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Greek whites vie for Assyrtiko's crown

Published:  26 June, 2018

Malagousia, Vidiano, Kidonitsa, Savatiano and Moscofilero may be unfamiliar names to everyone but Greek wine adventurists.

But excitement from buyers indicates these white varieties could be ready to take centre stage with Assyrtiko off the back of funding into technology and improved producer confidence in native grapes.

“They’re world-class,” confirms Steve Daniel, head buyer Hallgarten & Novum and veteran philhellene. “They have real intensity, minerality and, in a world which is full of ‘me too’ wines, they’re very distinct and individual. There are many different varieties, they’re incredibly well made using modern winemaking techniques, they’re wines that are full of minerality, generally unoaked and really exciting. Assyrtiko is king, but it’s not the only one.”

Daniel is particularly hopeful of the southern Peloponnese variety Kidonitsa, which he says, is beginning to be more widely planted, and is a “really interesting semi-aromatic variety with good acidity and good grip”.

Malagousia meanwhile, is a “great grape and is spreading widely across Greece. It’s user-friendly – a combination between Viognier and something a little bit more mineral, maybe a Riesling, in terms of style.

“Moscofilero is one of the old-timers, originally only in Mantinea and still pretty much only in the Peloponnese, but on its own or in blends making really fresh, citrusy, quite exotic wines.”

Then there is Vidiano.

A once vanishingly rare Cretan variety, Vidiano is still only used by around 10 producers in Crete according to Vassilis Tsaktsarlis of Ktima Biblia Chora in Kokkinochori, near Kavala in the north Peloponnese.

However it now has a firm footing, thanks to the effort of producers such as Douloufakis, and is attracting interest on the mainland.

“Vidiano for me is a very, very interesting variety,” says Tsaktsarlis. “It’s aromatic – but it also seems like Chardonnay. With Vidiano we can make two things: one - very good wines with structure and low yields and, two, wines with good quality and a good price at a higher yield. If I had a winery in Crete, I would make all Vidiano.”

The rise in confidence comes against a backdrop of increasing quality for white wines in mainland Greece and the islands over the past decade, and slightly more recently in Crete.

Assyrtiko is now grown not just throughout Greece, but also in Australia (Jim Barry) and California (Tenbrink, Fairfield), with vines due to be planted in South Africa (Jordan Wines) this year too.

But while Assyrtiko from Santorini has led the field, there is a host of high quality native white varieties capable of making a big impact on the world stage.

It has taken some time, however, for Greek producers to have the confidence to champion their own varieties above international ones; even to this day certain designated growing areas, such as PGI Pangeon in northern Greece, are dominated by international varieties.

“I think they’ve got more confidence now so there is more willingness to champion native varieties,” explains Daniels. “In the north it was actually something that was inflicted by the government, which decided that in certain areas, like Drama and Kavala, they had to plant international varieties. They were also thinking about the tourist market, thinking that a tourist would be more likely to pick a Sauvignon off a list than an Assyrtiko. But there’s certainly now a balance and a lot of the producers are pushing the government to change the laws so they can plant more and more of their indigenous varieties.”

For the full report on Greek whites, click here