Jason’s Odyssey: Three Greek Grapes 01/24/12
Much like Odysseus, the protagonist of Homer’s Odyssey, I am a great tactician and warrior favored by many mighty and beautiful goddesses. And also like Odysseus, I’ve been known to drink a glass of wine when the situation calls for it.
But even though we share so very many similarities, Odysseus and I are worlds apart when it comes to our wines. As an ancient Greek general, he was in all likelihood rather patriotic, and therefore it’s probably safe to assume that the greater portion of his drinking involved Greek wine – a category I myself have lamentably neglected. Until now.
Last week I drank my way through three bottles of Greek wine, each one a varietal which featured a grape previously unbeknownst to me. What follows is the tale of mine own Odyssey: a bloodsoaked, sexy voyage through uncharted waters. By which, of course, I mean uncharted wines.
The Odyssey begins in medias res, which is a fancy way of saying “not boringly.” And appropriately enough, the first of three Greek grapes I met last week was Xinomavro, bearing the notable distinction of having also been the first grape I’ve encountered ever that begins with the letter X – without a doubt the most erotic consonant since Q.
My bottle was a Vaeni Naoussa Xinomavro 2004, which had initially caught my eye not even because of the sexy, ex-y grape used in its production, but rather due to its age. Seven years doesn’t exactly qualify a wine as “old,” but it’s certainly more mature than what I usually see on display at my go-to PLCB outlet, especially for $14. Plus, when we first meet Odysseus, smack dab in the middle of his adventure, he’s been held against his will on the island of Calypso for a period of – wouldn’t you know it – seven years. Call it fate.
In the glass, this was a deep, dark crimson color, but not opaque, with some signs of age around the edge (in the form of a brownish orange tint). The aroma was predominantly of black cherries and vanilla, with some raspberry undertones. Pleasant but unremarkable – until the elderberry chimed in: a big, dark aroma that reminds me of honey.
The palate presented similar notes, with cherry and raspberry as well as a touch of that elderberry flavor. I perceived the vanilla on the nose more as chocolate here, along with a definite woody note (i.e., the wood from trees, not erections). Perhaps most impressive were the tannins, which were still firm enough to suggest the wine could benefit from a bit more age. But just as Calypso was forced to release Odysseus after his seven year captivity, I too was soon forced to move on. Because the bottle was empty.
I award the Vaeni Naoussa Xinomavro thumbs up.
One of my favorite aspects of the Odyssey (and indeed, epic poetry in general) is its propensity for repetition: its tendency to repeat things. Thankfully, wine drinking is among the most frequently visited subjects in the poem – a fact which by an astonishing stroke of coincidence rings equally true when applied to my life.
Enter Agiorgitiko, the next stop on my tiny tour of Greece, and one of the country’s oldest and most noble grapes. It’s also known as St. George’s grape for some reason. And while sure, St. George may have slain a dragon or two in his day, this feat still pales in comparison to the exploits of Ithaca’s greatest hero.
Agiorgitiko can apparently produce a few styles of wine, but the one I drank, questionably titled “My big fat Greek wine”, came from the Peloponnese, the 2010 vintage, and no discernible producer (Hellas Import Ltd. brought it to the US). It was also absolutely of the lighter variety, reminding me a little of Gamay; so certainly, it came off as “smaller” than the Xinomavro.
Lighter colored and with a nose of raspberry and redcurrant, this was not aged in oak like the Xinomavro had been, and was a bit more straightforward as a result: fruit-forward and easy to drink. On the palate, redcurrant returned, although I tasted cherries rather than raspberries, and eventually started picking up an additional note that may have been vaguely floral. Usually florality is something my nose would have detected, so I found this especially interesting. Of course, I might also just have imagined it.
Light, fruity and ultimately not much else, I would liken this to Polyphemus, the cyclops, because it lacked depth, much as the one-eyed son of Poseidon lacked depth perception. Still, simple wines can be enjoyable, and at $11 this wasn’t a bad buy at all. I’d be curious to try some other expressions of Agiorgitiko, though; the wine didn’t comport itself as well as the Xinomavro had, with a bit of alcoholic heat coloring the finish.
I award “My big fat Greek wine” thumbs up.
A bit of trivia that should be abundantly obvious to anyone who knows where my tag cloud is: I prefer red wine. In fact, reviews of red wine almost double reviews of white here at Convicted for Grape. But sometimes, ladies and gentlemen, I forget myself, imbibing a potion that purges my memory banks, eradicates my ego, and allows me to start anew. Like those people on that island where they ate lotus flowers all the time, nearly resulting in the loss of several of Odysseus’ shipmates (but don’t worry, they all died eventually).
Now, I’m not sure what lotus tastes like, but the Argyros Atlantis Santorini 2010, produced mostly from Assyrtiko grapes and selling for $15, could probably give the Lotophagi a run for their money. This one hails from the island of Santorini, not Atlantis, as I had initially hoped; but after a little research, I learned that Santorini is where the value is, and Atlantean wine on the whole is said to underdeliver for its price point.
The Assyrtiko appeared a pale, translucent straw color in the glass, at first displaying notes of peach and an unidentifiable floral musk that eventually subsided, giving way to sweeter, honeyed aromas. The palate told a similar story, with peach and honey flavors in abundance – yet all contained within a wine that managed to remain both crisp and dry. Bearing a slight buzz of effervescence, this was light, easy drinking. Simple, yes, but much more nicely balanced than the Agiorgitiko.
I award the Argyros Atlantis Santorini thumbs up, and I applaud Assyrtiko for triumphing over not one but two of its redder competitors. Well played, whites.