Agiorgitiko (Ah-yor-Yee-ti-ko), the most widely planted red grape of Greece, finds its finest expression in the southern province of Nemea. There it is the only red grape allowed and the only wine produced there that is allowed to carry the Nemea appellation on its label. Ampelographers have determined that Agiorgitiko probably originated there and since Nemea was formerly called "Saint George", it's not coincidental that that is how Agiorgitiko translates.
As one of the oldest grapes of the world in one of civilization's oldest environs, Agiorgitiko is embedded in mythology. Amongst other narratives, Hercules slew a lion in what is present day Nemea and Agiorgitiko is called "Hercules Blood" today because that lion's blood in the soil is what is supposed to give the wine its deep ruby color. Like other very old old world wine grapes, Agiorgitiko carries several other names depending on which neighborhood it finds its home.
The reason we're writing about Agiorgitiko today is because we purchased seven cases of 2009 Arte Vera red wine recently that we could sell for a $12.50 retail, one half of what we retailed the wine for last year! Our version however comes from northern Macedonia at the opposite end of the country from Nemea. Arte Vera also is a blended wine with only two thirds of its constitution being Agiorgitiko. But it is that two thirds that gives the wine both its character and its soups and stews affinity.
For us Americans Agiorgitiko is most comparable to Merlot. Its standard profile features plum and spice in a medium body, low acid package but the fruit may be augmented with cherry and red currant and the spice may be accentuated by tannins when planted at higher elevations.
There are actually three wine styles for Agiorgitiko based on the elevation of the vineyard plantings. At sea level to two hundred meters elevation in southern Greece, the wine may have very low acidity and a jammy sweet soft character. As always, in dry infertile soils where roots have to struggle, the flavors would be more concentrated with Beaujolais-styled (carbonic maceration) reds being the order of the day. At 200-500 meters the wine develops a higher alcohol and acidity along with moderate tannins. Many feel it is at this elevation that Agiorgitiko shows best. At 500-850 meters the wine would be stronger and spicier yet, but at these altitudes rose is often the style of choice for Grecians.
Because of the diverse stylings of Agiorgitiko, the public often doesn't know what kind of red wine they are getting. Most Agiorgitiko wines are of the common low altitude style since valley vines produce higher yields than hillside vines. Some see a need for a second appellation designation to differentiate valley from hillside on red wine labels.