Greek Wines: Regions & Varieties

General Facts about Greek Wines

  • Greece is one of the oldest grape growing regions in the world.  Greek grapes were some of the first to be brought to Italy who would in time bring them throughout Europe.  Greek wines were served on the finest Roman tables.  The early part of the century was a dark time for Greece and especially the wine world.   Starting in the 1970’s and into the ‘80’s Greek enologists with post graduate degrees from Australia, America, and France founded small and medium sized wineries labeling them with appellation designations.
  • There are more than 200 indigenous vitis vinifera grape varieties with the three leading varietals being Moschofilero (whites), Agiorgitiko and Xinomavro (reds).  The Greek wine industry has experimented with French clones and blending familiar varietals such as Merlot and Cabernet with Greek native grapes and also Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Greece is perfect for growing grapes, mountainous with a diversity of soils types ranging from sand, loam, clay, and schist, to limestone, granite, and volcanic ash.  Weather is also conducive with moderate levels of rainfall and little or no hail, fog, or snow.

Important Grape Varietals

Assyrtiko-Santorini

Assyrtiko-Santorini wines are rare and distinctive. These wines are born from the indigenous Assyrtiko grape, cultivated in some of the world’s oldest vineyards, dating back 3500 years, on the volcanic island of Santorini.  Very old vines, along with poor volcanic soils, hydric stress and strong winds, explain the extremely low yields of Assyrtiko-Santorini as well as the dense structure and the opulence of its wines. Harvest is one of the earliest in the country and usually starts at the beginning or in the middle of August.

Moschofilero-Mantinia

Moschofilero-Mantinia is one of Greece’s greatest grapes, and despite that Greece has the oldest wine industry in the world, the distinctive Moschofilero white wines (PDO Mantinia) remain undiscovered.  Moschofilero-Mantinia ideally belongs in one spot, and it’s all in the name; the lofty plateau of Mantinia in the north-central Peloponnese. When grown in vineyards at 2000 feet in elevation and higher, and allowed to hang long into October, the perfume gets headier and the texture increases and, in the hands of the excellent winemakers in Mantinia and Arcadia, the wines are unique and compelling. About 85% of Mantinia’s vineyards are planted to Moschofilero.

Agiorgitiko-Nemea

Agiorgitiko-Nemea, captivating red wines, are integrated into the myth and history of the region of Nemea, Peloponnese, as well as its local culture and legends of Hercules. Traditionally, a deep, dark ruby color, with concentrated aromas of red fruits and aromatic complexity.  We can find 100 year-old vines and older, some are planted on native rootstocks and there are new plantings expressing the most modern techniques of viticulture.

Xinomavro-Naoussa

Xinomavro-Naoussa is a wine lover’s wine. It’s not fruity and sweet, nor soft and round. They are sturdy, tannic wines in youth and capable of long ageing. Xinomavro-Naoussa age-worthy reds are stern and austere, especially when young, with dry, dusty tannins and saliva-inducing acidity.

Other Notable Varietals

Malagousia

Malagousia is the quintessence of the modern renaissance of the New Wines of Greece witnessed in the last twenty years. It is the personification of the way Greek wine producers are rediscovering their potential. In the 1970s, Malagousia was a white variety thought to be extinct. Today, after painstaking work from university professors and top growers, Malagousia is widely considered a world class grape, producing outstanding dry whites, as well as a few dazzling sweet examples.  Oak ageing flatters Malagousia, but many stainless steel versions are equally impressive.

Roditis

Roditis is the most planted white grape variety in Greece. Cultivated throughout the land of Epirus, Roditis is most attributed to the PDO Patras and a accepted blending grape in other PDO’s and countless PGI’s.  Roditis remains one of the least explored Greek varieties showing great potential for contemporary wines of Greece

Limnio

Limnio is a grape first mentioned by numerous Ancient Greek writers such as Homer, Hesiod and Polydefkis, making it a unique artifact of ancient viticulture.   The wine is moderate in color, elegant in aromas and flavors, dominated by fresh, aromatic herbs and elegant, red berry fruits. On the palate it displays medium acidity, medium and very silky tannins, breadth, and moderately high alcohol.

Mavrodaphne

Mavrodaphne – About 150 years ago, German-born Gustav Clauss settled outside the city of Patras where he vinified the first sweet Mavrodaphne.  Most of the Mavrodaphne vineyards are found in the Peloponnese, particularly its northwestern part. Until recently, the variety was almost exclusively employed in the production of distinguished fortified dessert wines under the indication PDO Mavrodaphne of Patras.  The varietal’s characteristic near-black color, dense aromas of dried prunes and currants, high alcohol content, and medium acidity indeed fit the classic profile of sweet wines.

 

Other Varietals

A few others of importance include: Savatiano, Mavrotragno, Debina, Athiri, Robola, Vilana

Wines with Appellation – VQPRD

Northern Greece

Northern Greece

Naoussa located on the slopes of Mount Vermion in the region of Macedonia, was the first Appellation to be registered in Greece in 1971 and produces full-bodied red wines made from the native Xinomavro grape.

Peloponnese

Peloponnese

Nemea The region is divided into two distinct vineyards, Nemea valley floor and high Nemea.  There is consideration to designate a cru system for high Nemea.   This important Appellation region in southern Greece for the produces dry red wines made from the Agiorgitiko grape known for their deep red color, complex aroma and long, velvety palate.

Mantinia In the high altitudes of Mantinia the noble Moschofilero grape is cultivated producing elegant white Appellation wines. The continental climate together with the poor, but well drained soil, leads to the production of exciting aromatic white wines.

Patras In the northwest of the Peloponnese the elegant Roditis grape is used to produce the Appellation wines of Patra. The Roditis grape cultivated in the mountainous vineyards of this region produces pleasant food-friendly dry white wines. The name Patra is also used for the production of 3 other AOC dessert wines including the whites Muscat of Patras and Muscat Rion of Patras, as well as the red Mavrodaphne of Patras.

Islands

Islands

Santorini -the predominant grape is Assyrtiko which produces superb dry and dessert Appellation wines. After the devastating volcanic explosion, circa 1650 BC, the island was covered with volcanic ash, lava and pumice stone. This catastrophe created the foundation for perfect soil conditions which now help produce the very distinctive wines of Santorini.  The vines are cultivated in low basket shaped crowns, close to the ground for protection from the strong winds. Coming off the sea, the nocturnal fog brings needed water to the vines during the hot summer nights and together with the refreshing northerly winds provide excellent growing conditions for the creation of the superb Santorini wines. The dessert wines from Santorini are called “Vinsanto,” a derivative of the name Santorini.

Samos – The dominant grape is the aromatic white Muscat or “Muscat à petits grains” which yield many different types of dessert wines and range from naturally sweet to fortified, from fresh to long-aged.

Appellation by Tradition

Retsina

The most famous wine of Appellation by Tradition is Retsina, which is well known throughout the world as being traditionally produced in Greece.  Retsina is mainly produced in the area surrounding Athens called Attica, known for its abundance of pine trees. The grapes primarily used are Savatiano and Roditis. Pine resin is added during the fermentation process producing its characteristic flavor. The ancient Greeks added pine resin to their wines in order to preserve them.

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