THE GREEKS ARE COMING! THE GREEKS ARE COMING!

And now for something a little different… Yesterday against the opposing gravitational pulls of the Rhone Rangers San Francisco event and the Garagiste Festival Southern Exposure in Solvang, the choice was made for something smaller and quieter and closer to home.  A new wine shop has opened locally, owned and operated by syndicated radio host David Wilson of Grape Encounters Radio.  The shop, located in Atascadero, CA is aptly named Grape Encounters EmPOURium for the double-pun-nishing score.  It is an interesting shop, carrying a very eclectic mix of wines not often seen on shelves here on the Central Coast.  A fair chunk of EXTREME locals–we’re talkin Atascadero labels you have never heard of, a fair amount of the usual local suspects, and a small helping of imports (including several bottles from Porto Carros–which were not tasted).  A group of representatives from these Greek wineries are doing a California tour and made for an interesting–and rare–tasting event.

I know NOTHING about Greek wines.  Let’s get that out there.  Drank a fair share over the years, but they are just so uncommon in California, I never have educated myself on the regions or varietals.  I only know it is the oldest wine-producing region in the world and the quality has been making great strides.  I Googled ‘Naoussa’ before I got there and it confirmed my recollection of it being in the North.  I still can’t pronounce the grape-variety being poured Xinomavro, despite persistent coaching from the other side of the tasting bar.  The main intrigue for me at this tasting was–instead of the typical PR-junket of pouring every varietal known to man grown in the region, searching desperately for LIKES in any direction–there was only ONE variety being poured.  Five wines;  One region;  One variety.  Now THIS is the way tastings should be done.

Another caveat to my interest was a few glasses of an absolutely STUNNING Lazaridis Amethystos Cab/Merlot blend at a Greek restaurant in Santa Barbara a few weeks ago.  I decided to try the local fare and when it arrived I was completely taken aback by the quality, fruit and structure.  Definitely more of a ‘California style’ of wine in regards to ripeness and oak, but eye-opening.

The labels on these wines take some getting used to.  A lot of the script is in Greek and producer’s names are not glaringly obvious on most labels.  I also could not decipher any sort of ‘Reserve’ labeling, although several labels definitely had more of a ‘riserva’ feel.  I heard several times a taster ask the Greek dudes what “grape this Xinomavro is most like?”  (sic) The translation being, of course:  “What vinifera variety I am used to seeing on American supermarket labels would you say this Xinomavro grape most closely resembles?”  They kept comparing it to Pinot Noir.  For me, I find every variety unique and isolated and the whole attempt to create a place-mark for one’s palate somewhat offensive.  But perhaps a ‘shaved-and-showered’ Grenache?  Or a funky Merlot?  Dark colored and concentrated of nuance, but not dense or viscous.

All wines are Xinomavro grown and produced in the Naoussa region of Greece and several will soon be available in the shop.  Left-to-Right:

Bottle Number 1.   2008 Diamantakos.  Easily the Pinot Noir-iest of the bunch.  Bright but ripe fruit and considerably earth and barnyard.  Considerable oak, and a very clean, Cali-style of ripeness with a chunk of acid and tannin.  Dried tomatoes and olive oil.  Would be very interesting to sit down to dinner with this bottle.
Bottle Number 2.  2006  Nicos Foundi.  Heavy cellar funk and definitely showing of age.  Deep garnet.  Big fruit still very much alive and the age will help Americans digest the oddities of a European wine.
Bottle Number 3.  2008  Foundi  Here are the European oddities I spoke of.  The cellar relationship of this one and the other Foundi are CLEARLY obvious.  This one just doesn’t have near the age.  More forward fruit and less development in oak and age.  Oil-cured olives.  Gamy and wonderful with nice mellow tannin.
Bottle Number 4.  Thymopoulos Vineyards 2013  Oh my what an absolute baby!  Shiny and bright, with fresh infantile fruit all OVER the place.  Pinot barrel-sample-young or even Gamay.  Not a trace of oak showing, but all that fruit and acid could be cloaking it. Bright firm apricot.  Didn’t spend too much time on it, although it was my tasting-partner’s favorite.
Bottle Number 5.  2011  Stavros Kokkinos.  Really funky stuff, but well-nuanced and round.  Cellar floor.  Massive oak, but a good chunk of acid to balance everything out.  Kinda boring.
Bottle Number 6.  2007 Taralas Elinos.  Although there were no prices or rank, I kinda felt like these last two were maybe ‘The Big Guns’ of the group?  I Dunno… Something about the style of both of them.  Dusty fruit overshadowed by oak but not without acid and a fair-share of good old Euro-funk.  This one tasted the oldest of the 6 but I think it had a lot more oak than #2.  I found each of these bottles rather forgettable.

So… Go find some Greek wine!  A good number of these are available at Grape Encounters in Atascadero

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