At the urging of one of my readers, I have tried a Greek wine for the first time. Even better, this wine works in conjunction with the Great White Wine Hunt of 2013.
I was trying to find a fitting baseball analogy for the Kourtaki, but because this wine is so unique it doesn’t easily allow for comparison. The closest I can come up with is its like a well-executed triple play: rare, exciting, a complete game changer. Trust me, there are a lot of moving parts to this wine, which might be precisely why I like it so much.
Kourtaki is a dry white wine from the Attica area of Greece, near Athens. Now the bottle says they have been making the wine here for 5,000 years, but a much more accurate date is 2,000 years. Still, with 2,000 years of practice you should be able to make a pretty tasty wine.
The varietal is Savatiano, which is a white grape widely planted in Central Greece because of its resistance to drought. It is here I hit my first mystery: there is no vintage date on the wine! I have never seen a wine without a vintage date, so I e-mailed Wine Spectator. Here is what they said, “nonvintage wine (often seen on a wine list as NV), is usually a blend from the produce of two or more years. This is a common practice for winemakers seeking a consistent style of wine, year on year.” The point is that not having a vintage date, albeit unnerving, isn’t a particularly bad thing. The e-mail stated that many Ports are nonvintage, although the better ones are.
The Kourtaki is “retsina” and to understand what that means we have to go back in history; far back to before there were corks and bottles. One of the truly elusive things for wine has been a container, something that would keep the wine in and the air out. They tried animal skins, with some obvious draw backs. Another more promising container was the clay jar; “amphorae.” Unlike an animal skin, clay jars were bacteria free, could be made in different sizes, and did a pretty good job of keeping the air out. Now they needed a plug. Historical plugs included rags, wood, weeds, even clay, but the fit still wasn’t good enough to keep the air out. The answer was clay seals with pitch–preferably non-toxic,though not always–typically pine pitch from the Aleppo pine tree.
Around the 1st Century C.E. it was suggested that pine pitch not be used with better wines, only vino-ordinair. Later, the pitch would be added to the fermenting wine must, which is exactly how they do it today.
Okay, back to the wine. As always we start with the color, which is yellow with hues of green. Pop the cork and…the aroma. Well, frankly, my reaction was Oh My God!!! I don’t mean that in the positive. Strong, offensive, put-offish are just some of the terms that come to mind. But be patient, it gets better I promise. When it comes to the taste, lets just say it’s acquired with a little time, say half-way through your first glass. You have to serve this wine chilled; you’ll never be able to drink it warm. I’m not saying it was bad, just very unique, so unique, you have to unique up to it! I actually ended up liking it.
History records the passage of many Pilgrims and Crusaders traveling through Greece on their way to the holy land, and included are their encounters with resin wines. They are best summed up by Pietro Casola, an Italian noble on his way to Jerusalem, “Everything I tried was pleasing, except the strong, resinated wine with an unpleasant odor”.
I do want you to try this wine. Taste a little history, even if fabricated a bit you’ll appreciate modern wine-making more than before. By the way, it was the Romans who are credited with putting wine in wood barrels. It is also said that the Greeks started resinating their wines at the time of the Roman conquest, it is reported the Romans wouldn’t drink the bitter wine. A coincidence! I think not. Try the wine you’ll understand.