The elderly Greek woman behind the counter of the mom ‘n’ pop grocery store stared at me in silence.
“Chateau Pegasus?” I asked.
“Peg-a-sus,” I enunciated, while cartoonishly pretending to drink an imaginary bottle of wine.
“Ah, Pegasus,” she said with a smile that indicated a glimmer of recognition, and she scribbled on a notepad. It was either the directions to the winery or a recipe for moussaka in an attempt to get rid of me. Possibly both.
This wine trail was beginning to feel like a scavenger hunt.
The Macedonian wine region (not to be confused with wine regions in the country of Macedonia, Greece’s immediate northern neighbor) offers a less polished alternative to California’s trendy regions and a respite from the typical Greek tourist circuit. The region also offers a peek into northern Greece culture that you can only get over the rim of a glass.
With some patience (and perhaps a few wrong turns), I planned to seek out reasonably priced wines that were shaped by this rugged region (and that you won’t typically find at your local Whole Foods) – and maybe to hunt down a highly prized Xinomavro.
The heart of the Macedonian wine region is Naoussa, just 60 miles west of Thessaloniki – Greece’s second-largest city. From my rental car, rows of neatly manicured grapevines stretched to the distant horizon. I reviewed the hand-drawn map from the shopkeeper, but everything looked the same.
Take a left after a bush. Or is it a pond? A cartographer she certainly is not.
A miniature sign written in Greek appeared alongside the road. I grabbed my guidebook and began to decode the sign letter by letter, like an archaeologist with a stone tablet. After translating just “P-E-G,” I dropped the book and followed the gravel path to a dead end.
“Guten tag.” The deep voice boomed from behind me.
How long had I been driving? Was this still Greece?
The tall man with classic Greek features affirmed that I was in the right place, Chateau Pegasus, then explained: “I saw the rental and thought you must be German. They seem to be the only ones who find us.”
Markos Markovitis, 30, oversees the winery, which produces roughly 30,000 bottles a year. He continues a family business that was started in 1981 by his grandfather, who began by selling grapes to local wineries.
“This didn’t last very long though. My grandfather got into a big fight with one of the winery owners,” Markovitis said. “He knew that he could make it better. So that’s how we actually started making our own.”
Despite the fact that I had just showed up in his field without an appointment, the flip-flop-clad Markovitis offered to give me a tour. He jogged a few paces into a nearby rustic-looking barn and into a subterranean wine cellar. Even as my adventurous side was kicking in, it still felt a little like “Children of the Corn.”
The cellar was lined with stainless steel tanks used to store Xinomavro, a red grape variety that is grown primarily in Northern Greece. The wine is slightly chilled and stored for two to three years to reach its full maturity.
“Xinomavro can’t be rushed,” he said.
Upstairs, I sat at a glass-top table surrounded by cases of wine, and he pulled a bottle from one of the nearby shipping boxes – a 2003, the youngest vintage – and poured two glasses to the rim. We touched glasses and took a long sip.
It was smooth, like a Burgundy, and lacked the vinegar flavor of some Greek wines I’d had earlier on my trip. I told Markovitis about a taverna in Athens that served ice-cold wine in tin cups. His face showed his disgust.
“Not all Greek wine is cheap retsina,” he roared, referring to the traditional Greek wine flavored with pine resin.