Greeks are amongst the first peoples to have produced wine into the world and Greece has some of the oldest vineyards extant, making the country justifiably famous for its great local wines.
The earliest evidence of wine production in Greece dates back to 6,500 years before the present day. Greek wine enjoyed high prestige in the times of the Roman Empire and during the Middle Ages, and highly prized wines were exported from Crete, Monemvasia and other Greek ports.
Today, as wine making has become a fine art, there are some Greek wines that stand out amongst any in the world. But for the most part, Greece still produces many varieties traditionally, and some vintners make wines that keep one foot in tradition and the other in innovation.
What remains constant, however, are specific grape varieties and places with unique types of soils, which give the grape characteristics that no other variety can match.
To ensure consumers can determine the correct origin of the wines they purchase, a system of appellations has been implemented, creating the Protected Geographical Origin (PGO) and Protected Geographical Identification (PGI) labels for wines.
Best Greek wines to accompany your Christmas meal
While known originally as a wine produced on the island of Santorini, Assyrtiko is now made all over the country of Greece. A grape that maintains its acidity as it ripens, it is a rather light white wine with lemon flavors and a subtle bitterness and saltiness in the finish — with latter being a characteristic of vineyards located close to the sea.
Moschofilero grapes grow in the area of central Peloponnese, producing a dry, crispy white wine that is full of aromas. One can find flavors of peach and sweet lemon in Moschofilero. When aged, it develops notes of dried fruit and apricot as well.
This variety is native to Nemea, a famous wine region in the Peloponnese which is well-known for this grape. A robust red wine with flavors of sweet raspberry, blackcurrant and nutmeg, it also has subtle notes of bitter herbs and smooth tannins. Rosés made from Agiorgitiko have spiced raspberry notes and a brilliant, deep pink color.
Originating from Macedonia, Malagouzia is a rather recent variety of grape produced in northern Greece. It makes for white, full-bodied wines, with a balanced acidity and interesting aromas.
Xinomavro, which in Greek translates “sour black,” is the main grape variety of Macedonia, mainly in the areas of Naoussa and Amyndeo. Xinomavro has good aging potential and a rich tannic character. It is often compared to the Italian Nebbiolo due to is dark cherry and licorice notes.
One of the oldest Cretan white grapes, Vidiano has become very popular among the local varieties of the island. It was nearly extinct until Cretan winemakers came to understand its potential and worked hard to revive its great complexity. Vidiano produces elegant wines with a variety of white and yellow fruit, citrus fruit and white flower aromas while remaining robust and full-bodied.
With its Greek name meaning the “Saturday grape,” this is the main white variety from the Attica region, with an important resistance to heat. Under cold fermentation, it can offer flavors of green apple and lime. If aged in oak, it is characterized by a more creamy mid-palate.
The “black laurel” of Greece is a variety grown mainly in the Peloponnese and Kephalonia Island. It is normally blended with the Black Corinth currant grape to produce a late harvest sweet wine with a distinct, heavy taste of raisins and chocolate, and high tannins. Some producers are now blending it with other varieties, producing rich and full-bodied dry red wines.
Another great variety from Santorini that owes a great deal to its volcanic soil. This sun-dried sweet wine is made from three white grape varieties — Assyrtiko, Aidani and Athiri. This “holy wine” has aromas of raisin, dried apricot, raspberry and maraschino cherries, which also offers stunning contrasts between sweet and bitter flavors caused by its noticeable tannins, something unique in a white wine.
Muscat of Samos
Muscat of Samos comes in different varieties, both dry and sweet, but always with quite aromatic notes. Among the most popular Samian Muscat wines is the Vin Doux. Another Muscat from Samos, the Samos Anthemis, aged in oak for five years, creates an amber color and renders flavors of butterscotch, toffee and light molasses.
Finally, Samos Nectar is made from sun-dried grapes and aged for three years in oak. This wine has intense aromas, a darker coffee-like color and presents a lower alcohol level than other Samian dessert wines.
Any of these wines will be a great addition to any dinner table, offering a tempting taste of Greece.