When individuals think of the European countries that make the best wines, Greece is likely not close to the top of the list. However, the increasing number of Greek fine dining establishments in the United States continues to expose Americans to the country’s many different wines. Fans of wine should definitely take the time to explore some wineries while visiting Greece. Among wine enthusiasts, there is a saying that wines taste best when enjoyed where they are produced, and this sentiment is particularly true in Greece, where the rustic wines serve as the perfect complement to fresh Greek dishes and cheeses.
Because climate has such a strong impact on the quality of wine, Greek wines are typically grouped together by region. The following are the four main regions in Greece associated with wine production:
The Aegean Islands
Samos, Limnos, Santorini, and other islands in the Aegean produce a number of wines. However, this part of the country is most known for its white wines, especially Assyrtiko, the most famous white wine in Greece. Assyrtiko has subtle hints of lemon and passion fruit that are balanced by a mineral taste. Often, this style of wine has a hint of bitterness and perhaps even saltiness that makes it pair perfectly with the fresh seafood served on these islands. A slight variation on Assyrtiko is known as Nykteri and comes aged in oak barrels to bring out the sweetness of the wine.
Some argue that the island of Samos is the birthplace of Muscat Blanc, one of the most renowned varieties of white wine in the world. On Samos, travelers will find many types, including dry and sweet versions, of Muscat. However, all varieties have the perfumed notes for which Muscat is known. Visitors can also find some unique aged Muscats that have a deeper color and flavors more akin to raisin and cocoa.
Southern Greece, which includes Crete, Kefalonia, and the Peloponnese, has a very hot Mediterranean climate perfect for producing white wines, although one very famous red does come from this region. Agiorgitiko has become one of the most-planted red varietals in Greece. This grape produces a wine that has a full body with undertones of plum, black currant, and raspberry, as well as hints of bitter herb and nutmeg. Individuals who like Merlot will likely enjoy Agiorgitiko, although the Greek version does have more spice. Some producers make rosé with Agiorgitiko, which has a strong raspberry flavor and a deep-pink hue.
Crete, the southernmost island of Greece, has one of the warmest climates. On the island, Vidiano remains one of the most popular choices. This white wine is dry with some hints of melon and pear. Outside of Vidiano, Crete also produces Kotsifali and Mandilaria, two reds that often come together as a blend that has a sweet, spicy character. Typically, the blend has hints of cinnamon and allspice. Lucky travelers may find Liatiko, a rarer red available in the summer that also comes in a sun-dried sweet variety that tastes like a cherry maple syrup.
The areas around the Agrafa and Pindus mountains have a climate much like that of Napa Valley, which makes it the perfect place to produce red wines. Some of the common varietals include Krasato, Stavroto, and Xinomavro. Wines usually come as a blend of these grapes with Xinomavro typically being the dominant flavor. This grape has subtle tannins that build on the palate and light fennel and anise notes. People who like Rhône blends will typically like these wines.
A little south of this region, the climate becomes more arid and white wines start to dominate. This is where vintners plant Savatiano, the most popular white grape in Greece. The grape has a slight acidity that makes it similar to Chablis. However, producers often age the wine in oak, which brings out strong lemon and bread notes. Historically, Savatiano has been associated with very bland wines, but this was due to economic constraints associated with conflict rather than to the varietal itself. Today, several different vineyards are showing the world the true potential of this grape.
Macedonia, Thrace, and Epirus have much colder climates than the rest of Greece. However, these areas still produce some great wines. Producers in Macedonia focus largely on Xinomavro, which features the flavor of dark cherry with a little bit of acidity that may remind people of tomato. In Naoussa, the vineyards largely grow in clay soils with a lot of limestone, which provides more tannins and bolder fruit character.
In Northern Greece, vintners grow many different white wines, including Assyrtiko and Roditis. Often, producers blend these grapes with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, or Malagousia for a smoky white that pairs perfectly with fish. Vineyards in this region have also played with blending imported grapes, including Merlot and Syrah, to make their wines more familiar to international wine drinkers.