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The Vine Guy: Wine's Greek heritage

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Entertainment,Scott Greenberg

Greece is considered by many to be the birthplace of wine. In addition to having the oldest documentation of a deity dedicated to wine -- Dionysus -- there is archeological evidence to support the theory that wine was an important part of Greek life dating back more than 4,000 years. Wine was not only a staple of the daily Greek diet, but also played a viable role in Greece's economy as well as its cultural celebrations.

The earliest evidence of wine production was found on the island of Crete. Pieces of ceramic vessels, called amphora, have been shown to date back to the third century BC. These amphorae, used to transport wine for trade and storage, were made of different shapes and sizes to identify their city of origin, and incorporated an elaborate labeling system similar to the labels we use on wine bottles today.

As their empire expanded, the Greeks introduced winemaking techniques throughout their Mediterranean settlements in Italy, France and Spain. But they also quickly realized how important it was to protect the authenticity of wines produced in specific regions. They developed a basic "appellation d'origine controlee" system to protect the value of wines from particular regions, and harsh penalties were imposed on counterfeiters.

Today, some of the more than 300 indigenous Greek grape varieties can be found growing throughout the wine-producing world. In addition, the bright, sunny climate and fertile soils provide an ideal environment for popular non-native varietals that many young winemakers are beginning to use. Here are a few delicious examples of wines from the original source. Retail prices are approximate.

The 2011 Santo Assyrtiko Yannis ($15) is from the beautiful island of Santorini. This dry white wine is made from mountain-grown assyrtiko grapes that thrive in the volcanic soil that makes up most of the island. It features bracing notes of citrus fruit and volcanic minerals on the front of the palate. The medium-based acidity keeps the finish light and crisp, with notes of grapefruit and nectarine that shine on the back of the palate. It is a wonderful alternative to unoaked chardonnays. QPR 8.5

From the 2,000-foot-high Mantinia Plateau comes the 2011 Erasmios Moschofilero ($15), a crisp white wine made from the locally celebrated moschofilero grape. It has a lovely nose of honeysuckle, nectarine, acacia flowers and citrus fruits and rich, layered flavors of tropical fruit and citrus in the mouth. Just a touch of minerality on the balanced finish adds texture and depth. QPR 8.5

Fermented only with wild yeast indigenous to the vineyard, the 2011 Gai'a Assyrtiko Wild Ferment ($22) from Santorini is the most interesting assyrtiko I have sampled. Twenty percent of this charming white wine is aged in a blend of wood barrels and then blended with the other 80 percent that was fermented in stainless steel tanks. It possesses a fragrant nose of nectarine, acacia flowers and citrus fruits and rich, layered flavors of tropical fruit and citrus in the mouth. Just a touch of ginger on the balanced finish adds texture and depth. QPR 9.5

The Peloponnese region is known for wines made from indigenous varieties such as agiorgitiko, moschofilero and roditis, but the 2008 Skouras Megas Oenos ($30) is an intense red wine blend with a twist; it is made from 80 percent agiorgitiko and 20 percent cabernet sauvignon. Concentrated aromas of blackberries and black cherries fill out the bouquet while penetrating flavors of black plum, cassis, black pepper and orange peel drift across the tongue on a graceful frame supported by sweet tannins. QPR 9

The Boutari estate in northern Greece is home to the winery's oldest vineyard and where the high altitudes and cool temperatures of the Vermion Mountains create perfect conditions for growing the native xinomavro grape. The 2004 Boutari Grande Reserve ($22) tames this tannic varietal with oak barrel and bottle aging. It sports a bouquet of black plums and tobacco on the nose and stylish flavors of blackberry, dark plum and cherry that dominates the palate. Lovely notes of vanilla mingle with firm tannins and solid acidity to provide remarkable balance and structure on the lingering finish. QPR 9.5

Note: QPR is a rating system that compares the quality a wine delivers relative to the price. A QPR of 10 is considered an excellent value.

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