A crazy, semi-sparkling, off-dry orange wine from the mountains of Greece confounds and delights.
€6.60, $13.99, 139 Swedish kronor, 115 Danish kroner, £13.50 for 50 cl
This is easily one of the most unusual wines I’ve encountered. I had no idea what I was ordering. The wine list was in Greek, the sunlight was whitewash, the sky was intense blue, and we were sitting about 560 m (1,380 ft) above sea level, a tumble of olive trees and island chestnuts, sheep and fig trees below us, the sea a thin blue line six miles away.
It came in this funky, dumpy 50 cl brown bottle with a crown cap, like a beer. The label was all in Greek. When we poured it, the colour was like marmalade, it fizzed gently. I stuck my nose, gingerly, in the glass.
It smelt of apricots and cloves. Like spiced butter. Like candied orange peel, like panettone. The fizz was persistent, a teasing tingling rather than a bite. It tasted extraordinary. Nuts and apricots, a deep, reverberating, kombucha-like tang but definitely wine, not cider. Buckwheat honey and bitter marmalade shifting across the palate through skeins of ground ginger and cinnamon, hop flowers and apricots. Piercingly fresh yet off-dry.
My first reaction was shock. Then wariness. Then I wanted another sip. And another. It was weird, but utterly wonderful. Alice in Wonderland, but in Greece.
I googled it when we got back home, and to my amazement found it was sold by Pure Wines, a merchant and importer of natural wines. And it cost only £13.50 a 50 cl bottle (£12 if you’re buying a mixed six). I bought six. I’ve tried it several times since. And every time there is a new discovery. It’s a wine that shocks and then delights anew, invokes a child-like delight, every time.
Lefteris Glinavos of Domaine Glinavos was one of the pioneers of the Greek wine revival. His estate, now run by son Thomas, is in Zitsa in the north-west, mountainous region of Epirus, western Greece. With the help of the local university, Thomas Glinavos researched this old traditional wine style (paleokerisio means 'old-fashioned') and decided to revive it.
It’s a blend of 97% Debina (a white variety vinified with 12 days of skin contact) and 3% of the red grape Vlahiko. The finished wine is carbonated in tank. The result is an off-dry, semi-sparkling orange wine that almost defies categorisation.
It is stunning with food! It matches with all the awkward elements of a Japanese meal: the sweetness of the rice and mirin, intense umami of soy, the sharp tang of pickled ginger and radish, the heat of wasabi, the delicacy of fish, the unctuousness of meat and the challenge of spice. But it’s also fabulous with charcuterie, with roasted nuts, with feta drizzled in honey and dusted with dried thyme, with scallops cooked in sweet sherry, prawns in garlic butter and paprika. It’s the perfect match for French onion soup and caramelised onion tart. I’ve never quite come across a wine that crosses the cultural cuisine barriers as this one does. And at just 10.5% and 50 cl, it makes the perfect light-lunch wine. Don’t serve it too cold – maybe start it around 8 °C (46 °F) and let it warm up to above 12 °C (54 °F) to play with the range of flavours as it warms in the glass.
The wine can be bought in Greece, Sweden, Denmark and the UK, and someone has been very busy maximising its availability in the US, starting at $13.99 for the 2018. Wine-Searcher lists retailers in California, New York (state), Massachusetts, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Oregon, Washington DC, Illinois, Texas and Florida. I've not specified a vintage on the Wine-Searcher link because a number of merchants haven't stated the vintage on their websites, which means the search doesn't pick them up. But I've tasted the 2017 and 2018 and they are both great. Pure is currently selling the 2018 vintage in the UK.