Greek wines are so easily forgettable. Even if you could read the label, would you really remember the name of something you drank in Athens or Mikonos? Retsina is different. Anybody who's visited a Greek restaurant, anywhere, has a retsina story. Mine is short. Retsina is a taste I have not acquired. I can understand the advantages of adding resin or herbs or honey or anything to a wine to make it palatable when all Greeks were gods and heroes, but there must be unresinated, drinkable wine in Greece today.
There is. For instance, France's ,Emile Peynaud is consulting enologist to a shipping tycoon's winery, one of several producers and cooperatives keen to modernize Greece's wine industry. Whether the results are exported is another matter. I'm told that there's a reasonable selection in New York, but it's not as good here and I'm grateful to Miles Lambert, a local amateur specialist on Eastern European wines, for pointing me in the right direction.
I do remember, not altogether clearly, noisy evenings in a Greek restaurant in London, drinking white Demestica. There is a red too, but the white seemed to go more quickly with the dolmades, spanakopita and chewy bread. Demestica is produced by Achaia Clauss of Patras, which is at the northern end of the Peloponnesus, largest of the Greek production areas. It's distributed in the Washington area and sells for around $3.50. Achaia Clauss has a marginally fuller white, Santa Helena, $4. Both whites are dry, a touch bitter, the bitterness of tolerable oxidation, and can handle oily foods.
The other major exporter is Cambas, whose range includes a mavrodaphne, a sweet red (mavro being a word for red wine); and a kokkineli, or ros,e.
If you're looking for some variety, pop into Acropolis, a Greek store in Northwest Washington. In among the olives, beans and canned Mediterranean goods, there's a small wine section. An '81 Robola de Cephalonia, $3.90, comes in a burlap wrap, which slows down the chilling and the wine definitely tastes better chilled. It's a pleasant, dry white that drank well with hummus and pita.
From Naoussa in Macedonia, reported to be one of the better areas for reds, the '80 produced by Boutari, $3.75, is light in color, light in body, dry with a tingly finish and, again, pleasant with food on a hot summer's evening.
The island of Samos goes in for muscats, the sweeter the better. The bottle labeled as Sweet Muscat from the Cooperative of Samos, $3.50 for a liter, is, I am advised, a pedestrian example. The best are not sent here. I was further advised to drink it with as sweet a slice of baklava as I could find. You must be kidding. It didn't need any help. The amber liquid poured like kalamata olive oil, smelled and tasted strongly muscat and yet had a surprisingly light body for such a sweet wine. Like retsina, a samos must be an acquired taste.
Vichon: When George Vierra, winemaker and partner at Vichon, makes the blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon wines that will be bottled as the winery's Chevrier Blanc, he experiments until he finds the perfect match for salmon. Vierra's a fisherman, but the story does show what importance the Napa's Vichon attaches to making wines to go with food. The Chevrier Blanc is another successful example of blending sauvignon blanc and semillon, in this case about half-and-half. The '81, available in September, $10.50, is a golden, medium bodied dry wine. A wine for salmon, like the man said.