Praise Dionysus: Greek Gems!

This offer is available from Friday, May 10th 2024 to Monday, May 13th 2024, or as supplies last.
First come, first served on all wines. All wines are sold through Solo Vino Wine Shop in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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NOTE TO ALL: The six pack and twelve pack options on the Solo Vino order site are saying “Out of stock.” IGNORE THAT! It’s a bug in their system at the moment. Thank you!

Hi everyone –

Time to come clean: In my history as a wine educator there are a few topics that I have dodged over the years.

For instance, I’m not well versed on the wines of Hungary. I might not be the best at talking about individual regions in Chile (though I’m learning fast). I am for sure not the person to call when you want updates on the wines being made in China (which a few sources are telling me are simply incredible, from Pinot Noirs to Cabernets).

And one region that USED to be on my “dodge the questions” list was Greece.

Greek wines intimidated me so much. The names of the grapes alone would freak me out. I didn’t have a sense of geography, geology, history, or a feel for the best producers.

But no more! Starting about two years ago I began research to become more confident about Greek wine. I’m about halfway to my goal (which is to speak fluently and spontaneously about the wines of Greece, much in the way I can about Italy, Spain, France, etc.).

I’ll save the deep details for a future class, but I wanted to offer a great array of fantastic Greek wines to spark your curiosity.

Let’s get to them!

First, a framework for thinking about Greek wines

Greece obviously has a very long history when it comes to wine and winemaking. Let’s roughly say 3000 years (it’s probably longer). But MODERN Greek wine, much like the wines of Portugal, only started to be made in the last 30 years. So on one hand it’s an ancient region, but on the other it’s a new wine region with fresh ideas, young winemakers, and energized attitudes.

Another thing about Greek wine is on one hand not surprising but on another a mystery. Greek wines on their own are often great, but pair them with Greek food and some wild multiplying of complexity and happiness occurs. This happens with many wines and foods for me. Portuguese wine and food is a good example. But Greece somehow captures this mystery better than any other wine and food cultures.

The key grapes: White

Assyrtiko (“Ah-SEER-Tee-Koe”) — One of the principal varieties of the highest quality white wines made in Greece. Saline, sharp, bright, mouthwatering in style. More info.

Moschofilero (“Mos-Cho-FEEL-Eh-Roe”) — Pink skinned and aromatic, and can come across in the Muscat/Viognier spectrum of aromas and flavors. Lovely and flowery. More info.

Lagorthi (“La-GORE-Thee”) — A subtle white grape that makes for light bodied, crisp, racy wines. Also known in Italy as Verdeca (grown on the heel of Italy). Can make aromatic wines at low alcohol levels. More info.

Roditis (“Roe-DEE-Tis”) — Actually a family of grapes that can range from overcropped and forgettable (on the fertile plains) to terroir-driven and incredible (at higher altitudes and in poor soils). Think honey and apple aromas. More info.

The key grapes: Red

Agiorgitiko (“St. George”) (“eye-your-YEE-tee-koe”) — A flagship grape of Greece, making for aromatic and textured wines that are loaded with plush dark fruit aromas of plum and blackberry. It takes well to wood aging, and can show polished tannins that are exceptional. More info.

Xinomavro (“ksee-NOH-mav-roh”) — For many, this is the most exciting red grape of Greece. Often grown in the northern colder sections of Greece, but on sunny south-facing slopes, Xinomavro can often come across like Nebbiolo does in Piedmont. A lack of pigmentation makes a pale color in the glass, but concentrated tannin brings power while loads of acidity make refreshment — a combination rarely found. More info.

Starting with the bargains: Feast White and Red

These are the ultimate “Welcome to Greek wine” wines. Both are wonderful, both are varietally correct, and both are amazing bargains.

Feast White is a blend of 90% Moschofilero and 10% Roditis. This is a high altitude wine from the Mantinia plateau (650 meters, or over 2100 feet). The high altitude brings colder air in the evenings and bright sunshine during the day, making for perfect conditions for acid-driven ripe white wine. Handpicked grapes and fermented cool to retain the fresh style.

Transparent yellow color with golden hues. Intense citrus aromas along with a wave of floral and mellow white fruits. So nice, so good, so gulpable! Lovely with traditional Greek dishes involving seafood, olives, and feta.

Feast Red is a blend of 90% Agiorgitiko and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is still a high elevation wine (400m), but not as high up as the white, allowing for a bit more ripeness to happen in the heat. The cool summer breezes keep the grapes from getting too hot, resulting in pitch-perfect ripeness for the hand harvesting.

Deep red color with young purple hues. Dense and intense aromas of fresh forest fruits, strawberries, and cherries. Really a fruit-packed aroma that has a fun streak of earthiness to it as well. Silky flavors and a well balanced finish. Great with BBQ, pasta with red sauce, or just a nice cheese board.

High elevation Cyprus gems: Tsiakkas Winery

The first thing you have to do here is be in AWE of the high-elevation vineyards, some of the highest in Europe.

This is super extreme vine-growing. You can see more images and read more about the vineyards here:

Their highest vineyard, Agia Kyriaki, is at 1250 meters, or 4100 foot elevation!

We have two wines in this offer from Tsiakkas Winery, a beautiful dry white and an outstanding organic rosé.

The Xynisteri Dry White is made up of 98% Xynisteri and 2% Malaga. Never heard of those grapes? Join the club! A little research on Xynisteri in the book Wine Grapes gives us some insight:

“Xynisteri, the most common white wine grape on Cyprus (2,227 ha/5,503 acres in 2010, i.e. nearly 23% of the total vineyard area) is used to produce both dry white wines and Commandaria, the island’s sweet, usually fortified, dried-grape wine. Table wines are generally light and lemony with moderate alcohol levels. Planted at higher altitudes, the variety produces wines that are more vibrant and mineral but the variety is often refreshed and/or filled out by blending with international varieties such as SÉMILLON, CHARDONNAY or SAUVIGNON BLANC, occasionally with a light touch of oak and, in a few instances, with a dollop of MUSCAT OF ALEXANDRIA. Some examples have a slightly grippy texture, attractive in moderation. Recommended producers include Aes Ambelis, Constantinou, Ezousa, Kolios, Kyperounda, Tsiakkas, Vasilikon, Vlassides and Zambartas.”

Wine Grapes, by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, and José Vouillamoz

This wine dominates with nectarine, lime, grapefruit, and touch of honey aromas. Easily pair it with salads, seafood, and even poultry dishes. This is outstanding stuff.

The Rodinos Organic dry Rosé is a blend of Grenache, Syrah (called Shiraz in Greece), Vamvakada, and Xynisteri. The grapes are from old ungrafted vines planted at 800-900 meters, and have forever been farmed without herbicides or pesticides. This leans into the richer side of rosé, which is being ignored by many consumers today as they rush to yet another barely pink baby-asprin smelling Provencal rose (which is flooding the market and bringing down the category IMHO).

Here you have 13.57% ABV, bone-dry in style (only 1.2 g/L, which is well below our taste thresholds). Aromas of strawberry, pomegranate, nectarine, rose, and cherries. Simply beautiful. It’s gusty in style, and perfect to pair with spicy dishes or a nice meze plate with tinned fish. I’d also enjoy it with burgers off the grill this summer.

Lastly, a Xinomavro Masterclass from Thymiopoulos Vineyards

Xinomavro is fast becoming one of my favorite grapes. Often referred to as the “Nebbiolo of Greece,” for its thin skin makes for translucent wines with little purple hue, but also like Nebbiolo it packs a load of tannin. The name means “acid black” showcasing the flavor profile.

This is a grape to get to know, and it’s always a fun grape to order at a fancy restaurant with a sommelier on staff. I guarantee you that if you order a Xinomavro you’ll get some special attention!

From the earlier mentioned book Wine Grapes:

“Wines vary enormously in style but generally share high acidity and excellent potential for ageing. Colour stability can be a problem so that wines may be relatively pale and with time become brick-like in colour, rather like NEBBIOLO. To generalize further is difficult since there is considerable clonal variation and a wide range of winemaking influences such as use of oak during maturation. Tannins may be dry and even angular in youth but time in bottle can soften them and create complexity and elegance. In young wines the aromas are dominated by red fruits such as strawberry and plum but with age these change to more savoury aromas of tomato, olive and dried fruit. There is also a strong trend to blend Ximomavro with SYRAH or MERLOT, to fill out the palate. ”

Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding & José Vouillamoz

These two wines are very different, and are a great little wine education in themselves.

The Ximomavro “Young Vines” 2021 (the one with the red block lettering) is from handpicked grapes from young, non-irrigated vines. The winemaking is slightly carbonic in style, and the wine is aged for eight months in concrete tanks. The overall style is one that is fun, festive, bouncy, and easy to love. Of course, being made from Xinomavro, it’s still begging for food to balance out the tannins and acids, but this shows the playful side of this very serious grape.

On the other end of the spectrum is the 2019 Naoussa Thymiopoulos, which is from 25 year old vines minimum. The winemaking here involves a longer maceration followed by 12 months in one-year-old used large barrels. This gives the wine more structure and power, showcasing the more traditional styles of Xinomavro. The word “Naoussa” on the front label, which is very prominent, is actually the region and in that area they only do 100% Xinomavro. But note the name of the grapes is not on the front of the label! The prominence of “Naoussa” on the label leads most retailers and restaurants to mis-label it in their systems or menus, often thinking that Naoussa is the producer or the grape. But now you’re smarter than you were before, and you now know more than them! High five!

Enjoy both of these wines with a very slight chill and grilled foods of the summertime. If you want the perfect pairing, have with a rack of lamb.

Buying and serving advice

This collection is great for anyone curious to learn more about the wines of Greece. You have variety in the styles and the grape varieties, as well as the terroir and geography of where they are from. It’s a stellar lineup, and we’ve packaged it in a variety of options (12 pack, 6 pack, and 2 packs by category).

But the most important bit of advice I can give is to have all of these with Greek flavors. You don’t need to go all-out with complex recipes. Instead, keep it simple and use some principal flavors. Start here:

Thank you, everyone! We couldn’t do this without you!

Jason Kallsen
Sommelier and founder/owner of Twin Cities Wine Education

Offer is open now until Monday, or as inventory lasts.

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