If anyone thinks of Greek wines they will either come up empty or mention Retsina. Retsina is often thought of as being the height of Greek wine and worse than this – it is considered by many as representative of Greek’s wine industry. We would like to say that Retsina is not worth drinking truly good examples of this wine style is about as rare as a four-leaf clover. Retsina, for those unaware, is originally a bland white wine that has spent time in either pine barrels or aged in contact with pine resin. The result is a white wine that smells more like cleaning product than anything you would like to put into your wine glass. You can understand why it is shocking to think that people might disgrace the hard working Greek winemakers by assuming that is all that Greece has to offer.
Greece is rare in its push towards indigenous grape varieties and against Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. This could be seen as elitism or stubbornness but we feel that it is fantastic. Wine is capable of transporting its drinker into that region, into that vineyard, so why should we always want to drink Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. Greece’s wine industry is fuelled by difference and showing consumers flavours, aromas and grapes that they can’t find anywhere else – an important niche.
Main Grapes or styles
Assyrtiko – possibly Greece’s greatest grape varietal. It is a white grape varietal that is largely planted and makes up the wines of Santorini. Here it produces wines that are light to full-bodied to sweet and luscious, it holds flavours of grapefruit, lemon and lime with green apple and mango to spare.
Mavrodaphne – is a red grape variety that is made in both dry and sweet red wines. The sweet red wines are often fortified up to 16-20% alcohol content and are juicy making perfect place-holders to Port. These are the wines of Mavrodaphne of Patras.
Roditis – though we mostly condemn Retsina as a drink it is very important to Greece and its wine industry. Roditis is the white grape varietal behind the majority of the blend that usually makes Retsina.
Xynomavro – is the red grape behind the wines of Naoussa. These are interesting reds that are often enhanced by ageing in oak. The wines are some of the most complex of all of Greece’s reds with flavours of blackberry, black plum, coffee beans and cocoa powder.
Muscat – a white grape variety known widely in France and Spain. Though it is sometimes used in dry white wines, it is mainly known for the luscious sweet wines of Muscat of Samos or Muscat of Patras. These wines are bottled happiness.
Santorini – is a volcanic island in the Aegan sea most noted for its high winds. The wines produced of Assyrtiko are as glorious as the 5-star hotels and views found across the island. Sweet wines, here called Vin Santo, are produced from Assyrtiko and must spend a minimum of two years ageing in oak. The resulting wines are complex with a plethora of dried and tropical fruit flavours.
Naoussa – is right inland in northern Greece in the region of Macedonia. It can get very hot up there and the best vineyards are at higher altitude where there are cooler temperatures – these allow for a longer ripening process and more complex flavours resulting in the wines. The grape here is the red Xynomavro.
Nemea – is found on the mainland of Greece in the region of the Peloponnese. The average altitude is 500m high where the red grapes of Agiorgitiko thrives. The resulting wines are dry reds that are full of blackberry, blueberry and baking spice flavours.
Climate and its effect on the wines made here
Greece’s heat allows for red wines produced en masse across the main land and many islands. It is thanks to the seas frosty winds across the islands that allow for white wine production, too. The reds are often medium-full bodied bursting with juicy red and black flavours. The whites are refreshing and crisp as well as full-bodied and aromatic.