I have always had plans to visit Greece, rich with history and the pictures of pristine white architecture overlooking majestic shores, the promise of beautiful islands off the mainland (Mykonos and a handful of others)—populated only by locals… thanks Hollywood. Dreams of tasting the finest Greek wines in an unreal setting seemed distant last Tuesday but I was able to visit the country and a few other nations in proximity via the glass vessel while sitting in Los Angeles.

We began our journey in Greece, studying the history of wine in digestible bits. Viticulture took root in 7th century BC and the wine makers and traders stored their efforts in amphorae (larger earthenware vessels) that were sealed with resin to protect against oxygen, however, the resin, while effective at its primary duty of protecting, ended up mixing into the finished product, creating retsina.

Though we did not pour any resinated wines we did go through a handful of white Greek wines like Malvasia and Roditis, my first time tasting the latter and both seemed like they had a natural affinity for fresh fish and cockles.

We moved on, covering Hungary, Austria and Switzerland, tasting through a throng of uncommon varietals. In all we sipped and spit:

09 Boutari Moschofilero

09 Anastasiou Roditis

09 Anastasiou Mavasia

09 Hiltop Cserszegi Füszeres

07 Királyudar Takaji Furmint Sec

07 Heidi Schrock Furmint

07 Egri Bikavér

09 Angerer Gruner Veltliner

08 Zantho Zweigelt

06 Royal Tokaji

06 Prieler Pinot Blanc

It seemed that a majority of the white wines were awkward; their structure (body) was similar to a prepubescent teen and hardly filled out. The notes were not really assertive either, the aromas were often buried deep inside the glass and what we could distinguish was not too exciting. There was nothing overly negative about any of the white wines from a stylistic standpoint, Greece or the neighboring countries, but nothing too exciting either. I was routinely left wanting more from each wine in the early going of the tasting.

I was waiting to be wowed until we ventured into the red wines of Hungary like the Bull’s Blood from Egri Bikavér in Northern Hungary.  It was unique, in a word, with notes of cigarette smoke and perfume and a blend of ash and huckleberry on the tongue. It lingered on the buds but I can easily say that this wine is not for everyone.

Another red wine of interest was the Zantho Zweigelt that enticed me with its bouquet of spice, smoke, menthol and slightly cooked corn tortillas; the wine was piquing my interest before I even put my lips to the challis. In the mouth it was full bodied with moderate acidity, moderate tannins and tasted of cocoa and dark berries. A more common flavor profile definitely, but it stood out from the rest of the wines save for the two styles of Tokaji.

Finally, we ended class with a bang… a dessert wine. Royal Tokaji, the nobly rotten (botrytised) grape juice was judiciously doled out of the 500ml bottle. The wine was rich and satisfying as it sat flush on the palate with a viscosity that made it even more satisfying. The golden liquid gave off fragrances of honey and ripe stone fruit that leaped from the glass. It was delicious and a nice finish to a class that happened to restore faith in some of the less well-known wines of the world.

I was able to subtract eleven wines, dwindling my total to 285 wines left to taste with this three-hour class, whetting my appetite for better Greek wines when I eventually get around to visiting Greece. I have to admit that I am beginning to feel homesick during class, pining for some Central Coast Pinot Noir, or at least, some more common varietals. The bulk of these wines, readily available to the consumer, did not really captivate me.