In the ancient world, Greece was once one of the foremost producers of wine. However, in contrast to the country’s important wine heritage, modern Greek wines are only just now emerging in the rest of the world. In fact, these days Greece offers outstanding value for its wines and there are many new varieties that will certainly expand your palate.
This guide will give you a lay of the land and point out 12 Greek wines you should be sipping right now.
12 Greek Wines to Know
Assyrtiko from Santorini
Assyrtiko is one of the top wines in Greece, produced all over the country. Assyrtiko’s most impressive region is its place of origin on the island of Santorini. This is a lean white wine with passion fruit, flint, and lemon flavors, with subtle bitterness and saltiness on the finish. Assyrtiko labeled as Nykteri (“nith-terry”) are always oaked and offer more lemon brûlée, pineapple, fennel, cream, and baked pie crust notes.
Moschofilero from Mantinea
On central Peloponnese, close to Tripoli, grows Moschofilero, a lovely dry, aromatic white wine with flavors of peach, potpourri, and sweet lemon. As the wines age, they develop more nectarine and apricot flavors with toasted hazelnut or almond notes. For those who love Moscato d’Asti, this is a great new variety to explore.
Malagousia from Northern Greece
The white grape Malagousia, is a more recent discovery after being single-handedly resurrected by a winery in Northern Greece called Ktima Gerovassiliou (the word ktima is like saying “estate” or “chateau”). These wines offer a richer white wine style, almost like a cross between Viognier and Chardonnay, with peach, lime, and orange blossom and lemon oil all tied together with a soft, fruity finish.
Savatiano from Central Greece
When made well, Savatiano offers flavors of sweet honeydew, green apple, and lime with tingling acidity, akin to Chablis. When oak-aged, Savatiano delivers more lemon curd, wax, cultured cream with lemon bread notes with a creamy mid-palate, with a structure and finish similar to White Burgundy. This is a suprising discovery from a grape that has long been considered the doldrums of Greek wine.
Retsina from Central Greece
A specialty of Greece is a white wine that’s infused with the sap of the Allepo pine tree. Retsina wines have aromas of linseed oil and lime peel that lead into flavors of apples and roses, with a subtle piney, saline finish. Retsina wines made with Assyrtiko grapes tend to be more angular in their style (but age longer) whereas, Retsina wines made with Savatiano grapes have a more generous taste with ripe apple and peach flavors, as well as an oily texture on the palate. There are eight producers who actually know what they’re doing with this wine, so choose wisely!
Agiorgitiko from Nemea
Agiorgitiko (Ah-your-yeek-tee-ko) is well known wine from Nemea, a region in Peloponnese which is most famous for this grape. These red wines are more full-bodied with flavors of sweet raspberry, black currant, plum sauce, and nutmeg with subtle bitter herbs (somewhat like oregano) and smooth tannins. The wines are generous and fruity, similar in style to Merlot, but with slightly more spice. The rosé wines made with Agiorgitiko have wonderful spiced raspberry notes and a brilliant deep pink color.
Xinomavro from Naoussa
Xinomavro is being hailed as “The Barolo of Greece” where it grows in the regions Naoussa and Amyndeo because the wine can taste strikingly similar to Nebbiolo with dark cherry fruit, licorice, allspice, and occassionally subtle tomato notes with high-tannin and medium plus acidity. In Naoussa, vineyards are located predominantly on limestone-rich clay soils (marl), which gives this region’s Xinomavro wines additional structure (tannin) and bolder fruit characteristics. These are good wines for the cellar!
Xinomavro Blends from Rapsani
On the slopes of Mount Olympus, the region of Rapsani grows the red grapes of Xinomavro, Krasato, and Stavroto (with occasional Limniona for rosé) on schist-dominant soils. Wines are usually blends with a dominance of Xinomavro and spicy flavors of raspberry, anise, fennel, cherry, and occasionally olive or tomato, with tannins that build slowly (but surely!) on the palate. If you enjoy Rhône blends, Rapsani is the Rhône of Greece, and you should definitely put it on your list to try.
Greek GSM Blends from Crete
On the southernmost island of Crete you’ll find one of the warmest wine climates on earth. The native red grapes of Crete, Kotsifali and Mandilaria, are sometimes blended together with Syrah to create a wine with sweet red and black fruit flavors, cinnamon, allspice, and soy sauce, with a softer sweet tannin finish. This wine is very smooth and fruity.
Vinsanto from Santorini
Also on Santorini Island, you’ll find Vinsanto, a sun-dried sweet wine that smells more like red wine even though its made with Assyrtiko, Aidani, and Athiri white grapes! These wines have aromas of raspberry, raisin, dried apricots, maraschino cherries, and sometimes paint thinner (from higher levels of Volatile Acidity – e.g. the ‘nail polish’ smell). Even though the smell is arresting at first, you’ll be seduced by the contrasting sweet fruit and bitter flavors caused by the wine’s noticeable tannins (a surprise for a white wine!).
Muscat of Samos from Samos
Muscat of Samos comes in various styles, from dry to sweet, but also with Muscat’s aromatic lychee and perfumed notes. One of the most popular styles is Vin Doux, which is a mistelle (a blend of fresh Muscat juice and Muscat grappa–muscat spirit), offering sweet marmalade, lychee, and turkish delight flavors, with subtle hay notes on the finish (a characteristic from grappa).
Mavrodaphne Blends from Peloponnese or Kefalonia
This wine has the most potential for improvement of all the popular wines of Greece. Mavrodaphne is usually made into a sweet, late harvest, red wine that usually tastes of raisins and Hershey’s Kisses, with crunchy high tannins. Some producers are smartening up though, and blending it with other grapes, including Agiorgitiko, which produces a rich, full-bodied and soft dry red wine with blackberry, cherry, and licorice notes. We’re looking forward to tasting more of these dry Mavrodaphne blends!