Have a bottle of Boutari for the sake of the Greek economy
By John Schreiner
The leading brand for Greek wines world-wide is Boutari, a 132-year-old privately-owned producer with vineyards throughout Greece and, more recently, in the south of France.
Currently, the economy of Greece is in a mess. However, J. Boutari & Son Winery, with exports to at least 45 countries, may well be one of the stronger companies in Greece.
Our market is among those in which it sells its wines. At the end of March, Boutari will participate in the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival.
Considering the long history of winemaking in Greece – they introduced wine to the Romans - one might expect the industry would have a much higher profile than it does. But, as Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine points out, the Greek wineries suffered from “centuries of domination by the Ottoman Turks.”
“Wine-making was not normally forbidden to the Christian population,” the book says, “but communication difficulties resulted in a localized peasant industry viewed by the Turkish rulers as a useful means of raising revenue through taxation. Thus, while France, for example, was developing fine wine regions, and their markets, Greece remained in what might be termed the vinous Dark Ages.”
The Greek wineries only began selling significant volumes of wine in bottles, not in bulk, in the 1960s. “Since the 1960s … there has been considerable investment in modern technology,” the Oxford Companion says, “and its results have been evident since the early 1980s with the emergence of Greece’s first generation of trained enologists.”
Greek wine certainly has its challenges in this market. The first response from most consumers when Greek wine is mentioned is Retsina. That is a very traditional Greek wine deliberately flavoured with resin. It originated from the time a few millennia ago when pine resin was used to seal the porous containers so that wines would not spoil. Greeks developed a palate for the flavour and continue to make the wine today, even though glass bottles are perfect wine containers.
Perhaps it is an acquired taste. I think that a chilled glass of Retsina is just fine with typical Greek food.
However, there is far more to Greek wines than Retsina. There are table wines with unique flavours, if only because the grapes grown in Greece are different from the mainstream varieties of France or California. Acquiring the taste for those is a lot easier than mastering the label vocabulatory; but it is worth the effort.
Recently, I was able to taste the current range of Boutari wines. Here are my notes. One of the pleasant surprises involves the generally moderate alcohol levels when, given the Greek climate, one might have expected 15% bruisers.
Kretikos White 2009 ($12.99). This is a white wine from the island of Crete, made primarily with a grape called Vilana. It is a light, crisp luncheon wine with a modest 12% alcohol and flavours of green apples, melon and citrus. 86.
Moschofilero 2008 ($18.99). Moschofilero is an aromatic white grape, producing a refreshing wine with delicate notes of spice and roses on the nose, flavours of citrus and tropical fruits. It has only 11.5% alcohol, in itself a virtue. 87.
Santorini 2009 ($19.99). Boutari has a beautiful winery on the island of Santorini, which itself is as attractive as any place in Greece. The island is also hot and dry, a surprising terroir from which to produce this famous, refreshing white wine from an indigenous grape variety, Assyrtiko. Boutari’s vineyard is 300 years old (the vines, of course, are not that old). The vines grown on their own roots because the island has never had the phyloxera bug. This wine is packed with exotic fruit aromas and flavours. 87.
Cambas White NV ($12.99 for a litre). This is a popular white wine by the glass in Greek restaurants. It is an uncomplicated quaffer, dry and lean and even a bit austere. 84.
Cambas Red NV ($13.99 for a litre). This a pleasant everyday red, light in body with cherry flavours. 84.
Naoussa 2007 ($16.99). This juicy, delicious red is made from a grape with the challenging name, Xinomavro, considered one of the noble varieties in Greece. Full and ripe ion the palate, the wine has flavours of black cherry, cocoa and spice. Naoussa is the appellation. 89.
Agiorgitiko 2007 ($18.99). This grape variety is considered the noblest of Greek reds. The wine begins with vanilla and cherry aromas. On the palate, the wine shows flavours of plum, vanilla and chocolate, with a hint of mint that reminds me of Cabernet Sauvignon. 87.
Nemea 2007 ($14.96). This red is also made with the Agiorgitiko grape. The main difference between these two wines is the oak treatment. Where the previous wine is aged in 225 litre Alliers oak barrels, this wine is aged in 500 Limousin puncheons. A little less wood influence allows the varieties flavours of black cherry, blackberry and plum to show better. The wine has a soft, velvet texture. That and its moderate 12.5% alcohol enhances the drinkability. 88.
Grande Reserve Naoussa 2004 ($21.99). The winery pulled out all the stops with this red, including two years in French oak barrels and then two years in bottle before release. The bottle development gives this wine almost floral aromas – the winery’s own notes speak of olive, tomato juice, cinnamon, dry fig and red fruits. The tannins are slightly dry on the finish. This wine needs to be paired with red meat or strong cheese. 88.
Bottom line: Boutari delivers value for money.