The southern suburbs of Athens has a small wine region called Attica. While we were in Athens, of course we had to visit it.
Few grapes do well in this hot and dry area. In fact, overt 90 percent of production is of the white, savatiano grape. This low-acid grape is predominately used to make Retsina or other low-cost wines. Since most wineries want to offer a broader range of wines than just savatiano, many buy other grapes, especially agiorgitiko, from producers in other regions.
Savatiano grapes must be grown differently than grapes in most regions. Instead of trellising the vines, each wine is planted separately and grown low to the ground, as a means of preserving moisture and protecting grapes from the sun. While it results in low yields, the low-priced wines do have a market, overwhelmingly in Greece. And since the Greek market has been battered by years of austerity and recession, many wineries have seen their volumes, along with the prices they can charge for their wines, decline.
We visited two Attica wineries.
The Anagnoutou family has been producing wines in Greece since the early 20th century. It built a large new winery in 2006 in which it makes the equivalent of 250,000 bottles of wine under several of its own labels. It also offers low-priced private label wines, packed in plastic bottles (yes, this is nota typo) and boxes for sale through supermarkets and other price-driven outlets. After a tour of its facilities, we adjourned to the tasting room to taste four of its wines plus one distilled brandy that it makes from the pomace, or residue from its pressed grapes. Although we were not especially excited by their lower-priced, high-volume Anagnostou Savatiano or Anagnostou Agiorgitiko (which they source from Nemea), we did enjoy some of their premium offerings. These included a barrel sample of what will be the company’s 2015 Magemeno Vave li, or “Magic Barrel”, a very dry, full-bodied version of the normally aromatic and fruity savatiano grape. Unlike its regular savatiano, this wine undergoes much maceration and is aged for three years in neutral oak barrels before being released. More interesting still, at least to our palate, was the medium-sweet, 2006 EIO Muscat, whose grapes are dried I the sun for a month before being pressed, undergoing completely natural fermentation (no yeast, sugar or preservatives added) and being aged in neutral barrels for five years. We finished off a taste of Tsipouro Alain, a strong, 38 percent alcohol, distilled brandy made from, and retaining some of the aroma of the savatiano pomace from which it was produced.
Megaponos is a much smaller winery, down from 130,000 to 50,000 bottles since Greece’s 2010 economic downturn. It, like Anagnostou, focuses primarily on savatiano grapes: the same, light, easy-drinking grape that was the traditional basis for retsina (which adds pine resin to the wine). While the winery’s entry level savatiano is certainly straightforward and easy drinking, it too produces a barrel-aged version (we tasted the 2012) that spends one year in neutral oak (called “Stone Cellar”) that is more interesting. So too is its 2016 Mantinea Moscofilero is its 2012 Agiorgitiko. Not that any of the wines are particularly complex, but some are very easy to drink and with friends or with food.
Eataki, a casual burger and crepe restaurant that we thought would make a nice break from the saganaki and souvlaki and gyros (primary pork and chicken, since we have been having such a hard time finding lamb) that had been our fast/casual diets for the last couple weeks. We were right. The big, juicy beef burger, cooked medium rare, as we requested, was served with Roquefort cheese, mushrooms and tomato, with a side of French Fries. For diversification, we also had a ham, cheese and tomato crepe, which we also enjoyed. And all this for 11 euros
Monaxia, where we had a rather pleasant dinner. Joyce had grilled, herbed chicken which was relatively tasty, if somewhat dry. Tom fared better with stewed rabbit in tomato sauce with mushrooms. The rabbit was tender and the tomato sauce, while lighter and less concentrated than we had become used to in Sicily, worked well with the dish. And since we don’t really drink when we taste, we split a half carafe of the serviceable, house red before heading off to the airport to begin our exploration of some of the Greek Islands.