Tuesday, May 11, 2010
All Greek to Me
To appreciate Greek wines, you have to eat them with food. Preferably, good food.
Back in March, I went to a wine tasting for the importer VOS selections, and tasted through their fairly extensive line of Greek wines. I thought, "Good." But I wasn't all that excited. I've gone through this before. I'm a fan of good Greek wines. I think they present excellent value, as well a sense of taste adventure, given the innumerable native and obscure varietals in Greece. But I was first won over to Greek wines by buying cheap bottles and then having them over dinner. When I went to Greek wine tastings, where no food was served, I wasn't as wowed. These wines are made for food, and somehow don't show as well when they're on their own.
I discovered this fact anew at a lovely lunch at Greenwich Village's newly reopened Annisa. The meal was accompanied by ten various Greek wines, from sparkling to dry to sweet. A couple roses, an Agiorgitiko from Semeli and a Xynomavro from Kir-Yianni, went beautifully with a warm salad of Beluga lentils and bulghur. A nicely acidic Kir-Yianni white made from the Roditis grape was a perfect match for cutting through grilled halibut and glazed radish. And a trio of reds—a Mandilaria-Monemvasia blend, an Agiorgitiko and a Xynomavro-Syrah-Merlot blend—all lent themselves to veal tenderloin and sweetbread.
These wines do not steal focus. Rather, they focus your attention on the meal, insinuating themselves in between the bites. An exception might be the Mantinia Moschofilero from Tseleopos. Cyprus-born Yiannis Tselepos is acknowledged as having brought the great white varietal Moschofilero back to the attention of the wider world, and produces one of the benchmark versions of the grape, having experimented with it for years. The Mantinia is a rich wine—for Greek wines, that is—which can demand your attention sans food.
Another wine that easily stood alone: a sparkling Moschofilero from Tselepos that used the methode traditionelle. VOS says this is the only such sparkling wine being made in Greece today.
Though Greek wines have been inching up in popularity in recent years, they're still largely unknown to drinkers outside the big cities. Even in New York, you'll be hard pressed to find more than one or two on wine lists outside the major Greek restaurants. (A sommelier at Jean-Georges mentioned to me that he had one on his list.) Meanwhile, the prices of Greek wines have been inching up slowly as word of their quality has caught on. When I first started drinking them, I could get a good one for $10 or $12. Now, I'll have to shell out $15 or more. That's still pretty cheap. I just hope the public catches on before the better Greeks break the $20 ceiling.