There’s been a revolution in the quality of Greek wine production over the last ten years, with memories of overtly ‘pine fresh’ retsina and simple, alcoholic, rustic reds now well and truly banished. Greece has instead turned itself into one of the most exciting wine producing countries in the world, choc-a-block with interesting indigenous grape varieties and utterly delicious wines.
So where do you start on your Hellenic wine odyssey? We run down the top five Greek wines to be drinking right now:
5. PELOPONNESE MOSCHOFILERO
If you like good-quality Pinot Grigio, this local Greek grape’s for you.
Pronounced “moss-coe-fill-eh-roe”, this is a delicious white grape you’ll find planted all over Greece’s Peloponnese region. It varies quite a bit in style, with entry-level examples showing delicate floral aromas, with light, soft, easy-drinking character – a bit like a Greek take on Pinot Grigio. Higher-quality Moschofilero wines show greater intensity, texture and mineral complexity. Try the Thea Mantinia from Seméli as an example of one of the best.
4. NEMEA AGIORGITIKO
An indigenous Greek version of Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon.
You probably have to speak fluent Greek to do this one full justice, but it’s pronounced something like “ash-ee-or-shee-teeko”. It’s considered to be the best quality red grape grown in the Nemea region of the Peloponnese, where it makes full-flavoured, polished and age-worthy reds, showing complex notes of dark fruit, leather, tar and spice – a little like Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon. Many of the best examples come from Asprokambos – the highest altitude part of Nemea – we recommend Bizios Estate’s Agiorgitiko.
3. NAOUSSA XINOMAVRO
Greece’s world-class grape.
Xinomavro (“cazee-no-mav-roe”) is one of Greece's world-class grapes, capable of creating breathtakingly complex wines. As a thin-skinned, highly tannic variety, it requires extremely careful handling. Apostolos Thymiopoulos is described by leading Greek Master of Wine Yiannis Karakasis as "one of the stars of Greek winemaking" and his Xinomavro is breathtakingly good; full-bodied yet somehow supremely graceful. Try Thymiopoulos’ Jeunes Vignes as a great entry-point, then graduate to his Earth and Sky Xinomavro when you want to taste the best.
2. SANTORINI ASSYRTIKO
A unique white that’s incredible with grilled fish.
Assyrtiko (“ass-ear-teeko”) is probably the best-known Greek grape internationally, based entirely on the reputation established by one tiny island in the Cyclades - Santorini. Santorini’s grey sand-like volcanic soil is so poor that almost nothing will grow – except for this supremely hardy grape, which produces exquisitely fresh, lime-infused whites, with laser-like mineral intensity. The best of the traditional producers is Matthew Argyros, whose Santorini Assyrtiko is stunningly good, while new kid on the block Vassaltis Vineyards is garnering a great deal of international acclaim and Michelin Star restaurant listings.
But don’t forget Santorini’s “other grape” Aidani. Argyros also make a superb example, which shows wonderful notes of cucumber, pear and smoky minerals.
1. LIMNIONA FROM THESSALY
Greece’s answer to Pinot Noir.
Limniona (“lim-nee-ona”) is Greece’s answer to Pinot Noir, producing wines with fragrant aromas of red-berries and rose petals, over delicate, rounded, silky texture. Many Limniona vineyards were grubbed up during the 1980s and 90s, as the vine is not particularly productive, and the wines anathema to the then-fashion for heavy, inky-coloured, oaky reds. Fortunately, far-sighted producers like Christos Zafeirakis returned from training in Bordeaux and Piedmont to save his family vineyards, producing a superbly complex, juicy Limniona. It was scored at 95 points by Decanter Magazine recently and will partner beautifully with barbecued lamb kebabs, boeuf bourguignon, or ratatouille.