If you’ve ever wondered why you don’t see more Greek wine on the shelves, you’re not alone. It’s a good question. After all, Greece has an older winemaking tradition than Italy — vines have been grown there since the Bronze Age — and it’s one of Britain’s best-loved holiday destinations. So Greek wine really ought to be more popular in the UK.
Simple explanations as to why it’s not might include the unfamiliar grape varieties, or that labels aren’t always in English (although most are translated). Plus the fact only about 13% of Greece’s wine is exported, with the rest consumed domestically. Perhaps the biggest hurdle, however, is that Greek wine is, to many, synonymous with the often off-puttingly piney retsina served in many tavernas.
Yet the country now produces some seriously exciting wines — with price tags to match. Greek wines are comparatively expensive because they can’t be mass-produced, especially not on the islands. “There aren’t the big, flat fertile plains you find in France and Italy,” explains Steve Daniel, of Hallgarten & Novum Wines. “It’s all about small, boutique producers.”
Greece is the third-most mountainous country in Europe, with the majority of its cultivatable land along the coast. That may go some way to explaining the predominance of white grape varieties, which tend to flourish in cooler coastal temperatures and account for roughly two-thirds of the country’s wine production. Greece has about 300 indigenous grape varieties, and sharp, citrussy, assyrtiko is definitely one to look out for. It’s native to Santorini, where vines are coiled like serpents in the vineyard to help them to stand up to the buffeting winds. Then there’s peachy malagousia and moschofilero, which has a floral character that fans of a gewürztraminer will enjoy. As well as the bottles below, a wonderful introduction to Greek whites is Ktima Biblia Chora’s Ovilos 2019 (£24.89, allaboutwine.co.uk), which blends assyrtiko with semillon to create an opulent wine that bears comparison with a great white Bordeaux.
Reds have traditionally tended to be briary, wild and rustic, but producers are beginning to rein in the oak. Two grapes worth noting are vibrant agiorgitiko, which is mainly planted in Nemea, in the Peloponnese (Greece’s largest wine region), and xinomavro. The latter, found in the northern wine region of Naoussa, has been described as Greece’s answer to Italy’s barolo, though you could argue it doesn’t have quite the same finesse. Greece also produces some stunning sweet wines, which are among its most affordable. These include muscat (mainly from the island of Samos) and the dark, sweet, red mavrodaphne of Patras, which tastes a bit like port and is good with chocolate. It’s the perfect way to round off a meal.
Below, discover five great Greek wines to try.
1. Mitravelas White on Grey Moschofilero 2019: Peloponnese
This exotically perfumed floral white is made from moschofilero, which, ironically, would probably go better with Asian rather than Greek food. The price is very reasonable, too. £7.95. thewinesociety.com
2. Assyrtiko by Gaia Wild Ferment 2019: Santorini
Produced by one of Greece’s best-known winemakers, Yiannis Paraskevopoulos, this assyrtiko is full of intense fruit notes. Perfect with grilled fish and Santorini’s tomato fritters. £31.95. uncorked.co.uk
3. Tetramythos Agiorgitiko Natur Vin Rouge 2019: Peloponnese
Natural wine is a trend in Greece, as elsewhere, and this is a vibrant, fruity, young red made from organic agiorgitiko grapes. Chill lightly and drink with meze or grilled lamb. £15.50. vinoteca.co.uk
4. Vourvoukeli Estate Limnio Avdira 2017: Thrace
A generous oak-aged red made from limnio, claimed to be the most ancient grape variety in the world (it’s even mentioned in Homer’s Iliad). Perfect with wild boar, if you have some, or a hearty stew. £18.40. maltbyandgreek.com
5. Samos Vin Doux 2015: Samos
The island of Samos, just off the Turkish coast, is famous for its muscat, which has been produced there since the fifth century BC. This example is fragrant and floral — Greece’s answer to France’s sauternes. Perfect for sweet Greek pastries. £8.99. waitrose.com
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Published in Issue 11 (spring 2021) of National Geographic Traveller Food
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