Uncovering The Greeks – Domaine Karanika

28th March 2023

Discovering The Greeks - Domaine Karanikas

Retsina (Greek: Ρετσίνα) is a Greek white (or rosé) resinated wine, which has been made for at least 2,000 years. Its unique flavor is said to have originated from the practice of sealing wine vessels, particularly amphorae, with Aleppo pine resin in ancient times.

In 1977, I was traveling on the Sicily to Greece Mediterranean transport when a storm struck at 12:45 am. The ambient temperature at midnight was 35°C, and the boat started to pitch and heave. I normally keep smooth sea legs, but that evening I had consumed a Ventresco canned tuna with a bottle of Retsina, an evil combination on a rocky weathering boat. At 4 am I had evacuated my digestive system over the boat’s port side, and the pitch black crested waves looked appealing as my potential slumber. A cooler head prevailed by 5 am, if the boats waving hadn’t. I released my railings ham fisted death grip, and wedged myself between the bulkhead and deck for support. I awoke at 9 in the morning worse for wear, but alive when we docked at 4:45 that afternoon in Greece. I failed to account I would be on the boat for another 3.5 hours getting to my land destination. Suddenly, the calming waters looked again appealing for my final resting place.

My disheveled body was off loaded to sleep on terra firma, rest I was sorely lacking. Dehydrated, ravenously hungry, and 7 pounds lighter, & thinner, I feebly made my way to a bakery for weak tea, and a huge freshly baked phyllo, stuffed with feta cheese breakfast devoured with gusto. Color returned to my complexion, I surmised I may live to eat & drink another meal.

My Greek mentor friend I left behind at home, had recommended Achilles Clauss red wine as a reliable, “when in Greece eat & drink like a local”. That red bottle was my go-to with grilled octopus, or lamb/hummus, and extra virgin olive oil. It was a rustic simple sophisticated Nirvana. The late seventies was just the beginning of spiffy new wine labels supplied by ancient field blend grape varieties. It would not be until 2000 I was introduced to the US brilliant importer of Greek wines by Ted Diamantis: the Greek Wine Crusader of Chicago.

Tasting his wine portfolio was like raising a rolled curtain, with light streaming through crystal windows. Such purity of fruit, vibrant acidity, and harmonic culinary indulgences were a revelation, this was a Greek imports portfolio game changer! In every category, the wines were the classic definitions of excellence (whites, rosé, reds) for wines of complexity and indigenous grape varieties. I needed to wait another decade to taste the Terry Theise imported Republic of North Macedonian Domain Karanika from very ancient vineyards harvested on the Amyndeon plateau, with certified organic vineyards since 2009. The soils varying from alluvial, sandy loam, sandy clay to sandy lime soil rich in calcium with subsoil of marl and limestone, resulting in low ph wine content, similar to the Champagne region’s cooler elevated 700 meter altitude and grape growing profile.

The basic sparkling bottling Domaine Karanika Brut Cuvee Speciale (£20) revealed suave textures, and fruit density reminiscent of Jacques Selosse Champagne! The Karanika blend is ungrafted Xinomavro (90%) with white Assyrtiko (10%) grape employing low added sulfur use, and no chemical additives. The second fermentation in the bottle, aged 12 months sur latte, with the commercial release 1 month after disgorgement. High praise from a taster who had swallowed the philosophy hook, line, and sinker! The Terry Theise wines had been delightfully tasted, and delivered as advertised; plus Dr recommended I add an additional 1 hour of walking per day.

Karanika, Rose Brut 2021 (£25)

Sparkling wine – Xinomavro (98%), Limniona (2%) grapes; employing low added sulfur use, and no chemical additives. The second fermentation in the bottle, aged 9 -18 months sur latte, with commercial release 3 months after disgorgement, with familiar flavor elegance of Mareuil-sur-Ay champagne villages fruit character.

I am a firm believer in Domaine Karanika wines whether sparkling or still, especially the fine, very rare Limniona grape!

Image Credit: SantoriniGreek Temple

Peter Birmingham

Restaurant General Manager, Corporate Beverage Director, & Hospitality Consultant, with these qualities he represents a Triple Threat: a culinary tableside historian, an accomplished wine taster with the casual ability to make flavor relationships and beverage quality value accessible.