Beyond Retsina: Modern Greek wines offer great value

Georgia Foundi, of Domaine Foundi in northern Greece, presenta the estate's two reds made from the Xinomavro grape.
(S. Irene Virbila / Los Angeles Times)

Occasionally, I’ll spot a Greek wine on a wine list in a restaurant. That’s a surprise. And when Wine & Spirits magazine published their annual survey of the top 50 bestselling restaurant wines this year, two of the top 50 most-ordered wines were Greek. That’s even more of a surprise.

So when I was invited to a tasting of Greek wines recently, of course I went. Here was a chance to satisfy my curiosity about wines from a country that has been making them for thousands of years.

The first three wines were whites, all less than $20 retail and all from Domaine Porto Carras, the largest organic vineyard in Greece. Both the 2012 Melissanthi (a blend of Assyrtiko and Athiri, about $15) and the 2012 Assyrtiko (about $16) had a beautiful minerality and verve. The 2013 Malagouzia exhibited more tropical notes and tasted of melon.


Next was a red wine made entirely of Limnio grape (about $16), a varietal referred to by Aristotle and mentioned in the Odyssey, so we’re talking ancient, truly. And it was delicious, about the weight of a Chinon, with an appealing spiciness and earthy tang. I could spend some time with this bottle.

Domaine Porto Carras also produces an excellent Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah blend called Magnus Baccata (under $20) and a Bordeaux-style wine called Chateau Porto Carras, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and the native Limnio for about $28.

The rest of the wine producers at the tasting were all from the Naoussa region in western Macedonia in northern Greece and all the wines were made from the same red grape, Xinomavro. In tasting through the dozen or so examples, I got a real sense of the grape — and its different expressions, depending on the terroir. Rising star winemaker Apostolos Thymiopoulos from Thymiopoulos Vineyards, had a map on his iPad showing all the different soil types in the Naoussa region. It looked like an intricate mosaic, kind of incredible really.

I tasted his biodynamic wines — Thymiopoulos “Young Vines” Xinomavro with the liveliness of a Beaujolais (about $14) and another, much richer and more complex red called Uranus from a vineyard planted by his father 42 years ago. I also really liked the 2006 Damaskinos (about $25) from the local cooperative Vaeni Naoussa.

Most impressive, too, were the wines from Domaine Foundi presented by Georgia Foundi. Both the 2007 Estate Foundi (a blend of three different vineyards, about $16) and the 2008 Naoussea (a single vineyard selection of 5,000 bottles, about $20) had a delicacy and liveliness that stood out; and again, great quality for the price.

Greek wines are just gaining a foothold on the shelves of local wine shops. Right now Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa and Papa Cristos in Los Angeles have the biggest selection. Look for these wines to show up on more wine lists, too, as young sommeliers discover the great quality price of Greek wines.


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