Domaine Skouras Grande Cuvée Nemea 2004
In Greek legend, the hero Hercules was assigned twelve impossible tasks. The first task was
to kill a supposedly invulnerable lion that was terrorizing the region of Nemea, in the Greek
Peloponnese, near Argos. Hercules was able to strangle the lion; he kept the lion's skin to
wear as a protective cloak through his eleven further labors. (Yes, even the Disney cartoon
Hercules wears the lion skin.) There is no evidence that Hercules actually made wine (the
effort can often seem, well, Herculean), but the red wines of Nemea do go back several
millennia. Did the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae die with the taste of Nemean wine on their
lips? Possibly. Did Agamemnon toast to his victory over the Trojans with the beverage? The
assumption is yes.
While modern wines are made with modern means, historical continuity is more than mere fancy when dealing with Greece. Modern Greek wine laws, modeled on the French system and even using certain French terms, work with one eye on cultural continuity, even if the other eye is on modern wine science. Nemea in particular combines the old and the new. For all its history, it is the region of Greece that has best attracted investment, resulting in state-of-the art high-tech winemaking. The Agiorgitiko (St. George) grape thrives in Nemea and by law is the only grape used in the appellation. Colloquially the wine is called the “Blood of Hercules,” a reference to the blood shed by our hero when he killed the Nemean lion.
Agiorgitiko brings plenty of fruit and, when grown at higher elevations as in this $19 Skouras Grande Cuvée, some zippy acidity. “Wiry acidity” is the term used on the back label of this wine; my term is “playful” acidity. The wine is aged in used French oak for a year, then bottle-aged six months. My first aroma impression reads “brambly.” The nose gives cherry, black pepper, vanilla oak and licorice. On the palate, the brambly notes are reinforced by raspberry, concentrated cherry, citrus peel, the tang of apricot, black pepper, nutmeg and again vanilla.
As would befit a Grande Cuvée, this wine has elegance, but it also has raw power and plenty
of character. After two hours of aeration, the wine had plenty of tannic grip; guests enjoyed
the wine at the five-hour point, at which time the acidity and fruit took center stage. You
notice, and enjoy, drying tannins on the finish, as they meld very well with that brambly fruit.
The French oak is well used, but the ultimate key to this wine is its excellent fruit
concentration, and the depth and variety of that fruit. It all adds up to plenty of genuine
Verdict: A tasty package
Greece reaches back into the ancient origins of wine, but with a modern face.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman
Hercules killing the Nemean lion.