Greece, according to The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia, boasted a sophisticated wine industry long before the Gauls or Goths grew a single grape. And yet today, barbarian Bordeaux is celebrated the world over, while Greece’s wines are generally regarded as crap, not to put too a fine point on it, representing just 2% of Greece’s GDP (Sotheby’s).
Retsina bears no small share of responsibility for this fact. This pine resin-infused white was formerly popular in American Greek restaurants (The Oxford Companion to Wine calls it “a potent catalyst of taverna nostalgia”), but many people agree with Sotheby’s assessment that it’s little better than “pine cleaner.”
Resinated and oxidized wines continue to be popular with Greece’s older generations, but numerous winemakers have once again started to realize Greece’s potential to make international-style wines. I wrote briefly about a deeply satisfying Alpha Estate “Axia” recently, for example, and the ur-wine blog Vinography recently featured a fascinating article about the wines of Santorini. It’s easier and easier to find delicious Greek wine.
And the names! Who couldn’t love the wonderfully unpronounceable indigenous varieties of Greece? Xinomavro, Assyrtiko, Moschofilero… But my very favorite has to be the glorious Aghiorghitiko, which even Sotheby’s can’t manage to spell consistently.
Since I was cooking up a Greek-ish dish of ground lamb with zucchini, peppers, summer squash, cabbage, brown rice, garlic and dill, I decided to chill a bottle of 2009 Domaine Spiropoulos Mantinia. The Mantinia appellation requires that wines be at least 85% Moschofilero, a pink-skinned white varietal. (You may also see this grape spelled as Moschophilero or Moscophilero.)
At first I found the quote at the top of the label a little lofty. But in this case, “Et in Arcadia ego,” or “I too was in Arcadia,” is no symbolic allusion to an innocent pastoral past — this wine bottle literally came from the Greek province of Arcadia.
I poured a glass and was delighted by the golden color, betraying just a bit of pink in its hue. The Oxford Companion notes that this variety makes “strongly perfumed white wine,” and indeed it does. The bouquet overwhelmed me at first. It smelled heady and haunting, and — I couldn’t quite decide — like oregano or burnt rubber. (The label makes a case for “bergamot aromas.”)
The oregano/rubber flavor continued on the palate, supplemented by lemony acids. I would have to try another bottle to be certain, but I fear this bottle may have been flawed. Unwelcome compounds known as mercaptans (or thiols) can sometimes produce burnt rubber aromas, and it would seem odd indeed that a winemaker would purposely shoot for a rubbery wine.
I wish my Moschophilero/Moscophilero/Moschofilero experiment had been more successful — I had very much looked forward to trumpeting a new discovery. I’m afraid there’s just one thing to do: Drink another bottle of Moschofilero. Or maybe two, just to be sure.
2009 Domaine Spiropoulos Mantinia: Pleasant lemon and oregano flavors were overwhelmed by rubbery taint. Perhaps a flawed bottle.
Find It: Binny’s Beverage Depot has a reasonable selection of Greek wine (I purchased this bottle there for $13). Ask one of their wine consultants for guidance, avoiding “Michael,” of course.