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FOOD & TRAVEL

Greece is the word for distinctive regional wines

Medieval Europeans may have been dab hands at ducking witches and laying waste to the Holy Land, but they clearly didnt know the first thing about wine.

Back in those murky times, the products of Burgundy and the Rhine were often considered a poor substitute for the real thing – wine from Greece.

It seems the rationale for this love of Hellenic plonk was Ancient Greeces undimmed glamor – anything once good enough for Homer and Plato to drink would surely do fine for the likes of Chaucer and Boccaccio, so the reasoning went.

In a period when wine was often rough or spoiled, the sweetness of Medieval Greek wines may also have made them easier drinking and better able to travel.

These sweet wines were greatly sought after across Europe – the butt of Malmsey that the Duke of Clarence was drowned in during the Wars of the Roses may well have been a Greek Malvasia.

Nowadays, their renown is largely forgotten, though you can find a modern remnant in the rather delicious Vin Santo from the Island of Santorini, a decent example of which is the Sigalas Vin Santo 2003 thats sold online by Vick Bar wines at £19.99 for a half bottle.

A complex, oak-aged, deliberately oxidized white blend (mixing Assyrtiko with Aidani), its mix of figs, quince and honey is kept racy by a sharp lemon-peel kick – if Medieval Greek wines were this good, maybe their bygone fans werent so misguided after all.

The Modern Greek wine scene is a radically different beast. With a host of distinctive regional varieties and a good deal of experimentation with international noble varieties like Syrah, theres plenty of interest out there, but it tends to be either cheap and cheerful mass-market stuff or expensive boutique wines produced in almost medicinal quantities.

Meanwhile, some of the most groundbreaking Greek wineries, such as the excellent Gerovassiliou, are extremely hard to get hold of in Britain. The greatest interest comes from indigenous varieties, well demonstrated by the Gaia Agiorgitiko 2006, available at £13.49 online from Noel Young Wines.

Grown in high-altitude vineyards in the Nemea region of the Peleponnese, the wine gains a greater acidic bite to it than the Agiorgitiko grape normally musters, with spicy plum notes mellowed and complicated by a dose of oak aging.

With a good balance of fruit and tannin, its also a wine that will stand up to a bit of cellaring, ready to drink now, but also good for another year or so.

For whites, you could do far worse than return to Santorini, whose volcanic soil (which doesnt carry phylloxera and thus means winemakers dont have to graft) brings out almost Riesling-like notes in the Assyrtiko grape.

The 2008 Boutaris Santorini Assyrtiko (£70.19 for a case of six at everywherewine.co.uk) is a lovely fruity example of the islands output, dripping with melon and lemon and blessed with some interesting mineral notes sucked up from that pumice-rich soil. With plenty of acidity to keep it refreshing, it would be fantastic with a plateful of chargrilled squid.

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