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Greek wines bring history to the dinner table

Ron Smith, World of Wine columnist

FARGO — Consider adding Greek wines to your testing/taste palate. You may or may not like them, but at least give them a chance to win you over, for a number of reasons:

1. Greece is one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world.

They are the ones who introduced wine to Europe, some 6,000 years ago, and revered it so much that they had a wine god named Dionysus who was credited with converting grape juice into heady wine. This led to the development of cults and temples where he was worshipped.

2. They developed advanced trellising system.

These led to producing better quality grapes with breeding and better tasting wine; the descendants of these grapes are still grown today. Greeks are also credited with realizing exposure to air caused wine to spoil quickly and protected it from doing so by pouring a layer of olive oil over the wine, which effectively kept it from oxidizing. This was a hallmark in being able to store wine without it spoiling just a few days following fermentation.

This detail, as slight as it may seem, made wine more available to a wider range of consumers, actually being shipped among the city-states of the Greek empire, including what is today known as Italy. When the empire of ancient Rome became a reality, it adopted much of the Greek culture throughout their occupied territories.

3. Their areas of wine grape production are wide-ranging.

From their southernmost island of Crete — which I visited several times while in the Navy — to their northernmost region of Macedonia, this country of islands and mountains has a varied range of climatic influences, which produce light, dry white wines to bold tannic reds, and everything in between.

The Peloponnesian peninsula that juts into the Mediterranean is the home of Nemea, the number one producer for exporting Greek wines. There, both dry and sweet red wines are produced with some finding their way to the American market.

One such wine, the Red Stag Spiropoulos, is grown in the Nemea region at altitudes exceeding 1,150 feet, in a sandy/clay limestone. It is vinified in the classic red wine tradition, in French oak barrels for 12 months. This dry wine maker is certified organic by DIO (Designation of Origin) and is the first Greek winery to be certified organic by the USDA. It's also kind to wallets at around $18 for a 750 ml bottle. The taste is distinctly balanced with soft tannins, with a nice, lingering finish. A combination of cherry, oak and vanilla leave one's palate wanting more.

If you don't happen to be a fan of pinot noir wines because of their fruity driven flavors, this is a good one to turn to. Made with 100 percent Agiorgitiko — often referred to as "St. George" in American markets, is a good stand-alone sipper, or one to accompany grilled chicken.