If you haven’t tried Greek wine, or have only tried what is available in many stores in the U.S., you owe it to yourself, your palate, and the Greek wine industry to stop what you are doing, get on a plane, and visit Greece! Greece is producing some spectacular, world-class wines. They just don’t often find their way out of the country.
If you didn’t catch our previous Greek Wine Tasting blog, you can read it here to catch up. Go ahead, we’ll wait.
Our next stop on our day of Greek wine exploration was GAI’A Wines. GAI’A is the greek word for “earth.” The name is derived from Greek mythology, in which the primordial mother-goddess, GAI’A, brought the earth into existence out of chaos. In Greek, the letter G is pronounced almost like a “Y”, so the pronunciation here is “yay-yah.”
GAI’A Wines graciously provided us with a complimentary tasting. All opinions and notes are our own. We received no other compensation. All the wines we bought were purchased ourselves.
GAI’A Wines has two winery locations, one in Nemea, on the Greek mainland, and one on Santorini, which is the one we visited. Our taxi dropped us off at the winery, which is literally adjacent to the beach on the eastern side of Santorini. The winery complex was, at one time, a tomato paste processing plant. We were greeted by the friendly staff, and escorted to a table overlooking the beach and Aegean sea. Our host for the day, Vassilina Tzagkaraki, brought us a plate of breadsticks, capers, olives, and of course, a dollop of tomato paste, to enjoy while we tasted the wines and enjoyed the stunning view.
GAI’A Wines started in 1994 by Yiannis Paraskevopoulos and Leon Karatsalos, with the introduction of a Santorini wine. If you recall from the earlier post, to bear the name Santorini, the wine must be made from at least 75% Assyrtiko. This wine was released with the name Thalassitis. Over the years, GAI’A has led innovation and challenged convention in their production and quality.
All of the wines we sampled were sensational. It would be hard to say which was our favorite, and we would have liked to take some of each home with us. Alas, luggage limitations required us to make hard decisions!
We started with two white wines from their Monograph line. The first, Multi, is a blend, primarily of Assyrtiko, with Moschofilero, and Roditis. Multi spent two months in stainless steel, for a clean, crisp wine with lemon and citrus notes. The second was 100% Assyrtiko. This wine also fermented in stainless steel, but spend four months on the lees, resulting in a softer, slightly creamier wine with notes of lemon, orange peel, and citrus.
The third wine we sampled was the Assyrtiko by GAI’A, Wild Ferment. This amazing wine is made with various fermentations: 50% in stainless steel, 40% in oak, and 10% in cement tanks. The result is a striking wine, with an almost Chardonnay-like profile. But don’t let this scare you if you don’t like Chardonnay. This is a delicious wine with flavors of pear, citrus, and grapefruit, with notes of butter and toast.
Next up, Rosé! GAI’A produces two Rosé wines, 14-18h, and 4-6h. Both are made from Agiorgitiko grapes, and are named for the amount of time they spent in contact with the skins. We sampled the 14-18h, which, as the name suggests, spent between 14 to 18 hours in skin contact. This gave the wine a deep pink hue, and enticing flavors of cherry, strawberry, watermelon Jolly Rancher, and a hint of cranberry on the finish. This is a bone dry Rosé, with brisk acidity, just the way we like it. (We liked it so much, this is one of the wines we brought home with us!)
On to the reds we went. In contrast to the light, crisp Rosé, the 2017 Agiorgitiko by GAI’A is big and bold. Rather than mere hours on the skins, this wine underwent a 2-3 week extraction, followed by 12 months in French oak. The result is a refined wine with soft, smooth tannins and flavors of raspberry and bing cherry.
The final red wine was a spectacular, monster of a red wine. This beauty has aging potential of 15-20 years! Behold, the 2016 GAI’A Estate. Made from Agiorgitiko grapes, this wine spent 15-18 months in French oak. It is a wine of distinction, with a rich, full body, and big, firm tannins, with intense flavors of cherry, blackberry, plum, baking spice, and a bit of bell pepper. This is a wine that wants some meat! Pair it with a juicy rib-eye, or some grilled lamb.
The final treat was the Vinsanto dessert wine. Made from Assyrtiko, with small amounts of Athiri and Aidani, Vinsanto is made by allowing some of the grapes to dry in the summer sun, and some in the shade. Drying results in more concentrated sugars and flavors. Once pressed, the wine then ages for 10 years in French oak. Best served slightly chilled, Vinsanto is rich and creamy, with flavors of fig, dates, caramel, vanilla, and Crème brûlée. The perfect way to end a delightful day of Greek wine tasting!
As much as we wanted to stay awhile longer, we had to get back into town. We had dinner reservations on the waterfront in Oia, and a date with Roger, the Gilt head bream (yes, we named our dinner), and the spectacular Santorini sunset. More great reasons to come to Greece!
- Text and photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds