Friday, April 20, 2007

Report from: Greek Wines Road Show – April 19, 2007

When I first started buying wine there were a few places in the liquor store that I would always visit: Chile, Australia, Spain and Greece (Canadian wine, namely Ontario, I would visit the winery for – the LCBO, for me, is a place to buy the imports). My reasons were simple: Chile because they were my first love for reds; Australia because they seemed then, as now, hip and popular and I had to know why; Spain and Greece because their price point was pretty low and the wines were always good.

Problem was Spanish and Greek wines were not and still aren’t very plentiful here in Ontario. For example, where Chile gets two large-island-shelving unit (both sides – one for reds and one for whites) and Australia takes up 4 large-islands worth of product; Spain and Greece get a miniscule one side of an island for both their reds and whites, all lumped together. That equals not a lot of choice; which is why this show was such an eye-opener. I knew the Greeks made good quality wines at exceptional prices, but not this much, and from so many rich and wonderful native grapes (both reds and whites) and a plentitude of producers. Now they are also planting and blending their native wines with more international varieties. One attendee said to me, “they’ll never sell here, the names are too complicated and tough to remember.” But what the brain can’t retain the palate will remember – though I do see his point. Grapes with names like Assyrtiko, Malagousia, Savatiano (whites); Agiogitiko, Limnio and Mavrodaphne (reds) are all tough to remember and tougher to pronounce – but they are taking their place beside Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc on the bottle labels and making more outstanding wines then I remember having, in the days when my average bottle price was under ten dollars, the Aegean Island Red at $6.90 was an awesome little quaffer back then. The prices now don’t seem to have risen substantially but the quality is even better.

Sadly many of these wines never see the light of day on the LCBO shelves. Some are consignment only, while others are just not made in enough quantity or just remains “over there” due to lack of interest (the inability for many of these grape names to catch-on). Many of the wines I tasted at the show were not available, nor were there any release dates scheduled; though might I suggest a little experiment I think you’ll enjoy. The next time you head into the LCBO (or any liquor store, Canada, the U.S., wherever) check out the Greece section and just look for something that strikes your fancy; the value to quality ratio of the wine will surprise you (e.g. a 2001 Boutari Grande Reserve from the native Xinomavro grape retailed for $18 and tasted like it should be double that price). The price and quality will make taking a chance on a bottle of Greek wine well worth it.

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