June 2019

The Greece Edition

I spent most of the past month in and around the Mediterranean, making the most of the early summer sun before the European school holidays. My tour took me from Santorini to Crete, then to Naples and Venice - all of it wonderful. It was mostly non-wine vacation, but me being me, I did manage to squeeze in a couple of winery visits...

Hatzidakis

While on Santorini, I enjoyed a wonderful and extensive visit to arguably the greatest producer of Santorini wines - Hatzidakis, a brilliant, family winery founded by the late Haridimos Hatzidakis, who died prematurely in 2017. Now run by co-founder Konstantina Chryssou, her daughter Stella Hatzidakis and winemaker Stella Papadimitriou, the estate continues to set the standard for Santorini.

All of their Assyrtiko wines are worth seeking out, and I also thoroughly enjoyed the reds from the indigenous Mavrotragano variety. Both reds and whites are full of flavour, energy and age worthiness.

A Primer on Greek Wine

Probably it’s just associations with the wonderful vacations I’ve spent in Greece, but I love drinking both Greek whites and reds during the summer. An increasingly diverse range is available in the US market - now is the time to try.

  • Santorini - the name of the island in wine terms is simply a reference to the signature white wine from Santorini, made from the Assyrtiko variety. Powerful, with lots of acid and a distinctive smoky minerality, it’s one the world’s most distinctive whites, and certainly Greece’s most important.

  • Other whites from around the country: from Santorini also look out for the Aidani variety, making fresh, vibrant wines that impressed me. Savatiano, Moschofilero and Malagousia are delightfully fresh, aromatic wines served chilled.

  • In red wines, the king of Greek red varieties is Xinomavro, whose best region of origin Naoussa, in the north. It’s a haunting, aromatic, ageworthy variety best compared to Nebbiolo. Also worth tasting is Agiorgitiko, a simple, more juicy wine sold at very reasonable prices.

  • And a word for the maligned Retsina: more careful winemaking in recent years has hugely improved the quality of the pine infused wine - if you see it in a restaurant, try a glass before or after dinner. You may be surprised.

To try…

Top Greek producers: Hatzidakis and Sigalas (Santorini); Lyrarakis (unusual varieties from Crete); Boutari (from across the country, a big producer but good quality for very affordable prices); Kir-Yianni (earthly wines from Naoussa).

And the best place to drink wine in Santorini: Selene in Pyrgos, whose restaurant offers world class, Michelin style food and an extensive wine list; perhaps just as enjoyable however, is the wine bar downstairs, with perfect, unpretentious Greek food and excellent wines. The sommelier is the wonderful Georgia Tsara.