FOR people of a certain age, familiarity with wine and the delightfully quirky Oddbins chain went hand in hand.
Sadly, we watched as changes of ownership failed to recapture the chain’s early successes that turned, for example, Bulgarian cabernet sauvignon into one of the UK’s top-selling wines. Nowadays, only 37 shops survive – almost a third of them here in Scotland.
The new owner, the European Food Brokers Group, has some innovative ideas. I was especially pleased to see the chain showcase the brilliance of Greek wine, an initiative that runs until 11 June. Even before the latest financial crisis, things were difficult for wine producers. Workable land is scarce (and, hence, expensive), labour costs are relatively high and the best wines tend to come from indigenous grape varieties that are unfamiliar to the world’s main consumers. Nevertheless, Greece produces some terrific wines that are well worth getting to know.
One of the distinctive and appealingly complex wines those native grapes produce is 2012 Atma Malagouzia Roditis (£10). It has a pleasing savoury and mineral backdrop that provides an interesting contrast to its fresh, acidic, apple opening and the textured peach and herb flavours into which that develops. Those peach characteristics are typical of the malagousia grape, which faced extinction 20 years ago but has been saved by dedicated growers and is acquiring a reputation for versatility as a food match. Sommeliers will be delighted to discover that it even works well with hard-to-please menu items like artichokes and salads.
Similar apple touches and freshness manifest themselves in 2012 Feast Moschofilero (£8.50). Here, though, the acidity has sharper grapefruit elements, but finishes with a spicy roundedness that surprises – given its overall lightness and 11.5 per cent alcohol. The grey-coloured moschofilero grape is tipped for stardom by many Greek wine lovers because its crisp yet floral and exotic style would occupy an unfilled slot on wine lists. Rather like muscat, it can also produce dessert or sparkling versions and can be a superb companion to fruit dishes, where its perfumed background seems particularly at home.
Turning to reds, let’s consider first the sister wine to the moschofilero – 2012 Feast Agiorgitiko (£8.50). It needs a little time to breathe, but does open out magnificently. At the outset, there is good, red cherry fruit with freshness and lively acidity. Slowly, though, the wine develops richness and depth and the main fruit influences seem to move from light red cherries to more substantial black cherry touches. These sit neatly alongside the wine’s soft tannins. Agiorgitiko is arguably the oldest of Greece’s indigenous red grapes and likened by some to grenache. Just like that variety, it is versatile enough to produce classic, aged wines from old vines or – as here – lighter and simple young versions.
Step up a notch to savour the powerful, aromatic opening to 2010 Mediterra Mirambelo (£9.75), from Crete. Floral touches flow right through to vibrant blackcurrant fruit that is ably supported by firmish tannins and whispers of vanilla. Finally, the long finish seems to pick up extra substance with other dark fruit entering the arena and then concluding with hints of raisin – rather than of the sweeter spices of, say, syrah.
With the basic guidance offered here, I hope we in Scotland will give this initiative our full support. Both Greece and Oddbins do deserve a little help from the wine-buying public.
2012 Ploughstone Shiraz Petit Verdot, Western Cape, South Africa, 14 per cent
Petit verdot pops up again but as a blend with shiraz. It still gives the an earthy and slightly rustic structure that combines nicely with the spicy bramble flavours of the shiraz and the chocolate finish drawn from both varieties. £4.99, Morrisons
2012 Finest Tapiwey Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca Valley, Chile, 12.5 per cent
This opens with a slightly peppery nose and is softer than many sauvignons. However, it has all the lemon based acidity you would expect with a clean, herbal freshness and hint of orange.
£6 (down from £8.99 until Wednesday), Tesco