Tom Jones of the Whalley Wine Shop looks at ancient and modern Greek  wines

Greece is clearly one of the oldest wine producing countries in the world, with the ancient Greek God Dionysus preceding the Roman God of wine Bacchus, so how is it possible to refer to them as a ‘modern’ producer?

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 12:30 pm

In this article we’ll be looking at one of the most exciting, cutting edge, modern producers of wine around… Greece.

What absolute nonsense, I hear your historically minded readers shouting, Greece has been producing wine for thousands of years!

This is absolutely true. While the argument about where wine was actually ‘invented’ has bubbled away (no pun intended!), the obvious contenders being the Phoenicians, ancient Greeks or Romans, it’s now widely accepted that Georgia is the birthplace of modern winemaking with grapes (though China may still be able to claim the title for fermented rice wine).

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Ancient and modern Greek wines

However, Greece is clearly one of the oldest wine producing countries in the world, with the ancient Greek God Dionysus preceding the Roman God of wine Bacchus, so how is it possible to refer to them as a ‘modern’ producer?

Greece’s turbulent political history significantly impacted its wine production. Controlled for centuries by the Ottoman empire followed by a protracted struggle for independence, two world wars and the subsequent economic challenges it wasn’t until the 1970s and 80s that Greece’s winemaking industry began to see even the faintest whiff of investment and rejuvenation.

At this point, the beautiful and varied landscape of mainland Greece and its islands began to be studied for vine cultivation with indigenous grape varieties identified and planted in the right area. A generation of trained and talented winemakers emerged and now we’re starting to see the results of an ancient wine region re-establishing itself as one of the most interesting and dynamic producers around.

While Greek wine has probably been exciting for over a decade, it’s taken a while to reach this country, and a large portion of credit for this rests with Steve Daniel.

As head wine buyer for Oddbins in the 90s, Daniel shifted the UK wine scene in tectonic fashion. During the glory days for Oddbins Steve was among the first to introduce Chilean wines to the UK, now a staple for any pub or restaurant, quickly followed by the boom in Australian wines.

In the early 2000s, Daniel moved from Oddbins, turning his focus to his new company Novum Wines dedicated to bringing wines to the UK from uncharted waters. Enter his passion for Greece.

Since around 2010 Daniel has been beating the drum for Greek wines – the climate, volcanic soils, ancient wine making history and Mediterranean food culture are an ideal melting pot for top quality wine production.

We have long followed a few of his wine tips but this month decided to give Greece the attention it really deserves. We recently tasted a panel of 17 Greek wines and these are the ones that really jumped out.

And don’t worry if you can’t pronounce half the regions or grapes, neither can we, but we’re working on it!

Mamolesakis ‘Exis’ White and Red - RRP £11.99 Intro Price £9.99!

Due to their niche nature currently Greek wines aren’t cheap. This is the ‘entry level’ as we wanted to let people try Greek wines for under £10.

The White is a blend of 55 per cent Malagousia and 45 per cent Assyrtiko. It has a lovely pretty floral nose with hints of peach from the Malagousia that is typical of the grape. A crisp, dry palate with a little texture, balanced acidity and a bright soft fruit with a hint of green herb in the finish. Ideal with a green salad with some capers and anchovies.

The Exis red is a wonderfully light style, pale in colour, bright, juicy, vibrant, crunchy fruit. Almost reminiscent of Beaujolais but with a little tannic grip in the finish. A perfect spring red and ideal with something like a Tuna steak.

Alpha Estate Xinamavro Single Vineyard Hedgehog £17.49

This was a real stand out for the team. Xinamavro is one of the top red grape varieties in Greece and, although not related, is widely compared to ‘Nebbiolo’ the grape found in the famous Italian wine Barolo. It has a bright nose of tangy dark cherry fruit with hints of spice and floral violet.

The palate has good fruit, a slight tang of bright acidity but pure, rich and vibrant dark fruit. There’s a grip to the wine, so you know you are having a glass of red, but also a lightness and freshness. This is really well made and perfect for a big roast shoulder of spring lamb.