John B. Reyna
The wines of Neméa are more than the blood of Hercules
For most American wine consumers, Greek wine is as mythical as the demi-god Hercules. American consumers aren’t familiar with the names of Greek grapes or regions, which can make buying Greek wine a challenge. Part of the issue is that Greek wines have not been as plentiful on US soil as Italian and French wines. However, that problem is primarily due to Greeks consuming an astounding 95% of their native wine. With the limited number of Greek wines reaching our shores, most American consumers couldn’t find quality wines worthy enough to make an impression. For example, here in Texas, there wasn’t a supply of quality Greek wine until importers like R&R Selections came to our rescue.
Lucky for us, today, more Greek wines are being exported than ever before, especially wines of higher quality. Therefore, it’s important to learn where to seek out affordable, delectable Greek wines. This article will showcase one of our favorite Greek wine regions—the PDO Neméa. If you’re more of a visual person, Teakwood Tavern’s YouTube channel has you covered:
If you’re a fan of Greek mythology, then Neméa might sound familiar. Hercules, as part of his twelve labors, was tasked with bringing King Eurystheus the skin of an invulnerable lion that terrorized the hills around Neméa. Spoiler alert: Hercules killed the Neméan lion. In ancient Greek paintings or sculptures, Hercules is often depicted wearing a lion skin, which is believed to be from the Neméan lion.
© Maria Daniels, courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Museum
Because of Hercules' ties to Neméa, the wines of PDO Neméa are often nicknamed the Blood of Hercules.
Greek wine laws
Greek wine laws follow European Union guidelines for geographical indications. One tier is Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). The next tier is Protected Geographical Indication (PGO).
The PDO Neméa was established in 1971. Neméa is located on Peloponnese, the large peninsula that hangs off the Greek mainland by the narrow Isthmus of Corinth. Neméa is about 20 miles southwest of Corinth. Neméa is the largest PDO in Greece with approximately 3,000 hectare under vine.Currently, there are no official subappellations within the PDO Neméa. However, there are villages or zones that have garnered attention due to their unique terroir.
Places like Koútsi, Asprókambos, Ancient Neméa, and Psari reflect the diversity of Neméa with varying altitudes, exposure, and soils. These villages are known for high elevation, even though some are higher than others. Asprókambos, for example, has vineyards planted at 2,800 feet above sea level.
Neméa is often described as being comprised of three zones based on altitude—valley floor, mid-elevation, and highest. The valley floor is known for basic wine. The mid-elevation has been the source of quality wine in the past, often in a richer, dramatic style. The highest zone, with some vineyards as high as 2,950 feet above sea level, is the area to shine in recent years. Still, the majority of wine is blended from several zones.
The only grape that can carry the PDO Neméa designation is Agiorgitiko. There are other grapes grown in the regions, but they must carry the broad Peloponnese designation.
Neméa is known for its marl and deep red soil. Marl is a calcium carbonate mud, which contains variable amounts of clays and silt. Marl provides exceptional drainage, which helps limit yields. Limestone is also prevalent throughout Neméa, but often deeper in the soil. The lowlands are very fertile, which is why this zone is known for bulk wine. The soils of the mid-elevation zone are shallower and rockier. The highest zone has the greatest amount of marl.
Generally, Neméa has a warm Mediterranean climate. But the vineyards in the higher altitudes are considerably cooler.
If you see a bottle labeled PDO Neméa, then it must be produced from the varietal Agiorgitiko (Ah-yor-yeé-ti-ko). The word Agiorgitiko translates to St. George so it is often referred to as St. George’s grape. Agiorgitiko produces small, thick-skinned berries. Delicious primary red fruit (e.g., strawberry and red cherry) is a common characteristic in most representations. When grapes are left on the vine to ripen longer, black fruits emerge as well as higher tannins.
There is a plethora of wine styles produced in Neméa, which can make it difficult to know what you’re buying. Wines may be dry, medium sweet, and sweet. They also range from light, fruity, and immediately approachable (i.e., drinking window up to six years) to full-bodied, age-worthy (i.e., able to exceed ten years). Wines can be anywhere from medium bodied to full-bodied.
According to Master of Wine Yiannis Karakasis, there is a growing trend amongst producers to create red wines with more finesse. We are thrilled with this trend. We prefer this style of reds in general. Many of the lighter wines are made by carbonic maceration, which extracts color from the grape but little tannin resulting in soft wines full of fruit.
Since Neméan wine is produced in many different wine styles, it’s not feasible to give pairing advice for every type wine. Thus, I’ll focus on wine we’re more likely to come across in the states, which is dry wine. Because of Agiorgitiko’s natural high acidity and the elevation in Neméa, it is a wonderful food wine. Pay attention to the alcohol because that will hint at the body of the wine. For wines under 13.5% ABV, pair with duck, poultry, tomato sauces, and cherry sauces. For wines with higher than 13.5% ABV, pair with steak, burgers, lamb, and richer sauces.
The future of Neméa
Things are looking bright for the PDO Neméa. According to Jancis Robinson, more high-tech wineries are being established in Neméa than any other Greek region. There is also an influx of young winemakers who have studied abroad, typically in France or the US, and are bringing advanced winemaking techniques to this historic region. The quality of wines will likely increase with this flood of capital and human talent.
Wines we tried for educational purposes
Domaine Skouras, 2017 Saint George Aghiorghitiko, Nemea $19
This dry wine was full of fruit and easily approachable. On the nose and palate, we found strawberry, raspberry, cranberry, sage, nutmeg, and cedar. Acidity was medium plus, and the tannins were medium. It was a medium-bodied wine with 13.5% ABV. The finish was in the low 20 seconds, which is perfectly fine for a $19 wine.
Domaine Skouras, 2014 Grand Cuvée, Nemea $34
This dry wine is Domaine Skouras’ next tier up from the wine mentioned above. The wine burst with flavors and aromas of cranberry, red cherry, blueberry, violet, earth, tobacco, baking spices, and anise. The acidity was medium plus and the alcohol was 13.5% ABV. The tannins were medium plus and elegant. The wine was medium-bodied and very well balanced. The delectable finish lasted in the low 30 seconds.
Palivou Estate, 2016 Single Vineyard Selection, Nemea $24
This dry wine was the biggest and boldest of the three. The tannins were high, and the alcohol was 14.5% ABV. On the nose and palate, we found cinnamon, black plum, black cherry, mushroom, licorice, asparagus, and lavender. The acidity was medium plus. The wine was full-bodied. The aggressive finish provided a finish in the low 30 seconds.
We are always seeking out unique wines that don't get enough love but also don't break the bank. Greek wines definitely fit this profile, especially the wines from the PDO Neméa. We love the high acidity and fruit forwardness that these wines showcase. These are wonderful food wines, and there is a range of styles you could play with for pairings. Keep the lower alcohol versions in mind when you are planning your Thanksgiving meal!
Sending big fat love,