For most people, the reputation of Greek wine precedes and possibly prevents the tasting of any of the product. I’m here to tell you that if you’re not drinking Greek wine you are missing out. But if you don’t know where to start I’ve made this Introduction to Greek Wine.
The good stuff, and there is some undeniably world class wine available, is equal in quality with anything that you see in France, Spain, Germany, Italy. You’ll find an astounding diversity of styles too.
Below is a summary of producers, varieties and regions I recommend you explore. The best thing you can do though is buy some and taste them. Taste them on their own, with food and over a few nights. Really give them a chance to shine and bask in the fact you are drinking links to our past.
The Greek Wine Industry
Wine has been an important part of Greek culture for over 4000 years. 4000 years!
The modern industry is only as old as the 1960s. Their first appellation was not instituted until 1971. And the biggest leaps in quality came in the 1980s.
It was investment in technology and education during the 80s that made the difference. Wine makers returned from abroad and embraced the wealth of native varieties rather than focusing on the internationals.
Know The Producers.
Gaia – Gaia wines was founded in 1994 by agronomist Leon Karatsalos and oenologist Yiannis Paraskevopoulos. In 1996 they acquired their own vineyard and winery in the Koutsi region of Nemea. The Thalassitis range from Santorini came first. Notios (‘the southerner’) white followed and quickly received wide acclaim in the Greek market. Gaia have expanded their range to include red wines based on the indigenous Greek variety Agiorgitiko.
Domaine Gerovassiliou – Evangelos Gerovassiliou was born in the village of Epanomi in 1951 He studied in Thessaloniki and later in France. In 1987 he established his Estate winery and soon after bottled his first wines. These wines have been regularly receiving the highest awards in all the prestigious international wine competitions.
Kir-Yianni – The Kir-Yianni company was founded in 1997 by Yiannis Boutaris. Based in Macedonia’s Naoussa and Amyndeon regions, on both sides of mount Vermion in Northwestern Greece. With vineyards in Naoussa and Amyndeon planted to native and international varieties they have scope to make some truly amazing wines. Their best is by far the Xinomavro based reds.
Thymiopolous – Apostolos Thymiopoulos, 31 years old, is without a doubt the rising star of Naoussa. His biodynamically farmed vines are bathed in sunshine. Sitting at 180MASL in the southern sector of the appellation. The soils are a complex mix of lime-rich marlstone, schist and granite. Thymiopoulos focuses on expressing the freshness of the grapes and giving each vintage a unique signature. He shuns filtering and extraction and favours ageing in vats and barrels.
Hatzidakis – Replanting the family vineyards on Santorini that had been left uncultivated since 1956 meant Haridimos and Konstantina had to ability to reinvigorate and improve on what had been before. They make beautiful whites.
Papgiannakos – Since 1919 the Papagiannakos family have been making wines from Central Greece. They championed Savatiano. Commonly used to make Retsina, Savatiano can make lovely white wine too.
Cooperative of Samos – The Samos Co-operative has the honour presiding over Greece’s best known and most highly regarded appellation. This co-op sees themselves as the guardian of the islands famous Muscat tradition.
Understand the Grape Varieties.
Assyrtiko – The dominant variety of the vineyards in Santorini. White grapes make up 80% of Santorini’s plantings. Of that 90% is Assyrtiko. An indigenous variety, grown since antiquity and is in complete harmony with the harsh conditions of the island. It is linked to the Santorini soil with its mineral taste, its pronounced acidity and the firm structure that the wines of this variety have.
Athiri – Most famous as the white grape variety used to make Retsina on the Island of Rhodes. It makes rich wines of considerable alcohol but little acidity. This grape, with its amiable fruit, augments the fruit of the strong, but somewhat thin, Assyrtiko without significantly lowering its overall alcohol. Traditionally Athiri is used for blending.
Malagousia – Saved from extinction by the Gerovassiliou family. Macedonia is where you traditionally find Malagousia. But it is moving south into Attica and Peloponnese. Noted for its aromatics, full body and medium acidity. Offers notes of exotic fruits, citrus, jasmine and mint.
Moschofilero – Moschofilero is an aromatic white grape of Greek origins with a pink/purple skin and quite spicy flavour with good acidity. Grown throughout much of Greece. But the Peloponnese is its home. Moschofilero makes a dry and bold wine with lots of spice and perfume. It has a signature ‘rose garden’ bouquet which makes it heaven to pair with fresh fruit or fruit-based desserts. Makes still, sparkling, and dessert wines and can have characteristics similar to the Muscat or Gewurztraminer. It ripens late and can have problems with hot weather.
Savatiano – Thought to have originated in Attica and is one of the most planted varieties all over Greece. Its resistance to drought, late ripening and traditionally used for Retsina.
Muscat Of Alexandra/Moscatel – The same variety that makes Moscato d’Asti, Muscat Beaumes de Venice and Australian Muscat. Naturally high sugar and acid, which serve as preservatives. And easy to grow. It was therefore popular for shipping before preservation and sanitation were properly understood. The balance and highly aromatic nature of the grape makes it a beautiful variety for sweeter wines.
Agiorgitiko – “St. George’s” A red variety that can make claim to be Greece’s noblest. Famously from Nemea in the Peloponnese It is one of the more commercially important indigenous Greek varieties, and it can take on a large range of characteristics, from soft to very tannic, depending on factors in the growing and winemaking processes. Characteristically dark cherry coloured wine with wonderful bouquets of damson, and berry flavours on the palate. Agiorgitiko is one of the two widely-grown heat-resistant Greek wine-making grape varieties, the other being Xinomavro.
Limnio – Native to the Greek island of Lemnos this makes sturdy red wines withplenty of colour, acid and tannin. There are flavours of mineral, bay leaves, herbal and red fruits.
Xinomavro – The most distinguished variety of Northern Greece mostly famously in the Macedonian PDO Naoussa. These wines are dense with silky mouthfeel, big tannins and good acidity. In fact the name means “Acid/sour Black”. These wines have a lot of layers and age well. Often compared to Nebbiolo from Italy it tastes of red frutis, olives, spice and dried tomatoes.
Mavrotragano – A rather mysterious variety found exclusively on the Peloponnese. Historically only used for sweet red wines. From the 1997 vintage a few producers dared to make a still red wine from it. The result was a wine with tannins like Nebbiolo and a perfume like Pinot Noir.
International Varieties – Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and the like all play a role in the vineyards of Greece but the best producers tend to focus on the native varieties with great success.
Retsina – (Note this is a style not a region or variety) A white or rose wine make with the addition of pine resin. The resin was used to seal amphorae. The flavour became popular and so after the Romans introduced oak barrels they continued adding resin.
Vinsanto – (Note this is a style not a region or variety) Originating on Santorini. Vin means wine and Santo came from the island’s original name “Santo Erini”. It involves sun drying grapes in this case Assyrtiko, Aidani and Athiri and making them into a sweet wine then aging for no less than 24 months in oak.
Two terms to get to know are Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) which refers to a specific region of notable quality where the geographical environment is a factor. And Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) which is generally a larger area that may take in many regions that together make wine of good quality.
Aegean Islands – An important historical wine making area. Their strong shipping network helped get their wines over the world. PDOs include Santorini, Rodos, Samos, Limnos and Paros. Of these Santorini is the most famous and important. A volcano where the vines crow in low basket shaped crowns to protect the grapes from strong winds, fog and hot sunshine.
Peloponnese – The most historic and diverse region of Greece. The North Eastern corner around PDO Nemea makes red wines from Agiorgitiko. The higher altitude PDO Mantinia makes whites and sparkling from Moschofilero. There is also PDO Patras where four appellation wines are produced a dry white, two sweet whites and a fortified red.
Macedonia – The Northern most part of Greece that survived war, phylloxera and emigration to now be thriving. PDO Naoussa makes possibly the best wines in Greece from Xinomavro. The whites of Epanomi PGI and Sparkling wines of Amyntaio PDO and Florina PGI are worth a mention too.
Markopoulo – A coastal region in Central Greece. The proximity to the sea and resulting gentle breeze keeps everything cool and makes storms, hail and frost almost non-issues. The wines from here tend to be delicate and aromatic.
NEMEA – Considered the crown jewel of the new wine industry in southern Greece. Nemea and Agiorgitiko are perfect match. Especially to the middle of three zones of different elevations, the so-called ‘semi-mountainous’ zone, at elevations of between 450 and 650 metres, where the overlap of ideal conditions result in good fruit, acidity, body and colour.
PDO Naoussa – The Protected Designation of Origin Naoussa (PDO Naoussa), reflecting the lush and varied vineyards of Naoussa, takes its name from the eponymous city, though several other communes are encompassed in the appellation. The wines of PDO Naoussa are 100% Xinomavro by law, and always red. In general, they are sturdy, tannic wines in youth and capable of long ageing. They are the most full-bodied of the Xinomavro appellations and offer a dazzling display of aromatic complexity, spanning the spectrum of the variety’s aromatic potential.
SANTORINI – Part of the island complex of Cyclades located in the South Aegean. The viticultural region of the island has a size of approximately 1,400 hectares, starting at sea level and ascending in terraces up to the caldera, which has a height of up to 250 metres from sea level. There is evidence to say that the history of this region goes back at least 3000 years.
MANTINIA – South of Nemea, but at higher elevation, Mantinia occupies a deep-soiled plateau just north of Tripoli in Arkadia. Average elevation is over 600 metres resulting in a long growing season. The Mantinia name is sufficiently important in the domestic market that the area has become a hotbed of negociant activity.