Viniculture may have originated in Greece, but over the centuries Greek wine developed a bad reputation. So when Greece joined the European Union in 1981, Greek vintners took advantage of an influx of funding to study modern winemaking techniques in France and change Greek wine making. Now Greek wines are starting to catch up with their French and Italian counterparts, as Neighborhood Restaurant Group's wine director Brent Kroll can attest — and now with the fundamentals under their belt, Greek winemakers are starting to branch out with experimental techniques.
Gai'a, on Santorini, is one of the wineries that is making unique wines, trying non-traditional techniques like aging bottles underwater in an attempt to reduce oxidation. Try the Gai'a "Wild Ferment" Assyrtiko from Santorini, which is available by the glass for $15. The fermentation of this wine is spurred by the plentiful natural yeasts on the grape skins, the result of the grapes being grown close to the ground to avoid high winds. This "closeness is the wildness" in the wine, according to Kroll. This "wild fermentation" process is not dissimilar from the spontaneous fermentation process used to make lambic beer. That process, combined with grapes grown close to the sea and in the natural volcanic soil of Santorini, makes a wine with crisp acidity, minerality and brininess that goes well with seafood.
Greek wines make up about a third of the wine list that Kroll created for Iron Gate Restaurant. But he and the staff have to do their share of dispelling diners' negative perceptions of Greek wine. When most people think of Greek wine, they think of bitter and pungent retsina — wine sealed or mixed with resin as a preservative. And while retsina remains a part of Greece's wine culture, many of the up and coming wineries are producing unique and highly drinkable wines at value prices. All the better for those who drink based on the belief that "what grows together, goes together."
Those who do a quick review of Iron Gate's wine list may find a number of unfamiliar grape varieties, such as assyrtiko, xinomavro, and agorgitiko on the list. Or they may note blends with familiar French grape varieties such as sauvignon blanc and syrah, the result of Greek vintners importing French vines when they returned from their studies. Through the wines are categorized by characteristics, Kroll has trained the staff using decks of hundreds of flashcards delivered to their smartphones, so they can guide diners through the list.
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