Greek to Me

Learn About Hellenic Wine at This Weekend's Original Greek Festival

Experts help to educate oenophiles with samplings of some of the best wines Greece has to offer.

By Holly Beretto October 5, 2016

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"I felt once more how simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. Nothing else."—Nikos Kazantzakis

Celebrating its 50th anniversary on the grounds of Annunciation Orthodox Church in Montrose, the Original Greek Festival  (not to be confused with May's Houston Greek Fest) is a four-day fall celebration of all things Greek, including food, dancing, music, wine—even fireworks on Saturday night, a festival first. The all-volunteer-run annual event allows revelers to explore Greek culture in a family friendly environment, checking out flavors and frivolities that might be foreign to them. And though Greek wine has gained ground in the United States in recent years, it's still new to many drinkers.

“Wine is a typical part of a Greek meal,” says Mike Koinis, chair of the Original Greek Festival’s Wine Committee. “So, it’s absolutely natural that we’d have Greek wines to showcase.”

This year’s festival features eight wines, available by the bottle or glass, allowing newbies and aficionados alike a chance to sample flavors from across Greece’s wide expanse. While the names might be tongue-twisting, the quality and taste are sure to please.

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Celebrating 50 years

“Many of the wines we’re serving are Boutari wines,” says Koinis, referencing one of Greece’s oldest wine producers. “And while more and more Greek wines are making inroads in the U.S., Boutari is a name that is both familiar here, and is synonymous with high quality.”

“Boutari is the Mt. Rushmore of Greek wine,” agrees Evan Turner, proprietor and sommelier at Helen Greek Food & Wine, and a self-proclaimed Greek wine ambassador. His all-Greek wine list includes multiple Boutari selections. “They have the longest, greatest history of wine production in Greece. Without Boutari, Greek wine is not what it is today.”

Started by Yannis Boutari in 1879, Boutari has become not only one of the best-known wineries in the world, but also an ambassador for Greece and Greek winemaking. The company today owns six wineries across the country, making everything from dry, crisp whites to big, bold reds. Five generations of Boutaris have worked in the business, each one moving the company forward through its 137 years of existence. The wine group prides itself on working with winemakers who exemplify the individual flavors of their geography, and has long been recognized for bringing modern practices to an ancient art form.     

“My family is very proud to have our wines at the Original Greek Festival,” says Christina Boutari, the company’s export director for Australia and America. “We have partnered with the organizers of the Festival for several years now and we honestly feel that all together we make up a big family. It’s nice to be part of such an event where people are able to learn about the Greek culture, food and wine.”

Boutari selected the festival’s wine in concert with Koinis and the other Original Greek Festival organizers. On display will be Moschofilero and Assyrtiko for the whites and Agiorgitiko and Xinomavro for the reds. Moschofilero is grown all over Greece, but dominates in the Peloponnese. It’s known for its aromatic, floral aromas that resonate of mountain wildflowers, and a snappy, sassy spice on the tongue.

Assyrtiko’s home is the picture-postcard island of Santorini, and it's renowned for its bright, bone-dry taste. Between its citrusy acidity and mineral notes, a good Assyrtiko is like liquid sunshine.

Agiorgitiko is the most widely planted red grape in Greece and another Peloponnese peninsula native. It’s a versatile chameleon of a grape, capable of use in tangy rosés, as well as fruity, light reds and even heartier styles that echo some of Beaujolais’ deeper offerings. Xinomavro, meanwhile, hails from Macedonia and is used for rich, deep reds, capable of aging.

“Greek wines are great food wines,” says Boutari. “I would definitely urge those people who don’t drink a lot of white wine to give Moschofilero a try, and I’m certain they will not regret it. One could say a Xinomavro [is similar to] to a Nebbiolo or a Pinot Noir but the truth is that they have their own personalities that are primed and ready to be discovered!”

“The main thing about these wines is, enjoy them with the food we serve, and know that your pocketbook won’t take a big hit,” says Koinis, who points out that Greek wines are some of the most affordable on the market. With the exception of the Grande Reserve Naoussa, a huge red with aromas of cinnamon and vanilla, laced with tomato and fig ($50), nothing on the list is more than $6 a glass or $30 a bottle.

“Don’t be intimidated about the names of the varietals,” encourages Boutari. “Instead, taste the wines, enjoy them with food or without, share them with friends and discover what this amazing country has to offer!”

The Original Greek Festival, Oct. 6–9, Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 3511 Yoakum Blvd., $5 (children 12 and under free).

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