Greek wines seek to regain their mythical status

Wed Sep 17, 2008 9:07pm EDT
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By Daniel Flynn

ARGOSTOLI, Greece (Reuters) - In the sun-bathed vineyards outside Argostoli, where the fictional Captain Corelli wooed his love Pelagia, the descendants of a real-life Italian soldier are conducting their own love affair with Greek wines.

Many consumers, when they imagine Greek wine, think with a shudder of retsina: a cheap white wine flavored with pine resin served to generations of package tourists. But Greece has a longer winemaking tradition than its more famous European neighbors.

The wines of Kefalonia -- a verdant island in the sparkling waters of the Ionian sea -- were once prized across the Mediterranean, before centuries of colonization, war and poverty brought Greek winemaking to its knees.

Now the small Gentilini vineyard, run by a distant relative of a 16th-century Venetian commander, is part of a new generation of winemakers using unique local grape varieties to put the country's vintages back on the map.

"Other people can make Chardonnay. We want to take Greek grapes and stretch them a little, try something new," said manager Petros Markantonatos, tanned from a long day harvesting.

With just 10 hectares (25 acres) of vines, Gentilini prides itself on handcrafting its wines.

The vineyard uprooted the last of its Chardonnay and Sauvignon vines last year, replacing them with Kefalonia's native Robola grapes for crisp whites with floral and citrus tones. Its reds, made mainly from the local Mavrodaphne and Agiorgitiko grapes, are full-bodied, chocolaty and spicy.

"These are not sissy wines!" said Petros's wife Marianna Cosmetatos, whose father founded Gentilini in 1982. "What we fight against is bad wine: 'wannabe' boutique wineries that throw money at the market, not quality."   Continued...

<p>Visitors listen to a guide during a tour at a vineyard in Pallini, a few kilometres from Athens, September 14, 2008. REUTERS/Yiorgos Karahalis</p>