A taste of premium Greek wines helps expand palates in Philly

 Jill Weber, owner of Jet Wine Bar on South Street, offers an array of exotic wines, imported from  Hungary, Greece and Macedonia as well as Italy and France. (Emma Lee/for NewsWorks)

Jill Weber, owner of Jet Wine Bar on South Street, offers an array of exotic wines, imported from Hungary, Greece and Macedonia as well as Italy and France. (Emma Lee/for NewsWorks)

When Americans think about good wine, we’re usually quick to think about France or California, but wineries span the globe. One overlooked source is Greece.

Chris Jelepis says, for too long, the image of Greek wine in the United States has been the Greek diner. 

“As far as I’m concerned,” he said, “that’s where Greek wine and Greek food has been kind of pigeonholed as sort of the sophomoric pizza and checkerboard tablecloths of what it’s all about.”

Jelepis left his law career on a bet that Greek wine could compete globally. He started a Greek import business called Sonata Wines, shipping in the good stuff, from small, family-run wineries.

One of his buyers is Jill Weber, an archaeologist by day, who runs the slick wine bar, Jet, on South Street. Weber does a lot of international travel and, while she serves up wines from predictable places such as France and California, Jet’s menu also has vintages from Macedonia, Hungary, the wilds of upstate New York and from Greece.

“I mean, for me, stigma is great,” she observed, “because then people can come and say, ‘Why do people think that’s so awful? Why aren’t we supposed to drink that?'”

Her passions unite in a bottle from the Kikones Winery in Thrace, a region with Europe’s longest viticultural history. It’s the place that produced the wine that Odysseus used to lull the Cyclops to sleep in “The Odyssey.”

Vassilis Tassou started the Domaine Kikones winery there with his sister in 2004.

Greece is in its sixth straight year of a very bad recession, but Tassou said that winemaking is a bright spot. In fact, he says, the economic crisis has actually helped Greek wine improve its reputation overseas.

When wine sales in Greece dropped 60 percent in two years, winemakers began sending some of their best wines abroad, wines that local Greeks would have lapped up in the past.

“Things are actually turning better right now, and I know that must sound weird for you because I am talking from Greece right now,” he said. “But that is just the situation right now.”

He and Jelepis say there’s more wine to come, if more Americans take a chance and order it.

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