As the oldest fermented beverage in the world (sorry, beer drinkers) wine has been a part of the human experience ever since the dawn of civilization. Since wine itself is older than recorded history, we can only marvel at ancient clay jugs and other archaeological finds and wonder when our ancestors first realized that, if allowed to ferment with the aid of native yeasts, the fruit of wild vitis vinifera would transform into a sacred elixir.
The pharaohs drank wine, and in some cases even kept stashes of it in their pyramids to quench their thirst in the afterlife. Sadly, we don’t know much about what the wine of ancient Egypt was like. Nothing stored in the desert for thousands of years is going to be particularly tasty, with the possible exception of honey. So for all intents and purposes, the wine we know and love today was born in Ancient Greece and Phoenicia.
The Greeks loved their wine. Greek poets, like many writers today, couldn’t get enough of it. City-dwellers played drinking games with their cups of wine after dinner. Did you know that the Greek word “symposium” originally referred to a conversation over wine? The Greeks turned winemaking into a bonafide industry as they colonized the Mediterranean. The rest is history.
Now, the “O.G.” of Greek wines doesn’t have a lot in common with what we drink today. Historical records suggest wine was commonly used as a mixer back then—a cocktail of herbs, spices, honey, and water was needed to make the stuff palatable. This raises the question: did Ancient Greece actually invent sangria?
Luckily for us, modern Greek wine does not need to be sweetened or flavored. It’s delicious in its pure form.
Now, unless you want to hop on a plane (and I’m not stopping you!) it’s probably going to be hard to find a wide variety of Greek wines. Local wine stores’ Greek sections are depressingly small—if they exist at all. Restaurants, unless they serve Mediterranean cuisine, are even less likely to have a healthy Greek wine list.
It’s long been on my to-do list to break down and special order some Greek wines straight from the source, but I had pretty much resigned myself to an absence of Greek wine in my life. Until, as if straight from the hand of Dionysus, chance dropped it into my glass.
”I’m hungry for Mediterranean food,” I remember saying as my husband and I discussed where to have lunch last Saturday. We let modern technology work its magic and arrived at our destination guided by GPS and Yelp a few short minutes later.
I walked into the lovely Greek cafe not expecting to get buzzed on my lunch break. Boy, was I wrong.
As the waitress deposited our menus, the words “Greek wine flights” shone like a beacon. Now that I think about it, I’m sure the presence of wine I haven’t tried before called me to the location, a psychic message no maenad can ignore.
Up until then, my only real experience tasting Greek wine had been about a year ago at TexSomm, a yearly wine convention held in the DFW area. A free pass to the tasting rooms got me 1-oz pours of several hundred wines from too many regions and producers to remember.
While proper somm protocol is to spit, I’m here to tell you that no matter what you do some of the alcohol is absorbed through your tongue. After several dozen tastings, you start to feel pretty good. Also, palate fatigue is a thing, and after awhile even the most sensitive taster can find herself lost in a muddle of unrecognizable fruits and new oak.
So by the time I found the Greek tasting room, I was a little fuzzy. I distinctly remember sampling a rose there that tasted, I kid you not, like a medley of unsweetened Big Red and Strawberry Fanta. It was wild. I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called, and that Greek rose has become my white whale—I will find it again.
I didn’t find it at Ziziki’s, but I did get a chance to taste six fantastic Greek wines.
Behold, my tasting notes. I’ve listed the three white wines I tried first.
My tasting notes follow this format:
Wine #: Producer’s Name, Wine Name, Year (or NV if non-vintage), Region of Origin
Grape: the grapes used in the wine.
My impressions of the wine.
Recommended for: would like this wine and what to pair it with.
Wine 1: Moraitis, Paros White 2017, Paros
On the nose, I detected juicy aromas of pineapple, ripe yellow apple, and lemon. On the palate, this wine bursted with flavors of pineapple, Granny Smith apple, citrus, and a dash of white pepper. This wine actually tasted spicy.
Recommended for: Those who like Spanish wines (white Rioja, Verdejo). Try this wine with dolmas or seafood.
Wine 2: Wine Art Estate, Plano Malagousia 2017, Macedonia
This wine had a lovely floral nose full of citrus blossom and honeysuckle, with notes of ripe tropical fruits. On the palate I tasted lychee, banana, and ripe yellow peach with a hint of honeycomb and something mineral.
Recommended for: Those who like Torrontes. Try this wine with aged white cheddar or poultry.
Wine 3: Anemos White N.V., Peloponnesos
Grapes: Moschofilero, Rhoditis
On the nose, ripe stone fruit (peach, pear, apricot) and banana ran the show, accompanied by floral notes of citrus blossom. On the palate, flavors of ripe banana, Anjou pear, and apricots continued. The wine had a creamy texture and I detected hints of vanilla and minerals.
Recommended for: Those who like Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay. Try this wine with poultry or pasta, I’m thinking chicken carbonara.
Now for the red wines!
Wine 4: Palivou Estate Nemea 2016, Nemea
On the nose, aromas of black cherry, cocoa, and exotic spices. On the palate, this wine tasted of ripe cherry, plum, and black olives with a hint of tobacco and cinnamon.
Recommended for: Those who like Chianti or Merlot. Try it with cured meats and cheeses.
Wine 5: Porto Carras LimNeon N.V., Meliton
Grape: Limnio (oldest red varietal in the world!)
This wine called Napa Valley Cabernet to mind in a big way for me. On the nose, ripe red and black fruit dominated. On the palate, I tasted black cherry, blackberry, black currant, with a hint of vanilla and sweet baking spices from the oak aging.
Recommended for: Those who like Napa Valley Cabernet. Try it with filet mignon.
Wine 6: Palivou Estate Anemos Red N.V., Peloponnesos
Out of all the wines I tried, this was probably my favorite. This one possibly suffers from “sixth wine syndrome” but it is without a doubt an interesting red. Allow me to sing its praises. Though this wine is fruit-forward with aromas and flavors of overripe wild strawberries, raspberries, and gooseberries, it has intriguing floral notes that called to mind backyard fences overrun by climbing vines—orange trumpet flowers, honeysuckle, and Passion flowers. This wine is a bit funky (and yes, for me that’s a good thing). Something about its flavor recalls raw meat, composting leaves or forest floor, or even fruit in the earliest stages of rot. This is not to say the wine tastes rotten, quite the contrary! The nose in particular was wonderful—it had an intoxicating, almost primal scent I can’t quite define.
Recommended for: Maenads. It was excellent with my lamb souvlaki, pictured below.
In conclusion, Greek wines are interesting, fun, and you don’t need to be able to pronounce their names to enjoy them. All three whites I tried were floral, had a wonderfully zippy acidity, and refreshing. In other words, they are perfect for summer!
All three reds were fruit-forward but had enough complexity going on with floral and earthy notes to keep even the most seasoned wine tasters interested.
So whether you’re a beginner or a wine geek, I highly recommend grabbing a glass of any of these approachable and delicious wines. Opa!
Check out my ratings of these and other wines I’ve tried on Vivino, the free wine rating app.