Panos Kakaviatos explores the changes Greek winemakers are making to improve their reputation.

Any mention of Greece these days tends to prompt thoughts of an enduring economic crisis, of whether or not the country will default on its debts and the likelihood or otherwise of ‘Grexit’, shorthand for Greece leaving the eurozone. In this pressured climate, Greek winemakers are also facing tough competition worldwide, yet ironically, such an undesirable situation may be working to the benefit of the products they make.

‘In many ways, the economic crisis is compelling producers to work harder to make better wines so that they can conquer new markets,’ remarks Greek wines promoter Ted Lelekas, who regularly organises tours of Greek vineyards for bloggers and writers.

A new generation of winemakers, such as Angelos Iatridis of Alpha Estate, trained in top wine schools around the world, is now receiving awards in international competitions. Among the wines I’ve tasted recently, there were many that had won medals at the Decanter World Wine Awards, including Alpha Estate Malagousia (a Regional Trophy winner in 2014), and the superb Biblia Chora Ovilos, a blend of Assyrtiko and Semillon (one of three Gold medal winners in 2015).

There are also different expressions of Greek indigenous varieties just waiting to be discovered. For example, Assyrtiko grown in Drama, northern Greece – such as the lovely Ktima Pavlides Emphasis – generally has more citrus and upfront fruit and less of a mineral character than the same grape grown and vinified in Santorini, no doubt reflecting the different terroirs.

Climate change

At Ktima Pavlides in the Drama region, general director Panagiotis Kyriakidis urges winemakers to choose their grape varieties carefully, keeping in mind the region’s heat. ‘We must bear in mind the climate,’ he says. ‘High temperatures during summer reduce the natural acidities of the grapes, which does not favour their preservation once in bottle.’

Angelos Iatridis of Alpha Estate near Thessaloniki calls for a ‘scientific plan’ by viticulture and pedology (soil science) experts to evaluate all vineyard sites. ‘The informed selection of varieties, clones and rootstock well adapted to each eco-system, as well as applied growing techniques such as canopy management and the application of suitable irrigation strategies, are all critical to developing sustainable quality,’ he says.

Turning a corner

One of the scourges of Greek winemaking – too much new oak – has become less of a problem in recent vintages. As much as I loved the Skouras Viognier 2013, it was no fun to taste the 2002: tired and dominated by residual oak-derived flavours. I later learned that owner George Skouras is using less oak. For example, his excellent 2013 spent only eight months in oak, while the 2012 (which I did not taste) was oak-aged for a year. In addition, the estate has moved towards larger barrels, so that the oak effect on the wine is less pronounced, Skouras explains.

A more enduring problem is what Demetri Walters MW of UK wine merchant Berry Bros & Rudd calls the ‘unfortunate practice of manipulation – usually too cold a fermentation temperature – that results in quite bland wines that are only made interesting by their “bubbliciousness” – a cold-ferment exotic “lift”.’

He took part in the 15th Thessaloniki International Wine Competition this spring, partly to assess current offerings from Greece.

At that competition, some of the wines I tried were uninteresting, with a short finish. But find the right producers and you will also discover another reason to seek out quality Greek wines: price. As Panayiotis Papagiannopoulos of the Tetramythos estate in Patras remarks: ‘The real beauty of this vast travelogue that is Greek wine, lies in its value.’

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  • Antony S.

    It was Malagousia Gerovassiliou – a superb wine indeed- that won the regional trophy for DWWA 2014, not Malagousia Alpha.