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07.13.2005

2002 Samos Grand Cru Vin Doux (Muscat), Samos, Greece

island.samos.jpg It's not everyone that can claim they've been making quality wine pretty much continuously since at least the twelfth century B.C. Most people also can't say with authority that their wines were the favorites of people like Hippocrates. You know, that greek guy who invented, um, well. At least I know they named the Hippocratic Oath after him. In any case, very few places in the world have a winemaking pedigree like the people of the island of Samos.

A thumbnail sized, green mountainous island that pokes up out of the eastern Agean sea, the name Samos comes from Sami (based on the Phoenician "sama," or "high place") and is the legendary homeland of King Angeus, about whom I could not find any information, even on Google, but who presumably was an important Greek. However, in Ionian times (before the height of Greek civilization) Samos was a seat of power in the Mediterranean and the home to king Polycrates. Much later, Samos is known for having produced the bane of every 9th grade Geometry student: a man named Pythagoras.

samos.bottle.final.jpg Samos has been making wine from a variety of grapes since time immemorial (wine vessels dating to 2800 BCE have been found on the island). However, in the 16th century, a variety of Muscat (blanc a petit grains) was brought to the island and quickly became the wine grape of choice and has henceforth been known as Muscat of Samos. Grown on the slopes of Mount Ampelos which rises to 1144 meters above sea-level, these small berried grapes are grown as high as 900 meters in elevation, and ripen to incredible sweetness in the Mediterranean sun during the day, and are cooled by ocean breezes at night.

Samos is arguably Greece's most famous wine appellation.

Modern wine production in Samos might be marked by the formation of the Union of Wine Making Cooperatives of Samos, which was founded in 1934 and united several small producers together on the island. Today wines from Samos are released under the label of Samos, controlled by this union. Comprised of 25 different cooperatives, with about 4000 members and winegrowers, the cooperative produces about 9000 tons of grapes per year for wine.

These grapes are used to make several wines, ranging from dry to sweet to the (thankfully) less popular retsina flavored wines.

This wine is comprised of grapes harvested at various times, from ripe to what we might consider late harvest, selected from choice vineyard plots. After crushing the grapes are barrel fermented in oak, of what variety and for how long I do not know. This wine is supposed to be able to age for decades if not centuries. Vintages from the early 20th century are supposed to be drinking especially well now.

Tasting Notes:
This wine is a light gold color in the glass with hints of brown and has a honeyed nose of candied lychee fruit, a scent which becomes the dominant flavor of the wine. Silky smooth in the mouth with high glycerin content, the wine is like liquid lychee gold tinged with honey. I'm not big on dessert wines in general, but this stuff was great.

Food Pairing:
This is a great dessert and or cheese wine. I think it would particularly complement nutty flavors like those of these pine nut cookies.

Overall Score: 9.5/10

How Much?: $14

This wine is available for purchase online.

Comments (19)

Fatemeh wrote:
07.14.05 at 1:27 PM

Huh. I don't think I knew that Muscat was the basis for Retsina.

What a sad use for a pretty little grape. (No offense to anyone of Greek decent who is a fan of the piney stuff -- I just don't need to drink wine that reminds me of violin class).

Alder wrote:
07.14.05 at 8:36 PM

Fatemeh,

I'm not sure what you mean exactly, but Muscat isn’t the BASIS for retsina, but they do make a muscat wine which they later flavor with retsina. I think there are other greek retsina wines made with other varietals as well.

I too, prefer my wines to lack the taste of furniture varnish.

WineDarkSea wrote:
08.18.07 at 5:25 AM

Sorry to barge in ex post facto. Retsina is made with the Savvatiano ("Saturday grape") variety. I don't like it myself, but retsina is meant to accompany intensely flavored food, such as garlic puree or pasturma. Now I don't like these either but one has to acknowledge that no other wine can stand up to food as spicily pungent as the above.

Alder wrote:
08.18.07 at 8:53 AM

DarkSea,

That's a very important cultural point -- there are several wines around the world that have a very specific cultural context in their pairing with food which are very hard to understand outside that context.

Barolo Chinato, for instance, which is flavored with quinine is designed to be paired with the very salty food of a certain region of Piemonte.

Misanthropas wrote:
04.25.12 at 7:19 AM

Dear Alder and rest of wine friends and enthusiasts,
retsina tradition supposedly started with the resin sealing the amphorees and also allowing the wine to travel around, in very very rocking nutshells of ships without spoiling (same way fortified wines such as port or sherry were navy favourites in "modern" times and later became "...an acquired taste"). That was how resin flavouring of wine started. The fact that last centuries Greeks used it heavily to mask the inferior quality of their "home mades" created the adverse infamy of retsina. Lately have appeared some decent retsinas from small vineyards in Attica and other areas.Results are good enough for a chef to risk serving it to the michelin guide agent.
As for the Samos and Lemnos muscats let's say they were the reason for the creation of dessert wines in Europe via the "noble mold" accident. And by historical irony, the cheap wine substitutes of medieval"imported" Samos and Lemnos sweets became far more expensive than the originals. It is like the story of a moonshine barrel that ousted the original barrel whisky and is today one of the most known drinks worldwide. Some day try the Samos gold medal sweet wine, on a sunny SF afternoon, side by side with your finest Sauternes or Tokaji then check the prices. Value for money might have a new meaning.

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