For millennia, Greece was a global wine leader, but the Ottoman Empire ravaged the country’s vine culture. It wasn’t until the ’60s that Greece began to recommit to winemaking. To “give a 6000-year-old tradition its proper light and due,” Pourtal Wine Bar Wine Director Peter Birmingham is leading an “It’s All Greek to Me” wine tasting tour through the end of June.
“Probably everyone that goes to Greece tastes Retsina and thinks it’s the end all of Greek wine, which is an acquired taste at best,” says Birmingham. “Everybody I speak to who’s had Greek wine in Greece say Greek wine is horrible, but they’re at tourist destinations that don’t have to produce great wine. Quality exists at two-dozen wineries in Greece.”
What’s changed? According to Birmingham, “As [Greek winemakers] had the opportunity to taste wine outside their regions, they taste the potential of quality that has been achieved.” He also identified slightly cooler fermentation and techniques like “soaking on the skin so that you get short-chain polymer tannins…This gives silkier, rounder, softer mouth feel. Oak aging helps make the wines achieve more supple, smoother, cleaner style. But at the same time you’re not losing the distinguishing characteristics.”
Two months ago, Birmingham tasted 30 different Greek wines and was “astonished by the quality of about a dozen.” Of those 12, eight were available in America. Only six of those wines are currently available, so Birmingham turned to history to round out his roster. “Greece was the power of the day. They owned Corsica, Sicily and Sardinia, so we incorporated Magna Greco, greater Greece.”
Birmingham is featuring wines like Emery Rhodos Red, with “soft fruit paradoxically buffered by appreciable tannin” and Boutari Merlot & Xinomavro, “velvety, with a full-body and very good balanced flavor of cocoa, coffee and pepper.” CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL MENU
“For wine drinkers who are bored with Chardonnay and Cabernet, it offers tremendous exploration,” says Birmingham.” “Plus, when people visit Greece, they can know there are good wines.”
To pair with the Greek wines, Pourtal is offering lamb chops, homemade spanakopita with phyllo, pine nuts, dill, spinach and feta; and lamb kofta – oven-roasted ground lamb skewers featuring “gorgeous brown seasonings and spices.” Birmingham says, “These wines love being in the proximity of lamb. The wines truly become alive.”