direct press | June 2021
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GREECE IS THE WORD
Greece is a land with a storied, ancient wine culture. We're featuring six producers (see above) from all over Greece this month that were outsiders in the past but are now influential leaders of a growing natural wine scene in Greece. Map by Jonathan Kemp
Few countries claim such a long, ancient — and intimidating — wine culture as Greece. But the recent history is that of a growing natural wine community, and of nearly extinct local varieties being rescued. All the producers featured this month were outliers and mavericks until recently. Even five or ten years ago, it was quite challenging to find Greek wines in the US that showcased the distinct characteristics of the unique grape varieties found there. Many importers were trying to lure American consumers with wines made in the so-called "International Style" that tried to fit Greek wines into a range of flavors that was more or less confined to following the trend of big flavors via new oak, cultured yeasts, and all the tools of modern food science. Indigenous varieties with names unfamiliar to international consumers were replanted with Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
One of the indigenous Greek grapes reclaiming it's noble status is Xinomavro. Called the "King of red Greek grapes" we're featuring four different versions of Xinomavro this month. Even if you're in the 4White group, you'll get a Xinomavro Blanc de Noirs, pressed off it's skins to make a delicious white (-ish) wine. The other varieties you'll see are hopefully new and exciting as well: Debina, Assyrtiko, Negoska, Vlahiko, Roditis, and Agiorgitiko.
One of the first producers to doggedly stand behind Greek grape varieties and older, natural winemaking techniques was Tatsis (included in the 4Mix, 4Red, and Press 2), in Macedonia. When Periklis and Stagios Tatsis joined their father in the vineyards in the late 1990s, there were probably only four or five other winemakers who were working like they did.
The Tatsis brothers really embody the idea that looking to the past is the way forward, but that is certainly a common theme between them and the other featured producers this month:
Vaimaki (4Mix, 4Red, 4White) is also located in Macedonia in northern Greece, but in an even cooler-climate than Tatsis, at an elevation of about 2300 ft. Vasilis Vaimaki received a PhD focused on the oxidation of white wines, was one of the first to do extensive experiments with zero-sulfur winemaking, and one of the first to commercially release zero-sulfur wines in Greece. Earlier in his career he successfully led some bigger, high-volume wineries and cooperatives but that led him to believe that a lot of the additives were unnecessary. "Wine should contain only one ingredient," is now Vasilis' catchphrase.
Glinavos (4Mix, 4Red, 4White) is in Epirus, still in the mountains of northern Greece, but farther to the west towards the Albanian border and the Ionian Sea. The soils contain more limestone and the cool temperatures make for racy, low-alcohol wines. Lefteris Glinavos was among the first group of 'boutique' winemakers in the 1970s who went against the large-scale cooperatives. Though Lefteris studied in Bordeaux, he returned to Epirus to work with local varieties like Debina and Vlahiko.
Kontosizis (4White) was actually featured in our September 2020 wine club, as they are making some of our favorite everyday Greek whites from grapes like Roditis and the almost-extinct Malagousia. They are not in the mountains, but on a plain in Karditsa, Thessaly, that is so flat it has become the 'bicycle capital of Greece.' Kontosizis was one of the first wineries in the country to get an organic certification, back in 1991.
Troupis (4Mix, 4Red, 4White) is in Peloponnese, at the site of the crucial battle of Mantineia in the Peloponnesian War in the fifth century B.C. Though it's farther south, Troupis is at a similar elevation as Vaimaki. They've managed to make a retsina — the oft-maligned mass-produced Greek wine made with pine resin — that we think is a terrific symbol of how Greek wine is walking back many decades of quantity-over-quality without sacrificing affordability. The Troupis Retsina can still be the beverage of choice for salty fishermen at the end of a long hot day at sea.
Hatzidakis (Press2) is on the island of Santorini, and was the only producer on this tourist-friendly island working organically for many years. They make some of the most impressive, age-worthy Greek whites around, and are exceeding expectations after the untimely passing of founder Haridimos Hatzidakis in 2017. His daughter Stella now leads an all-female team that is continuing his legacy.
There is so much to taste and so much to learn when it comes to Greek wine, but this is a great introduction to the producers, regions, and wines we think are the most exciting right now. As a member, you get 10% off any of these wines for as long as we can keep them in stock, so don't hestitate to try them all.
Jonathan & Kirk