As one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world, Greece has an impressive and ancient history with winemaking. Unfortunately, rudimentary methods of wine production left much to be desired from Greek wines up until the early 1990s when innovative changes in vineyard management and wine production have led to increasingly high-quality examples of traditional staples and some newly-resurrected ancient styles. Today, this Mediterranean coastal country offers a dazzling array of interesting wines produced from several unique native grape varieties from an ever-increasing number of Ktimas (Greek term for estates). These wines are finally taking their place on the international stage and are increasingly available to wine drinkers the world over. Lively, unique, and food-friendly, explore the following popular varieties and styles of Greek wine to get started in this ancient but seemingly new category.
This white variety of grape is widely grown throughout Greece, though its traditional home is the beautiful island of Santorini, which happens to produce some of the best and most notable versions of the grape. Assyrtiko wines are similar in flavor profile to Sauvignon Blanc with racy acid and an almost sea salt brine minerality driven by crisp lemon peel notes and aromas of fresh green herbs. Assyrtiko wines labeled as “nykteri” (nith-terry) mean the wine is aged in oak, expressing more Chardonnay-like qualities such as elements of lemon custard, fresh pineapple, crème brûlée, and some baking spice.
Try this bottle: Sigalas Assyrtiko
This pink grape looks a lot like Pinot Gris hanging on the vine and showcases some aromatic examples reminiscent of the Pinot Gris style as well. Although grown widely about the country, quality examples are produced primarily in the grape’s original region of Peloponnese in southern Greece. The grape is floral, fruity, and spicy and is often used to produce an aromatic dry table white wine similar to Viognier, though several other styles of wine are also produced from the grape to include sparkling wines and dessert bottlings reminiscent of Moscato wines. With some age, these wines take on an almond-like nuttiness and dried apricot quality.
Try this bottle: Skouras Moskofilero
This vibrant red grape is grown all over Greece and produces some of the most consistent examples of quality dry red wine in the area. The Náousa region in Macedonia is known to produce the most elegant and well-regarded examples of the grape. This medium-bodied wine reveals a bright red fruit bouquet alongside flinty minerality and chewy, gripping tannin structure reflecting a profile similar to Italy’s Nebbiolo-based wines. Enjoy these wines after a bit of age in the bottle or some vigorous decanting to express the lively fruit notes and relax the rigid tannins.
Try this bottle: Kir-Yianni Ramnista Vineyard Xinomavro
This grape is the most widely planted red variety and Greece and produces a diverse range of styles to include rosé. The Nemea region of the Peloponnese peninsula is home to the grape and showcases the most expressive versions of the wine. Full-bodied and fruit-driven, elements of blackberry, raspberry, and dried prune lift the heady incense and baking spice notes. Complex and elegant, these wines have great aging potential, and the velvety tannin and bright fruit profile make this wine a great option for Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot drinkers.
Try this bottle: Seméli Nemea Reserve Agiorgitiko
Not a grape variety but a style, Retsina is an incredibly unique white wine that has been produced in Greece for over 2,000 years. Considered an aromatized wine, white wine must is vinified in conjunction with fresh sap from the Aleppo pine tree to create a distinct and bold flavor profile reminiscent of lemon zest, dried apple, and rose petal alongside a distinct floral piny note. The base white wine may be made from any number of white wine grapes, though Assyrtiko is primarily used in the better example of the styles. This spice-driven dry white is a great choice for adventurous drinkers who usually lean toward natural wines, orange wines, or traditional Sauvignon Blanc, or drier examples of Viognier.
Try this bottle: Kechris “Tear of the Pine” Retsina
Although frequently confused with its Italian descendent, Vin Santo, Vinsanto has been produced in Greece for millennia. Classified as a dessert wine, this dark golden wine is unctuous and somewhat sweet, showcasing a bouquet of citrus peel, golden raisins, dried apricots, and a racy acidity to keep the palate salivating. Late-harvest Assyrtiko grapes must comprise at least 50% of the base blend, and before winemaking begins, grapes are allowed to dry in the bright Santorini sun for two weeks in order to concentrate the flavors. Wines are then rested in oak for two years to produce a unique, nutty, rich, and complex wine similar to Tawny Port or Oloroso Sherry.
Try this bottle: Santo Wines Vinsanto