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Greek wine has become very fashionable. You couldn’t call it an overnight success - Greek wine-making stretches back many, many centuries - but there is a new feeling amongst growers and drinkers about what is happening in Greece. A great wine culture is showing exciting new signs of life.
Few people understand this better than Aris Soultanos, the self-styled “engine-room operator” at Eklekticon, a company that imports organic and biodynamic Greek wines into the USA and that supports Greek small-batch growers. He believes Greece’s current vitality is based on understanding what is special about this Mediterranean country’s wine culture: its traditions, methods, and idiosyncratic grapes.
“Greece has so many indigenous varieties,” he says. “There's more than 300, at least: a lot of them have been lost, but many are still being discovered and revived, and there's so many to explore. There are a lot of regional traditions.
“On top of that, you have these wines that have adapted to their isolated microclimates over thousands of years. They're very expressive of those places. Historically, that's what I would say is what makes Greece really unique.”
“There are some really exciting things happening. It’s still not on a massive scale, unfortunately, but it's slowly changing: a lot of Greeks are still a little stuck with the idea that wine needs to be polished and clear and it needs to have a certain flavor profile that imitates international flavors and standards.
“That has been the mentality for the past few decades. There was a resurgence of indigenous varieties in the last couple of decades, but in the wrong way, you know, people were trying to revive Greek grapes, but not in such an honest way.
“We've come to the point where a priority for a lot of small growers is that they farm traditionally, and then they've vinified traditionally and naturally, so they bring out that authenticity. The natural wine movement is an amazing platform for that and for Greece because when the Greeks make natural wine it’s more than just natural wine, there's the historical and the traditional element too.”
“Yes and no. It really depends on who you're talking to. Some people are really fascinated: there are a lot of people who are interested in the natural wine world - we are more active in this part of the market. This is a great vehicle for us to bring out this authenticity but we’re trying, especially lately, to communicate the idea that it’s more than just natural wine.
“Lately we're starting to get a lot of traction with really high-end restaurants. They find what we do compelling. They want to have an Assyrtiko with zero sulfur, they want to have a Retsina that's biodynamic and skin-contact. They will be able to talk about that, it’s a compelling story.”
“Greece is 80 % covered in mountains. There's very few plains. That really favors mom-and-pop farming, which is very conducive to natural farming and high-end, really high-quality winemaking. You have this combination of alternating altitudes: it is really high or really low. When you go really low you have proximity to the water, you have either mountain breeze or a sea breeze, as well as the hot Mediterranean sun.
“So you had a really nice ripeness, phenolic ripeness, but at the same time, you have really good acidity and really good aromatic intensity. Drinkers are surprised they can have all these things combined together.
“The styles can be very different. Again, you have all these different varieties that can taste completely different to each other. You can have wine that tastes a lot more like cold-climate wines.”
“Absolutely. Greek wine can pair really well with sushi, but at the same time, it goes really well with Indian food or Thai food. Greek wines might have a little higher alcohol, but that doesn't stop them from going really well with spicy food, because you have this really refreshing acidity to balance out the spiciness.
“It can go with a big variety of foods - like burgers or barbecue, you know. There are tons of things.”
“I find the story of Limnio very compelling. You have the whole microclimate of Lemnos, a supervolcanic island with some crazy volcano formations on parts of the islands that make it look like the moon, and also those winemaking traditions that they developed because of their habitat. It’s really terroir-driven wine.”
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