Kourtaki Samos Muscat NV, Greece

Cost: $13-15

What: This is a beautiful example of a sweet dessert wine made from the Muscat grape. With Greece being the featured country at the Arts in the Heart of Augusta festival this weekend, it seemed like an appropriate time to review a Greek wine.

Greek wines often get overlooked because there is so much good wine from other parts of the world, and because even though wine has been important in Greece since the 7th Century BC, a long Turkish occupation and many wars kept the Greek wine industry from advancing very far until recently. Now they make many very good wines, and you can sample some of them at Arts in the Heart of Augusta this weekend.

Greek winemakers now are making huge improvements in quality. This weekend’s festival will give you a good chance to try several wines and the delicious food at the Greek area, right in the middle of the Augusta Common. When you find Greek wine you like, it can be ordered from local wine shops.

This wine is lush and sweet, with a beautiful orange/amber color. The aroma has honey and orange notes. Citrus and honey tastes fill your mouth with the first sip of this silky wine. You can pick up notes of spice, pear, citrus, raisin and apricot as you go through the layers of flavor.

If you are a dry wine drinker (and I count myself among them), give yourself a treat and try something outside your comfort zone. There are too many interesting wines made in all kinds of styles to get stuck in a rut. This is not a wine I would typically drink, but it’s a very satisfying, enjoyable wine, perfect for dessert, or with some nuts as an aperitif. Serve it chilled, or even over ice, and drink it now. Don’t cellar it for long.

Muscat from Samos is Greece’s most famous wine after retsina, and certainly much tastier than that pine resin wine. Grown on the island of Samos the grape for this wine is Muscat a Petits Grains. It is a Vin Doux Naturel which means that the wine is produced from ripe fruit and then the fermentation is stopped at 4% alcohol to maintain the natural sweetness. Wine distillate (marc brandy) is added to raise the alcohol level up to 15%.

Muscat is popular around the Mediterranean basin and widely planted in other parts of Greece as well. However, only in Samos does it produce the fat, luscious wines for which the island is known.

The muscat grape covers about 97% of Samos’ vineyards.


Winery: Kourtaki is one of several large Greek wine companies with roots in the nineteenth century. The founder, Vassilis Kourtakis (1865-1946), was the first Greek to earn a degree in oenology.

Returning to Greece, he focused his efforts on a then modernized approach to Mesogeian retsina production, improving vineyard management and winemaking methods to create a wine that eventually made the Kourtakis name synonymous with the genre. During its first half-century Kourtakis’ retsina was produced in bulk and distributed throughout Central Greece and nearby islands in casks.

Vassilis’ son, Dimitris, himself a graduate of Dijon, inherited the family business. Under his leadership the firm began bottling the wine and extended its distribution to every corner of Greece. At the height of its popularity, the company produced 60 million bottles of retsina annually.

Vassilis Kourtakis, the grandson of the founder, spent eight years working in Burgundy, returning to Greece in the late 1960s with a vision for Greek wine—and Kourtaki—that looked far beyond retsina.

He helped modernize equipment and expanded the company’s product line.

The Greek wine industry is dominated by a small handful of producers. Kourtaki, still under Vassilis’ direction, is now Greece’s largest wine producer, selling more than 30 million bottles annually of which 15 million are exported around the world. Its retsina still plays an important role, but its other wines are firmly established both in Greece and abroad.

Goes with: I had this as dessert with vanilla ice cream, almonds and pecans. It was a beautiful match. It also would be terrific with those sweet Greek pastries, or fruit roasted in phyllo, creme brulee, bananas or a nice fruit salad.

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