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16 Summertime Sippers from Greece | Tasting Highlights | News & Features | Wine Spectator

Tasting Highlights bring the best wines from our editors’ most recent tastings to members.

If you’re seeking fresh whites for summer drinking pleasure, look no further than Greece. The country is home to an amazing array of native grape varieties, and local vintners are stepping up to provide distinctive flavors. The highest quality white variety is Assyrtiko, which reaches its pinnacle with versions made on the island of Santorini, combining Riesling-like purity with lush creaminess.


SANTO WINES Assyrtiko Santorini Trygos 2014

Wine Spectator Score: 89

Country: Greece

Tasting Note:

This rich version is filled with lemon curd, apple tart and white raspberry flavors that feature a fresh-tasting salinity. A smoky hint lingers on the well-spiced finish. Drink now through 2019. 2,500 cases made.



SANTO WINES Santorini Vinsanto Trygos 2005

Wine Spectator Score: 89

Country: Greece

Tasting Note:

A buttery, dessert-style white, with a creamy texture and robust dried apricot, glazed pear and melon flavors. Dried ginger details show on the spicy finish, accented by honeyed notes. Drink now through 2022. 300 cases made.



SANTO WINES Cyclades Rosé Semi-Dry Ageri 2014

Score: 83

Country: Greece

Tasting Note:

Off-dry, with candied cherry and plum tart flavors that turn a touch cloying on the finish. Drink now. 1,000 cases made.



SANTO WINES Cyclades Kameni 2012

Score: 84

Country: Greece

Tasting Note

Off-dry, with raisiny notes to the roasted plum and dark cherry flavors. The rustic finish has juniper berry accents. Drink now. 1,000 cases made.


“Ode on Grecian White Wines – a Modern Success” THE WALL STREET JOURNAL BY Lettie Teague

A lone bright star in an ailing economy, Greek white wines have recently become highly favored by American sommeliers and importers, offering a well-priced, bright alternative to your go-to white

ONCE SYNONYMOUS WITH idyllic island vacations and now with irresponsible debt, Greece has acquired a third identity: a great white-wine producing country. From the crisp Assyrtikos of the island of Santorini to the aromatic Moschofileros and Malagouzias of the Peloponnese, dry Greek white wines are lively, dynamic and very well-priced—albeit saddled with some rather challenging names.


As more and better Hellenic wines have arrived in American shops and restaurants in recent years, wine drinkers are learning to value their charms and even how to pronounce their names. James Tidwell, beverage manager of the Four Seasons Resort and Club in Dallas, Texas, said most of his customers recognize and confidently state the names Assyrtiko and Santorini on his wine list, and he knows this is true at other Dallas restaurants as well.

Though wine production in Greece dates back thousands of years (wine was widely cultivated in the country during the Bronze Age), Greek wine is also something new, having only recently edged into modern times, thanks to a new generation of ambitious, quality-minded producers.

Athens-based Sofia Perpera, of the Greek Wine Bureau of North America, has worked to promote the country’s product in the U.S. for almost 12 years. In that short period, she has watched Hellenic winemakers struggle from obscurity to their current sought-after status among wine professionals.

In fact, she noted that the state of Greek wine is “one of the few bright spots” in the nation’s economy today

In the beginning of Ms. Perpera’s tenure, Greek winemakers focused on the grapes everyone else in the world seemed to be growing—Cabernet, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. They sold their wines mostly in Greek restaurants in Greek communities, such as New York City’s Astoria. But it soon became clear that not many drinkers were looking for a Hellenic Cabernet, and a much wider potential market was being ignored.

Meanwhile, a growing number of Greek producers were embracing native grape varieties such as Assyrtiko, Moschofilero, Malagouzia (also known as Malagousia) and Roditis. A similar movement away from international grape varieties toward native grapes was taking place in countries such as Italy, Spain and Portugal.

Mr. Tidwell thinks Portuguese and Greek wines have a lot in common. “They both have a good quality-to-price ratio and interesting grapes that don’t get much exposure,” he said. Mr. Tidwell didn’t mention that Greek producers have gained something Portuguese winemakers can only dream of possessing: the hearts and minds of American sommeliers

At Manhattan restaurant Boulud Sud, wine director Michael Madrigale features several Hellenic whites by the glass because he believes they fit the Mediterranean menu better and are more interesting than some other, more-popular wines. For Pinot Grigio fans, for example, he recommends the 2014 Santo Santorini Assyrtiko; for Sancerre lovers, Alpha Estate’s Axia Malagouzia. Mr. Madrigale also features about 10 to 12 Greek whites by the bottle at Boulud Sud—all reasonably priced, from $50 to $60 each, which, he said, makes it easy for people to experiment with unknown wine.

Some wine professionals have become so impassioned about the country’s wines they are opening restaurants with entirely Greek lists. Evan Turner has been a sommelier in Houston and New York and is scheduled to open a restaurant, Helen Greek Food and Wine, in Houston in July. He plans an all-Greek wine list that includes about 100 options, a number he plans to double in time. The whites are popular in Houston, noted Mr. Turner, in part because Houston wine drinkers are adventurous but also because Houston can be “blindingly hot” and Greek whites are uniformly refreshing and bright.

Brent Kroll, wine director of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, in Washington, D.C., is also taken with Greek wines. He manages the lists of 13 restaurants, including Iron Gate, which focuses mainly on Hellenic and southern-Italian wines, including a full page devoted to Santorini, primarily to the Assyrtiko grape.

Mr. Kroll prides himself on his ability to find a Greek equivalent to just about any wine in the world. “I can turn a drinker of oaked California Chardonnay into an Assyrtiko drinker,” he said, noting that the oaked version of the grape can recall a New World Chardonnay, while an unoaked version is more minerally and lean, like Chablis. For his wait staff, he’s made online flashcards available that offer information and quizzes about Greek wine regions and grapes.

Other professionals, such as Dionysi Grevenitis, have started companies specializing in the country’s wines. Mr. Grevenitis was a sales representative for Frederick Wildman and Sons, the New York-based importer and distributor, before starting his eponymous wine-brokerage company, in 2014. Mr. Grevenitis found that the limited interest in Greek wines just a few years earlier had blossomed into “actual buzz.”

Today Mr. Grevenitis sees a limitless audience for Grecian wines. “There are no wine allegiances anymore,” he maintained, a belief many sommeliers seem to hold as well. Today’s far-reaching drinkers are as interested in a white from Crete made from the Thrapsathiri grape as they might be a grand cru Burgundy, Mr. Grevenitis said.

Costas Mouzouras, wine director of New York’s Gotham Wines & Liquors, recently had to ration a bottling made from the Thrapsathiri grape. After the 2013 Lyrarakis Thrapsathiri ($16) received favorable reviews, buyers turned out in droves. Mr. Mouzouras had to parcel out the wine—two bottles to a customer. Gotham’s wine director for over 25 years, Mr. Mouzouras remembers when this was inconceivable. He currently stocks about 60 Hellenic wines “not because I’m Greek,” he said, but because the wines are that good.

I bought eight bottles from Mr. Mouzouras and several from Astor Wines & Spirits, in New York. The latter stocks a large Greek selection, especially whites, as buyer Lorena Ascencios is a fan. Ms. Ascencios appreciates their salinity and citric nature, and finds them “light on their feet” and versatile with food.

“Light on their feet” was a fair description of the wines in my tasting—from the lively, crisp and often tangy Assyrtikos of Santorini (most notably the bone-dry 2013 Gaia Estate Thalassitis, $22, and the bracingly tangy 2013 Estate Argyros Atlantis White, $15) to wildly floral Malagouzias from the Peloponnese. The 2013 Alpha Estate Axia Turtles Vineyard ($19) was particularly terrific—a lovely expression of the Malagouzia grape, with a lively citric spicy note. (The grape was almost extinct until an enterprising Peloponnese grower revived it three decades ago.)

The 2013 Gaia Estate Notios White, a blend of Moschofilero and Roditis grapes from the Peloponnese ($14), was lean, lemony and uncomplicated—a great aperitif. The 2013 Nasiakos Moschofilero ($13), from the Mantinia appellation in the Peloponnese, was spicy and floral with a decidedly mineral thread.

A few of the wines were less than enchanting, a few downright odd. For example, I’m not sure I’ll seek out more wines from the Vilana grape. Those I tried were both oxidative and exceedingly light. But with such reasonable prices, the cost of disappointment was small. And what could be better than enjoying a lively and delicious white wine and contributing to the Greek economy too?

“Under the Radar” Wine Spectator by Keith Newton




Wine Spectator April 30th 2015

Today’s wine world offers an incredible array of options. Yet wine drinkers searching for something new often find barriers to entry in their way.  Hard-to-pronounce grape names, unfamiliar appellations, small production- who hasn’t encountered these obstacles when exploring the wines of an up-and-coming region?  …
By Featuring producers from emerging regions- instead of the more commonly available value brands, which often come from large produces in huge appellations- this selection steers you to distinctive wines with focused flavors, many from unique terroirs or indigenous grapes. The use of local varieties and increasingly modern winemaking techniques in regions such Sicily and Greece is yielding rapidly improving quality without sacrificing traditional character…



The roots of wine growing in Greece run deep into the ancient past, yet the country’s modern wine culture has emerged only recently. An emphasis on indigenous grapes, which are more suitable for the Greek climate than imported varieties, has been key to success.

Across the country, distinctive wines are being made from singular terroirs– from the Cycladic island of Santorini in the Aegean, where the white grape Assyrtiko  thrives in the volcanic soils of the hot, dry landscape…

Quality is surging, yet the wines remain well-priced, creating plenty of great opportunities for value.”





Wines That Greece Can Bank On

The country may be in a difficult state of affairs, but Greece has an export business with a very bright future—its wines

March 5, 2015 9:12 a.m. ET

YOU MAY THINK that someone who spends their professional life tasting dozens of wines a week will have sipped just about everything the world has to offer. It’s true—to a point. But like the art critic who stumbles across a rare masterpiece at auction or the literary critic who discovers the next big thing, there are times when a wine knocks even a critic sideways, surprising with both its flavor and its quality.

This happened to me a few weeks ago. I was handed a white wine at a tasting, and its pale yellow color, floral aroma, cushion-soft texture and crisp, refreshing, salty tang left me in raptures.

It wasn’t that it was the best wine I had ever tasted; it was just that it had a particularly unusual and enjoyable flavor. And it was from Greece. Not that this should have made any difference, but given the current state of affairs in the country, it caught my attention. As I took a second sip, it occurred to me that if Greece can keep producing wines of this quality, there will be at least one export business with a bright future.

The wine in question was an Assyrtiko from Santorini. When its identity was revealed, I nearly dropped my glass.

Not long afterward I bumped into Mark Squires, who covers the wines of Greece for Robert Parker ’s consumer newsletter, the Wine Advocate, and I told him about my experience. “It’s a sleeper,” he said. “No doubt about it. Greece is your classic emerging region. When you look at what is happening in Greece, this is a country that is simply a great wine-producing region—they just don’t have much to prove it with yet.”

The country has hundreds of grape varieties, and some, like Assyrtiko, may have the potential to become truly world-class. But few wine lovers have discovered them. That’s Greece’s first problem: unfamiliarity. After all, Malagousia, Xinomavro and Limnio hardly roll off the tongue like Chardonnay and Merlot.

But for anyone with just a passing interest in wine, Greece is a fascinating country to explore. Where to start? Well, the main grape varieties for red are Agiorgitiko, which is widely planted and makes full-bodied, smooth, easy-drinking reds; Limnio, which is often blended but on its own produces distinctly herbaceous wines with high-alcohol content; and Xinomavro, which is planted in the north, where it makes wines with high acidity and an appealing savory character. There are also plantings of French varieties like Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

“The country has hundreds of grape varieties, and some, like Assyrtiko, may have the potential to become truly world-class.”

For white, look out for Assyrtiko, which makes bone-dry, floral-scented wines; Moschofilero, which produces light-bodied and aromatic ones; and Roditis, which is widely planted and offers up full-bodied, fresh wines.

Greece’s wine-growing regions are almost as varied as its grapes, with vineyards in every area: Macedonia in the north, the Ionian islands in the west, Crete to the south and the Aegean islands in the east, where, just north of Crete, lays Santorini. Its volcanic soil and coastal winds produce wines of stunning complexity and crispness—enough to shock a wine critic.

As wine writer Hugh Johnson tweeted recently: “Keep making it like this, Greece, and I’ll drink you out of your troubles.” I think I might join him. You should, too.




Wine Spectator scores our Assyrtiko 91!

Santorini Assyrtiko 2013 Score: 91

From “Discovering Santorini” in November 15, 2014 Wine Spectator

“Following centuries of tradition, the vines are bush-trained and planted in shallow depressions – designed to conserve precious moisture and to protect against severe winds – with vine shoots woven into round, shrubby baskets, and grapes huddled at the center. The basket also helps shield the grapes from the region’s strong sun and capture dew that sometimes descends from morning fog in the summer. Yields are correspondingly low, averaging just 1.5 to 2 tons per acre.

The vines grow like this, trained but unpruned, for decades on the seemingly sterile soil. After 50 or 60 years, the canes get cut all the way back, then are allowed to regenerate; individual root systems are thus conserved and may be up to 400 years old. These factors combine to make Santorini one of the world’s most distinctive and unique winegrowing regions.”

“… Over the past 25 years, Santorini’s Wines, once known for sweetnes and high alcohol levels, have undergone a sea change. Now recognized as Greece’s finest, the fresh, mineral-laced offerings from the island’s flagship grape, Assyrtiko, are compared to fine versions of Riesling or Chardonnay.”

“Santorini’s vineyards were shaped the same way the island’s awe-inspiring topography was – by a giant volcanic eruption about 3,600 years ago that destroyed a thriving civilization. The volcano’s crater collapsed into the sea – leaving behind miles of dramatically sheer cliffs that plunge into deep blue waters.”

“Vinsanto, the island’s luscious, creamy sweet wine, first gained fame when Santorini was under Venetian rule during the Middle Ages. Similar to Italian-style passitos, Vinsanto is made from at least 51 percent Assyrtiko grapes that are dried on mats in the sun and aged in barrels at least two years. (Santorini’s version is spelled as one word to distinguish it from Italian Vin Santo.)”

“The island also produces a small quantity of red wines of wildly varying quality-principally from Mavrotragano and Mandilaria grapes, classified as Cyclades regional wine.”

Assyrtiko 2013 gained 91 points and is often compared to Rieslings.



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10 Best Wine Travel Destinations 2014–Greece/cparticle/2

The Aegean Islands, Greece

With whitewashed villages that cling to steep hillsides, which drop precipitously toward the deep blue sea, few people think of the Aegean Islands as a wine destination. But if you look carefully, you will see that the island of Santorini is essentially one large farm, Samos has terraced vineyards on Mount Ambelos, and Crete is home to a variety of white and red grapes. All three islands have excellent choices for lodging and fine dining, and the network of ferries and short-hop flights make visiting one or more of these convenient and simple. —Mike DeSimone & Jeff Jenssen

Other Activities

There are many choices for sunset cruising, but if you’re feeling adventurous on Santorini, climb aboard the Schooner Thalassa and sail across the caldera to hike to the top of the volcano. Afterward, swim where the volcanic hot spring meets the sea. When you climb back on board, you’ll catch the most romantic sunset of your life.

Budget Tip

The best way to see the rim of Santorini’s volcanic caldera is to hike from Fira to the town of Oia. The three-hour journey ventures through several small villages, passing picturesque churches and chapels.

When to Go

April to October are the busiest months with the best weather, but true wine geeks aim for the August grape harvest.

Local in the Know

Stela Kasiola, of Santo Wines on Santorini, says, “One of my favorite places to spend a day with friends is Vlychada Beach—it has a spectacular landscape, and the drive there takes you through vineyards and fields of huge volcanic rocks. Besides relaxing on the beach and swimming, you can walk to the medieval castle in the village of Pyrgos. It is a magical place with little winding paths and small churches. It has a great aura and gives you a wonderful feeling of what Santorini must have been like in the past.”

Where to Taste

There’s no better place on Santorini to taste wine while watching the sun descend over the caldera than Santo Wines. Order a flight of six wines and pair them with specialties including cheese, olives, bread and spreads made from tomato and fava beans. Before leaving, visit the newly renovated boutique to purchase wine and locally grown products.

Prominent Wines

Visitors to Santorini quickly learn that Assyrtiko is the most important variety on the island. Crisp, clean and delightfully acidic, it’s the perfect wine to pair with grilled octopus-and-tomato keftedes (meatballs)—sheer perfection in every mouthful. Other varieties include Aidani, a lightly floral white wine, and Voudomato and Mavrotragano, earthy, medium-bodied reds that go beautifully with local cuisine. Samos is known for delicious sweet wine made from Muscat grapes, and Crete offers a variety of wines, including zesty Vilana and apricot-scented Vidiano. Mantilari is considered one of the best Cretan reds—it’s aromatic and pairs perfectly with lamb.