Agiorgitiko (Ah-yohr-Yee-ti-koh) is an ancient Greek red grape variety from the Peloponnesian peninsula in southern Greece. It thrives in the hot Mediterranean climate in the Nemea PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) wine appellation. The name means ‘St George’s Grape’ (and is commonly labelled as such) but is nicknamed ‘Blood of Heracles’. The mythology behind the name gives credit to the battle of Heracles (the Greek version of Roman Hercules) and the Nemean Lion he slew. The lion was impervious to mortals because of his golden fur and claws that could cut through the soldiers armour, therefore, he could only be killed by a Greek God. The legend claims the vines in Nemea were sprayed in the blood of the lion which now gives the wine its dark red color and rich, soft texture.
While Agiorgitiko can be grown in other areas, the best quality hail from higher altitudes in the Nemea region. The altitude will allow the grapes to ripen but will also retain higher levels of acid to keep the wines from tasting flat or flabby. It is an incredibly versatile grape that can be used to produce anything from rosé to dessert wines because of its acid content. Many wines with higher alcohol and tannin contents are intended for longer aging but Agiorgitiko is intended to be consumed no later than 10 years from the vintage date, and many should be drunk much sooner (especially the lighter styles). It is occasionally blended with Cab Sauvignon (because it has similar characteristics to Merlot). If the bottle lists Nemea as its place of origin, the wine is required to be 100% Agiorgitiko. It is now the most widely planted red grape variety in Greece, followed by Xinomavro. The aforementioned acidity in the higher altitude renditions are wonderfully food friendly wines for a diverse array of ethnic foods.
The bottle I selected for this week is a 2018 Skouras Agiorgitiko (or Saint George as it’s listed on the label) from Nemea. From the way I heard the wines from this varietal described, I expected the color to be more rich and opaque, so I was surprised to find the color to be a medium ruby color. It had significant legs that took their time dripping down the sides of the glass. The wine smells of minerals, ripe red bing cherries, pomegranate pearls, ripe wild strawberries, and red plums. When I tasted it, the acidity was present but not overwhelming, the direct result of using grapes grown in a vineyard at an elevation of 2400 feet. The wine had tannins but they were quite gentle and gave the wine a light body. In an attempt to convey this wine’s versatility when it comes to food pairings, I opted to have it with Indian food. I picked up some lamb tikka masala, chicken biryani, palak paneer, and garlic naan from my local restaurant to enjoy a lovely evening! The lamb tikka masala wrapped in garlic naan was fantastic in this pairing. The light char on the naan magnified the mild toasted oak notes in the wine. The cinnamon and other baking spices that also were the result of the oak aging were perfect with the complex mixture of spices in the tikka masala sauce. The gamey lamb and the red fruit notes added another dimension. Then there was the chicken biryani, which was an additional elaborate mixture of Indian flavors. This pairing was highlighted by the sparse raisins that were just present enough to surprise the palate and accentuate the red fruit that was front and center in the wine. The palak paneer would typically be better paired with a bright, vegetal white wine but it was agreeable with the Agiorgitiko as well because of the earthy notes that paired with the spinach. Each of the menu items was lightened by the acid that trimmed the perception of fat. So many aspects of the elements in the food and wine worked well together that the entire meal was a great end to a busy workday! This is a great bottle of wine to pull for a weeknight dinner anytime of year!