The 2007 slogan for Greece is “Explore your Senses”. That especially applies to their food and wine. The taste is enhanced when you are also treating your eyes and ears to the sights and sounds of a local taverna.
Each year brings forth new wines to explore but we are not referring to the vintage as much as new releases from the best Greek wine makers. The Greece wine industry calls it a renaissance. While wine may have originated in ancient Greece and Homer praised its qualities in his epic poems, the offerings from Greece have languished in modern times—until the last few years.
Just as France had to go through a major downturn to awaken a need to change the status quo, so Greece had to see its reputation suffer before the industry reinvented itself. Now those changes are bearing fruit in new, superior quality wines becoming available each year—at all levels of quality from taverna plonk through the mid price ranges of 8-10 Euro per bottle on up to the auctioned collectors bottles. In a recent international competition Greek wines received three “Grand Gold” metals.
It is impossible to generalize about wines from Greece. First, as other places, each region has its own climate, in addition each island has its own weather conditions that vary greatly from year to year. There have been no typical conditions for several years. There are nine major recognized wine growing regions in the relatively small country. The Aegean islands region has five major wine producing islands.
Of even greater diversity is the number of grape varieties. Still grown strictly in Greece are species stemming from ancient times. To this are added the best from international sources as well as those which originated in Greece and are now grown elsewhere such as Assyrtiko from Santorini.
Assyrtiko produces a very dry wine with citrus aromas and earthy flavors from the volcanic soil of Santorini. It is now grown throughout Greece and in several other countries where it provides a milder, fruitier character with less earth and mineral undertones.
Santorini is a study in the uniqueness of Greek wines. The vines are cultivated to grow in circular shapes close to the ground for protection from the strong winds. The soil is mostly ash, lava and pumice; the preponderance of moisture during the summer growing season comes from evening fog. Needless to say the wines are quite distinctive. Further, Santorini along with nearby Paros are among rare wine making areas in the world not attacked by phylloxera.
The largest Greek island, Crete traces their wine lineage back nearly 4000 years to the Minoan civilization. Most Cretan vineyards are located on the North slopes of the island in order to be protected from the warm African winds. The climate conditions here are perfect for a great many grapes: Archanes, Chardonnay, Dafnes, Kotsifali, Mandelaria, Sitia, Syrah, and Thrapsathiri, among others.
The major Greece producer, Boutari, has an estate winery, Fantaxometocho, not far from the incomparable Minoan site of Knossos. The winery is one of the most modern in Europe yet is not far from where the oldest wine press in the world was found. A great variety of great wines are produced.
A word about Retsina which now is mainly produced on the Attica peninsula. The characteristic flavor comes from adding pine resin during the fermentation stage. It is said to have been an ancient preservative but some believe it was purposely added for the taste because it goes well with the heavy olive oil used in traditional Greek cooking. Like other wines Retsina’s quality varies; some is like drinking turpentine other is ambrosia, but it is an acquired taste. Especially if acquired in Greece.
The one winery we have thoroughly explored is that closest to our home, Moraitis at Naoussa, Paros. They have an extensive public tasting room and are open most days for tours. Their large size and extensive storage is quite surprising since like Greek wines in general they are not well known outside the country. We have been in many Oregon and California wineries that are smaller.
We regularly drink Moraitis reds so took advantage of the tasting to sample their premium white and a rose'. Both are made from a Monemvasia-Asyrtiko blend. Again we were surprised; they were much better than the whites and rose’s that we normally drink. The white had great character and depth; the rose' had a berry fruit taste without being too sweet. The winery also bottles a red and a white from organically grown grapes.
So this article has just scratched the surface concentrating on the southern regions and not even mentioned the largest and most important appellation of Nemea. There is plenty of scope for your own explorations in the large world of Greece wines, ancient and thoroughly modern.