Some Greek wines to toast the Games

Athens Olympics

August 11, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Opa!

When the spirit hits you as you watch the Summer Games, which spirits are you going to reach for?

Too much ouzo over the 16 days of competition will make you woozy.

So how about toasting the ancient gods of Olympus with the nectar from Greek vineyards?

Greek wines are hard to find outside Greek restaurants. And many have labels written in the Greek alphabet, which can make it tough to negotiate let alone pronounce.

Although the word oenophile, a lover of wine, comes from the Greek language, Greece's reds and whites haven't been embraced here the way Australian and New Zealand wines have been.

"It's a shame because they're worthwhile wines," says Steve Silver, owner of Pearson's Liquors and Wines in Washington, which has served the diplomatic corps for decades. "They're very impressive and some of them are real bargains."

Silver has a theory. The names of Greek wines are hard to pronounce, he says, and don't match up with the wines with which we're familiar.

"If Haggipavlu was called Pinot Grigio -- which you might compare it to -- your wine recall would be immediate and vivid," he says. "It's unfortunate because good Greek wines are perfect for the kinds of foods many of us enjoy today. Think lamb and olives, olive oil, tomatoes and feta, garlic and grilled shrimp."

Having watched other countries successfully market their wines internationally, Greek vintners are beginning to follow suit.

"They may be watching what's happening in California, but they're using indigenous grapes and that's what makes their wines unique and interesting," Silver says.

Silver, whose family has owned the shop since 1933, has decided that the best way to make Greek wines more approachable is to give them nicknames. Here's his short primer on five of the easiest-to-find Greek wines.

Haggipavlu Mantinia ($17.99), or "Haggi," as Silver has dubbed it, is the dry white wine that will remind you of a good pinot grigio. It is made from the Moshofilero grape, which is harvested in October. The fermentation process is carried out in stainless-steel tanks. "It's fresh, something you most likely would be drinking feet up, shades on, lazily gazing at the sea on one of those crystal-blue Adriatic days." Try it with salads, light pasta dishes and fish.

Kotsifali ($29.99), or "Kotsi," is made on Crete at the island's oldest winery. Just 15,000 bottles were made of the 2002 vintage. "A stunning, palate-coating white wine that compares to a white Chateauneuf-du-Pape," says Silver. Serve with meat, fish or hard cheeses.

Agioritiko Nemea ($21.99). "Aggi" is a red wine produced on the Attica peninsula, using a locally renowned variety of grape. It is aged one year in oak barrels and then is aged in the bottle another year before release. Just 15,000 bottles a year are produced. "This is a `beef' wine, rustic and earthy, like a big Malbec from Argentina," Silver says.

Karipidis Sangiovese-Primitivo ($32.99), or "Kari," is a dry red table wine that is a 50-50 blend of sangiovese and primitivo, which Silver says is a Mediterranean cousin of our West Coast zinfandel. It is aged for a year in French oak. "I would compare this wine with some of the best chiantis," he says.

Finally, he suggests finishing off the evening with a dessert wine that doesn't need a nickname. Agros Muscat of Limnos ($15.99) is made from the Muscat of Alexandria grape that has been cultivated on the island of Limnos in the northeast Aegean Sea for centuries. "This is one of the great dessert wine values of the world," says Silver. "It's lush, with good acidity and wonderful honeysuckle and apricot aromas. You really can't buy a dessert wine that tastes this good for under $30."

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