One of the wonderful things I have heard about Greeks, and I have heard many, since my cousin is married to one and lives in Greece, is that they will always have a glass of wine with their dinner, but will not have two.
Greeks do seem to be measured in their eating and drinking. Their Mediterranean diet based on an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, cheese, and olive oil, uses copious amounts of fresh herbs and spices that elevate every dish and make it sumptuous, while keeping calories in check. We should not forget fish and seafood, plentiful and fresh, and best left to my brother-in-law to order in a taverna, in his rapid-fire Greek, sometimes only after a quick pop into the kitchens, to confer with the chef on what is the best ‘catch of the day’. And then, there is the lamb. Lamb is the crown of every table for all major yearly feasts. Incidentally, not my cousin’s table, but I digress.
All that talk about food, but what about wine, you may ask, this is a wine blog after all.
Like in Italy, their neighbours across the sea, and further to the west in France, Greek wine producers are proud of their local, autochthon wine varietals. While we may have heard of Sangiovese being behind Italian Chianti, we are certainly comfortable with the French local varietals, so much so that we have given them nick names like Cab, Pinot, Chard, and Sauv Blanc, which we use without thinking.
Not so with Greek autochthon grape varietals. Granted, Xinomavro (‘ksee-NOH-mah-vroh’ – this funny video will help you with pronunciation), is still not a household name. However, you don’t need to know neither that it is cultivated in the northern cooler parts of the country which provides for more complex and more balanced wines, nor that it can be made into a wide variety of styles from the in-your-face to the more elegant ones, to enjoy it.
And enjoy it you will! An award-winning bottle of Naoussa Boutari (Boutari being the producer, and Naoussa the name of the city in the north of Greece, from where the wine hails), is a fine expression of Xinomavro. The nose is met with a whiff of vanilla, cherry, plum and some smoke. The palette is greeted with sour cherry, white pepper, food friendly acidity and drying tannins. Nice on its own (though that may depend on how much you are conditioned away from ‘xino’-acidic ‘mavro’-reds) it is absolutely wonderful with the lamb below.
Don’t be put off by the charred paper look – parchment paper may blacken that close to the broiler, but it makes for a quick cleanup. This dish is made in 10 minutes broil time, with minimal preparation, using just olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano, and lamb shoulder chops of course. Delicious on its own, it is surprisingly but superbly finished with a squeeze of lemon. You will have trouble finding a red wine which can stand up to such a lemony taste, but this is one and at a great price.