Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Simple Greek Meal with Greek Wine

This week kicked off a project relating to the history of wine, which I’ll be working on for the next year and a half. (More on that soon.) To mark the occasion I decided to drink a wine from one of the oldest winemaking countries in the world. The Greeks have made wine since at least 600 BC or so, and possibly much earlier.

I bought this bottle in the market section of one of my favorite Mediterranean restaurants, and it turns out to be fairly mysterious. In examining the label, you can see many references to specific regions (Macedonia, Mount Athos, etc.), but none of these names correspond to any lists of Greek wine appellations I have found. I've concluded this wine is classified at the "table wine" level, but if you're a Greek wine expert please post in the comments and help me out.

Another confusing thing is the grape. No grape is mentioned on the bottle, but there is an indigenous Greek variety called Agiorgitko, which appears very similar to the wine's name, Agioritikos (adding a "g," losing the "s"). However, the Agiorgitko is mainly grown in the Peloponnese, which is on the other side of Greece from Macedonia, where this wine is from.

When all else fails, consult the winery's web site! Actually I should have started there, but in this case it wouldn't have helped much. The Protopapas winery doesn't list this wine on its site. It does helpfully list all the grapes the estate grows, which include: Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Frank [Franc], Cabernet Sauvignon, Georgina, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Traminer. This rules out Agiorgitiko and suggests that my initial impression of the wine resembling a Cabernet Sauvignon was probably correct. "Agioritkos" is probably just a proprietary name for the wine, unrelated to a grape.


Here's the full tasting note:
  • Appearance:  deep ruby/garnet
  • Aromas:  cherry, blackberry, fresh and dried fruits, mint/menthol, cedar, and it develops a hint of olives as it breathes
  • Palate:  dry, medium acid, medium-to-high tannin, medium-to-high alcohol (14%), flavors of red and black fruits
  • Finish:  short 
The wine has very nice aromas and flavors. At 8 years old I was impressed with how much tannin was still noticeable and how much the wine continued to mellow and improve in the glass. I might even recommend decanting or aerating it. A slight detraction was that the alcohol seemed a bit high to be in perfect balance, but making sure to serve it slightly chilled (~65 degrees) would correct most of that. I paid $17 for the bottle, and I would do it again.

A good rule of thumb for wine pairing is to eat foods that come from the same region or country as the wine, so a Greek dinner was on the menu. Because it was a Tuesday night, I needed it to be fast and easy. I’ve noticed lately that HEB has begun carrying more pre-made Greek/Mediterranean foods in their larger stores. I picked up a container of baba ganoush (eggplant dip) and one of dolmas, both of which were very tasty. I love dipping chunks of red bell pepper in my baba ganoush. There was also tabouli which I’ll try next time. I didn’t see any freshly made pita, but I found naan, which I think is just as good (or better).

Because I expected the wine to be big and flavorful (and it was) I really wanted to serve lamb, but again, it had to be quick and easy. My grocery store stocks lamb scallopini, which is thin slices of lean lamb and is very quick to prepare. Throw the lamb slices in a bowl, sprinkle them liberally with Greek seasoning (I used Penzey’s blend, but whatever combination you like of salt, pepper, spices, and herbs would do fine), and drizzle with olive oil. Use your fingers to evenly distribute and rub in the seasoning, and let the lamb sit while you get everything else ready. I opted to roast some onions, because they sounded really good with the lamb. Just before you’re ready to eat, heat a little olive oil in a non-stick skillet and sauté the lamb for 1-2 minutes per side, which will leave it slightly pink in the center.

I was surprised at how quick and easy it was to assemble a restaurant-quality Greek meal at home, by combining a few pre-made items with a fast lamb sauté. You could easily get fancier and make a quick pan sauce for the lamb if you wanted. And everything paired nicely with the wine. I haven’t explored Greek wine very much, so this will be a good incentive for me to drink more of it and learn more about it.

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