Guide to Greek Wine

Karen Frazier
Greek wines

Greek wine isn't anything new; the country has been producing wine since about 2000 BCE. That makes it one of the world's oldest wine-producing countries. And while wines from Greece didn't always have the best reputation in the 20th Century, in recent years, winemakers in the country have produced many delicious world-class fine wines.

A Brief History of Greek Wine

While Greece has been producing wines for thousands of years, in the 20th Century, it was mostly consumed by the country's populace with few exports to the rest of the world. In ancient times, however, Greek wine had a great deal of cachet throughout the world, particularly during the Roman Empire when the wine was exported throughout Europe and the Mediterranean.

Celebrating Wine in Ancient Greece

If you need evidence that Greece has been in the wine business for thousands of years, look no further than Dionysus, the God of Wine, who was celebrated in multiple annual festivals throughout Greek history.

Greek Vineyards Destroyed

Building on thousands of years of viticulture, large Greek wineries began popping up in the mid-1800s. During France's phylloxera epidemic in the 1860s, Greece supplied wine to the country to make up shortfalls. It was during this time that Greece also began producing currant wines as well. Due to a large demand for this wine, some vineyard owners replanted grapevines with currants to help production. Then, the phylloxera epidemic came to Northern Greece 1890s, destroying many vineyards, followed in quick succession by the Balkan Wars, World War I, World War II, and the Greek Civil War. All of these succeeded in virtually wiping out the Greek wine industry.

Retsina on the Rise

One of the only wines Greece exported in the wake of all of this disaster was Retsina. During this time, Greece was probably best known for its pine scented wine Retsina, a white wine with added sap from the Aleppo pine tree. As you might imagine, the wine tasted of pine, which is definitely an unusual flavor compared to traditional wines from the rest of the world. This uniquely flavored wine is an acquired taste, and many people didn't like it. In some ways it damaged Greece's reputation in the worldwide wine industry and consumers assumed winemakers produced only low-quality, unusually flavored wines.

Restina wine from Greece

Greek Wine Industry Recovers

Slowly, winemakers began to recover from a half-century of strife that did great damage to their industry. The country developed a classification system and the Wine Institute was founded. Since the 90s, Greek wine has been gaining popularity in the rest of the world. As an up-and-coming region, the wines are high quality but still quite affordable, so there are plenty of great wine values available.

Guide to 5 Greek Wines

Greek winemakers grow more than 3 dozen grape varietals including classic Greek varieties such as Agiorgitiko, Assyrtiko, Moschofilero, and Xinomavro. They also grow classic wine grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Chardonnay, Viognier, and Syrah. Some of Greece's best and most interesting types of wine follow.

1. Agiorgitiko

Pronounced a-yor-yi-ti-koh, Agiorgitiko means St. George in English. This black grape comes mainly from the wine region Nemea in Peloponnese, which is in Southern Greece. You'll find this grape in various types of wine including light, crisp rosés; sweet red wines; youthful, unoaked red wines; and in oak-aged reds. The wines made from Agiorgitiko have mellow tannins and bright fruit flavors of berries, plums, and herbs. Of course, the best way to learn about Greek wine is to try it. Some good Agiorgitiko wines to try include the following:

  • Gaia Agiorgitiko Nemea: Wine Spectator has this as its top rated Agiorgitiko, rating the 2010 vintage 91 points and the 2015 vintage 90 points. The 2016 vintage received a bronze medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards. This wine is an oaked red that can age for 2 to 4 years.
  • Mitravelas Estate Red on Black Nemea: This bottle only costs around $12, and it's a great example of a youthful, unoaked Agiorgitiko.
  • Gaia 14-18h Agiorgitiko Rose: A deeply colored rosé, the Gaia 14-18th costs around $16 per bottle. It's refreshing with hints of gooseberries and cherry.

2. Assyrtiko

Assyrtiko, pronounced ah-sear-tee-koh, is primarily grown in Santorini. The grape is a gold skinned variety that is used to make dry white wines. Sun-dried Assyrtiko grapes are also used to make a sweet wine. The wines are high in acidity with citrus and tropical flavors.

  • Argyros Estate Assyrtiko: A dry white, the Argyros Estate Assyritko tends to get high praise from wine critics. Expect to pay around $35 per bottle for this wine with flavors of lemongrass, citrus, and slate.

  • Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko Santorini: Expect the flavors of pears and wet stone in this $40 bottle of wine.

3. Limniona

Limniona (lim-nee-oh-nah) is a black grape from Thessaly in Central Greece. It produces dry red wines with flavors of black and red fruits, herbs, and baking spices. It's one of Greece's up-and-coming wines with structured tannins, high alcohol, and moderate to high acidity.

  • Domaine Zafeirakis Limniona: This is a high-value wine. Costing around $27 per bottle, the Domaine Zafeirakis Limniona 2015 received a 95 point rating from a tasting panel at Decanter. Expect flavors of roses and cherries.

4. Malagousia

Pronounced mah-la-goo-see-ah, Malagousia is a white grape producing dry white wines. The grape is highly aromatic, producing wines with an intense nose and flavors of fruit, peaches, and basil with floral notes.

White wine in the Greek Islands
  • Domaine Zafeirakis Malagousia: For under $20, this dry white is a wine bargain. Wine & Spirits rated the 2018 vintage 90 points calling it a "silky charmer" with hints of floral and saline.

5. Xinomavro

Xinomavaro (zhee-noh-mav-roh) means sour black, and it's a black-skinned grape is used to produce wines in a variety of styles including dry red, rosé, sparkling wine, and some sweet wines. This versatile grape has been compared to Nebbiolo, which is the grape used to produce Italian Barolo and Barbaresco wines. The reds it produces tend to be high in alcohol and acidity with medium to high tannins. Expect flavors of berries with earthy and spice notes.

  • Thymiopoulos Uranos Xinomavro: The 2016 vintage of this wine receives a 90-point rating from critics, solid for the $35 price tag. Expect earthy and berry flavors.

  • Alpha Estate Xinomavro Hedgehog Vineyard: Wine & Spirits gave the 2016 vintage of this dry red a 94-point rating. Expect to pay around $23 per bottle - this is a great value in wine. You'll find flavors of cherry, spice, and fennel.

Greek Wines Offer Excellent Values

As Greek wines gain standing on the world stage, they remain an excellent value. Whether you try a conventional wine such as Sauvignon Blanc or branch out to some of the more interesting and unique wines Greece has to offer, you're sure to find delicious wines that you'll enjoy and be proud to serve to others.

Guide to Greek Wine