As a family we went to Greece a lot when my sister and I were children. It satisfied my mum’s love of the heat and my dad’s fascination for Ancient Greece. I am not sure that we were sufficiently appreciative. I spent the entire two weeks lurking in the shade, desperate for the damp shroud of a Scots mist whilst my sister, later an architecture student at Cambridge, once famously denounced Knossos by saying “not another heap of stones…”
I did though come to love the Greeks. They were a lot of fun, very generous and great lovers of children. Consequently, I have always had a soft spot for the country and have felt somewhat guilty about my hostility to Retsina. I can smell that wine — made by adding pine resin to the must at fermentation — at 100 yards and simply cannot bring myself to taste it. As is the case for trifle and oysters, it does not pass my lips. Poor Retsina.
Happily, Retsina is not the only wine that the Greeks make and, in the last ten years or so, the selection available on our shelves has been steadily increasing. The Wine Society (www.winesociety.com) has a sterling range that deserves attention. Semeli Mantinia Nassiakos, 2010 (£10.95) is an aromatic, floral and distinctly ‘grapey’ white made outside of Athens in Nemea.
For red lovers Thymiopoulos Naoussa, 2009 (£10.95) is a lovely, unoaked wine made from xynomavro, a key red grape in the north of the Greek mainland. It has bright, spicy strawberry fruits and a good, food-friendly, bite of acidity.
From Crete comes the rich, sweetly-spiced, cherry red Mediterra Silenus Kappa Sigma Red 2010 (£8.30 www.biben dum-wine.co.uk). It’s a blend of the well-known Syrah and the indigenous Kotsifali, delivering a heart-warming glass of winter red. The red Agiorgitiko grape (also known as St George) stands up well to the Greek heat and so is one of the more commonly-exported varieties. It fairs best in Nemea and one of my favourites is the supple, luxurious Mitravelas 2006 (£17.02 www.bibendum-wine.co.uk) that is about as moreish and comforting as wine comes.
The Greeks are, without doubt, in challenging times. I think it’s fair to say that I couldn’t have named a single Greek Prime Minister in the last 20 years and yet now I feel that their statesman are more familiar to me than the our own.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could start name-dropping their indigenous grapes as easily as Lucas Papademos now rolls off the tongue.