Nicknamed The Blood of Hercules in Nemea, Greece, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try this red varietal. Agiorgitiko (literally translates to Saint George’s grape) is one of the most widely planted grapes in the country. The grape’s Greek name could be paying homage to the Saint George’s chapel in Nemea, whose monks likely managed the vineyards and harvested the grapes, so sure, why not name a grape for them! It’s so dubbed The Blood of Hercules because the legend goes that Hercules drank this wine after (or before) he slayed the Nemean lion. There’s another legend, though, that Greece’s King Agamemnon preferred wine from this grape throughout his reign during the Trojan War.
Karen MacNeil calls agiorgitiko (pronounced “ah-yohr-YEE-tee-koh”) one of the two most important red varietals from Greece. This red varietal flourishes in hot climates, like that of Nemea, where agiorgitiko is the only grape allowed to be planted. The higher-altitude vineyards can produce more juicy and ripe flavors and a well-structured wine. Agiorgitiko is typically planted in dry, infertile soil which yields fewer, but more concentrated grapes, and harvested sometime in the latter half of September. While these are thick-skinned berries, they are very susceptible to disease which can affect the ripeness and overall yield. Mildew and rot are also common “friends” of this grape, so producers must be vigilant and keep a good eye on their crop.
These grapes are used to make quite the spectrum of wines, ranging from light rosés to deep, full-bodied reds. It’s also aged in barrels of varied woods, imparting a whole range of flavors and aromas. Though it’s often used to make a single varietal wine, agiorgitiko is also commonly blended with cabernet sauvignon.
Having limited my Greek wine to roditis (where I drink it in Chicago’s Greektown, it’s a rosé or very light red wine, but I learned it’s actually a white grape with pink skin!! How’s that for a good ol’ switcheroo!!), I thought I’d start on the red side of things. At the Milwaukee Public Market location of Thief Wine, they had this bold label that just stuck out to me:
I purchased the 2013 Red Stag Spiropoulos from Nemea for $17. As you can see from the picture above, we’re working with a dry red wine that has 13.5% ABV. You can imagine my sadness when I started popping this one open when this happened:
It always makes me nervous when I break a cork. Now sure, when I was younger and way less experienced with opening bottles of wine with a corkscrew, I cracked my fair share. But I’m much older and wiser and practiced, so this threw me off a bit.
I managed to remove the rest of the cork without issue. But whenever this happens, it makes me wonder if there’s something wrong with the bottle of wine. Corks shouldn’t do that, especially for a wine that’s only 5 years old (probably bottled less than 4 years ago). You can also see how the wine had already bled about halfway up the cork. Side note: I had the pleasure of joining a friend in drinking a bottle of French wine from 2005 – yep, 13 years ago! – and when we opened it, the cork was immaculate, and looked brand new, with just the wine at the bottom. Amazing.
At any rate, we’re going with it, and I’m cheers-ing everyone before getting into the tasting portion:
Appearance: Deep garnet in color, this wine fades towards the edges of the glass, with what I would say is medium viscosity (for context: water has low viscosity, honey has high viscosity).
Nose: This is an interesting one. I picked up notes of red plum, red cherry, fig, and rose. It has some subtle undertones, and I am admittedly getting over a bit of a stuffy nose, so I’m not sure I’m picking everything up I normally would. It has a soft fragrance, not overbearing like some red wines, which is very soothing.
Taste: Woo! I could taste a lot of the red cherry, perhaps a less ripened cherry, and also a hint of thyme. What really got to me was the intense chalky aftertaste, which essentially felt like a light coating of dust throughout my entire mouth. I don’t know if this is supposed to happen, or if that’s a result of the cork situation…. Aside from that, it was medium-high tannins and acidity.
Overall: If the chalky aftertaste hadn’t been there, I’d say this would be a good selection. It’s light on the mouthfeel, and would probably pair well with many familiar Greek dishes, like spanakopita and pastitsio (oh and don’t forget the lamb!). But I’m pretty convinced the cork resulted in a flaw to the wine.
This one, unlike my prior post, deserves a second chance. So next time I’m at a Greek restaurant, rather than going along with everyone else drinking roditis, I’m going to order a glass of agiorgitiko. Until then….cheers!!