“It’s good enough!” It’s been shouted at me more than once, usually through a smile tinged with exasperation. To say I can get hung up on the details is an understatement. I can straight-jacket and hang myself from the back of said jacket on a hook in the middle of nowhere. If getting lost in minutia was a career, I’d be the Oprah of it. People call it neuroses. I call it passion. But I learned last winter what it really is. It’s a blend of passion and pride and perfectionism. And I learned this from the Greek wine community. Because they also get hung up on the details. And that’s why Greek white wine, rosé and red have gotten me #GeekedOnGreek.
Greek Wine: It’s On Your Radar
Last winter I spent quite a bit of time in New York exploring the world of Greek Wine. It started with an invite from The Kohas Agency and Cava Oinos to attend a tasting dinner with winemaker Akis Papadopoulos of Wine Art Estate. The dinner at Ousia on the west side was the start of my being #GeekedOnGreek. A few months later I attended another tasting with Papadopoulos at The Athenian on the LES.
Welcome to Drama
Wine Art Estate is located in the Drama wine region of Greece, one of the most important viticulture regions of the country. Established in 1995 and experiencing significant growth in the last twenty years, it lies in the north, in eastern Macedonia. The coastline and geography are varied, providing microclimates that allow a variety of foreign and native grapes to thrive. This also aids in the variety of styles of wine that can be made. There are fruity, light reds but also bold, fruity reds. You can find sweet and dessert wines and also crisp, Greek white wine. There are many natural springs and other water sources in the area. Wine has been produced in Drama since ancient times but today it is one of the most modern winemaking areas in Greece. In addition, it produces high quality wine. International grapes grown include Sauvignon Blanc, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Grenache, Trebbiano, Chardonnay, Semillon, Ugni Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot. Native Greek grapes like Roditi, Assyrtiko, Limnio and Athiri are also grown.
Akis Papadopoulos, Wine Art Estate Oenologist
Papadopoulos was 11 when the estate was started by his dad, Yannis Papadopoulos. At that point, his experience with wine was his great grandmother sharing a sip of her sweet red wines every Sunday.
They were not a wine-making family. Yannis, a civil engineer, had zero experience but a lot of passion. He delved into books. Whether it was about wine or vinification he was reading it. And then he did an experimental red vinification in their house. No one thought it was going to turn into anything more than a hobby. That is, until Lufthansa chose “Techni Aliplas” for their First Class wine list. This is Akis’ favorite every day wine from the estate. It’s a Sauvignon Blanc/Assyrtico that “is very fruity with a pleasant acidity and a refreshing after taste.”
Akis didn’t see wine in his future, favoring math and computer science over chemistry. But, his first harvest experience ignited his curiosity and began unraveling his destiny. The magic of that harvest started him on a path, first studying in Bordeaux and then returning to Greece where he took the helm on his first vinification. Asked about his feelings that summer he said it was a mix. Enthusiasm tempered with fear. The sense of responsibility was huge—but also tempered—with excitement.
And that’s the recipe for success in anything, isn’t it? Passion and restraint. A respect for the ways of doing things and the process but also an excitement to try something new and get it right. And don’t forget perfectionism.
The winery is located outside of Mikrochori and consists of two buildings. The buildings are set across the road from each other but connected by the cellars which serve as a tunnel passage. The production is state-of-the-art, ensuring exacting control over temperature, humidity and pumping to guarantee quality production. All reds and some whites are aged in French oak barrels before bottling.
The goal of the Estate is consistency. While the wine will change from year to year, Wine Art Estate tries to limit variations. They strive to produce high quality wines regardless of vintage. And when they are not 100% satisfied, they don’t put the wine on the market. In 2014 Wine Art Estate chose not to produce red wine because it was such a bad year with hail. A representative of another Greek wine estate told me that I’d never find a 2002 because it was a terrible year.
Winemaking requires dedication to the process and passion and perfectionism are obvious here, too. Akis spends ten hours there daily but that can grow to as much as 16-18 hours a day during harvest.
Wine Art Estate has taken more than 300 medals in international wine competitions since 1999, which speaks to its artistry and also the excitement of being the man behind the scenes. Even with this level of accolade, Akis’ big moment will always be his first harvest as chief winemaker in 2010.
The vineyards overlook Mount Pangaian, home of the cult of Dionysis and Orphic mysteries. The were planted in sandy clay on south-facing slopes providing protection from late frosts. Wine art estate grows and nuirtures top quality:
- Indigenous: Assyrtiko, Agioritiko, Lemiona
- French: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Saubignon, Merlot, Syrah
- Italian: Sangiovese, Nebbiolo
- Portuguese: Touriga Nacional
Wine Art Estate is developing a vineyard at 1050 meters, the highest elevation in Greece. This is perfect for white grapes but also at a risk for spring frost.
Passion. Perseverance. Precision. Perfectionism.
No matter where you are in your wine journey, Greek wine will delight. I’m partial to Wine Art Estate and suggest finding (or ordering) some so that you can experience the knowledge, love and labor that makes these high quality wines. Check out my tasting notes and pairing suggestions to figure out the perfect way to enjoy.
“…You get it right the next time it’s not the same thing/Gonna have to make the first time last.”
Tasting Notes & Pairing Suggestions for The Greek Wine of Wine Art Estate
Idisma Drios Barrel-Aged Assyrtiko
To get the full experience of Wine Art Estate (without being there), take a cue from the winemaker. When asked his favorite pairing of his own wine Akis painted the picture of a perfect meal. “Idisma Drios barrel-aged Assyrtiko with octopus (caught by me) and fava puree. The intensity of the octopus is perfectly supported by the Assyrtiko’s acidity while the barrel ageing enhances the wine’s mouth with a ‘sweet’ aftertaste.”
Even in this description you can see the level of thinking that goes into wine for the Greeks. A complex wine deserves a pairing that truly brings everything out. One of many things I learned about the Greek wine culture and philosophy is that pairing is never done with anything less than the ultimate precision. Every course is perfectly paired and there is no shortage of recommendations when a spread is laid out like at the event I attended at The Athenian. If you want to learn the nuances of pairing, look to Greece.
I particularly like the aromatic white “Plano Malagousia” so I asked Akis how to enjoy it best. His advice is to enjoy its floral and fruity nose on its own or with seafood, sushi or green salads. Have trouble pairing salad and wine? There you go!
This is definitely one of my favorites from Wine Art Estate. Especially because this is a wine that pairs perfectly with Asian cuisine. There’s a LOT going on in this full-bodied beauty. The nose is citrus, white florals, a hint of apple blossom. While full bodied there is a nice streak of acid that keeps the finish long and the palate fresh. There’s also a hint of toasted sesame—think what you get in some Sherry. Suggested pairing from Ousia: Salad of Shiitake, Louza, Graviera Kritis, Sesame, Crispy Onion, Thyme Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette.
Papadopoulos’ favorite red is Wine Art Estate Nebbio. The wine is aged for 4 and a half years in old oak barrels producing a very special wine. This is one of those fully developed reds that has gorgeous tertiary notes on the nose. Expect evidence of oak, kalamata olives and savory sundried tomatoes.
This is a charcuterie wine if there ever was one. Consider prosciutto, jerky and sausages along side aged cheese and full fat feta. I’d avoid game if pairing with a meat entree and instead look to duck, especially braised duck. The wine can hold up to spice so break it out with Asian takeout. Or, because we know how I feel about wine and pizza, go with a mushroom pizza. Put fennel in whatever you’re serving with Nebbio.
With notes of citrus and tropical fruit this Sauvignon Blanc/Assyrtiko blend is a palate pleasing white. Never simple, the mouthfeel is the perfect balance of acidity and a touch of butter from French oak and age. Perfect with salt. Suggested pairing from Ousia: Branzino Tartare with smoked black sea salt, vinegar chips.
The mango notes in this Greek white wine make it a crowd pleaser. I can’t do Branzino thanks to that pesky fish allergy but this wine goes far beyond being seafood exclusive. Consider whipping up a mango cream sauce to serve over macadamia-crusted chicken.
This is your new favorite rosé. Made from Touriga Nacional it’s exactly what a rosé should be. Red fruit and flowers on the nose give way to a palate that is surprising in both body and complexity. Move over wimpy rosés, Pink Bang gets all the praise. The sexy bottle allows all of the rich color to shine through, and the color is rich—pink and purple notes abound. The first time I had this wine it was with panna cotta at Ousia. The dessert was drenched in a rose hip and berry sauce that made the wine sing even more than it does on its own. That said, this is the perfect wine to drink alone. It also means you won’t have to share the bottle with anyone else.
I’m not generally a rosé drinker since what is available here is usually pale in color and palate. When people ask me if I like rosé my answer is something like, “I appreciate all wine.” I like Pink Bang so much it’s on my business card. This is a recommendation you can take to the bank.
You may be able to find Wine Art Estate and other Greek wine at your local bottle shop. If you’re in NYC, Pink Bang, which I like so much it’s on my business card, is available from BTL Harlem located at 311 W 127th Street. It’s also available from Grand Cru Wines and Spirits at 570 11th Ave.
Special thank you to Akis for taking the time to answer many questions and send so many excellent photographs.