Wine Bill Knott


The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

‘Of course,’ de­claimed the waiter in the Athens wine bar where I had taken refuge, ‘democ­racy is a Greek word.’

And so are ‘cri­sis’ and ‘an­ar­chy’, I nearly an­swered, hav­ing just ne­go­ti­ated my way from Syn­tagma Square along a street com­pletely oc­cu­pied by a long line of John Deere trac­tors, owned by protest­ing, horn-beep­ing Greek farm­ers. In­stead, I or­dered another bot­tle of As­syr­tiko from San­torini – crisp, dry and rather de­li­cious – and plot­ted a demo-free path back to my apart­ment.

Some of those farm­ers may well have been wine­mak­ers; cer­tainly, the Greek govern­ment has made life very dif­fi­cult for any­one want­ing to grow, crush, fer­ment, bot­tle and mar­ket grapes. They now have to pay upfront for any cap­i­tal equip­ment they might need – oak casks, bot­tles, ma­chin­ery – and wine is more heav­ily taxed than ever.

Com­mend­ably, this has not de­terred the ‘new wave’ of Greek wine­mak­ers. I sus­pect many Bri­tons still think of Greek wine as some­thing that just about passes muster in a tav­erna on a Corfu beach, but doesn’t travel well. Repa­tri­ated retsina never quite tastes the same, no mat­ter how loud you crank up the Demis Rous­sos. And De­mes­tica has never quite over­come its name’s un­for­tu­nate sim­i­lar­ity to a pro­pri­etary brand of lava­tory cleaner.

In fact, Greece now has an abun­dance of ex­cel­lent wine, much of it made not from in­ter­na­tional grapes but from in­dige­nous va­ri­eties, like As­syr­tiko, its roots deep in the vol­canic San­torini soil, and able to keep re­mark­able fresh­ness and acid­ity, no mat­ter how tor­rid the Greek sum­mer. Haridi­mos Hatzi­dakis is the wine­mak­ing king of the is­land: his 2014 vin­tage can be found at the Wine So­ci­ety, £12.50.

There are some splen­did reds, too. Come 23rd April, I will pa­tri­ot­i­cally crack open a bot­tle of Agior­gi­tiko: the wine is eas­ier to get one’s mouth around than the name, which is Greek for Saint Ge­orge. Try M&S’S Red On Black Agior­gi­tiko from Ne­mea, in the north-east Pelo­pon­nese, £9 a bot­tle, or £6.75 if you buy two.

And there is Xi­no­mavro, which lit­er­ally means ‘acid black’, de­scrip­tors that hint at its po­ten­tial for long age­ing: wines made from it have some­thing in com­mon with Neb­bi­olo (Barolo, Bar­baresco), with a deeper colour and a bit more heft. Try the ro­bust and spicy Thymiopou­los Xi­no­mavro, also from M&S: £65 for a case of six, and 25 per cent less if you buy two.

There is no bet­ter place to try the full range of Greek wines than in Athens, though. Should you be hol­i­day­ing in Greece this sum­mer, spend a night or two in the city: as well as By The Glass, the place in which I hid from the trac­tors, there are Oinoscent, Hete­ro­clito and Vin­tage Wine Bistro, all within a five-minute walk of each other, hand­ily lo­cated be­tween Syn­tagma, Plaka and Mona­s­ti­raki.

All of them of­fer solider sus­te­nance as well, es­pe­cially some ex­cel­lent Greek char­cu­terie and cheese: louza, cured and smoked pork fil­let, and ar­seniko, a salty and lac­tic cheese from Naxos. Greeks, de­spite their re­duced cir­cum­stances, take great pride in their food and drink.

This month’s mixed case from Waitrose in­cludes two bot­tles of Caber­net Sauvi­gnon from the Halkidiki Penin­sula, south of Thes­sa­loniki: it seems to me that buy­ing Greek wine is a thor­oughly civilised way to help their be­nighted econ­omy. Given the qual­ity of the prod­uct, it is not a sac­ri­fice, and maybe some of the farm­ers will have one less thing to com­plain about.

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