Now that the picnic table is caked in the schmutz of damp leaves, it’s time to move inside, build a fire and fill the house with the aromas of slow food. Autumn is a great time of year to experiment with new wines.
Whether the meal is a simple pot roast, a savory roasting bird or an elegant braise, change the menu up a bit by serving a Greek red wine. It’s a guaranteed conversation starter, and a fine pairing in equal measure.
Some of the American market’s skepticism notwithstanding, the sophistication and expertise of Greek winemaking are really nothing new. The Aegean country’s white wines have laid waste to the idea that oregano-laden shrimp and squid are the only suitable food partners. (Santorini and Moschofilero are two Greek whites that seamlessly pivot from quaffers, to light appetizers, to Dover Sole.)
Greek reds are are also versatile, refined and display many of the traits associated with the more well-known grape varietals. The trouble is (as it is with many things) perception. If a wine is from Greece – even if it garners praise from stubborn critics – it gets pigeon-holed with Greek food. Conversely, a number of Italian reds have transcended the tiresome pairings with pasta and meat sauce, and are recommended with many classic recipes. So, it stands to reason that a fine Greek red shouldn’t always require spit-roasted lamb and pita as constant sidekicks.
In fact, the Agiorgitiko (St. George) grape has been cultivated into a fruit-forward, approachable red wine called Nemea – named for one of Greece’s distinct growing regions. It has the acidity to stand up to virtually any braised red meat, but can be served with roast chicken and more gamey poultry, too.
“Nemea is good with just about everything,” says Jim Siannas of Athens grocery in Chicago. “It’s almost like a Burgundy [or] Pinot Noir. And it just keeps getting better.”
A high-quality style of Nemea ($14) comes from Boutari. A medium-bodied red, it’s aged for 12 months in French oak barrels, and has dried cherry and plum flavors, plus some subtle notes of spice. It has good structure, yet is smooth and quite an easy-drinking red. It can be served with a savory Coq au Vin, or any slowly braised meat like short ribs, or a seven-bone roast.
It would also do just fine with any Greek lamb dish. But Agiorgitiko/Nemea is another example of an emerging European varietal: a regional mainstay with international aspirations. It’s not just for Halsted Street’s tavernas anymore.