If wines from Greece strike you exactly as the old saying goes, “it’s all Greek to me”, you are not alone. Take a look at some of the grape varieties – assyrtiko, moschofilero and malagousia for whites and agiorgitiko, mavrodaphe and xinomavro for reds. They are pretty intimidating, unless you’re trying to win a game of Scrabble. While the names are certainly challenging, the wines are diverse and beautiful. One of my favorite Greek red grapes is agiorgitiko (ah-yohr-YEE-tee-koh), translated the name means St. George’s grape, so you might see it listed as such, or as Nemea, the appellation where it is grown. Nemea is one of the top red wine regions located on the Peloponnese peninsula in the southernmost region of the Greek mainland. Of Greece’s 200 indigenous grapes, agiorgitiko is one of the most widely planted grapes and the elevation at which it is planted makes a big difference. The low-lying areas give higher yields but most of the vineyards are planted at higher elevations in the mountains. These higher points are referred to as High Nemea, with an altitude of 800 meters. Often mountainous soils are rocky and not as rich, leading to more stress and lower yields for the vines, giving a bit more concentration to the grapes that are produced. The higher elevation also has a cooler climate, creating a longer growing season. This longer hang time gives the grapes more time to develop adding more extracted flavors.
This super fun red comes with a very appealing range of characteristics, from soft and fruity to robust, with lots of tannin. Again, it all depends on how it’s grown in terms of location, elevation, grape yields and the winemaking process. Generally, the wines are full-bodied with moderate acidity; the pronounced aromatics and fruit flavors stretch from raspberry to richer black cherry and plum and there’s usually a distinctive peppery spice. You can compare it to a few more mainstream grape varieties like merlot, grenache or tempranillo. The layers of fruit and spice are elegant with a round velvety texture to embrace your palate. While it’s a pleasure to just drink, it’s also very food friendly. It’s divine with classic Greek eggplant moussaka, a charcuterie board with plenty of olives or seared duck breast with polenta and lingonberry sauce. Fear not the name and give this luscious red a try. Opa!