Long ago, in a land not so far away, there was a town called Toronto where, much to my sadness, the sidewalks were rolled up each and every Saturday at 11:00 pm. Fortunately there was a remedy. At five minutes before this weekly event, I could go to a large glass box with frames painted red, pick up a jet black instrument and stick my forefinger in little holes on a spinning device. A man’s voice would say “Acropole”. And I would say, “Open a bottle of Apelia red for me, Tommy, I’ll see you in 20 minutes.”
As long as we placed our order at this Greek restaurant before the eleven o’clock last call, we could continue drinking as long as we could continue drinking. We chose Apelia because it was the cheapest wine on the list and because it came in extra large one litre bottles which would sometimes last two of us until 2:00 am.
I still occasionally buy a bottle of Kourtakis Apelia Greek Red when I’m in Canada. And not just because it’s still one of the cheapest wines in the world. Apelia is made from the Agiorgitiko grape. Even though Agiorgitiko may be one of the world’s most difficult wine grapes to pronounce, it’s one of the world’s most easy grapes to enjoy.
I’ve been drinking a lot of Agiorgitiko, which translates as St. George’s grape, in San Miguel de Allende lately. Greek wine in the middle of Mexico you may be asking? In a place where even California wine is almost impossible to find? Yes, Greek wine, good Greek wine. Available at our local supermarket Soriana. Or direct from the importer.
Agiorgitiko is grown in many different parts of the country but its original home is always thought of as Nemea in the Peloponnese. It is from there that the excellent Agiorgitiko wines available in San Miguel are imported.
I have never been to Nemea or anywhere else in the Peloponnese, so I checked what the website, New Wines of Greece, had to say about the area:
The Nemea-Agiorgitiko zone is the largest red wine appellation in Greece and the land is as diverse as it is vast, with often snow-capped peaks as high as 6000 ft, surrounding a valley floor, with undulating hills, and myriad valleys and passes, creating many mesoclimates and soil types in between. The diversity of the soils, where the grape flourishes in ancient vineyards, which are planted at varying elevations and topography, greatly influences the styles of these captivating Nemea wines. Vineyards might be situated on the valley floor, at as low as 850-1150 ft, as well as throughout valleys and up the hillsides climbing to over 1950-2650 ft, even higher, making these red wine vineyards some of the highest in all of Europe.
The Nemea wines that are readily available in Mexico are produced by a company called Cavino, one of Greece’s most successful wineries. With sales last year that topped 10,000,000 bottles. There are three different Cavino wines that show off the varying styles possible from the Agiorgitiko grape, Nemea, Nemea Reserve, and Nemea Grande Reserve.
At a recent wine tasting, I met George Kanakis, a man with a very obvious passion for Nemea-Agiorgitiko wines. George is the Senior Exports and Marketing Manager with Cavino Winery and Distillery. I always have great difficulties describing what makes one grape different from another so I asked George Kanakis if he had to compare the Agiorgitiko grape with a grape that’s more well known throughout the world, what would it be and why?
“Agiorgitiko, the most widely planted grape in Greece, is most easily comparable to Cabernet Sauvignon, as it has similar dark fruit flavors of prunes and plums, and the same heavy tannins that dry your mouth out and beg for the wine to be drunk alongside meat,” said George. “It’s also due to this similarity that you can often find the two grapes blended together. It’s a powerful and bold red wine that fans of this style will love, which is what makes it go so well with the heavier meat dishes.”
George continued, “Nemea is one of the most important wine zones in Greece and the Peloponnese is planted with only that one grape variety, Agiorgitiko. I believe the Agiorgitiko red grape is one of the easiest Greek grapes from which a consumer can start appreciating Greek wines.
Nemea is the fruitiest of the three Cavino wines with aromas of strawberries and cranberries. I like to chill it in the fridge for a few minutes before quaffing. At 153 pesos, it has been near the top of my best buy list since I discovered it for sale in Mexico.
Cavino Nemea Reserve and Cavino Nemea Grand Reserve have much more spicy, dark fruit aromas with black plums and figs coming most to mind. They’re my choice to pair with beef and lamb and they also work well with a tray of cheeses and olives.
I asked George Kanakis, “Is the difference with the Reserve and Grande Reserve simply aging or are grapes from different vineyards used?”
“Nemea Reserve by law must be aged at least one year in oak and six months in the bottle,” said George, “while Nemea Grande Reserve must spend two years in oak and one year in the bottle.
“In fact, both our wines are actually aged much longer in the bottle so they have become more balanced before they are released to the market. Besides the ageing procedure, the grapes for Nemea Grande Reserve are selected from higher altitude vineyards…over 600 meters above sea level…which results in better concentration and ageing potential.
“We must work with higher elevations in Greece to access the cool climate areas which provide the ideal maturation time for the grapes and good concentration and acidity in the wines. Our best vineyards are located between 600 to 900 meters above the sea…quite high for the European continent.”
I remember my shock a couple of years ago when I was shopping at our local San Miguel supermarket Soriana and there in the end bins were the three Cavino Nemea wines. I bought one of each to check them out. The following week I bought four of each to tuck into the back of my wine cupboard.
I was amazed that Cavino had secured distribution in Mexico? I asked George Kanakis how.
George told me, “Our cooperation in Mexico began two years ago. Our importer company, Vinos Griegos, has successfully placed our wines in some Soriana stores as well as restaurants in Mexico. Greek wines were completely new and unknown in Mexico. Much must still be done to inform and educate wine professionals and consumers and to increase the awareness and sales of our wines.”
I’ve been informed. I’ve been educated. I’m aware of the joys of Agiorgitiko. Pass the corkscrew please.
Cavino Nemea-Agiorgitiko wines are available at selected Soriana stores or online at sorianadomicilio.com. You’ll also find a large selection of Greek Wines from Cavino as well as the Mega Spileo and Deus wineries at vinosgriegos.com. For a complete list of products including prices, email email@example.com.