Friday, 11 June 2010

World Cup Wines: Day Two: Greece vs South Korea

Tricky tie this. 

Who knows what about wine from South Korea? Virtually all Korean alcohol is made from the national crop, rice. And among rice wines the most popular style is probably the clear Cheongju - Korean Saké. 

The most popular and also common everyday drinking brand - it's found in very many restaurants - is called Chung Ha. 

At circa 13% alcohol it only has the weight of an Australian Chardonnay but the flavour of a 'hot' spirit - like a whisky or brandy, even a poteen, and it's this distilled feel on the palate - even though Saké is actually brewed - that exacerbates the sense of an alcoholic 'kick'. 

The Greek starting eleven reads Limnio, Xynomavro, Korinthiaki, Agiorgitiko, Vertzami, Mandilaria, Savatiano, Rhoditis, Assyritiko, Moschophilero, Robola. 

But these aren't footballers, they're Greek grape varieties, and in common with their footballers, mostly unknown outside Greece. 

The Greeks do produce wine from household varieties. The Château Carras vineyard was planted to the design of the man known as the forefather of modern oenology, the late Professor Émile Peynaud, with native Bordeaux varieties, and has over the past forty-plus years acquired a worldwide reputation for the quality of both its reds and its whites.  And it's a white wine with a worldwide reputation that I recommend. 

But as this is about World Cup wines, so Greece needs to have a distinctive presence beyond blended foreign varietals. It needs representation by a wine that screams Greece just as loudly as the football fans who shout from the terraces, 

Sikoseh-to, to g*******, den boro, den boro na pereemeno (Lift it up, lift up the f******, I can't, I just cannot wait).

Step forward, Retsina.

Contrary to its historic reputation, nowadays young and fresh premium quality Retsina is as delightful and refreshing a white wine as you could ever pair with dolmades, moussaka, kleftiko or stifado. 

The addition of Aleppo pine resin to the must during fermentation is what gives it that distinctive aroma and flavour, which in contemporary Retsina has little of the cloying weight of old. Look for traditional restaurant favourites Kourtaki and Boutari plus Karelas and the likes of Ino, Gaia Ritinitis Nobilis and Creta Olympias.

The South Koreans were unexpected semi-finalists at home in the World Cup of 2002.  Greece shocked everybody when winning at Euro 2004. No surprises here though. 

Retsina 1 Saké 1

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