Circle of Wine Writers' policy on events is that the wines being presented must have some specific point of interest, something new or different. Being an enthusiast of all things a bit unusual or quirky, I wholeheartedly approve of this.
As ex-Jazz guitarist and now Master of Wine, Konstantinos Lazarakis explained, Greek wines are not and will never be mainstream - for starters, they are made in relatively small quantities (total output is less than Bordeaux).
Moreover, Greece has diverse terroirs and wine-making styles, so its wines are difficult to characterise - except as uncharacterisable.
However, with an MW given free range to pick wines from his homeland, it is safe to say all the wines shown were excellent. I have previously summarised the talk given by Konstaninos - here; what follows are my more detailed tasting notes.
Sadly, not all the wines are commercially available, but where they are, I have indicated the distributor.
Cellar Selection / Robola of Cephalonia 2011, Gentilini Winery, Kefalonia (not available) grown on rock, old, ungrafted vines, 800m altitude: pale gold with a perfumed, honey and acacia blossom nose, also beeswax, white flowers and spice. Weighty, waxy, mouthfilling texture cut through nicely with well-structured acidity, nicely oaked, sweet vanilla spice. Long on palate and persistently mineral on the finish.
Pavlidis Assyrtiko 2009, Ktima Pavlidis, Drama (not available) yeasty pungency on the nose with hints of green olives; prominent but well-integrated acidity and minerality. Full, long, savoury palate, well-structured with a persistent, mineral intensity developing. Persistent and mineral finish.
Sigalas Santorini VQPRD, Domaine Sigalas 2008, Santorini (Greek Archipelago Ltd) complex nose of spice, pungency and creaminess; ripe melon and tropical citrus acidity - mouthfilling and grippy, but also creamy, spicy and savoury with a hint of white pepper.
Thalassitis / PDO Santorini 2007, Gaia Estate, Santorini (Hallgarten Druitt & Novum) 100% Assyrtiko from 80yo vines; nose of toasty, floral, spiciness, yeasty pungency, beeswax and white pepper. Very fresh acidity and minerality, long palate and persistent finish.
Assyrtiko De Mylo 2009 / PDO Santorini, Hatzidakis Winery (Eclectic Wines) High alcohol (15.2%) with the pH level of a Mosel Riesling and some residual sugar, this is a dark sandy gold colour. It feels big, mouthfilling and intense, with ripe tropical fruit, fresh acidity and a leesy depth.
Ovilos - White 2008, Domaine Biblia Chora (Hallgartendruit & Novum) from Makedonia in northern Greece, a blend of 50% Semillon and 50% Assyrtiko; aromatic nose of blackcurrant leaf and bitter green herbs. Vibrant palate of grapefruit and citrus acidity, nicely oaked and well-balanced. Mouthfilling and grippy.
The most "modern" and "commercial" style of the whites, it is reminiscent of a Pessac-Leognan due partly to the Sauvignon-esque clones of Semillon used and partly due to the choice of yeasts.
Paros Red Reserve 2007, Moraitis Winery, Paros (Eclectic Wines) from the island of Paros, a blend of red Mandilaria and 25% white Monemvassia added as grape must part-way through fermentation to act as natural chaptalisation. A plummy purple colour, perfumed baked fruits, vanilla and bubblegum. Ripe bramble fruit, lots of sweet vanilla, fresh acidity. The texture is soft with a grippiness developing; firm on the finish.
Grande Reserve 1993 / PDO Naousa, Boutaris 100% Xinomavro a dark brick red, strong aromas of baked rosehip, bell pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, old leather, well-hung meat and foragings. On the palate, lovely acidity and vanilla sweetness, oxidative dark-sherry aromas, it is mouthfilling with a balanced bitter sweetness, a persistent finish and fine, red-tea tannins.
Described by Konstantinos as "a slap in the face for modern wine-making", it is reminiscent of an aged Medoc.
Ramnista 1997 / PDO Naousa, Estate Kir Yianni 100% Xinomavro, brick red in the glass, the nose is leathery / farmyardy with just a touch of brett and some plummy fruit. Long on the palate, grippy with ripe bramble fruit, sweet vanilla, fine tannins, a pepperiness and grippy finish.
Xinomavro Old Vines 2006 / PDO Amintaio, Alpha Estate (Hallgartendruitt & Novum) grown on pure sand in Amyndeon, northern Greece, ungrafted vines, this is more modern in style - dark purple in the glass, there is leathery farmyard, sweet vanilla, red bell pepper and a touch of sweet vegetal funkiness.
On the palate, sweet vanilla, red tea, ripe red fruits and well-integrated fine tannins.
Grande Reserve 2004 / PDO Nemea, Semeli (Eclectic Wines) 100% Agiorgitiko, dark purple in the glass with vanilla, dark fruit and farmyard. Lots of ripe, crowd-pleasing bramble fruit on the palate, sweet vanilla and fine tannins. Well-structured with a long palate and pepperiness developing.
Labyrinth 99-06, Domaine Skouras (Eclectic Wines) 80% Agiorgitiko / 20% Cabernet Sauvignon for longevity, this is aged in a solera-system and contains the wines of eight vintages. The vines are 30-66 years old and grow at an altitude of 700m.
Bramble fruit, bitter herbs, red bell peppers and black olives on the nose; lots of sweet ripe bramble fruit, sweet vanilla and flavours of sweet red chilis and also chili bitterness.
Mouthfilling and well-structured, there is good acidity and tannins. An intriguing blend of youth and aged characteristics.
Metoxi 2001, Tsantali (Ehrmanns, Venus) from the men-only monastery of Mount Athos in Chromitsa, Chalkidiki, this is a blend of 80% Cab and 20% Limnio. Perfumey aromas on the nose with sweet vanilla, lots of ripe bramble fruit, sweet vanilla and a touch of red chili bitterness. Inky texture.
Avaton 2008, Domaine Gerovassiliou (Hallgartedruitt & Novum) a blend of Limnio, Mavroudi and Mavrotragano from Epanomi, Thessaloniki, Makedonia; bramble fruit, toastiness and bitter savouriness. Sweet ripe bramble fruit in an amarone style, sharp and superripe with some golden syrup aromas and hints of green bitter herbs. Low in tannins with a soft, inky texture, pencil shavings and dark fruit.
It balances modernity of style with complexity and is somewhat Rhone-esque.
Late Harvest / SITIA VLQPRD 2000, Domaine Economou (not commercially available) from single-vineyard Liatiko grapes grown in Sitia, eastern Crete, this is a wine whose production method harks back to a more ancient time; it is placed to ferment in barrels in the sun and each summer, the evaporation of water allows for a refermentation to start again in the autumn.
Only after six years of re-fermentation is the wine bottled and is likened to old east Mediterranean Malmsey and ancient Greek sweet wines.
The Vassilikes vineyard is at 610m altitude, ungrafted vines around 70 years old. The vineyard is organic and fermentation is natural with indigenous yeasts.
Dark, golden reddy brown in the glass, aromatic and oloroso-esque; rich and sweet, with a waxy glycerol texture and a "beyond oxidation" flavour. Raisiny, figgy and aromatic with fresh acidity.
Belvedere, Natural Sweet Wine 2009, Estate Mercouri (Yiorgos Stavropoulos) made from Malvasia Aromatica in Ilia, Western Peloponnese; sweet peach blossom with complex yeasty peach skin. Very floral and blossomy, good acidity, ripe with toasty yeastiness, a peachy texture and aromas of peaches roasted in butter.
Samos Nectar 1980, Union of Winemaking Co-operatives of Samos (Eclectic Wines) made from sun-dried, small-berried Muscat, I was still in short trousers when this wine was first made. Dark brown in the glass, aromatic like an oloroso. The palate is aromatic, mouthfilling and complex with fresh acidity.
Update October 2013: Jancis Robinson's tasting notes on this wine which she scores as 19/20
Vinsanto 8Y, Santos Wines NV (Ehrmanns, Venus) from Megalochori on Santorini, this is a blend of 50% 2003 and 50% 2004 - mostly Assyrtiko, with some Aidani. Dark golden brown and aromatic; raisiny, figgy and honeyed yet fresh with amazing savouriness on the palate and finish. This would match with bitter chocolate, espresso or even wild boar with chestnuts.
The wines on show were so diverse, it is impossible to single out any in particular - quality was very high and each was interesting both in its own right as as a comparator to the others.
Other related articles
Greek Wines Under Different Lenses
Greek Wines At Cambridge Food and Wine Society
Circle of Wine Writers - website, twitter, Facebook
Konstantinos Lazarakis - twitter, Facebook
Main image credit: http://www.purefx.co.uk/uploads/images/GBPEUR_Exchange_Rate_Greece.jpg