Greek wines are very much the talk amongst discerning wine buying circles with enterprising and ambitious wine merchants, sommeliers and importers alike all looking to seek out new and interesting wines to take on. Which is where the 50 Great Greek Wine Awards can help identify the producers to be targeting. Here event organiser, Yiannis Karakasis MW, explains how it works and how he hopes it can play an important part in spreading the increasingly good news about Greek wines.
The judging panel for the 50 Great Greek Wine Awards included no less than seven Masters of Wine including: Mark Andrew MW, Wojciech Bonkowski MW, Julia Harding MW, Christophe Heynen MW, Caro Maurer MW, Lenka Sedlackova MW and Demetri Walters MW.
Tell us about the 50 Great Greek Wine awards – when did they start and what was the inspiration to have a top 50 awards like this?
We started with the 2020 edition during the pandemic so this is the third edition. I wanted to do something different compared to a classical competition and also something that would help spread the word about Greek wine. 50 GGW came naturally and since then together with Gregory Michailos, who is the development manager, we try to move forward by doing promotional activities around the world.
How do you run the awards and what is the entry process?
We do not feel obliged to do this every year as it is a project and not a traditional competition. We are more likely to do it every 18 months or so and the process is simple: the producers enter the wines they want and we buy the wines from the market. Wo do not accept samples from producers. This is another thing that is very important for us.
You have an international panel of judges – who took part and how was the judging carried out?
Every year there is young blood but the core of the judges remain the same. These are people that first of all value them as friends who have deep knowledge about Greek Wine. This year judges were: Mark Andrew MW (co-founder of Noble Rot Magazine Noble Rot Restaurants), Wojciech Bonkowski MW (wine writer), Julia Harding MW (senior editor and writer at JancisRobinson.com), Christophe Heynen MW (entrepreneur), Caro Maurer MW (journalist and educator), Lenka Sedlackova MW (senior brand manager at Bancroft) and Demetri Walters MW (wine consultant).
The wines are ranked according to the scores and the last day the judges retaste the best 80 wines to select the 50 GGW.
How did you decide which judges to work with – what were you hoping to achieve by working with them?
The judges are very important because they select the wines. I think this brings real value to our project and high credibility to the results. By having this amazing team of judges I obviously pursue the best selection of 50 GGW. There is no compromise for us as we want the best wines to communicate to the world.
What are the key criteria that the judges are looking for?
I have no involvement there. That is down to the judges to decide.
What developments have you seen in the awards this year in terms of the number of entries but also the styles of wine being entered?
We have definitely seen an increase. We started from 420 wines and this year we had more than 600 wines from 200 wineries. As most of the wineries filter their entries I am very satisfied. Don’t forget also that only 50 wines are awarded which is less than 9% of the entries. The entries show that both big and smaller wineries participate and we have many top wineries that do not participate in competitions because they agree with our concept.
What developments have you personally seen in Greek wine in the last five years?
Greek wine is receiving so much love these days and credit goes first to the winemakers and their dedication. We have seen the rise of wines of Santorini slowly gaining a fine wines’ status. Amazing wines, very powerful but also light in their feet with a saline signature. We are also witnessing the emergence of The Wines of the Islands (Tinos, Crete, Cephalonia) along with the rebirth of Mantinia and the excitement of Aigialeia in Peloponnese.
We have seen a change in style in the wines of Naoussa becoming softer and sexier and the quest of Nemea to find its identity. I am a big believer in Agiorgitiko, it is a variety with lots of dynamics and potential. And let’s not forget the big success of Limniona and the new discussion the dry Mavrodaphne puts on the table. There are so many things to be excited about Greek wine nowadays as there are fascinating wines and efforts all over the country.
Moreover we are seeing a stylistic shift to more traditional wines with new age Retsinas and the success of skin contact wines. I believe it is not a coincidence that in this year’s 50 GGW list there are four Retsinas and many orange wines along a Verdea. Sparkling wines are hot as well, especially from Amyndeo. Who would have thought about all of these two years ago?
How do you see Greek wine developing in the next five years?
I hope it will become more established and we are continuously working in this direction. We need to strengthen the message of our native varieties and unique wines and go beyond Greek restaurants and shops. If we succeed in that then Greek wine is going to become bigger. But all of this requires more work in the vineyard, better understanding of the varieties and their characteristics. We cannot hope for the best otherwise.
What styles, regions, grape varieties do you think are best placed to do well in the UK?
Native varieties – take your pick as there are so many to choose. All the wines and regions mentioned above I think fit my answer here. UK is ready for Greek wine and varieties like Assyrtiko, Robola, Vidiano, Malagousia, etc but also more exotic varieties like Dafni are already making waves. The same goes for reds usually lighter and silkier styled with judicious alcohol.
What is your advice for a UK wine buyer importer looking to take on Greek wines – what questions should they be asking and what should they be looking out for?
Look beyond Santorini now. Look into new regions like Aigialeia or classic regions that are making a comeback like Mantinia. Discover the new style of Greek reds from Agiorgitiko, Xinomavro, Mavrodaphne, Liatiko and Limniona etc. Walk the vineyards to understand that these are really terroir wines.
Any frustrations with how Greek wine is perceived around the world?
Νot really. I used to have about the old ideas that people believed about Retsina. ”Is there a good Retsina Yiannis?” they would ask me. I am proud now to answer: many.
What are the next steps for the awards?
The next steps is planning the promotional activities all over Europe with a major event in London. Last year 50 GGW travelled to Poland, Netherlands, Italy, France and Germany for the Symposium of Masters of Wine. We hope that we can spread the word overseas as well.
- You can find out more about 50 Great Greek Wines at its website here.