ALISTAIR GIBSON: There's so much more to Greek wine than retsina

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Here we are with the first wine column of the new year, a time to look back as well as to look forward. 

One of the attributes of wine which most excites me, is its constantly ability to surprise and amaze you.

Looking back at my tasting notes of last year, one of my favourites came from Greece, which proves my point entirely.

Greece may well be one of the cradles of wine, but for too long it’s been thought of as nothing more than the home of retsina.

That is slowly changing and there is plenty of excitement in the world of Greek wine right now.

It’s not cheap and you maybe need to track it down but Assyrtiko 2016, Vassaltis, Santorini (thewinereserve.co.uk £24.99, Hermitage Cellars £23.95) was a complete revelation to me, and also to some guests at a wine dinner where I served it. Assyrtiko is an indigenous grape, but one that is beginning to gain interest elsewhere with plantings now in Australia.

This wine is made by one of the bright new stars of the Greek wine industry. If it’s possible, think of a cross of a fine white Burgundy and a northern Rhone white wine,

although in some ways this also reminds me of some of the exciting white wines now coming out of South Africa.

It’s quite aromatic with citrus peel, soft white fruits and more than a touch of an ocean breeze with its salinity on the nose.

The palate is concentrated with minerals and mouth-watering acidity before a long, satisfying finish. Match this with some simply-cooked firm white fish.

It has to be said that 2018 is not going to be without its trials in the world of wine, harvests in much of Europe last year were considerably down.

A variety of extreme weather including frosts, hailstones and even drought, has meant that many wine regions suffered a sharp decrease in production.

With Spain, Italy and France all particularly effected, the EU has stated that it looks like 

the smallest harvest for more than 30 years across Europe.

Add to that the weakness of sterling against the euro and that can only mean one thing I'm afraid, prices will rise.

Many in the wine trade believe wine in this country is too cheap anyway.

I think it will be fair to say that that may well be tested in 2018!

In the meantime, Rioja continues to be a wine region we love here and Viña Real Crianza 2013, Rioja (winedirect.co.uk £10.95, thedrinkshop.com £9.65) is the sort of wine it may well be worth stocking up with now.

2013 was not the strongest vintage in Rioja but this wine, made mainly from tempranillo and aged in American oak for 14 months shows the importance of good vineyard management.

A deep ruby colour with aromas of plum, black cherries and some spice from the oak, it's quite full-bodied considering the vintage with a freshness and a reasonably lengthy, spicy finish.

One for a midweek January supper of sausage and mash.

Alistair Gibson is proprietor of Hermitage Cellars, Emsworth. Call (01243) 431002 or e-mail

alistair@hermitagecellars.co.uk