It’s difficult to know where to begin, because although Greece has a very long tradition of winemaking, it also went through a long period of poor quality, cheap, mass wines that didn’t do much for its image. What is impressed in the minds of most who have visited Greece is sitting in a little taverna on an island, with the most gorgeous view laying ahead, eating good, hearty, food and drinking the poorest wine swamped by resin. So, people came away thinking that was the typical wine of Greece.
It can’t be more than 30 something years that winemaking has revived in this country, in a meaningful way. Of course, during the previous years it wasn’t just the cheap bulk wine; some of the big producers struggled to keep winemaking alive, but most importantly paved the way for the next generation of winemakers. This generation is educated, has technology on its side, has learnt all the secrets about farming grapes and winemaking, and has bet on promoting local varieties. Production methods have improved on every imaginable level and wineries have popped up all over the country, with some doing an incredible job.
Greece boasts over 150 indigenous grape varieties of which maybe 50 are cultivated. The strength of Greek wine today is exactly the fact that it is paying homeage to these varieties, which are distinctive and are a refreshing alternative to well-known varieties that have been vinified in absolutely every variation on a theme.
Main white varieties
Assyrtiko: Think of lemons, green apples and sea-shells. If you’re feeling your mouth water that is exactly what it will do with this wine. Loves fatty fish and any kind of fish, but can stand next to lamb or mutton chops. A wine that can withstand time. Age adds to its complexity.
Malagouzia: If wine could be a starlet, that’s malagouzia. It’s the name of the day. In the last few years everybody is falling in love with it. Think of herbs combined with citrus fruit, white flowers and even tropical fruit. Quite intensely aromatic. More herbal, citrusy in the north, more floral, tropical in the south.
Robola: Reminds me of an assyrtiko, without the mouth-watering effect. Lighter altogether.
Vidiano: Think peaches, apricots, herbs and flint. Full and crisp.
Savatiano: Think peach, lemon, banana, white flowers, and some herbs. Refreshing.
Vilana:Think orange, peach, pear, and white flowers. Easy drinking.
Pinkish varieties that are usually vinified as white varieties but can also give onion coloured wines
Moschofilero: Think rose petals, white flowers but also fruits like orange and lime. Exotic, fresh, light, crisp. A beauty.
Roditis: Think lemon, white flowers and melon that can even give more tropical notes like pineapple. Very food friendly.
Main red varieties
Agiorgitiko: Think red, red, red and velvet. Think chocolate and sweet spices. Suave. Comes in any imaginable style, unoaked, oaked, sweet, rose. Nemea is its hometown, but is slowly venturing to other places.
Xinomavro: Think red berries, sour cherries, black tea. When it ages it magically reminds you of tomato paste, olives, mushroom, and cigars. Needs meat to be enjoyed.
Mavrodaphne: Think black fruit, like black cherry, prunes, herbs (laurel and sage) and spice. A sweet port style wine when fortified, intense and heady when dry.
Limniona: Think red berries and herbs. Finesse.
Kotsifali: Think cherries, blackberries, herbs, and spices. Beautiful aromas, not very crisp so usually blended with mandilaria.
Limnio: Think red berries, herbs and elegance.