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Domaine Sigalas Aa Assyrtiko-Athiri 2014, Greece

Cost: $17-20
T here might never be a better time to try Greek wines than right now.
Quality is high, prices are low, and the industry is making a major push to educate North Americans about Greek wine.
You might not know an Assyrtiko (pronounced a SEER tee ko) from a Savatiano, but you will like both grapes, and in the coming months you are likely to learn a lot more about them.
“We will see more and more of these wines because the distribution is getting better.” said Sofia Perpera during a telephone interview from Greece. She is director of the Greek Wine Bureau-North America.
Wine has been made in Greece for centuries, but the real quality evolution occurred in the 1980s and 1990s.
“It is amazing what has happened in a decade,” said Perpera. “There has been a Greek wine Renaissance. Sommeliers have really embraced Greek wines because they are very food friendly and affordable.
“And Santorini is leading the way.”
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Greek wine sales in the United States are up more than 30 percent in just a few years, and several large American companies have started importing Greek wines. Economic difficulties in Greece have made it difficult for winemakers, and some vineyards were abandoned. But the industry has rebounded with vigor.
“Winemakers are having lots of fun,” said Perpera. “They’re trying new things.”
The Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko-Athiri blend is a traditional Santorini wine and a great example of what the Greeks are doing. It is unlike anything I have had before, and that’s what the Greeks like about their wine.
“The main thing for us on the world market is we have something unique to offer,” said Perpera. “Around the world quality is taken for granted. Uniqueness matters now.”
This is a wonderful marriage of two grapes indigenous to Santorini.
In the glass it is yellow with green tints. Floral and citrus aromas lead to an intensely flavored wine. Athiri adds the aroma, while the intense flavors are typical of the Assyritiko grape. Refreshing acidity and a mineral aftertaste come from the volcanic soil found throughout the island.
The vines are more than 50 years old and trained in basket shapes to protect the grapes from intense wind. In most of the world vines are grown up along a trellis or as “head-trained” bushes to get maximum sun to the grapes.
Michael enjoys the Domaine Sigalas Aa with chicken stir fry.
Michael enjoys the Domaine Sigalas Aa with chicken stir fry.

The juice undergoes fermentation and aging in stainless steel tanks under controlled temperatures.
Athiri has a lemony character and is often blended with other grapes. The Assyrtiko is used to make crisp, dry wines similar in style to dry Riesling, and often is blended.
Greece has a warm climate and it is surrounded by water, so there are many ideal locations for growing grapes. About 60 percent of their production is white wines. Perpera also said excellent dry rosé is made throughout Greece.
“The climate is subtle,” said Perpera. “We don’t see extremes in temperatures. We get sea breezes in summer. In winter it never gets really, really cold. We make very good seafood wines with great acidity.”
She said most Greek wines are made to go with food, and rarely exceed 13 percent in alcohol. More than 300 varietals have been discovered in Greece, with about 60 still used in production today.
“Greek wines are still not so well known, so they still have a great price to quality ratio compared to better known wines,” said Perpera.
Domaine Sigalas Aa.
Domaine Sigalas Aa.

Greek wine production will continue to grow, but that growth will be slowed by European Union rules restricting new plantings to no more than one percent of existing vineyards.
Winery: Founded in 1991 by Paris Sigalas, Christos Markozane and Yiannis Toundas Domaine Sigalas wines started in the converted family home. A new production plant for crushing, fermentation, bottling and aging was built in 1998 in a privately owned area of Oia, on the northern part of Santorini.
Sigalas grows Assyrtiko, Aidani, Athiri, Mandilaria and Mavrotragano varietals in vineyards near the village of Oia, considered the oldest continuously cultivated vineyards in the world, more than 3000 years.
Mild winters, cool summer and volcanic soil create a unique terroir for the grapes, unlike anywhere else. Santorini is dry, so irrigation is permitted post-veraison, and the vines are limited to four bunches of grapes each. Yields are low, but quality is high.
The company practices organic farming methods and uses a hand-off approach in the winery. They focus their attention on what happens in the vineyard. They produce 250,000 bottle of wine a year, with the capacity to grow. Their philosophy is to blend tradition with modern technology.
Sigalas offers winery tours and tastings from its tasting room in Oia. Visitors can sample local foods while sitting outside and gazing at the blue Aegean Sea. It sounds like an idyllic setting.
Making chicken stir fry in the wok.
Making chicken stir fry in the wok.

Goes with: Most Greek white wines are great with seafood, so I decided to see how the Domaine Sigalas Aa would pair with chicken. It was outstanding.
I made a chicken stir fry that has a little bit of heat, and this wine held up to it really well.
The powerful flavors of the wine were not overpowered by the spiciness of the stir fry and the multiple flavors in the vegetables. I use chicken broth, soy sauce, ginger, red pepper flakes and sherry to flavor the dish, so the wine really needs some body.
The wine also would go well with traditional Greek recipes such as roast chicken and pork, all kinds of seafood, roast chicken, lamb or gyros, as well as with a fruit plate. Serve it chilled.
 
 
Most important Greek grapes:
WHITES
Assyrtiko
One of the finest noble white grapes of Europe, Assyrtiko originates from the island of Santorini, where it has its greatest expression of character, due in large part to the influence of the island’s volcanic soil. Naturally resistant to most diseases, Assyrtiko makes up 70% of the vineyards of Santorini. It has the unusual quality of maintaining high levels of sugars and acidity at the same time, making it one of the few white grapes of the Mediterranean that also possess long aging potential. Assyrtiko produces dry, full-bodied white wines with citrus aromas and a pleasing mineral character derived from the volcanic soil. Assyrtiko is also the main grape used to make the famous sweet wine, Vinsanto, where it is blended with Athiri and Aidani.
Moschofilero
Moschofilero is an aromatic variety that has been grown for centuries in Greece on the high plateau of Mantinia in the east-central Peloponnese. Predominantly producing still dry white wines, some excellent sparkling wines are also available and both styles now have PDO status. Moschofilero has an intense floral profile with citrus on the nose that is reflected on the palate with crisp acidity. These wines are the perfect aperitif or compliment to a sumptuous array of elegant dishes, Middle and Far East cuisine, sushi and seafood, offering singular moments of pure enjoyment
Malagousia
In the 1970s, Malagousia was on the verge of extinction. It is believed to have originated in the western part of Central Greece (Aitoloakarnania) and known mainly for its use in the production of sweet wines. Modern day plantings resurfaced in the Halkidiki region of Macedonia with the help of a Thessaloniki professor and after painstaking work from top winemakers, Malagousia now produces outstanding dry whites across Greece. Its intense and highly expressive nose shows hints of peaches, green bell pepper, basil and flowers. On the palate, it is round, full and always fresh, with moderately high levels of alcohol. In general, Malagousia can handle some oak treatment, but you will find mostly stainless steel versions in the market. When dry, it can be an exquisite match to greens, salads and even artichokes, a famous “wine killer.” Malagousia can age in the bottle for four years or more while sweet wines made from the variety need four to seven years to reach their potential and keep well beyond that.
Robola
The variety’s Italian-sounding name, together with its cultivation in Central Greece and the Ionian Islands located close to Italy, have led some to claim that the Robola grape variety is actually the same as the Ribolla Gialla variety cultivated in northeastern Italy. Whatever the case may be, striking differences between the two do exist. Among the Ionian Islands, Cephallonia is more widely known for the cultivation of Robola where the variety yields the PDO Robola of Cephalonia wines. Despite its fragile character, which requires barren, preferably mountain terrain, the variety is exceptionally productive when produced with small yields. It produces fresh, aromatic wines of exceptional quality with delicate citrus and mineral aromas. It displays a crisp, lemony acidity and depth of fruit with a unique complexity on the palate. When young, Robola may be likened to a Chablis with its elegant “goût de terroir” character.

Vidiano

This is the top white variety from Crete used to produce dry wines with complex aromas of ripe peach and apricot and hints of aromatic herbs with mineral notes. On the palate, it is full bodied with moderately high acidity. Most producers unlock the true potential of the grape by planting it in cooler high altitude vineyards or blending it with other varieties such as Vilana. It is a wine that develops its personality beautifully when paired with seafood, pasta and charcoal grilled fish. Although the true aging ability of Vidiano is yet to be identified, critics believe that these are wines to age for five years or more.
Savatiano
The most widely planted grape in Greece, it is cultivated mainly in Attica and Thessaly and has the potential to produce wines with aromatic intensity, high fruit levels and a balanced, broad structure on the palate. It is surprisingly elegant and aromatic when sourced from cooler sites and older vines. A great match with seafood and other Mediterranean dishes.
Roditis
This rose-colored grape is one of the most widely planted in Greece and popular in Attica, Macedonia, Thessaly and the Peloponnese where it is cultivated for the production of AOC Patras wines. It produces the best results when cultivated with low yields on mountainous slopes. An elegant light white wine with notes of citrus and honey flavors and a pleasant finish, it is an excellent match with seafood.
REDS
Most important reds are made with Agiorgitiko and Xinomavro
Agiorgitiko
The incredibly beautiful and captivating region of Nemea is actually the namesake of its main grape, Agiorgitiko, which, literally, means the grape of St. George (Agios Georgios). It produces wines that stand out for their deep red color and remarkable aromatic complexity. Agiorgitiko’s soft tannins, in combination with its balanced acidity, lead to the production of many different styles of wine. This includes rich, complex, age-worthy reds for the cellar, delicious aromatic dry roses as well as light, easy drinking red wines with the fresh aromas of red fruits. Agiorgitiko wines are exceptionally food-friendly and match with a wide range of cuisines and occasions.
Xinomavro
The predominant grape variety in Macedonia and one of the two noblest red grapes of Greece is the native red Xinomavro, meaning, “acid-black”. The main grape produced in the PDO regions of Naoussa and Amyndeo, and the main variety in PDO’s Rapsani & Goumenissa, Xinomavro is known for its superb aging potential and rich tannic character. One of the world’s best “terroir” wines, its complex aromas include red fruits such as gooseberry with hints of olives, spices and dried tomatoes. On the palate, this food friendly red varies between earthy and spicy to more fruit forward, depending on the winemaking style and microclimate, but all have strong tannins with good structure and elegance.

Mavrodaphne

Most of the Mavrodaphne vineyards are found in the northwestern Peloponnese. Until recently, the variety was almost exclusively used in the production of fortified dessert wines under the indication PDO Mavrodaphne of Patras and PDO Mavrodaphne of Cephalonia. These dessert wines are the Greek answer to Port. The variety’s characteristic near-black color, dense aromas of dried prunes and currants, high alcohol content, and medium acidity fit the classic profile of sweet wines like a glove. It is extraordinarily complex when aged in oak barrels, and produces very promising dry red wines as well.
Mavrotragano
Until recently, this red grape variety with its black (“mavro) and crunchy (“tragano”) berries—hence, the name Mavrotragano—was merely blended in sweet Santorini wines and had become all but extinct. Today, it is a rising star, producing deep, dense, well balanced red wines, concentrated and “old viney” on the nose, and rich on the palate with graceful tannins that can stand up to two years in oak. Despite the fact that Mavrotragano has revealed but a small part of its potential (sparsely cultivated outside of Santorini), it shows the promise of being an outstanding variety as unique as the land it hails from.
Limnio
An ancient grape variety, first mentioned by Homer, Limnio is moderate in color, elegant in aromas and flavors, dominated by fresh, aromatic herbs and red berry fruits. On the palate it displays medium acidity, silky tannins, and is moderately high in alcohol. It is predominantly produced in the northern Greek regions of Halkidiki in Macedonia (PDO Côtes de Meliton) and Maronia in Thrace. On its own, Limnio, is usually made in lighter styles of wine and fermented in stainless steel. It is frequently used in blends with international red varieties to add lightness and definition and usually oak-aged. All varietal Limnios and blends are ready for consumption on release, but a Limnio alone can develop from four to seven years, and blends can develop significantly longer.
Mandilaria
The Mandilaria heartland is found in the Aegean Islands and Crete. On the islands’ wind-swept and sun-scorched vineyards, Mandilaria develops a dark red color, aromas of ripe red fruits, hefty tannins and medium body. Mandilaria is usually blended with other grapes such as Kotsifali in Crete and Monemvassia in Paros. In Rhodes it produces the single varietal PDO Rhodes. Imposing in personality, the unique variety Mandilaria invariably leaves its indelible stamp which, be it impressive or imperceptible, never fails to reveal the variety’s terroir.

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