“Few countries have the wonderful bounty of indigenous grapes that Greece has” – an interview with Mark Squires

“Few countries have the wonderful bounty of indigenous grapes that Greece has” – an interview with Mark Squires

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He is Robert Parker’s “go-to man” when it comes to the wines of, among other regions, Southern Europe – including Greece. Mark Squires describes himself as “an attorney in Philadelphia who [circa 1980] became obsessed with wine in much the same way as that more famous attorney from Monkton”. His career in wine writing and education began by the end of the 1980s and progressed at a very rapid pace. In his own words, “Modern history began in 2006 when I was asked by The Wine Advocate to cover Portugal (now including Port as well, as announced in December, 2014). Since then, my portfolio has evolved to include Greece, much of the Middle East (Israel, Lebanon) and others (Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Republic of Macedonia, Cyprus) and much of the East Coast, USA”.

I met Mark on the island of Rhodes, back in 2008, probably during his first professional visit to Greece. We’ve stayed in touch through social media since, and I recently asked him for an interview for ilovegreekwine.com. He kindly agreed, and I’m delighted to present his extremely interesting insight and opinions below:

Mark Squires, Ted Lelekas and others - Rhodes 2008

Mark Squires, Ted Lelekas and others – Rhodes 2008

When did you first start tasting Greek wines professionally? How has your opinion on Greek wine changed/evolved since then?

It was about 2008. I think everyone has developed a surer hand, although there is still much work to do. The reds are better and the whites, which were already very interesting to me, have improved as well. I would argue that Santorini has become the first Greek region to really break through to international acclaim. Of course, there are still too many categories that are being explored rather than settled. It’s still about discovery in Greece.

In your experience with Greek wine to date, is there a grape, a region or even a producer that stand out? Do you have any favorites?

Of course. I particularly like Assyrtiko and Xinomavro. I’m also a big fan of Robola and Moschofilero. Which wines and producers I like best is best answered by my ratings, but certainly people like Kir-Yianni, Sigalas, Alpha Estate, Gaia, Gentilini, Argyros, Hatzidakis, Skouras and Tselepos stand out, but there are many others, too.

How would you characterize the image of Greek wine in the US market? Does it need to be changed, corrected or improved? What would be your suggestions? 

Greek restaurants have really helped. The word is getting out. Too many regions still need more critical mass, though. You can’t have a successful category with just two producers, or whatever. Sometimes, that doesn’t even mean “two good producers,” but just two. Literally, or almost so. How many make monovarietal Limnio or Robola, for instance? Greek restaurants have to continue to help pave the way by introducing consumers to unusual wines.

The way forward is ultimately with Greek grapes, notwithstanding some fine examples from wineries that use French grapes that are quite good. (For instance, I love Alpha Estate’s Sauvignon Blanc). Greek grapes give Greece an identity and make it easy to blend oeno-tourism with wine appreciation. Promoting tourism to the regions should be very helpful – it makes sense, since Greece is so historic anyway. Santorini is a great example of combining tourism and wine. It’s win-win for both wine and tourism. It is something that leaves you with a positive image and even more so if the grapes are Greek. That’s an identity for Greece.

Stop making Retsina. It constantly destroys Greece’s reputation and I’m amused by recent attempts to put a fig leaf on what amounts to adulterated wine. “Good retsina” is still mediocre wine. I’ve seen some scores that seem literally hilarious of late; the wine without retsina wouldn’t be that good, let alone with it.

Mark Squires at Boutari Winery, with Yannis Voyatzis and Bill Georgiou

Mark Squires at Boutari Winery, with Yannis Voyatzis and Bill Georgiou

If there is one thing about Greek wine that has impressed you to date, what would it be and why?

The whites make great sense for the climate. They are fresh and fun. It isn’t quite as clear where the reds will wind up, but it has already been proven that they can succeed.

Is there a region, grape, wine or producer that you consider your personal “discovery”?

Well, I hope in the USA I have helped some wines become better known. Some examples might be Gentilini’s Robola, Sigalas Santorini and others. I was proud of my long article last year, where I visited almost every significant producer of Xinomavro.  Now, who exactly “discovered” them in any meaningful way or was “most influential” – one of those concepts requires research and the other is just bragging. I have time for neither. I tried to give them respect early on, though.

How would you compare the wines of Greece with those of the other countries that you specialize in?

Greece is still under construction. Terroirs are defined, but there are too many areas (like Robola) where there are only a couple of producers that really matter. But Greece has amazing diversity. You can get crisp wines with finesse or big blockbusters with rich, ripe fruit (like some upper level Agiorgitiko). There is something for everyone. It’s hard to generalize. Greece doesn’t have just one type of wine. What it does have, though, is indigenous grapes. That gives it a unique identity in a way places like, say, Israel cannot match.

Mark Squires with Paris Sigalas

Mark Squires with Paris Sigalas

 

If you could design the perfect itinerary for your next visit to Greece, what would it include?

I have neglected personal visits to the islands of late. I would like to do some island hopping: Santorini-Crete-Cephalonia-Samos, perhaps.

If you were asked to make a prediction about the future of Greek wine, what would you say?

The future is very bright. Greece needs more critical mass in producers, as indicated above, and a clearer idea of how to work its terroir consistently. You can’t just decide that with a few producers. But few countries have the wonderful bounty of indigenous grapes that Greece has.

Mark Squires, thank you very much indeed!

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Ted Lelekas
ilovegreekwine.com founder. Read more...

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