Mirassou Pinot Noir, $11.95 (-$2) is medium to light-bodied, but tasty for a middle-of-the- road Pinot Noir with smooth red berry, plum and cherry notes and some spice on the finish.
Borsao Tinto Garnacha, $9.95 (-$2) Grenache, which is experiencing an up-tick in interest, originated in Aragon in Spain as Garnacha, and Borsao is a fine producer. The vines for this wine, which includes 10 percent Tempranillo and 5 percent Cabernet are 15 to 25 years old, and the treatment is all stainless steel. Expect good flavour – cherry, raspberry – with mineral and earth notes and some crispness on the finish.
Small Gully The Formula Robert’s Shiraz, $17.95, (-$2) is a long time crowd-pleaser for those who enjoy oodles of flavour in their Shiraz, not to mention high octane – it’s about 16 percent alcohol. Dark and ripe, it screams for steak or ribs hot off the grill.
Doña Paula Estate Malbec, $11.95, regularly lists for $15.95, and so this is a very good deal on a good Malbec with plum and dark fruit flavours and medium body. This wine is on sale now while quantities last.
May 28 Vintages Release
There are oodles of good, well-priced wines on this release. Be sure to speak with the product consultants about them. Here are some that I have tasted and recommend, along with a couple I look forward to enjoying.
Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve Entourage Sparkling Brut 2011, $24.95. Sometimes we turn to a sparkling wine because it is less expensive than Champagne. In this case, I would be choosing it because it is what I would hope Champagne would taste like! Pop the cork, and there is a lovely, baked bread, toasty aroma. Take a sip, and this golden wine delivers far more than prickly bubbles. The fruit is balanced and the taste is full – it’s the kind of wine that makes one wonder why they would even think of Prosecco! Go for it!
Fratelli Povero Terre Del Conte Roero Arneis 2014, $16.95 – just as many of the Greek grapes are being rescued from obscurity and extinction, the same applies to Arneis in Italy’s Piedmont region. This apparently is lighter stylistically but nevertheless, flavourful and enticing.
Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Reserve Series Viognier 2014, $15.95, is a beautiful white wine with ample fruit flavour (pear, peach?) a wonderful, lush mouth-feel, and a long finish on which the flavours continue to blossom. This, I believe, is what great Viognier is all about.
Robert Oatley Signature Series Chardonnay 2014, $18.95, hails from the Margaret River region near Perth on Australia’s west coast. This exhibits good chardonnay character, with some complexity. winecompanion.com writes, “Drinkability meets sophistication meets value.”.
Kim Crawford Small Parcels “Wild Grace” Chardonnay 2013, $24.95, from New Zealand, is big stuff. There is an oakiness here, even though only 25 percent of the wood was new (the newer the oak, the greater the extraction) and the result is quite rich. I could see it standing up to a pork loin, especially if there were a fruit sauce associated with it. The flavours are extensive, and if you like your chardonnays with some brawn accompanying the elegance, stock up on this one.
Sister’s Run Epiphany Shiraz 2014, $16.95. It is becoming the case that when Sister’s Run from Australia’s McLaren Vale appears on the shelves, people run to buy it. I expect the same here, so don’t wait too long if you are a fan. Dark berry flavour leaning towards a bit of jam, soft on the palate with a tinge of chocolate, and good length at the end. They aim for balance, and they get it.
Santa Duc Les Vielles Vignes Côtes du Rhône 2009, $16.95 bears a “90” from the Wine Enthusiast – “Black olives, leather and chocolate finish long potent and dusty.” This is aged and at its peak.
Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha 2014, $19.95. Here is the bigger sibling to the Garnacha on the LTO list, and it is always very popular. winespectator.com rated it “91” called it a smart buy, and acknowledged its texture, structure, and flavour. Why don’t you buy both the Borsaos and compare them?