Just fifteen dollars and four hours was all it cost to transport me to Boston. I highly recommend the Chinatown bus to anyone in need of a quick getaway from the city. The only downside was the bus stopping at a McDonald’s halfway through the trip and all the passengers bringing their grease-stained paper bags full of McGoodies back onto the bus. The stench in the air, fueled by packets of ketchup sludge and science-lab cheese, made me want to call for some smelling salts.
As an unexpected relief to the long bus commute, I stumbled upon a wine-tasting that featured ten Greek wineries. At the door I received a booklet containing a map of Greece and a list of indigenous grape varieties complete with their proper pronunciations. Even after much practice these terms were strange and awkward to pronounce. But after a few sips of wine my tongue was loosened and I was pronouncing terms like Agiorgitiko and Moschofilero with ease.
The wines poured also contained a smattering of familiar international grape varieties like Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. But the highlights of the tasting were the wines that consisted of the quaint indigenous varietals.
The most impressive wines came from GAI’A Wines which produces on the island of Santorini and in Upper Nemea. I respect that they choose to avoid international varieties and only focus on Greece’s indigenous grapes. GAI’A’s white wines are made from the Assyrtiko grape, a native of Santorini, which allows for high-quality, age-worthy wines with good acidity. The Thalassitis 2008 and the Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2009 were especially peculiar and full of character. The flavors and aromas leaned towards an oxidized style, evoking caramel or dulce de leche. These are white wines to be savored.
A notable sparkling white wine was presented by Domaine Spiropoulos, a certified organic winery in the Peloponnese. The Ode Panos NV, a distinctively dry and chalky sparkler, is made from the aromatic Moschofilero grape. I predict this wine will become the new darling of cutting-edge wine establishments throughout New York City.
As for reds, Domaine Harlaftis poured a consistently good portfolio that featured the Agiorgitiko grape variety. These grapes are grown organically though the winery is too small to invest in becoming certified organic. The Harlaftis Nemea 2008, which has spent time in old French oak barrels, provided a nose of forward and enticing fruit, much like the musky aromas found in a fruit preserve.
Most of the wines I tasted have every reason to win the palates of wine consumers and I hope they do. They’re surprisingly affordable, food-friendly, and introduce a whole new vocabulary to the table. I recommend foregoing international varieties and Retsina when shopping for Greek wines and boldly choosing the bottles labeled with names you can’t pronounce.