THE WINES OF GREECE
As more and more archeological discoveries are unearthed it become more and more apparent that wine and the growing of grapes for the purpose of making wine has been a part of Greek culture for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks understood the value of wine both nutritionally and as a social beverage used to help their philosophers and great minds discover new ways of thinking and designing their society. These great gatherings would be known as “symposia” and the evidence of the creation of their own appellation system and the trading of the beverage throughout the ancient world is well documented. The wines of Greece are now regarded as some of the best in the world.
In recent and subsequent generations, the Greek wine industry has upgraded their winemaking and made incredible improvements to their wine making techniques and vinification technology. The younger generation of Greek winemakers have also improved their knowledge, studying enology and viticulture at the best wine schools around the world and putting into practice the best modern techniques. These efforts have translated into a new found enthusiasm around the globe for the incredibly profound and interesting native grape varieties that are being grown and made in this ancient and historical land.
Without a doubt what makes Greek wine so different and special is their focus on bringing forth native indigenous grape varieties. They have not let themselves simply adopt French and Italian grapes in order to please the masses, but have stayed true to their origins and the some 300+ grape varieties that have been cultivated there for thousands of years. This focus on the eclectic and otherwise unknown varieties is a great marketing vehicle for the region, however pronouncing these varieties and finding them in good retail availability can be a challenge for the average wine consuming public. The following is a list of important grape varieties found in modern Greek wineries and some of the distinct characteristics that they embody.
GREEK GRAPES AND WINES OF NOTE
Assyrtiko – This is one of Greece’s finest white wines and is world class amongst other whites of prestige from other great wine regions. It was first planted on the island of Santorini and still is today where the wine produced is bone-dry, mineral driven, high acid, and shows great citrus fruit aromas and flavours. In the last few decades the grape has also been planted in other Greek regions such as Macedonia and Attica, however the wine grown in those regions is more mild and a little less expressive in terms of aroma.
Athiri – This is one of the more ancient grape varieties in Greece and originated on the island of Santorini. It is used primarily to blend along with Assyrtiko and Aidani in the production of AOC Santorini white blends. Athiri grapes are also cultivated in other regions around Greece such as Macedonia, Attica, and Rhodes where it produces the AOC Rhodes wines. The grapes themselves are thin skinned and produce a sweet and fruity wine, with mild aromatics, medium alcohol, and low acidity.
Aidani – This is yet another ancient Greek grape varietal that is many grown in the Cyclades Islands. The wines it produces are pleasingly aromatic and contain medium alcohol and acid. It is most commonly blended successfully with grapes that have a higher acidity level and a touch higher alcohol content like Assyrtiko.
Lagorthi – This grape originated in Kalavrita in Peloponnese, but since it’s revival in the modern age it is now primarily grown on the high altitude slopes of Aegialia. The wines Lagorthi makes have a pronounced acidity on the palate, medium acidity, and aromatics of peach, melon, and fresh basil. On the palate the wine displays lovely flavors of citrus fruits and mineral.
Malagousia – This variety originated in western Greece by way of the region of Nafpaktos. Today it’s primarily cultivated in Macedonia, but can also be found in small quantities in vineyards in Atticaa and the Peloponnese. Malagousia is an incredibly aromatic variety that also possess a full bodied texture, medium acid levels, and exotic fruit characteristics both on the nose and palate.
Moschofilero – This grape along with Assyrtiko are often the most available of the eclectic Greek whites found in exports markets. The grey coloured grape variety is similar to Pinot Gris in it’s appearance and possesses a unique floral aromatic expression with lovely rose petal and violet notes. It is usually lightly textured, easy to drink, and perhaps resembles the Pinot Grigio made in Italy’s Veneto.
Robola – A grape grown most effectively in the high altitude vineyards of Cephalonia. This variety produces wines that display peach and citrus aromas, and touch down on the palate with smoky flavours and a long lemony-mineral finish. The grape has it’s own qualified AOC known as Robola of Cephalonia.
Roditis – This pinkish hued grape variety is a popular specimen in Macedonia, Attica, Thessaly, and the Peloponnese where it is grown for the production of AOC Patra wines. The grape produces white wines that are elegant and lighter in style, showing citrus notes and a long pleasing finish.
Savatiano – This is the most highly cultivated grape in Attica, where is seems to thrive in the dry summer climate there. It produces a well balanced, elegant white wine with aromas of citrus and flowers.
Tsaoussi – This grape variety is cultivate mostly on the island of Cephalonia where it is blended successfully with the local grape Robola to produce interesting wines with good fruit characteristics and honeyed aromas.
White Muscat – Just about every country in the world produces some type of Muscat wines and Greece is no exception. It’s grown in many diffract regions in Greece but finds most of it’s glory in the AOC wines of Patra, Rio of Patra, and Samos. It also is grown in small quantities in the Rhodes and Cephalonia appellations. As to be expected this highly aromatic variety makes excellent dessert wines and also very interesting dry whites.
Agiorghitiko – Commonly referred to as “St. George”, [ Ah yore eye’ ti ko ] is one of Greece’s most important and noble varieties. It’s primarily grown in the AOC region called Nemea, located in the Peloponnese. It produces a medium-full bodied deeply coloured red, with soft tannin, fresh acidity, and remarkable aromatics. They also use the grape to produce very nicely crafted rose wines.
Xinomavro – Grown with great success in Macedonia, Xinomavro wines are especially known for their amazing tannic structure and ability to age. It produces wines with complex aromas and flavours.
Mandeleria – This grape also known as Amorgiano, is mainly grown on the islands of Rhodes and Crete. It produces a wine rich in colour and participates in several blends in the appellations of Monemvassia in Paros, and Kotsifali in Crete. It is also made as a single varietal on the island of Rhodes, where it makes wines of distinction and quality.
Mavrodaphne – This grape is primarily cultivated in the regions of Achaia and Ilia in the Peloponnese, as well as the Ionian Islands. It is successfully blended with a grape called Korinthiaki to produce incredibly delicious dessert wines. It also does very well to be blended with the Italian Refosco varietal and Agiorghitiko and Cabernet Sauvignon.
One of the best resources for Greek wines is the UK website www.wineman.co.uk where they have a huge variety of superb wines from all over the world.