Long gone are the days when Greek wine meant piney, sappy retsina. Greece, one of the world’s most historic wine producing regions, has managed to reinvent itself in the modern era and is now in the midst of a serious comeback. Many of Greece’s best winemakers got their feet wet making wine in France and have returned home to infuse their local winemaking traditions with organic farming practices and fresh perspectives on how to translate their immaculate wine growing conditions into memorable, world-class wines.
Get ready to dive into some delicious and difficult to pronounce obscurities like Xinomavro, Agiorgitiko, Assyrtiko, and Moschofilero. The linguistic challenge is sure to be rewarded by mineral-driven, elegant wines that instantly transport you to breezy, sun-drenched islands where grilled octopus and plump olives abound and where blue waters extend for miles.
Greece’s Sweet Spots
The Greek island of Santorini is primarily known for its crisp and briny white wines made from the native Assyrtiko grape. Assyrtiko is very high in acid, which makes the wine a perfect accompaniment to seafood, contributing a lemony counterpart to anything from grilled calamari to roasted branzino. The cool maritime climate in Santorini yields wines that are redolent of the salty ocean air and that possess a very distinct chalky minerality.
While Santorini is dominated by white wines, the island also produces intensely aromatic and spicy red wines made from the local Mavrotragano grape. Mavrotragano yields high acid and substantially tannic wines that have signature floral aromas and deep red hues.
The Peloponnese is the second largest wine growing region in Greece and is located at the southernmost tip of the Greek mainland. The region is divided into three main wine regions: Patras, which produces white wines made from the pink-skinned grape Roditis (one of the grapes used in retsina), Mantinia, which is famous for its lychee and rose scented wines made from the Moschofilero grape, and Nemea, which is home to Agiorgitiko, one of Greece’s most widely planted red grapes.
Located in the Ionian Sea, the mountainous island of Cephalonia is replete with limestone soils in which the indigenous grape Robola thrives. Wines made from Robola are typically medium to full bodied with lush textures and aromatic notes of citrus and spice. While Robola looks and tastes quite similar to the Italian grape Ribolla Gialla, the two grapes are actually not proven to be related.
Macedonia which is located in the north of Greece, is red wine territory and is home to the indigenous red grape variety, Xinomavro, which is prolific in the sub zone of Naoussa. Xinomavro is often referred to as the Pinot Noir or the Nebbiolo of Greece, yielding classy, red fruited wines that have solid tannin structure and high acidity levels—two characteristics that make them suitable for long-term aging.