Just like a two-sided coin, every aspect of our lives has two different faces. And though we normally head towards the easy and positive aspect of things, our journey will be full of traps and risks. Yet, isn’t this the salt and pepper of our life? If the excitement of the unpredictable is gone, wouldn’t our lives seem too dull?
Greek wines are indeed a sound example of wines that are expressing an authentic sense of terroir against globalization of taste.
300+ indigenous grape varieties is Greece’s contribution to a less boring global wine map. This unique heritage offers a broad range of wines made in a variety of distinctive styles, peculiar characters and intriguing tasting profiles, showing the pathway to success in exploring new markets. In times of mass production and uniformity of taste, all these indigenous grape varieties provide excitement to those eager to explore something new and different. Greek wines are indeed a sound example of wines that are expressing an authentic sense of terroir against globalization of taste. During the last two decades, the (r)evolution that took place in the Greek wine industry resulted in modern and characterful wines from indigenous varieties. A breath of fresh air into the international markets, the sunny side of the story! Yet, there is a dark one as well… With tongue-twisting names that call for a special pronunciation guide, what are the chances for varieties bearing names like Xinomavro,Agiorgitiko, Mavrokoudoura or Moschofilero to really excel at an international level? It is common ground that many varieties would die to have names like Malbec, Merlot or Pinot whatever. Unfortunately, this is a privilege only for the numerous few and their great advantage in conquering the markets.
Greek wines earned a lot of praise over the last years among wine-experts.
Enhancing difficulty, the linguistic differences Greek language bear from English or other languages are really significant. As an example, try to get a Chinese to pronounce the letter Ξι(Xi) and we bet he/she will eventually give up by the 30th fruitless attempt to get it right. For similar extreme experiences, ask a Master of Wine or a Master Sommelier to pronounce Moschofilero and you will realize that even many of the wine’s world opinion leaders have difficulties in pronouncing them. But what is the impact of such pronunciation difficulties in the future of these unique grape varieties outside their homeland? Four or five years ago we would possibly argue that it was rather unlikely for the average consumer to ask for a wine with such a name, due to the fear of getting it wrong, as well as being totally unknown to him/her. Yet, Greek wines earned a lot of praise over the last years among wine-experts, professionals and bloggers. A fact that resulted in the growth of export sales in value by 8% in 2011 and by 38% and 59% in 2012 in USA and Canada respectively. If the modern wine consumer is now looking to taste something different to Cabernet or Chardonnay or to go beyond Chile and New Zealand, then Greece with so many proposals to offer, could be a competitive candidate to succeed.
Assyrtiko in particular, seems to be the leader. Quite right, we would say, as it combines an impeccable minerality with depth and tension. On the other hand obscure Turkish varieties such as Okuzgozu and Bogazkere, went from zero to hero within a night, making us wondering about the marketing efforts set on varieties such as Agiorgitiko or Xinomavro that are still lagging behind. Despite these positive developments, we would exaggerate if we believed that Greek wines have already made an applause in the exports markets. We do have international varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, especially in Northern Greece where you could find some spectacular examples, but the volumes are quite low. So, we could describe the current situation as a tweet that gains re-tweets day by day by knowledgeable wine consumers, professionals and journalists who are spreading the word; a great starting point for sure! Blend of two turkish varieties. We do appreciate that Greek wines will never compete industrial-scale producers or dominate sales as in the case of Kiwi’s. However, Greek wines can excel on the basis of their individuality, just with a twist in their names. Gruner Veltliner is a case study of how an obscure, difficult to pronounce, grape variety became an almost over-night success in major markets and one of the trendiest white varieties nowadays. Sommeliers, wine experts and marketeers turned this difficult name to their advantage, dubbing the variety Gru-vee or Groovy and making it sound more enjoyable and catchy to wine-lovers.
Greek wines can excel on the basis of their individuality, just with a twist in their names.
Is there any similar way for Greeks to market in a clever and original way their difficult to pronounce grapes? A first idea was thrown on the table by the Chairman of Masters of Wine Jean-Michel Valette MW during IMW’s visit in Greece last April. “Why don’t you market your Xinomavros as Xin? Americans did it for Zinfandel grape variety (Zin) and this led to a thirst for every style of wine made from it.” And what if we marketed Agiorgitiko as St George which is actually the English translation or even just using the region’s name, Nemea which is far easier to remember? And here is the light at the end of the tunnel and the key to the difference between the two countries and their marketing strategies. While brand positioning of Greek wines is based on highlighting Greek varieties’ diversity, Austrians focused only in one variety until it became a hit. All other indigenous Austrian grapes such as St Laurent, Blaufrankish, Zweigelt came in the forefront only after Gruner established a re-known position in export markets. Therefore, we could further argue that it is the diversity of Greek varieties and not necessarily their linguistic difficulties that make Greek wines complicated to the consumer. Maybe somewhere between Assyrtiko, Moschofilero, Malagousia, Vidiano and Robola, the message conveyed by the Greek wines loses some clarity and scope. Going back to the two different sides of the same coin; Greece on the one hand, has unlocked its unique wine treasures and presented them to the world, but on the other, the revealed diversity suggests that it is unlikely to become pop music for the export markets. But what if it becomes jazz that would be groovy?
“Why don’t you market your Xinomavros as Xin? Americans did it for Zinfandel grape variety (Zin) and this led to a thirst for every style of wine made from it.”
But apart from the marketing efforts, stage names and selling techniques it is the wines’ qualitative orientation that will give Greece a shining advantage for her exquisite jazz music. Greek producers should ensure high quality standards for every bottle that reaches a foreign market. In this way, every time a cork is pulled out or a screw cap is released, a memorable experience would accompany the customer. Then if the wine meets expectations, the customer will definitely ask the sommelier to remind him this obscure name of the fantastic Greek wine that he has just enjoyed. And then the same sommelier will try to convince the conservative off-trade retailer to add Greek wines in his portfolio. Finally, a game will be created amongst the wine lovers, Assyrtiko, Agiorgitiko, Mavrotragano, Limniona, Get the word right!
History has proven that a weird name does not necessarily convict a grape variety or a wine to the sentence of eternal awareness. Quite the contrary, the modern consumer, who is looking for high quality, uniqueness, and competitive prices, interesting background stories, modern packaging and clever marketing ideas, can opt for a Greek wine and thus increase Greek wines presence in the international shelves. It is undeniably a tough and unpredictable game for Greek producers who have the ball rolling in their court; it is high time to prove over that they know how to play the game, sheltering their weaknesses in defense and marketing their strengths in offense.