Greek Reds Have Yet to Have Their Moment. Is Now the Time?

I recently met with a Greek wine importer, who, in addition to introducing me to a few excellent bottles, detailed his 20 years of frustration at trying to persuade a reluctant American public to take a chance on Greek wines.

He compared the way Americans have embraced Italian wines with their relative indifference toward Greek bottles.

“What is it that Italy has that Greece doesn’t have?” he wondered.

I could think of a few answers. Along with a far larger population of citizens of Italian descent than Greek descent, the United States has had well over a century of getting to know Italian culture through the cuisine, from the early wave of pizza and Italian American fare to more recent regional offerings. Wine has traveled a parallel course, from Chianti in straw-covered bottles to bottles from almost every nook of Italy.

Wine has no better ambassador than its country’s restaurants. It theoretically ought to show its best with the foods it has traditionally accompanied.

Not withstanding the many Greek diners around the country, Greek restaurants have not been remotely comparable in their integration into American culinary culture, nor has the cuisine. My companion railed against the quality of Greek restaurants in the United States. Indeed, at his suggestion, we met at an Italian restaurant.

“If only Americans knew how good Greek food is,” he said, speaking of the beautiful ingredients available all over Greece. He lamented what he called the repetitive menu of a dozen Greek dishes that showed up again and again in Greek outposts in the United States.

“Who wants to pay $40 for a branzino farmed in the Mediterranean?” he said.

I tried to comfort him by pointing to the progress of Greek wines in America over the last two decades. Fifteen years ago, if I wanted to taste a dozen Greek wines I had to go to Astoria, Queens, the most sizable Greek neighborhood in New York. Nowadays, I can stop into wine shops all around Manhattan and find a good selection.

What’s more, the diversity of available Greek wines has increased markedly, with wonderful natural wines, age-worthy reds, beautiful whites and even excellent retsinas, a traditional wine flavored with the sap of Aleppo pines.

Coincidentally, before I met with the importer, I had decided that we ought to taste Greek red wines this month. Greek whites, particularly assyrtiko from the island of Santorini, have gotten a head start in gaining recognition, but the reds are coming on strong. Here are the three bottles I recommend:

Argatia Macedonia Haroula 2018 (Verity Wine Partners, New York) $19

Domaine Glinavos Ioannina Vlahiko 2018 (DNS Wines/T. Elenteny, New York) $24

Kir-Yianni Naoussa Xinomavro Ramnista 2017 (Diamond Importers, Chicago) $28

As you might guess, these wines will be easier to find in some parts of the country than others. It’s not so important to taste these precise bottles as it is simply to find a few good Greek reds to try.

You might find other cuvées from these producers, or these bottles in other vintages. Here are some other good producers to seek out: Tatsis, Zafeirakis, Alpha Estate, Sclavos, Argyros and Troupis. You could also look for these producers of Greek reds that I wrote about last year.

Don’t worry about the particular grapes involved, although I would suggest looking for wines made from Greek reds like xinomavro, rather than international varieties like cabernet sauvignon.

Why not try them with some Greek-inspired dishes? Lamb kebabs would go well, and so might this vegetarian mushroom-and-onion pie. You could roast a chicken or cook a steak. These Greek-style lemon potatoes will go with just about anything.

These wines are really worth exploring. And if you want to suggest any excellent Greek restaurants, I will let the importer know.

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