Category Archives: Greek wine

Going for Gold?

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I opened a bottle recently displaying a sticker proclaiming that the wine had won a Gold Medal in a certain Wine Competition. 

Assyrtiko Gold MedalSo, how much should that influence you in buying?  Or is it just another marketing ploy? 

It’s certainly marketing but how seriously you should take the award depends on a number of things.  There are many wine competitions all around the world each year and it’s often impossible to know how strong the opposition was, who the judges were and how skilled they were and whether they knew which wines they were tasting (and so might have been influenced by the labels) or if they were tasting ‘blind’? 

As a result, with one or two exceptions for internationally recognised competitions, I generally ignore medal stickers – and not just for the uncertainties I’ve already mentioned.

However professional the judging and however strong the competition, medals are the opinion of a small number of people (sometimes just one) tasting the wine on a particular day.  Wines that stand out from the crowd – either because they have intense flavours or are in some way different – often attract attention from judges whereas subtle and elegant bottles (which may be far more food-friendly) tend to be ignored.  The same applies to wines that open up slowly once in the glass – busy judges may spend just a few seconds on each wine and miss this development.  And several weeks (or even months) later when the results go public, the wine itself will have changed – either improving or going past its best.  But, perhaps most important of all, do you and the judge have the same likes and dislikes?  There’s one judge (who shall remain nameless) whose high scoring wines I carefully avoid!

But, back to the wine that prompted this blog.  I already knew it well and have recommended it previously (Hatzidakis’ Assyrtiko from the Greek Island of Santorini, £13.50 from The Wine Society or Waitrose).  I knew it was good and was pleased it had been recognised in this way, even though an award from the Thessaloniki Wine Competition may not have the prestige of some!

So, by all means, look at stickers, but there’s so much more important information to help you on a wine label than the fact that it has won a medal.

 

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Re-thinking Greek Wine

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Greece has been making wine since ancient times.  Remains of grapes and winemaking equipment dating back to at least 2000BC have been found.  And, through trade, Greece had an enormous influence on the early development of wine right across southern Europe.  Yet, in more recent times, the reputation of Greek wines has dipped dramatically.  Even today, mention the country’s wine to some and the reply will be ‘retsina’, often with some derogatory comment attached.

That’s not my experience at all.  There are some excellent Greek wines around and, as often happens in places with a long wine heritage, you can find a vast array of distinctively flavoured native grape varieties, some perfectly adjusted to conditions in just one small area of the country.

Take the white grape variety Assyrtiko (“ass-seer-tick-o”) grown on the island of Santorini, for example.  Santorini is one of the windiest islands in the Mediterranean.  Training the vines along wires would be impossible; the whole thing – vines, posts, wires, the lot – would simply blow over; even growing as a bush doesn’t work in many parts.  Instead, the vine has to be knotted into a basket shape, kept close to the ground to protect the grapes from the winds (see picture below).  Few grape varieties would tolerate such treatment, but Assyrtiko grows happily there.santorini-vines

Fortunately, in the right hands, it also makes delicious wine.  Hatzidakis’ bottling (Grape and Grind, £12.99, Wine Society, £13.50) is crisp and fresh, quite citrusy but with a little weight behind it, too.  We found the flavours developed nicely after a while in the glass; my wife suggested that decanting might help – I think she was right. 

And that’s what you find with these lesser-known grapes – they give you all sorts of surprises.  You won’t like them all, but I always think they’re worth trying once and Assyrtiko, in particular, really should be on every wine lover’s list.