Even though Greek wines have been around since 2000 BC, they are still something of a mystery to the average wine drinker. Despite a tradition spanning more than four millennia and dramatic improvement in quality since the 1980s, Greek wines remain some of the most underrated in a world obsessed with Bordeaux and Burgundy.
Some obvious explanations for the understated presence of Eastern Mediterranean in our wine cellars and supermarket shelves include the unfamiliar (and often hard-to-pronounce) grape varietals, labels that aren’t always in English, and low export availability. Greece consumes much of its wine domestically. A bigger hurdle is of perception, since many consider Greek wine synonymous with the uninspiring piney retsina served in taverns.
But the wines coming out of contemporary Greece are far superior in taste and quality and have price tags to match. Some of these are downright expensive since they can’t be mass-produced on the islands but have to be cultivated by small boutique producers. Lively white wines dominate along the cooler coastal lands and make up about two-thirds of the country’s production. The reds are not as evenly compelling; they tend to be somewhat wild and rustic, but producers are now going lighter on the oak. The Xinomavro red grape even has a day dedicated to itself to spread awareness about one of Greek’s most prized indigenous vines.
Incidentally, Greece is home to about 300 indigenous grape varieties. Of the plethora of wines being produced in the Mediterranean, here are a few must try Greek wines.
The Moschofilero is a dry and aromatic white wine that grows in central Peloponnese near Tripoli. The flavours of peach, potpourri, and sweet lemon mature to imbibe stronger notes of nectarine and apricot, laced with toasted hazelnut or almond flavours.
The Mitravelas White on Grey is a typical Moschofilero white wine. The fresh floral character mingles with green apple and exotic fruit notes. A crunchy and expressive medium-bodied wine with high acidity, it goes well with seafood, shellfish and traditional light Greek cuisine.
One of Greece’s top varietals in the Assyrtiko, produced all over the country but at its best in Santorini, where it originates. This is a bone-dry, lean white wine with citrus edges. Flavours of passionfruit, lemon, and flint abound with a salty mineral finish.
The intense fruit notes dominate the complex Gaia ‘Wild Ferment’ Assyrtiko, produced by Yiannis Paraskevopoulos, one of the best winemakers in the country. Gaia sources the grapes from upland Pyrgos, home of the most aromatic Assyrtiko in Santorini. Each barrel then undergoes a wild ferment, which means that each batch is unique.
There are ample peach and some light plum characteristics here. Hints of white nectarine and gunflint minerality enrich the palate of lemony freshness and spicy notes. A pleasant alternative to the Grand Cru Chablis, this wine is prime for drinking now and can be beautifully paired with tapas, savoury cheese, or rice and fish dishes.
Over the past decade, Xinomavro has become one of Greece’s most popular red grape varieties. Although best known for the production of red wine, it is also used to make some fine rosés and sparkling wines. The grape is often hailed as the ‘Barolo of Greece’, especially when it grows in the Amyndeo and Naoussa regions, because its structure can resemble that of the Italian Nebbiolo reds with their firm tannins and bright acidity. Vibrant fruit characteristics like dark cherry present alongside flora aromas, liquorice, subtle tomato, black olives, and spices.
Alpha Estate’s Single Vineyard Hedgehog is a bright pink well-balanced rosé with hints of salmon and shiny fuchsia hues. It is fruity on the nose, with rose petals and berries aplenty. High tannins and crisp acidity are rounded off with a light texture and a long finish. This is a versatile wine that complements local cuisine, light pasta, grilled salmon, and crab cakes.
Limnio is possibly the oldest grape variety in the world… it’s even mentioned in the works of ancient Greek poets like Aristotle and Homer! The grape is believed to have come from the Aegean Island of Limnos, but it is now grown only on the Halkidiki Peninsula and in Rapsani, Thessalia. Limnio is a drought-resistant hardy grape with a late ripening period.
The Vourvoukeli Estate Limnio Avdira is a full-bodied elegant red that ferments for six months in oak. The micro-oxygenation creates an aromatic bouquet of berries, black cherry, pomegranate, spices, and dark chocolate. There is a pleasant acidity and well-integrated tannins with a lasting peppery aftertaste. The ruby-red wine pairs well with duck, goose, and game birds.
The Muscat from the semi-mountainous regions of Samos is a simple classic dessert wine, produced here since the fifth century B.C. It comes in various styles, from dry to sweet, but all of them display the typical aromatic lychee and perfumed notes that are Muscat’s hallmark. One of its most popular styles is the Vin Doux, a blend of fresh Muscat juice and Muscat grappa. The grappa adds subtle hay notes on the finish to sweet marmalade, lychee, and Turkish delight flavours.
The Samos Vin Doux is produced from extra ripe Muscat grapes. It is a clear golden wine with a pleasing bouquet of honey, apricot, and honeysuckle. Soft and sweet on the palate, with medium body and moderate acidity, the wine evokes a feel of tamed vanilla over lanolin. The fresh and delicious Muscat is ideal when served with sweet Greek pastries or just before coffee.