Country Profile: Greece
There’s a lot to love about Greece: the sun, the views, the 300 indigenous wine varietals. Yes, that’s right – 300. Not all of them make good wine, but still, there’s a lot to explore.
Greeks have been making wine since the 7th century BC, crediting Dionysus, son of Zeus, as the first oenophile and God of the Vine. The earliest evidence of European wine making is found in Northern Greece, home of Alexander the Great, whose campaigns into the Mediterranean (think Sicily, Italy, southern France, and Spain) spread the cult of Dionysus, with its unrestrained wine consumption.
As essential as Greece is to wine history, its wine hasn’t been as lauded. But that’s totally changing. Rugged and mostly warm, with micro climates ranging from wet mountain forests to sunbaked volcanic islands, the country produces varietals that are winning palates the world over for their earthy, unique flavor profile.
The most popular have the characteristics of wines we know and love, like Sauvignon Blanc and Albariño. Greek varietals may not be household names (yet!), but are more widely available than ever before. Bonus: they are super affordable.
Here are some of our favorites:
Assyrtiko (ah-sir-tee-ko): Minerally and dry, high acidity with long length. Many (and perhaps the best) come from Santorini where vines are often 70+ years old. A few are oak-aged but most are not, retaining lean, crisp style. Notes of passion fruit, mineral, and citrus are common. Tasting hint: Assyrtiko from the mainland is often broader and fruitier than when grown on Santorini. Reliable producers: Gaia, Koutsoyannopoulos, Domaine Porto Carras, Argyros.
Moscofilero (mos-ko-fi-ler-oh): Lovely white described as a cross between Gewurztraminer and Muscat but with loads of acidity. Aromatic, particularly tangerine and stone fruit. Tasting hint: Deeper peach, nectarine and apricot flavors and roasted nut notes indicate age. Typically from Mantinea. Reliable producer: Cambas, Skouras.
Retsina (ret-seen-a): Historic Retsina, a specialty of Greece, was kept in amphora coated with resin to make it waterproof. The resin imparted a distinct pine flavor all its own. Often made with Assyritiko or Savatiano grapes which impart their own flavor profile – more acidity with the former and softer, broader style with the Savatano. Aromas of lime peel and a piney note. Reliable producers: Gaia.
Xinomavro (zhee-no-mav-ro): Translates to “acid black,” and is often compared to Italian Barolo, it’s a lively glass of wine. Dark red wine with floral and spice, very aromatic, firm tannins. Typically produced in Naoussa, Amyntaio, Goumenissa. Tasting tip: Tannins and acidity mean that this wine will age well, typically between 5-12 years. Reliable producers: Boutari, Tsantali.
Mavrodaphne (mav-ro-daf-nee): Literally “black laurel,” this red wine is the basis for a port-like dessert wine, Mavodaphne of Patras. Aromatic and typically used in blends. Reliable Producers: Tsantali,
In addition to these unique varietals above, Greek producers are adept with international red grapes: Look for a Cabernet, Merlot or Syrah from Central or Southern Greece particularly Crete, Peloponnese, Kefalonia. Sometimes blended with Greek reds such as Xinomavro, you’ll come to love these sun soaked versions of your favorites.