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Value Vino

Sipping ’round those wine-dark seas

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Sooner or later, the Greek debt crisis will affect all of us if it hasn’t already. Every measure proposed to alleviate the situation seems to be too little, too late. I have a suggestion that’s equally inadequate, but undoubtedly more fun: buy Greek wine.

This will not be an easy sell. Just like getting the Germans to bail out the slacker states of Europe, I expect resistance. But Greek wines have come a long way recently, and the good ones are well worth seeking out.

While retsina, originally dosed with pine resin as a kind of preservative, doubtless has its place, it is also part of the problem, tarring all Greek wines, as it were, with a single, sappy brush. But many of the unadulterated reds and whites that have made their way to our shores in recent years haven’t helped the Greek image either. And there are other issues apart from perceived quality.

Indigenous grape varieties are all but unknown to an American public — and both they and the wines’ names can be tongue-twisters. “Hard to pronounce, easy to drink,” is a line many producers seem to have adopted, but here’s one helpful hint: knowing that gyro is actually pronounced “year-o” at least helps deal with all those pesky “g”s.

As in agiorgitiko. This red grape, organically grown and hand-harvested, makes up 100 percent of the 2006 Red Stag from Domaine Siropolus in the southern winemaking region of Nemea in the Peloponnese. At about $16, it fits VV’s price criteria. It also intrigues, starting with aromas that evoke light, bright cherry dusted with white pepper. On the palate, there’s more cherry — tart at first — that eventually softens, giving up just a touch of vanilla from the wine’s two years in new, French oak. Think of it as the start of a Homeric voyage of Greek wine discovery. Also think grilled octopus.

Odysseus didn’t necessarily have to pass by Santorini on his way to Troy, but this island in the Cyclades, site of one of the world’s largest volcanic eruptions, has its own appeal regardless of who slept there. For starters, it is often connected with fabled Atlantis, and, today, thanks perhaps in part to all that volcanic ash, it is also home to some stunning wines. VV sampled the aptly-named Atlantis Santorini 2010 from Argyros. It’s modestly called “a regional dry white wine of Cyclades,” and at around $18.50 it over-delivers. Composed of 90 percent asyrtiko with the remainder aidani and athiri, the wine’s initial impression is of assertive citrus heightened by a nice, gunpowder minerality. The all-stainless processing assures that the zingy lemon continues on the palate, though with time in the glass softer green apple and lemon curd nuances appear. A beautiful wine for seafood, goat cheeses, and maybe even grilled green figs.

One good way to test Greek wines without a huge investment is to check them out by the glass at a place such as John the Greek. Here’s where I had my first impressive Santorini wine, and the list includes options, both red and white, from other regions such as Crete and Macedonia. For the most part, though, these aren’t the best of the wines currently being imported; for those it’s the usual suspects: Saglimbeni’s and the Gabriel’s super store (no dry whites, alas). Rack up a little debt of your own; it’s all for a good cause.

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