Few places boast such a long and storied wine history as Greece, yet around these parts, Greek wine is often uncommon—if not completely unknown.
This is a shame, since Greece produces some lovely wines, and the country has undergone something of a vinous renaissance in recent years. Wine was a daily part of Ancient Greek life, and while Greece is not the birthplace of viticulture (that honour goes to the area around the Black Sea), archaeological evidence suggests that wine was made by the Greeks as far back as 4000 years ago. Yet while wine flourished throughout Greece’s ancient history, it languished for decades in the modern era; the Greek wine industry remained largely undeveloped up until the 20th century.
Until quite recently, Greek wine in North America was synonymous with retsina, a pungent white wine based on the ancient practice of adding pine-tree resin to wine in order to preserve it from oxidizing on long voyages. Retsina is definitely something of an acquired taste (some people liken its aroma to turpentine, though recent examples are more finessed), and has never been particularly popular in western markets. Still, it’s worth trying out, as producers have worked to make their retsinas palatable to western tastes, and decent examples are one of very few wines that pair well with the garlicky flavours common in many Greek dishes.
Wine is made in scattered pockets throughout the entire country of Greece, primarily from indigenous Greek grape varieties—the country is home to more than 300 little-known varieties that don’t occur anywhere else. As Greece modernizes its winemaking practices, however, French varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah have grown increasingly popular. Almost three-quarters of Greek wine is white, led by the citrusy Assyrtiko variety—it’s a refreshing white for the summer, especially good with salads, seafood and light chicken dishes. Xinomavro and Agiorgitiko lead as the predominant red grapes; the former is spicy and earthy, with tart acidity and high tannin content, while the latter is lighter, with blackberry flavours and velvety tannins. Both of these reds are excellent when paired with Greece’s signature lamb-based dishes, as well as any roasted red meats.
The northern half of Greece is dominated by red wine, especially the regions of Naoussa and Rapsani. Both red and white wines are made throughout the large peninsula of Peloponnese, which is home to several smaller sub-regions including Nemea (predominantly red wine) and Pátra (mainly white wine). Wine is also made throughout the southern islands dotting the Mediterranean where rainfall is almost nonexistent, forcing the bushy grapevines to send their roots deep into the islands’ volcanic fissures in search of pockets of trapped rainwater. The fabled Greek island Santorini produces particularly intense, high-quality white wine, often made from the ancient Athiri variety. Greece also produces a number of sweet dessert wines, chiefly from the intensely floral Muscat grape as well as from the inky-dark Mavrodaphne variety. V
Papantonis Meden Agan Agiorgitiko
Tsantali Rapsani Reserve
Kourtaki Mavrodaphne of Patras