There are many things which come to one's mind when we think of Greece; the hundreds of small islands, each with a culture steeped in tradition, the rich history of the country, the blazing sunshine, crystal blue waters and balmy olive groves. We also think of wine – the product of not just hundreds, but thousands of years of careful and experimental cultivation of the grapevines, which have covered much of this fascinating and ancient land for millennia.
Cultural Importance of Wine
In modern Greece, as in ancient times, wine makes up for a sizable part of the country's national identity. It is used extensively in the cultural and religious practices of the country, and it is mentioned several times throughout the historic poetry and literature of the country, which continues to enrapture readers to this day. Wine is drunk by the rich and by the poor, it is produced by successful companies as well as by smallholders and simple households. The Greek people claim that their culture - and the hugely influential civilization which sprung up from their country more than 2,500 years ago - could not have existed without wine, as it is the drink which inspired their artists, gave fervor to their religions and directed the thoughts of the great philosophers and politicians of antiquity!
The Features of the Land
Greece benefits greatly from its beautiful Mediterranean climate, which combines fresh sea air with gorgeous sunshine, stretching the hot weather on well into late autumn each year. The terrain, although being generally dry and rocky, is nonetheless rich in minerals which give a particular freshness of character to the grapes which thrive on the vines there, and as such, reliable harvests each year are a typical feature of Greek viticulture. Sloping mountain foothills, rich in limestone, can be found in many parts of mainland Greece, as well as on the Aegean islands, and elsewhere, and it is here where you are most likely to find the abundant Greek vineyards. Greece can support a relatively wide variety of vines and grapes, with imported varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon proving to be equally as successful as native strains such as Agiorgitiko, Rhoditis or Vilana. The key wine producing regions today can be found in Greek Macedonia, on Rhodes and Cephalonia, and especially on the slopes and foothills of the fertile Peloponnese mountains.
Greece's Finest Wines
Aside from the specialty wines such as Retsina, it is widely considered that the finest wines to come out of contemporary Greek wineries are those from the northern part of the country, especially from wineries in the famed region of Naoussa in the Greek part of Macedonia. However, almost every part of Greece seems to have their signature wine and style of production, with many (often slightly unusual) methods proving to be increasingly popular on the international market, such as the Samos Nectar wines, which use sun dried grapes to give a real intensity of flavor. One thing is for sure when it comes to Greek wines: there is no end to the delicious surprises that can lay in waiting for those willing to explore them!
Greek Wine Grapes
Red Wine Grapes
Agiorghitiko - Agiorghitiko grapes produce many of the finest and most drinkable red and rosé wines of Greece, as a result of their soft tannins and medium acidity. These grapes, which grow on the Peloponnese mountains, are prized by wine makers, and helped raise the status of Greek red wines on the international market in the last century.
Xinomavro - Xinomavro grapes produce what are arguably Greece's best red wines, as their high acidity levels and powerful tannins mellow over time to produce remarkably complex and robust wines, packed full of dense flavors and surprising aromas.
Mandelaria - Mandelaria or Amorghiano grapes are recognizable by their thick, black skins which have a very high tannin content. They are occasionally used alone in wine production, but are most commonly blended with other varietals as a way of adding body, color and structure to less astringent grapes.
Mavrodaphne - The black skinned Mavrodaphne grapes from the Peloponnese are primarily used in the production of a sweet fortified wine, renowned for its flavors of caramelized fruits, chocolate and coffee. These grapes are also often blended with other varietals in the production of high quality blended still red wines.
White Wine Grapes
Assyrtiko - Assyrtiko grapes originate in Santorini, where they have been cultivated and processed for many centuries. These fine grapes are renowned for their acidity and citrus aromas, as well as being able to carry interesting characteristics of the terrain they are grown in.
Aidani - A delicate and mild white grape used across the Greek islands, Aidani is notable for its low acid and alcohol content. As such, it is primarily used as a blending grape, and is most commonly mixed with Athiri grapes to produce both sweet and dry white wines.
Malagousia - Renowned for its interesting aromas and elegant, full bodied character, the Malagousia grape is now widely regarded as being one of the finest white grape varietals to be grown in Greece.
Moschofilero - This dusty gray colored white grape varietal is grown at high altitudes on the Peloponnese plateau, and boasts elegant and delicate floral notes coupled with a crisp, clean and delicious character.
Robola - This fine white grape is an excellent example of the more delicate and distinguished dry white wine grapes of Greece. Robola grapes produce wines which have a lovely balance of flavors, combining notes of the mineral rich soil they are grown in, alongside plenty of soft fruit aromas and a long, citrus finish.
Roditis - A pink grape grown in low quantities in mountainous regions all over Greece, the Roditis grape varietal is the main component for some of the best examples of Greek dry white wine.
Savatiano - One of Greece's most widely grown grapes as a result of their resistance to extreme heat and dryness, the Savatiano grape varietal is best known as being the primary grape used in the production of Retsina.
Tsaoussi - A gently flavored, pale green grape grown most commonly on the island of Cephalonia, Tsaoussi is most commonly used a complimentary grape. It is exceptionally good at balancing more acidic grape varietals, and lending a wide range of gentle and refined fruit and honey aromas.
White Muscat -A highly versatile grape found all over Greece, the White Muscat varietal lends itself wonderfully to a wide range of wines. From dry white wines to dessert wines, fortified wines and sparkling wines, White Muscat is a hardy, reliable and delicious grape with an impressive history, and which yields equally impressive results.