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FOOD & TRAVEL

Red wines from Greece

The saying, Its all Greek to me, usually sums up what most people know about wines from Greece – at least until recently.

This ancient winemaking culture zoomed toward modern production when Greece joined the European Union in the 1980s. That brought funds, technology and a new generation of winemakers, many trained in Bordeaux and at UC Davis.

There now are about 600 wineries in Greece, a 15 to 20 percent increase in the last half-decade. At the same time, there has also been an increase in the number of American importers of Greek wines, many attracted by the improved quality of indigenous Greek grape varieties.

The two most important red grapes are powerful, tannic Xinomavro (meaning acid black) and chameleon-like Agiorgitiko (Saint George), which can be made in either a fresh, aromatic style or in a more ageable version.

2007 Boutari Filiria Goumenissa Dry Red Wine ($35): In the late 1980s, Boutari expanded winemaking to the community of Filiria in the Goumenissa region. An interesting nose of earth, wood smoke, dark chocolate and dry herb; its fruit shows with a bit of air; fairly ripe on the palate but firm tannins emerge. A blend of Xinomavro and Negoska. (Importer: Terlato Wines International)

2008 Harlaftis Nemea Red Wine ($13): This winery was founded in 1932 by Nikos Athanassiadi, a raisin merchant. This bottling of 100 percent Agiorgitiko (Saint George) is lighter in style and body. Juicy cherry, boysenberry aromas and flavors are straightforward; sweet plum on the finish. A balanced, affordable table wine. (Importer: Athenee Importers)

2008 Katogi-Strofilia Fresco Averoff Nemea Red ($14): Made entirely from Agiorgitiko. Nose of dusty plum, blackberry eucalyptus, spice and slight smoke; ripe and berry-like but not overly fruity. Mouth-filling suppleness; balanced with some astringency on the finish. (Importer: Wines We Are Importers * Distributors)

2007 Katogi-Strofilia Strofilia Peloponese Red ($19): In the 1960s, Katogi founder Katogi Averoff planted Greeces first Cabernet Sauvignon. Lively nose of deep, inviting spice, cedar and hint of charred wood that blends with dark fruit. Medium-bodied, it shows nice density, balance and restraint on the palate, with blackberry and pepper notes. A good food-matching blend of Agiorgitiko, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. (Importer: Wines We Are Importers * Distributors)

2007 Domaine Skouras Nemea Saint George ($14): This Agiorgitikos initially shy nose opens to fresh crushed berry with hints of spice, sandalwood and wisp of wood smoke. Ripe fruit is reined in, with a bit of grape-skin astringency on the finish. (Importer: Diamond Importers)

2006 Tsantali Rapsani Red Wine ($20): Tsantali, founded in the 1890s, first exported wine in the early 1970s and acquired the Rapsani vineyards two decades later. Ripe, bright spiced berry aromas with damp soil and hints of pencil lead. Similar flavors on the supple palate hint of mineral. Firm but well-polished. A blend of Xinomavro, Krassato and Stavroto. (Importer: Fantis Imports)

Panelists: Lynne Char Bennett, Chronicle staff writer; Nikos Maheras, owner/wine director, Mezes; Dan Marshall, owner, Du Vin Fine Wines.

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