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Greece's Red and White HopeGreece's Red and White Hope

As Greece's new government grapples with the country's colossal debt burden, in one sector at least, there is a little hope. Exports of Greek wines may be tiny when compared with those from countries such as France, Spain and Italy, but for winemakers like Yannis Voyatzis in Velventos, northwestern Greece, sales abroad have risen.

"There is an opportunity," he says, speaking from his winery, Voyatzi Estate, near Lake Polyfytos on the foothills of the Pieria Mountains. "For the first time this year our little winery had lots of demand from export markets. We have a hope that although there is a lot of negative publicity surrounding Greece, there is no negativity toward our wine. In a funny way, maybe it is not a very bad moment for our exports."

There is no doubt that the past decade has been good for Greece's winemakers, as for many wine-producing countries. New plantings, an influx of trained winemakers who learned their skills at recognized wine universities in California, France and Australia and in many cases pre-crisis European funding helped marketing and branding. A quick scroll down the websites of Greece's top wine estates shows the sort of high-tech wineries that wouldn't look out of place in Napa.

"The Greek wine industry has fewer problems than other sectors," says Mr. Voyatzis. "Compared with others, we are very optimistic. We have the potential of our own varieties, we have vineyards which were restored recently under the European Union regulations and we also have new wineries with new equipment."

Indeed, red grape varieties such as Agiorgitiko from the Nemea region of southern Greece, with its plum and cherry aroma; Xynomavro, which has the sophistication and, occasionally, the character of an aged Pinot Noir; and Tsapournakos, are all producing wines with their own distinct signature. Tsapournakos is a case in point. Mr. Voyatzis believes the grape, which isn't widely planted, to be a clone of Cabernet Franc and says it may have been introduced to Greece by the French during World War I.

Tasting it was a revelation. It had an unusual lift on the palate and was packed full of flavor but didn't overwhelm. Like a fine wine, it was gentle on the palate and had that telltale freshness found in all wines planted on good terroirs.

When it comes to white wine, the pack is led by the grape variety Assyrtiko, the best of which is planted on the island of Santorini. Here the vines produce powerful, dry wines with a distinctive citrus tang. It is often used for blending with Sauvignon Blanc or Semillon. Malagousia is also an interesting variety that gives a dry, rounded wine.

But to talk of these wines as if they were newcomers to the scene is to ignore Greece's ancient connection with wine. The ancient Greeks introduced the vine to the Mediterranean Basin, establishing much of the European wine production we know today.

"From a winemaking perspective, Greece is so exciting," says Caspar Bowes, proprietor of Bowes Wines in Wiltshire, England. "It has such a range of varieties."

Away from the economic turmoil in Athens, the sun is still shining in the country's vineyards, the grapes are ripening and the gentle singing of cicadas continues. At the Voyatzi Estate, Mr. Voyatzis says 2012 is shaping up to be a vintage that provides decent yields, as the vines enjoyed sufficient water during the spring.

"It seems good so far," he says. "Today the sun is out and we have temperatures of 34 Celsius; we have to be optimistic."


 

Thema Sauvignon Blanc1. Everyday Drinking

THEMA SAUVIGNON BLANC
Ktima Pavlidis, Drama, Greece
Vintage: 2011
Alcohol: 13%
Price: Around ?12 or €14

This wine estate, founded in the late 1990s, is a relative newcomer to Greece's burgeoning wine industry and by all accounts as grand as any found in Napa. This wine is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and the Assyrtiko grape variety, the latter of which may explain its enticing freshness and acidity. The nose is wonderfully complex, with floral, peachy notes, married with a fresh, crisp finish.


Tsapournakos2. Something Special

TSAPOURNAKOS
Voyatzi, Western Macedonia, Greece
Vintage: 2009
Alcohol: 13.5%
Price: Around ?14 or €17

Tsapournakos is a grape variety that doesn't exactly trip off the tongue. It isn't widely planted and until I pulled the cork on this bottle, I had never heard of it. It is similar to Cabernet Franc, producing a wine deep in color with an attractive, ripe, sweet cherry nose. I found this wine just improved and improved. It has a pleasing, uplifting acidity but remains well-rounded. An absolute joy to discover.


Malvasia of Crete3. A Treat From the Cellar

MALVASIA OF CRETE
Domaine Lyrarakis, Crete, Greece
Vintage: NV
Alcohol: 11.5%
Price: Around ?18 or €22

Malvasia of Crete boasts a lineage to rival any. It first enjoyed popularity around the 1400s, when the Venetian state dominated the Mediterranean. Grapes from the Plyto, Dafni, Vidiano and Vilana varieties are dried in the sun for nine days to concentrate the juice before the must is aged in oak barrels. The wine has a golden color and a first sniff reminds one of plump stone fruit. A compelling dessert wine.


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