Find­ing wis­dom in Greek wines

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

Iam drink­ing Aris­to­tle’s wine. It prob­a­bly won’t make me smarter — and the third glass is def­i­nitely not mak­ing me more co­her­ent — but it’s fun to know that the his­tory of an­cient Greece is not only at my feet but on my lips.

Friends seemed sur­prised when they heard I was join­ing a food-and-wine tour of Greece, won­der­ing why I wasn’t off to France or Italy for such a gus­ta­tory mis­sion. But the land that spawned Western civ­i­liza­tion and the Olympic Games also gave us the ul­ti­mate sym­bol of wine ap­pre­ci­a­tion: Bac­chus, the merry Greek god who could find the party in any grape.

The first ev­i­dence of hu­mans mak­ing wine in the area dates back more than 6,000 years, a pedi­gree of civ­i­liza­tion that the Chi­nese can re­late to.

Aris­to­tle’s sip of choice was limnio, from the epony­mous grape that fu­eled many a philo­sophic dis­cus­sion in those good old days. Like many vines with such deep roots, how­ever, limnio all but dis­ap­peared as other grapes came to dom­i­nate mass wine pro­duc­tion.

An epi­demic of phyl­lox­era nearly fin­ished the job, as it wiped out vine­yards across Europe early in the 20th cen­tury.

But cut­tings from limnio vines in other parts of the globe were brought back to the old coun­try, and to­day the Porto Carras win­ery has made it a star.

Limnio, with notes of pep­per, vanilla, bay leaf and bit­ter choco­late, is a pop­u­lar ex­port “straight up”, but Porto Carras wine­mak­ers say it’s best used in a Gre­cian for­mula “Bordeaux blend”, which also in­cludes mod­ern stan­dards such as caber­net Franc and caber­net sau­vi­gnon.

Other Greek winer­ies are look­ing to China as well. More than half a mil­lion bot­tles with a re­tail value of $2.6 mil­lion were con­sumed here, most in main­land cities.

“In the Chi­nese mar­ket, around 40 Greek winer­ies are present, most of them ex­port­ing in small quan­ti­ties,” says Em­manuel Stant­zos, min­is­ter for eco­nomic and com­mer­cial af­fairs at the Greek em­bassy in Bei­jing.

The big­gest play­ers in­clude Cavino, Evan­ge­los Tsan­talis, J. Boutari & Son Winer­ies, Kour­taki, Mala­mati­nas & Sons, and sev­eral wine co­op­er­a­tives. Greek wines are eas­i­est to find in the big­gest su­per­mar­kets, such as Jenny Wang’s 3,000-la­bel su­per­store in Bei­jing’s Shunyi dis­trict, and Greek restau­rants — there are 10 in Shang­hai and about half that many in Bei­jing.

“Greek terroirs are mostly moun­tain­ous and semi-moun­tain­ous, which is re­flected in most of the coun­try’s PDO wine zones,” says Stant­zos. “Th­ese are the best en­dowed, due to the coun­try’s hot and dry cli­mate.” Other wines come from coastal zones, while the vine­yards of the is­land of San­torini grow on a vol­canic ter­roir, yield­ing very dis­tinc­tive wines.

Greece re­cently launched a cam­paign to pro­mote its na­tive wine va­ri­eties, par­tic­u­larly Assyr­tiko, Moschofilero, Xi­no­mavro and Agiorghi­tiko (“St. Ge­orge’s”) — the last grape a na­tive of the Pelo­pon­nese area that makes a soft, fruity red wine that sells for less than 100 yuan ($16.40) in China.

“Th­ese in­dige­nous va­ri­eties have re­cently been tar­geted by bad-faith trade­mark ap­pli­ca­tions in China sub­mit­ted by wine im­porters who tried to mo­nop­o­lize the mar­ket for Greek wines,” says Stant­zos. “Our of­fice in­formed the Chi­nese Trade­mark Of­fice of th­ese at­tempts that we deem ex­tremely detri­men­tal to the in­ter­ests of Greek wine.”

We know we are en­joy­ing the real deal as we eat and drink our way around Greece, where fresh is the op­er­a­tive word. The cap­i­tal Athens abounds in side­walk cafes and fine restau­rants where fresh pro­duce, fine cheeses and olive oil, and plenty of seafood come to­gether in a healthy feast, al­ways with a glass of a fine lo­cal wine at hand.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Porto Carras wines in­clude lo­cal va­ri­etals and an ex­cel­lent 2006 syrah.

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