For a few wonderful hours recently, we were magically transported from Irvine, California, to the lush slopes of Mount Meliton overlooking the deep blue waters of the Gulf of Toroneos in Halkidiki, Greece. Our gracious host on this special tour was Yliana Stengou, the owner of Domaine Porto Carras, the largest organic vineyard in Greece. We learned that her winery’s vineyards are free of most of the diseases that afflict other vineyards, mainly because of the chalky, rocky soil and terraces that allow ideal drainage. Yliana was articulate and passionate about her wines and we were fortunate to enjoy a tasting that confirmed the superb quality of these wines.
The tasting took place at a charming Greek restaurant, Christakis Greek Cuisine, where the luscious Porto Carras wines were paired with savory dishes that enhanced our evening of immersion in the delicious food and wine of Greece. Yliana was accompanied by her American importers who spoke with great enthusiasm about the reception these wines are receiving in the US.
We first sipped a lovely, dry white wine with a touch of sweetness, 2012 Melissanthi, an aromatic cuveé made from two, rich, indigenous grapes of the region, Assyrtiko and Athiri. We could imagine ourselves sitting on a patio in Greece overlooking the vineyards as we relished this refreshing wine with its subtle flavors of peach and nectarine. It went well with pita served with a trio of tasty spreads, including Hummus (blend of garbanzo beans, tahini, lemon and olive oil), Kopanisiti (sautéed red peppers blended with feta and mild jalapenos), and Tzatziki (traditional Greek blend of yogurt, cucumber, dill and garlic) and also with a sharp, imported feta cheese served with Kalamata olives.
These appetizers also matched nicely with the next wine we tasted: a 100 percent Assyrtiko, which has understandably won some international awards. We were impressed to learn it had been produced from the most ancient white varietal in the world. It was dry, balanced and smooth with great minerality and citrus flavors both in the aroma and on the palate. Yliana recommended sipping it with seafood and she was right, as we enjoyed lightly fried and spicy golden Calamari, which was most flavorful after a sip of wine.
We then enjoyed 2012 Malagouzia, produced from the indigenous grape of the same name, which thrives on the Sithonian peninsula where Porto Carras is located. Its floral, fruity overtones paired very nicely with savory Dolmades, grape leaves filled with ground sirloin, rice and herbs, and topped with a creamy Avgolemono sauce. It also went well with Spanakopita, a classic Greek dish made of baked fillo dough filled with spinach, leeks, feta and dill.
Next we were treated to a beautiful, dry red wine, Liminio, made 100 percent from the oldest recorded varietal in the world. This grape is so famous it is even mentioned by Aristotle in his writings. Its color was deep ruby and the bouquet was tantalizing with spice, cassis, and cinnamon. It was surprisingly light and delicate on the palate so it was a good match for succulent Chicken Athenian, a fresh chicken breast filled with spinach, dill, and onion and smothered in a savory mushroom, wine and cream sauce
The final two reds we tasted were very elegant and enriched our second entrée—spicy, grilled, small lamb chops (sometimes called lamb lollipops) that were a mouth-watering favorite among our group. We picked up these chops with our fingers and savored them as we sipped the rich wines that enhanced their flavor even more. One wine was 2010 Magnus Baccata, a dry, bold blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon that had been aged in French Oak for 12 months. The flavor of the wine was complex with fruit, spice and even hints of chocolate. This is a wine we could imagine drinking all day. It had smooth tannins and a lingering finish. The other red wine, 2005 Chateau Porto Carras, is an award-winning blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Limnio and Merlot. Described as the winery’s flagship wine, it was deep in color and rich with tastes of blackberries and even a hint of smoke.
This was an extraordinary wine-tasting and culinary experience. As we drove home from Irvine, we contemplated a trip to Greece where we could savor the Porto Carras wines in their native lush, green surroundings where the mountains and the sea are literally kissed by the sun.
Domaine Porto Carras wines can be purchased at many locations throughout California and Colorado. Distribution is expected soon in Washington, Florida and New York. A list of locations where the wine is available can be accessed at Oldworldvines.com. Just scroll down to the Buy Local link and you will be able to see a list of locations. Some great places for finding these wines in California are The 3rd Corner in San Diego, Hi Times in Orange County, Sof’s Restaurant in Los Angeles, K & L Wine Merchants in San Francisco, and Corti Brothers in Sacramento.