St George and Retsina

Vineyard KokotosIn my blog last time, I talked about the vast array of wine grapes native to Greece.  Many of these are found only in a limited area where they have been grown for generations and are perfectly suited to the conditions. 

So, our wine tour of that country became a week of 2 halves.  As we travelled south towards the Peloponnese, we left the Xinomavro-based reds of the north behind and, instead, met up with another red variety, the almost unpronounceable Agioritiko (“eye-your-yit-iko”) which, happily, is also known as St. George.

St. George is altogether softer and rounder than Xinomavro with lower acidity and gentler tannins – more like a Merlot than a Cabernet Sauvignon.  Dark cherries and herbs dominate the palate with some spiciness where the wines had some oak ageing.  We tasted some delightful examples at Tselopos and Gaia.

But, as with the early part of the trip, our visit south wasn’t all about red wines; the Malagousia and Assyrtiko grapes we tasted further north were still found here, but were joined by Moschofilero, grown high on the plateau of Mantinia.  This has lovely freshness with floral and citrus flavours – Domaine Nikolaou’s bottling stood out.

And then there’s Retsina!  Dubious though we were, a wine tour of Greece wouldn’t really be complete without tasting it. 

Gaia RetsinaFortunately, the example we were shown was Gaia’s modern take on the subject: Ritinitis Nobilis – delicate, fragrant and lemony-fresh.  Yes, there was a subtle hint of pine resin on the nose and the palate, but it just seemed to add an extra aromatic dimension to the wine rather than being the central flavour.  I wouldn’t guarantee that all Retsina would be this drinkable, but it’s worth keeping an open mind.

And so, all too soon we were on our way home.  Thanks again to our tour manager, Caron, and invaluable wine guide, Derek Smedley MW for making the trip so interesting and worthwhile.

We travelled with Arblaster and Clarke (, a specialist in wine-related holidays.


The ‘X’ Factor

Dom Karanika VydsHow many grape varieties do you know whose name starts with the letter X?  If you can do better than 3, please leave me a comment. 

My 3 start with Xarel-lo.  It’s grown in Spain and it’s usually used as part of the blend for Cava.  Then there’s Xynisteri, mainly, if not exclusively, found in Cyprus and finally, the only red grape of the trio, Xinomavro – one of the best of a vast array of wine grapes native to Greece.

Greek wines have had a poor reputation in the UK in recent years with many thinking they’re all like retsina.  For me, that view is outdated; there are some excellent examples available here – and even more in Greece, where my wife and I have just visited and enjoyed tastings at some of their top wineries.

Xinomavro (the initial ‘X’ is pronounced ‘ks’) translates, perhaps unpromisingly, to ‘acid black’ but, in the right hands, can produce some really attractive, ageworthy reds.  Sometimes, as at Alpha Estate or Dalamara, its lovely blackberry and spice flavours are found as a single variety wine, elsewhere it forms a harmonious blend with Syrah, Merlot or other local varieties.  We even tasted it in a Blanc de Noir fizz at Domaine Karanika.

And that same estate was one of 2 (the other was Domaine Dougos at the foot of Mount Olympus) that showed us red wines made from a grape described as “the most exciting variety in Greece”: Limniona.  Revived from near extinction, it produces deep coloured, intense wines with black cherry and pepper flavours and, when young, firm tannins.  Certainly wines for keeping – if you can find them.

But the northern half of Greece, where all these wineries are situated, also produces some delicious white wines, notably from the fragrant, peachy, Malagousia grape (try Domaine Gerovassiliou) or the crisp, fresh Assyrtiko, better known as the signature variety of the island of Santorini where Domaine Sigalas produce the best example of the grape I’ve ever tasted.

All of these wines certainly have ‘the X factor’ even if only one has the spelling.

In my next blog, I’ll tell you about our meeting with Saint George on the second part of our wine tour – the ‘Story of Greece’ organised by Arblaster and Clarke ( and guided by the wonderfully knowledgeable Derek Smedley MW.