I have this odd mental rigmarole I go through whenever I taste Greek wines. I think to myself, oh, ok, fine, I'll taste the Greek wines; it's rather like the feeling you have when you live alone and accept the fact that it really is time to clean out your closet. However, this feeling makes no logical sense, because for the past few years, every time I taste a range of wines from Greece, I'm pretty much blown away by (a) how good they are, and (b) how absurdly affordable they are, given how good they are. You'd think I'd learn.
Anyway, once again, Greek wine producer comes to town, I agree to meet with the guy, am kind of skeptical, sigh, accept that it's part of my duty as globally-engaged 21st century wine critic, and once again, the wines just impress the hell out of me.
The wine producer this time was George Pavlou of Pavlou Winery (find the importer here). He's based in Amynteon, a region in northern Greece that's been producing wine for, oh, six thousand years or so. His family's only been making wine for 350 years or so, and their vines are only, oh, 70 to 100 years old, so we're really looking at a startup here...well, maybe not. Anyway. Pavlou makes wine solely from the local Xynomavro grape (albeit blended with a few other varieties in some instances). Xynomavro always suggests—when it's made well, at least—a cross between Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo to me, which makes sense if George Pavlou is correct in stating that the variety has actually been genetically proven to be the ancestor of Pinot Noir. (I can't find any backup for this statement, though, so will reserve judgment.) Regardless: it makes aromatic, lightly colored, tannic wines with flavors that recall wild strawberries or raspberries, smoke, and licorice.
What it doesn't usually make is white wine, seeing as how it's a red grape. George Pavlou doesn't seem to care about that, though, and one of the best wines of his that I tasted was an intriguing Xynomavro/Riesling blend, the 2006 Pavlou Kappa P11 ($19). It's medium bodied, with orange rind and apple aromas, intense acidity (that's a good thing), wonderful texture, and berry notes. All stainless steel—no oak here. The somewhat mysterious "P11" refers to the area and acreage of the portion of his estate that it comes from. The Xynomavro juice is taken from the first gentle pressing of the grapes, before there's any time for skin contact, hence the lack of color.
Also impressively good was the 2005 Pavlou Klima ($18), a 100% Xynomavro, vinified red (i.e. the usual way) and aged half in stainless steel and half in barrels. I thought it was just a steal of a wine, with aromas of licorice and sweet berries, a pretty translucent red color, light smoke and tar notes, vibrant berry fruit, stiff tannins, a hint of licorice and citrusy acidity. Roast chicken with herbs, veal milanese, lamb shank—its pairing possibilities are appealingly wide-ranging, and that's a good thing, because I'm leaving right now for dinner.