Wine is an expression of four variables: grape, soil, climate and the human culture that transforms Nature into a living product.
A wine region's success depends on the successful interplay of these variables. Argentina, for instance, made world-class wine for centuries, but it wasn't until recent economic stability attracted foreign alliances that U.S. retailers and restaurateurs scrambled to expand their Argentine sections.
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Ross choiceSaint George/ Agiorgitiko
• Suggested retail and availability: $13.99, widely available (distributed by Heritage Wine Cellars, Niles)
This grape is so ancient, it has many synonyms -- Agiorgitiko, Mavronemeas, Mavrostaphylo Mavraki among them -- but we'll stick with the one we can pronounce: Saint George. The texture combines Pinot Noir's silkiness and Merlot's plushness with the complexity of raspberry, blackberry, vanilla and black pepper for flavors all its own. This wine will be a crowd-pleaser for Easter lamb and ham, and a delicious value to pair with sandwich and stew leftovers.
Italy made wine for millennia, but America didn't discover life beyond Lambrusco until Italian-American chefs morphed pizzerias into ristorantes featuring well-crafted, regional Italian cuisine, with well-crafted Italian wine to match.
No such luck, Greece.
Greece currently sits in the cross hairs of international attention, and not for being the cradle of winegrowing civilization.
As economic woes shrink their internal market, Greek winegrowers struggle to replace sales through exports, especially to the U.S. But with their established reputation for ethnic color and comfort, few Greek-American restaurants venture beyond gyros, flaming cheese and value-priced Roditis.
A return to the drachma won't bring relief, according to Ted Diamantis, President of Diamond Importers Inc., a Chicago-based importer of fine Greek wine.
"Greek vintners rely on Italy for bottles, Portugal for corks, Germany for equipment. These are fixed costs and the list goes on." That list includes a 30 percent oil tax hike that especially puts the pain on island producers, who bear additional costs of shipping to the mainland.
The road to recovery may resemble a minotaur's labyrinth, but Diamantis has faith in Oenos Rising, a renaissance of Greek wine (and the title of his blog).
Top shops, sommeliers and critics recognize fine Greek wines, but they need a niche; too often they languish in "Other" sections.
They also need a translator, with unfamiliar and difficult-to-pronounce labels.
Still, it's hard to go wrong with the wines of Greece. For the casual wine lover, these wines represent unique flavors at value prices. For certified cork dorks, their elegance and finesse compares with the world's finest wines. And for the follower of current events, there's no more delicious way to be part of our human culture from 3,000 years ago through tonight's headlines by drinking Greek!
For a Pinot Grigio alternative, to serve with kríyi mezéthes (cold appetizers, including cheese, salad and cured seafood):
Moscofilero (mose-ko-FEEL-air-o), Skouras: Delicate aroma of white flowers and citrus introduces soft flavors with accents of minerals, orange rind and white pepper. ($14.99)
Assyrtiko/Athiri (ah-SEER-tea-co)/(ah-THEE-ree), Sigalas: A refreshing breeze of a wine, with delicate floral and herb aroma and brisk citrus and mineral flavors. ($16.99)
For a Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay alternative, to serve with seafood and white meats:
Malagouzia "Axia", Alpha Estate: A round palate of just-ripe stone fruit and melon, richly-textured and balanced by soft acidity.
Red wine for kýrio piáto (the main course):
Syrah "Turtle's Vineyard", Alpha Estate: Maybe I love it because Syrah flavors are familiar, but there's no denying the hedonic pleasure of the wine. ($17.99). Opulent aromas combining brandied cherry, earth and animal usher a firm but fleshy palate.
In this baby vintage, flavors of pepper, plums, vanilla and oak vie for attention and tannin demand attention. But when this baby grows up ... Opa!
• Write to Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.