What: We have been seeing many more Greek wines in the United States in recent years, and with good reason: the quality of Greek wines has seen a sharp increase.
In the past, you had to struggle to find a decent wine, but now great wines are all around.
A perfect example of that is this Akakies Sparkling Rosé from Kir-Yianni.
It is a great package, from bottle to aftertaste, all designed to please a wide variety of wine lovers. It starts with the clear glass bottle that shows off the deep pink color. When you pour a glass the nose is full of juicy strawberry and cherry.
The first sip reveals a distinct cherry flavor with a slight hint of sweetness to take the edge off the acidity. Each sip reveals more complexity. The wine has a creamy, velvety mouthfeel, with long-lasting tiny bubbles and a lingering aftertaste. It is a very nice wine, especially good with food.
The grape is one I am not familiar with, called Xinomavro (Ex-seen-o-mahv-ro). Greek winemakers say it is one of their noblest grapes. It produces high-acid red wines with deep colors and pink wines with a rosy tint.
The grapes come from selected contracted vineyards of the area of Agios Panteleimon, in the PDO zone of Amyndeon, Northwestern Greece. PDO is the system of classifying and regulating wine-growing regions that ensures quality production.
The vineyards are at 1,800 feet elevation, which combined with poor, sandy soils, produce grapes that display finesse and big aromas. The climate of the area is characterized by cold winters and hot summers, while the presence of four surrounding lakes makes the microclimate milder and suitable for the cultivation of white varieties.
After harvest, and before the press, the grapes are chilled. Three pressings take place under continuous and gradually increasing pressure. The winery uses the juice from the second pressing for Akakies sparkling. After the must is settled and racked the first alcoholic fermentation takes place. This fermentation is short and carried out using the traditional method.
After fermentation, the wine stays on its lees and is stirred often for 3-5 months. The bubbles come from the Charmat method in which the second fermentation produces bubbles in a tank, not in the bottle.
Xinomavro means “acid and black” in Greek. Though it is unique it invites comparisons to Nebbiolo-based Barolos from Italy or to Burgundy pinot noirs. It can be difficult to grow, with a sensitivity to poor conditions and disease. But it makes memorable wines.
Red wines made with the grape can age for many years because it is high in acidity and rich in phenols. It is a black colored grape with powerful tannins.
Winery: Kir-Yianni traces its roots back to 1879 when the grandfather of its founder established the Boutari Wine Group. Yiannis Boutaris was already a leader in the Greek wine industry when he formed Kir-Yianni from two of the best family vineyards in 1997.
He bought an old winery in the village of Agios Panteleimon in 1996. This building, nicknamed “Paranga” (the shack) became the Kir-Yianni winery in Amyndeon. His goal was to create a super-premium Greek wine estate.
The Kir-Yianni vineyard and winery are on the shores of lake Vegoritis, defined by the mountains of Kaimakcalan and Vitsi. Yiannis wanted to breathe some life into an underdeveloped area, and it worked.
Today, Stellios Boutaris, a fifth-generation winemaker, runs the company. He has embraced the key points in the company philosophy: desire for innovation, respect for tradition and true knowledge of the wine, from the grape to the end consumer.
The family began intense experimentation and research on the Xinomavro grape in 1999, and as a result replanted many of the vineyards. They also bought more land, making Kir-Yianni one of Greece’s largest vineyards, with about 1,600 acres.
Thanks to its characteristic microclimate and soil, suitable for the production of top-quality wines, Amyndeon has evolved into one of the most promising Greek winemaking regions, producing dry red and sparkling rosé PDO wines. It is the only Greek PDO zone for still rosé wines.
Kir-Yianni produces a wide array of wines, including chardonnay, a chardonnay-gewurztraminer blend, sauvignon blanc, a sauvignon blanc-roditis blend, assyrtiko, several blends with traditional Greek grape varietals, several Xinomavros and Xinomavros blends, a syrah, a merlot, two still rosés and another sparkling wine.
Goes With: We drank this delightful wine with pan-fried breaded pork tenderloin, one of my favorite meals since my grandmother and mother made it when I was growing up. I added mashed potatoes and creamed corn, which always has been a part of this meal for me, and a tossed salad.
I usually slice up a tenderloin to make small cutlets, which I pound flat. This time I had a full pork loin, so I left the cutlets thicker. They were then dipped in eggs and coated with saltine crumbs before being pan fried for 4-5 minutes per side on medium high heat.
Everyone likes these so much it’s difficult to save leftovers for a second meal.
Like many sparkling wines, the Akakies pairs well with many kinds of food. I enjoyed it as an aperitif and it was perfect with the tasty pork. It also would be a good match for spicy Asian dishes or Mediterranean dishes based on vegetables and oily fish, like salmon.