The Romans get a lot of credit for a lot of stuff. Cool architecture, outstandingly realistic sculpture, beautiful art, aqueducts, and for spreading viticulture all over the damn place.
The only thing: the Greeks did all of this stuff first (and on the aqueduct thing -- the East Indians probably beat everyone else at the punch) and they did it pretty well. Wine included.
Sadly through a series of setbacks, wars, religious prohibition (the Ottomans and Turks did not like their wine and taxed Christians making it to the point that it barely made sense to press the grapes), and some poor political management, Greece fell off the wine map to some extent, while the Roman legacy lives on in the wines of Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal...basically all of Europe. Top it all off with Greece's exhausting battle for independence that left them broke in 1913, two World Wars, and a nasty civil war, and it's no wonder Greece had no time to perfect their winemaking, take credit for spreading viticulture to other parts of Europe...or even invest a penny until recently.
Things started to shift in the 1980s, though, and Greek wine has come back as trained oenologists (had to use the word for those who have studied wine since it derives from the GREEK!) brought new knowledge and techniques to this old winemaking Goliath.
Although in some of the hottest places for winegrowing, most of Greece's grapes are planted on mountainsides so it's a little cooler and they can gather the acid they need to be good. Not surprisingly, the country has a Mediterranean climate (maybe we should call it an Aegean climate to be respectful!) but the summers can be blistering and drought is an issue. You need to grow grapes higher up to get good flavor -- like in the high plain of Macedonia, where Boutari, one of Greece's large wineries, grows the Xinomavro for its Naoussa.
WTF did I just say? Yeah, it's confusing. Some details:
- Xinomavro: A native red grape that's said "ksee-NOH-mah-vroh" It literally means "acid black" and when it's badly made it tastes as bad as it sounds. When it's good, it's a really unique, tasty wine. I've only had the opportunity to try a few, but usually they taste like licorice, herbs, and even olives, and are earthy with big tannin. They tend to tip the scales in alcohol, which I don't really dig, but not to the extent that they are undrinkable. The other attributes of the wine make it worth the burn.
- Naoussa: an area in central Macedonia that only grows Xinomavro. The vineyards are at 500 - 1300 feet, and are relatively cool compared to the rest of Greece so the grapes maintain acid and develop flavor slowly rather than being cooked in the sun.
|Map from Boutari Wines|
Boutari has been making Xinomavro from the Naoussa area since 1879. They were the first to bottle and sell commercially and 133 years after beginning, the winery is still family owned. They are probably the most well-known Greek winery in the world. If you're going to be able to get a wine from Greece, it may very well be one of theirs. Not a bad thing...although I'd love to get my hands on stuff from smaller producers, the quality is usually pretty good. They're like Greece's E&J Gallo Winery.
Here's the lowdown on the wine:
The Wine: 2007 Boutari Naoussa, Macedonia, Greece
Color: The wine tends to be a little brown around the edges regardless of age, but this one is 5 years old so it was a deeper brown/garnet.
Smell: Strong licorice/ouzo smell (yes, I was thinking of other Greek things I know), the wine had the same alcohol burn in my nose as the Greek spirit does. I also smelled like black cherry, dark bitter chocolate, dirt, herbs, prunes and a little bit goat-y or like tangy goat-cheese.
Taste: I hated my first sip but loved my third. This is a wine that you may have to sip a few times to appreciate. It tasted like licorice, dark chocolate, and earth. Nary a fruit to be tasted, but lots of texture in form of strong mouth drying tannin and a big alcohol burn down the hatch. That said, I'd say the wine is more light to medium in texture, and it was pretty balanced.
Food Pairings: Strong flavored hard cheeses, grilled eggplant, roast lamb, and hamburgers would do well with this wine. I think you need a roasted or grilled flavor to make the earthiness of the wine shine.
Drink or sink?: Drink. Unique and interesting, I liked that I hated it at first and then wanted more when the bottle was gone. M.C. Ice and I had a hard time figuring this one out and I love a challenge so this was a fabulous wine to have.
If you get this, make sure that you're ready to invest a little time in sipping it. It's not immediately gratifying but if you want to dork out and give it chance, you may change from hater to fan in the span of 30 minutes...not a bad experiment!
Have you had Xinomavro before? What did you think? Drop a comment below!