Friday, April 27, 2018

Marquis Wine Cellars champions Greek wines





Photo: Wine merchant John Cleredis (l) with Yorgos Svanias, export manager for Domaine Skouris

Food & Wine Magazine, in a web posting, declares: “Greek wines may be the most underrated on the planet.”

That is more than a little surprising, given that the Greeks have been making wine for thousands of years, probably longer than the Romans. Yet Italian wines are widely available while Greek wines are scarcer in wine stores than hen’s teeth.

The BC Liquor Distribution Branch, for example, lists nine Greek products (including two spirits and one retsina) compared with 544 Italian products.

John Cleredis, a Vancouver wine merchant of Greek heritage, has just done something to rectify that shocking oversight. After a recent visit to a wine fair in Greece, he has imported 24 Greek wines for his Marquis Wine Cellars store, one of the oldest and best private wine stores in Vancouver.

“There are three or four or five more producers I want to bring in but I need to start slowly,” he said recently at a luncheon where he introduced one of the producers, Domaine Skouras, and its export manager, Yorgos Svanias. Five wines were served at the luncheon, including two excellent wines from Skouras.

John’s timing may be spot on. In a world where wine consumers seem to be looking for something new, Greek wines are ready to be discovered.

There are several reasons why Greek wines are not yet widely available. Most of the 500 wineries in Greece are small, lacking enough wines to export. There are perhaps five large producers in international markets. The brands familiar to consumers would include Boutari, Achaia Clauss and Tsantali.

Domaine Skouras, founded in the 1980s, is one of twenty or so medium-sized producers that make between one million and two million bottles a year.

The Greek financial crisis that began a decade ago has given producers some incentive to export and develop new markets. Recently, groups of producers have been active in Quebec and Ontario, and in the United States, the largest overseas market for Greek wines.

To develop export sales, the Greeks need to overcome the perception left by bad retsina and mediocre table wines of a generation ago. The fact is there has been a sea change in the quality of Greek wines as a younger generation with better training has taken over wineries and vineyards.

One of the producers represented at Marquis is George Diamantakos. “I met Diamantakos last year,” John Cleredis says. “I believe he went to school in Bordeaux. A lot of Greek winemakers have gone to school in Bordeaux; some in Italy.”

Greeks have the advantage, and perhaps the disadvantage, that their wines are made with indigenous grape varieties not grown elsewhere. This gives the wines aromas and flavours that are distinctive, pleasantly so.

If you are bored with, say, Chardonnay, how about a bottle of Preknadi White? If you want a change from Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, how about a bottle of Agiorgitiko?

The wineries, of course, recognize that consumers in export markets have a lot of difficulty with the names of the Greek grapes. “Gewürztraminer is not an easy one to pronounce either,” Yorgos says, “but people got used to it. Maybe some of the Greek names might be difficult but I think we are going to get there.” 

Agiorgitiko is the most widely planted red variety in Greece, making wines whose styles range from Beaujolais to Chianti. This variety eases into export markets under the name, Saint George, which appears to be a translation of the Greek name for the variety.

“Why is the wine called Saint George?” Yorgos asks rhetorically. “In the days of the Ottoman Empire, the only reason that the Turks, who are Muslim, would let us make wine was to offer it to our saints. So the Greeks would make a wine for Saint George, the protector of the land. That is why they give the name to the variety – Agiorgitiko/Saint George.”

There is another complicating factor: most consumers outside Greece are unlikely to distinguish between a grape name on the label and the protected designation of origin. One of the wines at Marquis from Diamantakos is Naoussa Red ($50).

Naoussa is a designated viticultural area in northern Greece. In fact, it was the first region in Greece to get its own appellation (in 1971). The major red grown here is Xynomavro. The Naoussa reds have a fine reputation and are sometimes compared with Nebbiolo wines from Italy.

As challenging as the Greek names seem, it is well worth the effort to become familiar with them. Some consumers in British Columbia appear to have made the effort. One of the wines listed here is a Boutari Naoussa ($17.49).

Boutari also lists, at the same price, one of the important white Greek varieties: Moschofilero (also spelled Moscofilero). The wines from this variety are fresh and crisp, with aromas and flavours recalling Muscat, even though the variety is not related to the Muscat family.

The wines offered at Marquis generally are priced from $26 to $60 a bottle. Clearly, John Cleredis selected premium wines to represent the new Greece. Here are notes on the five tasted at lunch.

Domaine Skouras Moscofilero 2016 ($32.95). This wine has aromas of rose petals, spice and orange peel, leading to flavours of citrus and peach. Bright acidity gives the wine a crisp, refreshing finish. 91.

Diamantakos Preknadi 2016 ($43.39). Preknadi is a native Greek varietal that was on the verge of extinction when George Diamantakos rescued it. The wine is rich on the palate, with flavours of melon and apple. The finish is dry. A complex white. 92.

Diamantakos Naoussa Red 2013 ($50.34). George Diamantakos makes just two wines – and he makes them very well. This is a bold red, with aromas of figs, plums and black cherry that are echoed in the flavours. The texture is full and the flavours are still fresh. 92.

Domaine Skouras Nemea Saint George 2014 ($34.69). This is a medium-bodied red reminiscent of a fine Chianti. It has aromas and flavours of cherry. 91.


Tetramythos Roditis Nature 2016 ($37.30). Roditis is the most widely planted white varietal in Greece. This wine was made in ancient amphorae. It is crisp and fresh with a spine of minerality. The complex flavours mingle herbs, honey, melon and apple. 91.


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