Blood of Hercules

I love country of blue and white, Greece. In fact the Greek flag is represented by 9 stripes of blue and white said to be the 9 Muses, who are the goddesses of art and civilization.  My bloodline travels back to Greece on my mother’s side. I do have distant relatives who still live there in the small Peloponnesian town of Niata. Despite having traveled to Greece twice, I have never met them. With such breath-taking landscapes, history, and food, what is there not to love about it?

On my second trip to Greece, I was fortunate enough to go for work. It was paid for, and I was paid to go! Imagine my surprise when my boss told me I was going. It was definitely one of my happiest days of the job ever. We flew over in the month of May and landed in Athens. From there we got right into our chariots and headed south to the Peloponnese. We stopped at the Corinth Canal for photos, to stretch our legs, and regroup after a long flight from Newark, NJ. We were headed to the town of Napflion where we were going to be staying for the night. Along the way we stopped to visit the vineyards of Skouras. Skouras was established in 1986 in Pyrgela, Argos by George Skouras. George trained in Dijon, France. George became a pioneer and was the first winemaker to begin to blend Greece’s indigenous grapes with the more worldly-common grapes, like Cabernet Sauvignon. His first and now flagship wine he made was called Megas Oenos. It is comprised of mostly St. George (Aghiorghitiko) and Cabernet Sauvignon.

In Greece, St. George is also known as the “Blood of Hercules.” It is one of the most noble of red grapes in Greece and produces some of the best full bodied, world class wines the world knows today. As of 2012, it is the most widely planted grape in Greece and predominately region of Nemea, which is where Skouras is located. In the area around Metsovo it is used to make a common table wine called Katoi. St George can be soft and supple to tannic and brooding. It usually spends time in oak and benefits from the barrel-aging. Winemakers will use the blood of Hercules to make rosé wines as well. My visit to Skouras was my first introduction to this grape. We were given a tour and brought downstairs into their barrel room which was lined with endless rows of barrels stacked high, filled to the max with mainly reds, and a few chardonnays.

We sat down for a group lunch with an assortment of typical Greek foods. Being the Greek guy on the trip, a few of my colleagues kept asking me “what’s this?” or “how do you pronounce that?” We went through a great tasting of their whole line up of wines and ended with a few vintages of the Skouras Megas Oenos. Most people prejudge greek wine, which is too bad, because some of their complex reds and whites being produced now can hold to some of the best bordeaux’s, supertuscans, and California cabs. The Megas Oenos is one of those wines.

It is rich and gripping. The tannins are tight down the center of the tongue and on the cheeks, with a noticeable perfect balance of acidity of the sides of the tongue. It didn’t taste hot and the aromas were laced with beautiful notes of cherry, cedar wood, herbs, and plums. It got more pronounced the longer it sat in my glass. The back vintages began to show notes of blue fruit and a strangely-charming waft of sea brine.  For a typical retail price of $20-$25, I would buy four of these over one bottle of a fantastic $100 California Cabernet any day of the week.

The rest of the trip was stellar, we drove through Tripoli to visit a cheese maker and sampled some of the best barrel aged feta, kefolatiri, and kasseri cheese the Peloponnese has to offer. Ate lunch at the peak of a giant hilltop olive grove, ate a traditional Greek supper prepared by the local towns people just for us just south of Sparta, ate the heads off whole fish fresh out of the Mediterrannean, and stood on the Acropolis with thousands of other tourist. We drank amazing st. george, roditis, and malagousia wine all along the way.

If you ever had the chance to a wine made of St. George, I highly recommend it. Like us Greeks, you too will then have the Blood of Hercules in you.