Wines Produced in Greece
Greece practically invented wine back in the seventh century BC, yet it is considered an emerging wine region today. Greece never stopped making wine for all those centuries, but her wine industry took the slow track, inhibited by Turkish rule, political turmoil, and other real-life issues. The modern era of Greek winemaking began in the 1960s, with strong strides in the past decade.
Although Greece is a southern country and famous for its sunshine, its grape-growing climate is actually quite varied, because many vineyards are situated at high altitudes where the weather is cooler. Its wines are 60 percent white; some whites are sweet dessert wines, but most are dry.
The grape varieties of Greece
One of Greece’s greatest wine assets — and handicaps — is its abundance of native grape varieties, over 300 of them. These native grapes make Greek wines particularly exciting for curious wine lovers to explore, but their unfamiliar names make the wines difficult to sell.
Greece also produces wines from famous grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon, and those wines can be very good. These days, however, producers seem more committed than ever to their native varieties rather than to international grapes.
Of Greece’s many indigenous grape varieties, four in particular stand out as the most important — two white and two red varieties:
Assyrtiko: A white variety that makes delicate, bone dry, crisp, very long-lived wines with citrusy and minerally aromas and flavors. Although Assyrtiko grows in various parts of Greece, the best Assyrtiko wines come from the volcanic island of Santorini. Any wine called Santorini is made at least 90 percent from Assyrtiko.
Moschofilero: A very aromatic, pink-skinned variety that makes both dry white and pale-colored dry rosé wines grows mainly around Mantinia, in the central, mountainous Peloponnese region. If a wine is named Mantinia, it must be at least 85 percent Moschofilero. Wines made from Moschofilero have high acidity and are fairly low in alcohol, with aromas and flavors of apricots and/or peaches.
Agiorghitiko: The name of this grape translates in English to “St. George,” and a few winemakers call it that on the labels of wines destined for English-speaking countries. Greece’s most-planted and probably most important native red variety, it grows throughout the mainland. Its home turf, where it really excels, is in the Nemea district of the Peloponnese region; any wine named Nemea is entirely from Agiorghitiko. Wines from this variety are medium to deep in color, and have complex aromas and flavors of plums or black currants.
Xinomavro: The most important red variety in the Macedonia region of Northern Greece. Xinomavro produces highly tannic wines with considerable acidity. Wines made from Xinomavro have complex, spicy aromas, often suggesting dried tomatoes, olives, and/or berries. Xinomavro wines are dark in color but lighten with age, and have great longevity.
Greece’s wine regions
Some of the wine regions of Greece whose names you are likely to see on wine labels include:
Macedonia: The northernmost part of Greece, with mountainous terrain and cool climates. Naoussa wine comes from here.
The Peloponnese: A large, mainly mountainous, peninsula in southwestern Greece with varied climate and soil. Noteworthy wines include the soft, red Nemea; the dry whites Patras and Mantinia; and the sweet wines Mavrodaphne de Patras (red) and Muscat de Patras (white).
Crete: The largest Greek island, which makes both white and red wines, many of which are varietally-named along with the place-name of Crete.
Other Greek Islands: Besides Crete, the four most important islands that make wine are Santorini, Rhodes, Samos, and Cephalonia.
Greece is a member of the European Union, and its appellation system for wine therefore conforms to the EU’s two-tiered structure. At the top (QWPSR) level Greece has two categories:
AOQS, Appellation d’Origine de Qualité Supérieure (yes, that’s French!) for dry and off-dry wines
AOC, Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, for dessert and fortified wines
Table wines with a geographic name are called vins de pays (regional wines). Many of Greece’s better wines carry a vins de pays appellation. Other terms that have formal definitions under Greek wine regulations include reserve (QWPSR wines with a minimum two or three years aging), grande reserve (one additional year of aging), and cava (a table wine — in the EU sense of being at the lower appellation tier — with the same aging requirements as reserve).