Like the late Rodney Dangerfield, Greek wine traditionally got very little respect. For several thousand year most of it was retsina, wine infused with pine resin to prevent oxidation. Over the past few decades Greek wine has been experiencing a Renaissance, and quality is improving quickly and consistently.
Much of the transformation is due to a new generation of winemakers who have trained abroad, who are comfortable with modern technology and have the capital to access it. The most radical progress can be observed in the white wines, which are now clean, crisp, fresh and remarkably well made. Many of the better examples come from the Peloponnese region in the southern part of the mainland, but the Aegean islands—particularly Santorini—are ground zero for this quality surge.
Assyrtiko is the primary white wine variety grown in Santorini’s volcanic soil. Solid examples are produced by Argyros (the Estate and Atlantis bottlings, both $15), Boutari ($18) and Santo ($15). These wines are pleasantly earthy, with significant depth and grip accented by good acidity and ripe citrus notes. Hatzidakis ($20) is easily the earthiest of the bunch, with a rich spice and mineral backbone that makes it a good accompaniment to white meats as well as seafood. One Santorini winery that has attracted a good deal of attention recently is Sigalas, which has been featured several times in the Wine Spectator’s list of the year’s Top 100 wines. Their straight Assyrtiko ($20) has rich, tropical overtones of tangerine and passion fruit, but their Assyrtiko/Athiri blend (also $20) is a thing of beauty—richly concentrated, with a great deal of ripe citrus fruit, palate weight and character.
In the Peloponnese, the signature white wine grape is Moscofilero, which yields a rich and aromatic wine; the best examples come from the mountain region of Mantinia. If you want to experience how complex and intriguing this variety can be, pick up a bottle of Skouras ($15). The wine is bone dry, yet possesses intense, almost candied flavors of citrus and lemon peel. It makes a good match with seafood as well as chicken, veal and pork.
When purchasing Greek whites, look for the youngest and most current vintage (2010 at the moment). Bring a sense of adventure into the wine shop with you, and you’ll be well rewarded.