Greece Offers New Wines Review - Look at Your Shelves for Great Rewards

Greek wines have been available in the United States for many years, but usually only in stores catering to a Greek clientele.  A buyer would have been lucky to discover a few bottles wearing indecipherable labels gathering dust on a bottom shelf in an obscure corner.


Athanassis Parparoussis

We did not know what we were missing. Only recently Greek wines with their unfamiliar labels  began to attract attention.  We’ve learned about a spirited white called Assyrtiko and a red called Agiorgitiko and a hulking red called Mavrodaphne. Some of us  knew enough, of course, to avoid that liquid tar called Retsina, so trying these relatively unknown wines became a pleasing  and rewarding exploration.


Grapes soon to be wine


Give or take a few centuries, the Greeks have as long a history of winemaking as their Mediterranean neighbors.  Italy and many nations of Eastern Europe purport to be the origin of oenology and who’s to dispute a good claim.  Greece is the new best thing. Ravaged by World War Two, unstable governance, and a volatile and faltering economy for several decades, the Greeks have emulated the campaigns waged by  their neighbors and their recently acquired marketing smarts are paying welcome dividends. We are now seeing those jaw stretching Hellenic names proliferating in restaurants and on retail shelves. Knowledgeable sommeliers serving adventurous diners now feel comfortable recommending a relatively unknown wine.


The grounds

We met recently with Athanasios Parparoussis, whose family has been making wine in the Peloponnese region of Greece for more than 40 years. Parparousiss and his two daughters, Erifili and Dimatra, are risk takers, making quality wines from   grape varieties rarely used in Greece. The emphasis, Parparoussis stresses, is on wines that reflect their origin. “When we decide on a new wine, we first choose the variety, native grapes with specific characteristics that express the terroir in which they grow.” Parparoussis farms organically in principle but he has not undertaken the costly, often complicated, bureaucratic, process of certification. He is not   concerned with the designation.  He sees protecting the earth and the environment as a matter of common sense and takes a pragmatic opposition to chemical treatment:  “The soil is alive, so why kill it.”


The Athanassis home


His winery is located near the third largest city in Greece, Patra on the Northwest coast of the Peloponnese, a region known for white grapes. Parparoussis, unlike many producers, favors indigenous, often endangered, local varietals and he is one of the few producers cultivating Sideritis, which has become an exciting grape. He also favors a local branch of the Muscat family, Muscat of Rio Patras. From his vineyards at Nemea in the East, he makes one of the signature wines of the region, his Nemea Reserve, 100% Agiorgitiko (St. George). 


A terrific crop


From fields near Patra, he sends out Mavrodaphne Patras, a big, sweet, dessert wine. The 2003   edition of what the British call “a sticky” was released   at a breathtaking 19% alcohol level.. On the nose the Mavrodaphne exudes hints of figs, dried fruit and almonds. It is an explosive dessert wine, with a balance of sweetness and acidity and flavors of jam, raisins and honey. When the desired level of sugar is reached during fermentation, Parparoussis fortifies the wine with eau de vie, then leaves it to age in French oak for seven years. Suggested retail price {SRP} is $48. His other dessert wine, Muscat, is much easier on the palate with an alcohol level of about 13%, and also easier on the pocketbook, with an SRP of $35. Both wines may often be found at a lower price.


What a view


Taos, a barrel fermented, dry and complex wine, is 100% Mavrodaphne with scents of chocolate, rosemary and thyme forming an aromatic intensity. SRP $38.  It is a serious match for lamb, venison and other red meats, and will be attractive for another decade.  Sideritis, a neglected grape, shows up as a salmon colored Petite Fleur Its color comes from spending a night on the skins. It mates splendidly   with shrimp and other seafood. SRP $17.  Under the label Gifts of Dionysos—the Greek god of wine—it is a white laden with mineral and citrus flavors, and makes a pleasant aperitif on its own.  SRP $17



The Gifts of Dionysos label also graces a sparkling wine, Cava, SRP $25. Parparoussis uses the designation as Spain.  . French winemakers claim exclusive rights to the more familiar term, champagne, although a few producers in the United States and elsewhere have grandfathered rights and a few others defy the ban.


The vineyard


Mavrodaphne makes up a third of Oenofilos, which is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, from grapes grown on 25 year old vines. It is a sturdy, spicy red (SRP$23) and is a less expensive alternative to The Nemea Reserve which carries a $47 price tag.   ENDIT ENDIT ENDIT

Photos: Courtesy of Athanasios Parparoussis


More about: Athanasios Parparoussis Winery





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