Archaeological evidence places Greece among the earliest of nations to make wine and wine has been an integral part of Greek culture and society for centuries. The Ancient Greeks worshipped Dionysus (the god of wine, fertility, and patron of the arts), Hippocrates prescribed wine for good health, and wine was integral to the philosophical discussions that underpin Western culture.
But it wasn’t until Greece entered the European Union that their wine industry got a makeover.
It was at the rooftop Galaxy bar of the Hilton hotel in the dynamic Greek capital of Athens where I started my journey into Greek wine. While looking over the white cityscape and out to the Acropolis in the afternoon sun, I tasted a glass of dry Assyrtiko, which is a white wine from the volcanic island of Santorini. This steely wine with citrus aromas and an unmistakable mineral aftertaste would please most white wine drinkers and is a perfect accompaniment to seafood.
Assyrtiko at the Galaxy Bar, Hilton AthensFrom Athens, I took a 90 minute trip west to Nemea OPAP (Oenoi Onomasoas Proelefseos Anoteras Poiotitas/ Appelation d’Origine de Qualité Supérieure), which is a region that produces red wines exclusively from the Agiorgitiko (Saint George’s) grape. Agiorgitiko is a typically dry, deep red wine with spiced cherry notes and I tasted some good examples of this wine at Domaine Skouras.
Domaine Skouras’s elegant wines include not only a single-variety Agiorgitiko wine (called Saint George Nemea) with notes of raspberry, cherry, vanilla and chocolate, but also a blend of Agiorgitiko and Cabernet Sauvignon (called Megas Oenos), and an elegant, exotic white wine made from the French grape variety Viognier with notes of apricot and dried mango.
Entrance to Domaine SkourasBack in Athens, at a wine store called Kaba Π (or Cava P) in Monastiraki, I asked the clerk what his favourite Greek wine is. He pointed to a magnificent black bottle with gold writing on the label. It was a 2006 bottle of Monemvasios Regional Dry Red Wine made from Agiorgitiko blended with some Mavroudi produced by Monemvasia Winery, which is situated at the south-eastern tip of the Peloponnese–an area with a long, colourful history of trading wine.
The wine clerk’s favourite Greek wine was truly special. It has cherry character from the Agiorgitiko as well as fruitiness and intensity from the Mavroudi, and because the wine is aged in oak, there are flavours and aromas of coffee, mocha, and vanilla.
So, in and around Athens, I was introduced to a few modern Greek wines, but since there are over 200 grape varieties native to Greece, my adventure into Greek wine is only beginning.
In addition to Assyrtiko as a starting point for a white Greek wine and Agiorgitkio for a red Greek wine, Malagousia is another great Greek white wine to start out with as is Xinomavro for a red. These wines (which are summarised below) make for good weekend wines. They just may transport you to Greece where you can relax on Greek time, dance, smell dried oregano in the air, and eat copious quantities of souvlaki.
Summary of Four Greek Wines to Try
Assyrtiko: The romantic island of Santorini is famous for its dry, white Assyrtiko, which is where it originated, but Assyrtiko is also produced on the mainland. The best dry Assyrtiko can be like good Chablis in terms of their minerality and ageing potential. Assyrtiko can also be blended with Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon to lower its minerality, as well as with another indigenous Greek grape, Malagousia.
Malagousia: This grape variety, which was almost extinct until recently, produces elegant, full-bodied, aromatic white wines. These wines have medium acidity and enticing aromas of citrus, exotic fruits, and jasmine. I think wines from this grape will appeal to those who are fond of the rich and aromatic white wines of Alsace.
Agiorgitiko: This Greek red, historically referred to as the Blood of Hercules, has red fruit character, such as cherry, as well as spice. It could be likened to a Tuscan wine (a Sangiovese) but it is really unique. Wines made from Agiorgitiko are often deep ruby in colour, though the grape variety can be made into rosé. Nemea, in the north-east of the Peloponnese, is best known for wines made from Agiorgitiko.
Xinomavro: This Greek wine is often likened to the Italian Nebbiolo, since it has raspberry notes and is high in tannin and acid. Further, the most famous region for Xinomavro, Naoussa in the north of the country (Macedonia), is often referred to as the Piedmont of Greece. Xinomavro is also blended with international grape varieties (Syrah/ Shiraz and Merlot) to make quality wines.
Feature photo: View of the Acropolis and Athens at dusk
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