The concept of “Ancient Greece” is still a bedrock component of a classical education. From the writings of Plato and Aristotle to the mathematical theorems of Pythagoras, the Greeks are historically at the epicenter of intellectual and architectural feats in Western civilization.
So why, when the subject turns to Greek vineyards, does the ivory tower wine turn derelict as the Acropolis? Taken one step further, why does culinary conversation turn so provincial when Greek wine? It’s almost as though a whole oenophilic Age of Exploration has to be undertaken: The noble Naoussa shouldn’t be pigeon-holed with spit-roasted lamb and pita; Santorini isn’t just for quaffing while sampling shellfish that swam in the Aegean.
It’s an irritating element known as perception, along with its evil cousin: first impressions. For years, Chicagoans went to their own “Grecian experience” on Halsted Street in the West Loop. After a few glasses of pine-tar Retsina, paired with faux-jovial waiters boisterously igniting platters of lemony cheese, the unique fun of a Greektown visit was cemented in memory.
So, when a purveyor of Greek wine – or, even a critic or columnist waxes enthusiastic about the latest plantings of Greece’s venerable Agiorgitiko grape, the collective local reaction often is: “What’s the best lamb cut available at our local butcher?” (It is this columnist’s perhaps smug-anglophile opinion that marketers of Greek wine need to ditch “Agiorgitiko,” and go with the less cumbersome “St. George.”)
This experience isn’t unique to Chicago; many Americans still must make a leap of faith to enjoy Greek wine with international fare such as Coq au Vin, Chilean sea bass, pasta Bolognese or a dry-aged steak from the stockyards. To help curb any stubborn nostalgia, and to provide a glimpse of the kind of quality and value arriving from the Aegean vineyards, Chicago Budget Wine Examiner offers the following sentiments from local wine buyers and sommeliers:
Chris Pappas – General Manager, The Winchester: “Greek wine is getting better and better with winemakers like George Skouras and Paris Sigalas. I think the Skouras Synoro (a blend of Cab Franc, Merlot and St George). It has soft, dark red fruit or cassis upfront with some great earthy and leather notes and even a touch of chocolate. It’s a versatile wine with food, and has good structure and acidity – but best with red meat. Good, affordable (but not inexpensive) substitute for a right bank satellite Bordeaux.”
E. Timothy O’Donnell – Regional Food & Beverage Director, First Hospitality Group (Properties include Indian Lakes Resort and L26 at the South Loop Hotel): “I really like the Tsantalis Alexander Red Wine, which is 70 percent Xinomavro and 30 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s bursting with aromas of dried blackcurrant, bruised plum, coffee beans, leather and truffle. There is evidence of oak on the nose and palate, due to three years of small cask aging. Fleshy with velvety tannins, this is a full-bodied wine with good acidity, and it pairs nicely with seasoned red meat, mixed grill and spicy cheeses. It’s delightful, and a great value – because I would argue that it’s a Bordeaux from Macedonia.”
Nia Asimis – Wine Buyer, Nia Mediterranean Tapas Restaurant: “For a white under $15, I like the Sigalas Santorini (featuring the Assyritko grape). It pours a light and clean, with aromas of fresh cut peaches and pears, and just a hint of nutty almond. It displays a remarkable richness and fatness for such a bracingly dry white. It expands in the glass, with the nose becoming more floral, and the palate more expressive. Great with any fish entrée that features light and delicate sauces.”