Nectar of the gods?

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Indy Lifestyle Online

What I don't miss about my Greek island-hopping days is the pre-prandial ouzo followed by rotgut retsina. I just can't feel very sorry about the decline of the piney plonk that doesn't travel much beyond the beach. Although to give it its due, Athenians still like their dry white Ambelones wine made from roditis and savatiano, the retsina grape. If you are passing through the capital this summer, this thriving metropolis of forgotten or never-previously-encountered grapes is the best source of the country's cornucopia of distinctive flavours.

For a land steeped in classical lore and viticultural history, it's remarkable how undistinguished its wines have been in modern times. Its wine god, associated festivals and orgiastic parties, honour the country's treasure trove of some 300 grapes that have hardly gained international renown. Yet, since my days in the sun, Greek wine has been busy reinventing itself.

Good things have been unfolding on Captain Corelli's Cephalonia, home to the Gentilini family and their dry white Robola (£5.99, Oddbins), and rosé. In the Cyclades, Santorini seemed too remotely beautiful and impossibly volcanic to be doing much in the way of wine. Yet Hatzidakis, arguably Greece's best winemaker, has been quietly ploughing a volcanic furrow to produce a chablis-like, minerally dry white 2003 Hatzidakis Santorini (£9.99, Adnams, 01502 727222), a blend of assyrtiko, aidani and athiri that in the 2004 vintage (£8.95, coming soon to the Wine Society, 01438 761246) is more opulent than ever. And the terraced vineyards of Samos, close to the Turkish coast, have transformed the island's perfumed muscat into golden Samena and an irresistibly luscious sweet nectar called, er, Samos Nectar (around £9.70, Tanners, 01743 234455, Adnams, and www.fortnumandmason.com).

On the mainland, you'll find the aromatic moscophilero grape in the Peloponnese, appetising seafood whites made from the not-so-appetising-sounding roditis, and the strong, satisfying dessert wine Nyx Mavrodaphne (£9.99 a half-litre, Oddbins).

For wine-dark reds, Nemea is home to the intense agiorgitiko grape (St George to you and me), while in Naoussa in the Macedonian province north of Mount Olympus, the xinamavro is the quality red variety. Macedonia is home to the excellent Domaine Geravassiliou and the model vineyards of Biblia Chora on the barren slopes of Mount Pangeon, where fine reds and whites are made from a combination of indigenous and international varieties. Try the aromatically spicy but dry 2003 Domaine Biblia Chora white (£8.49, Booths), or the formidable 2004 follow-on vintage (Richards & Richards, Bury, 0161-762 0022; Wimbledon Wine Cellars, 020-8540 9979).

Even the big guns today such as Tsantali, Kourtakis and Boutari, have dusted themselves down to produce fresher, far more reliable wines than in the past. As evidence, Boutari does a good job with vilana, the attractively crisp fresh white of Crete, while the 2004 Santorini Boutari (£5.99, Oddbins), is a hugely appealing modern dry white.

We may not be as spoilt for choice here in the UK as in the restaurants of Athens, but you'll still find an ample supply of palatable Greek wines here to replicate that holiday experience without having to pass a goatskin of retsina though Her Majesty's customs & excise. These days, the pine resin is strictly bathroom.

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