Where once we Northern Californians felt obligated to drink mostly California wines, our local restaurants have broadened their palettes in the last several years, bringing more global wines to the table. (Marlowe has a Lebanese red blend that's to die for.) But these days, sommeliers are making room for another wine region on their lists: All hail Greece, a country whose wines are overdue for a revival.
The French may think they have the patent on good wine, but even they learned this craft from the Greeks, who have been making wine for at least a few thousand years, and from more than 300 indigenous grape varietals no less. (Archaeologists have found Greek winemaking artifacts that date back to 1600 BCE, while literary references to the Greek god of wine, Dionysus, date as far back as the 13th century BCE.)
Why these wines rarely find a place at our tables is beyond us. But according to local wine buyers and sommeliers, this is beginning to change.
“Greek wines are becoming more popular lately thanks to attention from the media, but also from the large number of people who've been traveling to Greece," says Dan Marshall, the GM and wine buyer at Alameda's Craft Beer & Wine, a European wine shop that stocks more than 85 bottles from Greece alone. His most popular wines come from four different Greek regions: Santorini, known for dry white wines made from Assyrtiko grapes grown on volcanic soil; Mantinia, a southern region that makes aromatic dry whites from the pink/puple-skinned Moschofilero grape; Nemea, known for a wide range of red wine made from the Agiorgitiko grape; and Naoussa, a northern region whose age-worthy red wines, made from the Xynomavto grape, are powerful and tannic.
No question, the names of these wines and their appelations are a mouthful to say, but they are definitely worth a swish. Here are some of our favorite spots in the Bay Area to eat and drink like the Greeks.
No list of Greek hot spots is complete without Kokkari, the chic hearth-warmed mainstay in Jackson Square. Kokkari's daily rotisserie, grilled meats, and roasted fish are to die for, each ready to pair with a variety of Greek wines. "People usually ask for traditional dry, medium-body red wines that come from Xinomavro," says manager Dimitrios Kalessis, who recommends Domaine Karydas and Domaine Diamantakos, which team perfectly with the Kokinisto me Manestra (braised lamb shank) and Mosharisia Brizola (charcoal-grilled, dry-aged ribeye). For sweets lovers, dessert wine here is a must. The Vin Sato of Santorini pairs beautifully with the Greek yogurt dessert. // 200 Jackson St. (Jackson Square), kokkari.com
If you're unsure about Greek wines, this Marina restaurant and wine bar serves boutique California wines too, just in case. But we think you're more adventurous than that (wink). Owner Nikos Maheras recommends the Sigalas, made with 100 percent Assyrtiko white wine grapes, which pairs well with small plates of steamed mussels and seared prawns. Vegetarians should try a glass of the Robola with a Greek salad. At happy hour, wines by the glass are $4 off. Order up some charcuterie and spanakopita to go with a glass of Skouras—made with Moschofilero grapes, it has a "crisp character and beautiful floral aroma of roses, violets, and few spices," Maheras says. // Mezés, 2373 Chestnut St. (Marina), mezessf.com
When you have a hankering for red wine and a juicy cut of meat, Orexi, owned by chef John Loufas and his wife Effie, is a cozy spot for a hearty Greek meal. The West Portal restaurant's most popular wine is the Agiorgitiko, a fragrant red wine from Nemea, an ancient city on the Peloponnese peninsula. Pair it with paidakia (grilled lamb chops served with potatoes). // 243 West Portal Ave. (West Portal), orexisf.com