Food & Drink » Winesipper

Greek to Me


The history of wine in Greece dates back farther than the ancient Olympics. By the time the games got their start in the first millennium BC, Greeks had already been making wine for almost a thousand years. Archeologists have unearthed Minoan wine presses dating back to the 17th century on Crete, and while wine was a luxury in most of the ancient world, it was an integral part of Greek cultural identity.

But while the modern Olympics began in 1886, it was another 80 years before modern winemaking techniques found their way to Greece. Prior to that time, trying to find a decent bottle of Greek wine was an adventure worthy of Jason or Odysseus. To their credit, the Greeks have largely kept to their native grapes (they have over 250 indigenous varieties). That makes for some very interesting and different bottles, but your choices in Boise are still rather limited.

Of course, there is always Retsina, a unique white wine flavored with pine resin. It's something of an acquired taste, one that I have yet to acquire; the overall effect reminding me more of turpentine than wine. But I have been assured by the faithful, that when served well-chilled and paired with Greek cuisine, there's nothing better. I'll take their word for it. In Boise you have two choices--one from Boutari, one from Kourtaki--both retailing at around $6.

For the same price, I found the Apelia non-vintage white (a blend of Savatiano and Roditis from the Attica appellation) much more appealing. With its light gooseberry aromas and soft melon citrus fruit flavors, it's a well-balanced wine with a fairly long finish. Apelia's red wine entry was also nice, though light enough in color to pass for a rosé. The emphasis is on simple cherry and berry fruit flavors in a quaffable style that takes well to a light chill. The 2001 Kourtaki Vin de Crete Red is made in the same mold as the Apelia, soft and fruity, with just a light touch of acidity at the finish. Priced around seven bucks, that extra acidity makes it a better choice for food.

Two other reds, both priced under $10, push things up a notch. The 2000 Kourtaki Kouros, is made from the Agiorgitoka grape. It's a variety well suited to the warm climate of southern Greece, and the wine is packed with rich berry flavors with nice touches of anise and chocolate. Xinomauro, a cooler climate grape often compared to Italy's Nebbiolo, drives the 2002 Boutari Noussa. It's as rich as the Kouros, but with a smooth oak component that adds texture, and a bit of black olive that adds interest. Either wine would make a great match with lamb or other meat dishes. :