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Grapes Gone Greek

By Stett Holbrook

This is a good time to be a wine drinker, especially if you're willing to explore the lesser-known winemaking regions of the world.

Today, a trip to your local wine shop yields not only great wines from standbys like France and America, but Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Spain, Austria, Germany, Portugal and other countries as well. There's not only a diversity of good wine on the market, a lot of it is available at great prices. The glut of quality wine has reached the point where some French wineries are being forced to sell their wine to ethanol producers because prices for wine have fallen so low it's not worth bottling. While these are tough times for French winemakers, things are looking up in Greece.

Best known for its turpentine-flavored retsina, wine preserved with pine tar, Greece has emerged as an exciting wine producer whose wines are just now becoming available in America.

Greece has been making wine for more than 4,000 years, but the country's premium winemaking is only 25 years old. Wars and political strife throughout much of the early 20th century made wine production difficult. Now that the warfare has stopped, the country can focus on the more worthy business of making wine. While the country still makes retsina, wine that one Greek wine distributor called "our great national tragedy," the country now has more than 300 wineries, many of them as state of the art as anything you'd find in France or California.

I had the chance to taste more than two dozen Greek wines at a wine tasting event at Jack Falstaff restaurant in San Francisco last week. My only other experience with Greek wine was at Santana Row's Thea Mediterranean where I tried a delicious bottle of Domaine Skouras' moschofilero-roditis blend, a crisp, stone-dry white wine. The restaurant is one of the few places in Silicon Valley where premium Greek wine is available. Based on that wine and the wines I tried last week, I hope more restaurants and wine shops will start carrying Greek vino.

Across the board, the wines I tried had a refreshing acidity and balance that makes them exceptionally food friendly. While many U.S. winemakers are still making oak-lashed, fruit-laden, high-alcohol wines, the trend toward, drier, more balanced wines is underway and Greece has a number of stellar wines that could teach California winemakers a thing or two.

One of the most exciting things about Greek wines for me is that, given more than 300 indigenous grape varieties, drinking Greek wine is a totally new experience. But if you have trouble pronouncing gewürztraminer and viognier, wait until you get a load of native Greek grapes like assyrtiko, agiorghitiko and xinomarvo.

Several grape varieties stood out for me. With its crisp, citrus flavors and bone finish, robola might be described as the Greek sauvignon blanc. Good too is the widely planted assyrtiko, a light-bodied, pleasantly dry, mouth-puckering white wine that could pass as a really good pinot gris. Check out Domaine Sigalas for this wine. I'm a red wine lover and I loved agiorghitiko, a silken, deep ruby-colored wine with ripe fruit balanced by acidity. My favorite red was xinomarvo, particularly that made by Alpha Estate. The tannins in this rich and earthy red wine give it great aging potential, but with its complex flavors of caramel, plum, dried spices and green olives, I'd rather drink it now.

In addition to their approachable, food-loving style, the best thing about Greek wines may be their prices. Because the Greek wine industry is still in its infancy and looking to make its mark, the wines sell for a fraction of what you'd pay for a similar bottle of burgundy or Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. Most Greek wines sell for well under $25. The only problem is finding them. Greek wine may well be the next big thing but you'd be hard pressed to find Silicon Valley wine shops that sell the stuff. Start bugging them and maybe they will.

For more information about Greek wine, check out www.allaboutgreekwine.com.


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From the October 19-25, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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