Guide to Greek Wines

From the 4th century onwards Greece’s tumultuous history meant that winemaking did not flourish as it did in neighbouring Italy, As a result, Greece’s importance in the modern wine world is far less than one might assume, given its early success. In the late 20th Century, however, Greek winemaking showed signs of revitalization, supported by modern winemaking techniques and a generation of motivated, quality-focused producers.

Greece is Located in half way between Southern flag-map_of_greece-svgItaly and Turkey. The mountainous, Mediterranean country in the sun-drenched south-east of Europe – is often considered the birthplace of civilisation,

Greece is one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world.

The earliest evidence of Greek wine has been dated to 6,500 years ago where wine was produced on a household or communal basis.

In ancient times, as trade in wine became extensive, it was transported from end to end of the Mediterranean; Greek wine had especially high prestige in Italy under the Roman Empire.

In the medieval period, wines exported from Crete, Monemvasia and other Greek ports fetched high prices in northern Europe.

HISTORYancient-grapes2
The origins of wine-making in Greece go back 6,500 years and evidence suggesting wine production confirm that Greece is home to the second oldest known grape wine remnants discovered in the world. and the world’s earliest evidence of crushed grapes. The spread of Greek civilization and their worship of Dionysus, the god of wine, spread Dionysian cults throughout the Mediterranean areas during the period of 1600 BC to the year 1. Hippocrates used wine for medicinal purposes and readily prescribed it, Greek wines and their varieties were well known and traded throughout the Mediterranean. The Ancient Greeks introduced vines such as Vitis vinifera and made wine in their numerous colonies in Italy, Sicily, southern France, and Spain. The Vitis vinifera grape which thrives in temperate climates near coastal areas with mild winters and dry summers adapted well and flourished in the Northern Mediterranean areas. The most reputable wines of ancient Greece were Chian, Coan, Corcyraean, Cretan, Euboean, Lesbian, Leucadian, Mendaean, Peparethan wine, Rhodian and Thasian. Wine was also important for ancient Macedonia. Two other names may or may not be regional: Bibline wine and Pramnian wine are named in the earliest Greek poetry, but without any reliable geographical details.

In 1937, a Wine Institute was established by the Ministry of Agriculture. During the 1960s, retsina suddenly became the national beverage. With rapidly growing tourism, retsina became associated worldwide with Greece and Greek wine. Greece’s first Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard was planted in 1963. In 1971 and 1972, legislation established appellation laws.

Grape varieties

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Red Wine
Agiorghitiko(“St. George’s [grape]”)
is a variety native to Nemea that grows mainly in the Peloponnese area, producing a soft, fruity red in many styles. Its sensory attributes are similar to Beaujolais Nouveau but, unlike its French counterpart, the St. George ages well for about 5 years.

Xinomavro (“sour black”)
is the predominant grape variety in Macedonia, centered on the town of Naousa. This variety has great aging potential with a palate reminiscent of tomatoes and olives, and a rich tannic character. It is often compared to Nebbiolo.

Limnio, or Kalambaki
is an important red grape variety that is indigenous to the Aegean island of Lemnos and has been used in red wine production for more than 2000 years. As a varietal wine Limnio is full-bodied, high in alcohol and very herbaceous, with a distinctive taste of bay leaves.

Mandilaria, also known as amorgiano,
is mainly cultivated on the islands of Rhodes and Crete. Wine from this grape is often very tannic and frequently blended with other grapes to soften the mouth feel.

Mavrodaphne, or “black laurel”
is a variety that grows in the Peloponnese and the Ionian Islands. It is blended with the Black Corinth currant grape to produce a prized fortified dessert wine made in the Solera style.

Kotsifali
is a variety mainly grown on Crete. It is blended with Mandilaria or Syrah to enhance its color.

White Wine
Assyrtiko
is a multi-purpose variety which maintains its acidity as it ripens. It is similar in character to Riesling, and is mostly island-based, being a native variety of the island of Santorini, whose old vines have been resistant to Phylloxera.

Athiri
is a lower acid variety and one of the most ancient. Originally from Santorini, it is now planted in Macedonia, Attica, and Rhodes.

Debina
is a white Greek wine grape primarily in the Zitsa region of Epirus. The grape’s high acidity lends itself to sparkling wine production.

Lagorthi
is a variety mainly cultivated on high slopes (850 meters) in the Peloponnese. The grape produces a very malic and fruity wine.

Malagousia
is a grape growing mainly in Macedonia, with a special aroma leading to elegant full bodied wines, with medium-plus acidity and exciting perfumed aromas.

Moschofilero
is a Blanc de gris variety from the AOC region of Mantineia, in Arcadia in the Peloponnese. Its wines offer a crisp and floral character in both still and sparkling styles.

Robola
is most grown in the mountainous vineyards of the Ionian Island of Cephalonia. It has a smokey mineral and lemony character, excellently complementing seafood.Roditis (the “pink” or “rose” grape)
is a grape that is very popular in Attica, Macedonia, Thessaly, and the Peloponnese. This variety produces elegant, light white wines with citrus flavors.

Savatiano (the “Saturday” grape)
is the predominant white grape in the region of Attica, where it displays excellent heat resistance and shows a distinct floral and fruity aroma when cold fermentation is practised.[14] When fermented without cooling, it makes retsina or rustic unresinated wines that complement Mediterranean dishes well

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THE APPELLATION SYSTEMS AND LABELLING TERMS

A system of appellations was implemented to assure consumers the origins of their wine purchases. The appellation system categorizes wines as,

Onomasia Proelefsis Anoteras Poiotitos (O.P.A.P.), i.e. an Appellation of Origin of Superior Quality

Onomasia Proelefsis Eleghomeni (O.P.E.), i.e. a Controlled Appellation of Origin

Topikos Oinos, i.e. a Vin de pays

Epitrapezios Oinos, i.e. a Vin de table

Epitrapezios Oinos, regular table wine which usually comes in screw-top containers

Cava, more prestigious, aged “reserve” blends (minimum aging: 2 years for whites; 3 years for reds)

Retsina, a traditional wine, flavored with pine resin

WINE REGIONS 

map

The main wine growing regions of contemporary Greece are:

Aegean Islands Limnos, Paros, Rhodes, Samos, Kos, Santorini

Crete Archanes, Dafnes, Peza, Sitia

Central Greece Anchialos, Attica, Rapsani, Thessaly

Epirus Zitsa

Ionian Islands Kefalonia

Macedonia Amyntaion, Epanomi, Goumenissa, Naoussa,

Peloponnese – Mantineia, Nemea, Patras

 

Yours,

sommelierArun

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