The Greek Wine Survival Guide

By Yiannis Dimopoulos

Drinking a glass of good wine gazing at the horizon and philosophizing with friends is one of life's greatest pleasures! After all you are in Greece and it was the Greeks that invented philosophy and “symposia” (literally drinking parties to honor Dionysus, the God of wine) - hence Greece being considered one of the world’s oldest wine-producing regions, making its own wine for the past 6,500 years. Ever since the tourism boom in the country during the 1960s, a white wine called “retsina” became almost synonymous to Greek wine and Greece in general, due to its strong resin aroma. But Greek wine has much more to offer. Particularly in recent years, the wine industry has been changing, a shift that is being driven by a new generation of winemakers that are innovating novel methods of winemaking and reintroducing forgotten varieties. For many years now, top international varieties have been cultivated with great success. Famed sommeliers, wine writers and traders have put Greece firmly on the global “wine map”. So now that you are reading these lines and you are probably already in Greece enjoying the sea, the sun, Greek hospitality and traditional cuisine in some picturesque taverna, embrace the advice of the god Dionysos and celebrate your stay in Greece with some excellent Greek wine from the long list of renowned producers and Greece’s lesser known yet highly promising winemakers that we have picked up for you.

3 top wine-producing regions

Naoussa - Xinomavro
In 1971, the PDO Naoussa region in the heart of Central Macedonia, was recognized by law as the first Greek Protected Designation of Origin with the indication PDO Naoussa and the variety. This indigenous, noble red grape variety produces robust, full-bodied wines which are best known for their superb aging potential and rich tannic character.Some of the top producers are: Dalamaras, Karydas, Kir-Yiannis and Efthimiopoulos.

Nemea- Agioritiko
Among the oldest of Greece’s hundreds of indigenous grapes, the Nemea- Agiorgitiko variety is the only grape allowed to use the Nemea Appellation (PDO Nemea). In Nemea you can find 100 year-old vines and older. Some of the top producers are: Aivalis, Gaia, Palyvos, Skouras and Tselepos.

Santorini- Assyritiko
Assyrtiko, a classy white grape, possibly some of the greatest varieties found in the Mediterranean basin, originated from Santorini. It produces mainly dry white wines, some of which are being aged in oak. There is also Vinsanto, a sweet wine based on Assyrtiko, made from sun dried grapes and can age for decades. Finally Santorini produces the outstanding variety Mavrotragano, one of the highly-touted varieties employed in producing reds. Some of the top producers are: Argyros, Gaia, Hatzidakis, Santo and Sigalas.

3 wine trends in Greece

Like the rest of the world, in Greece as well there is a selective tendency for consumers when it comes to wine as they look for “special” ones which will offer a unique experience in the form of a bottle.

Here are some of the Greek labels on the rise: Liatiko Amphorea (Douloufakis), Rhobola (Melissinos), Rhoditis (Tetramythos), Mystirio (Karamolegos), Orange Wine (Anatolikos), Orgion (Sklavou) Xinomavro Rosé (Oenos Nature).

Orange wines are also becoming more popular among the aspired wine consumers. To make orange wine you have to combine the ingredients of white wines and the process of reds. This means that this particular kind is made with white grapes varieties that ferment with their skin and seeds still on. The taste however has nothing to do with the regular white wines or the reds. It is unique. Sour and somewhat dry, fruity and strong. Some of the most promising Greek labels are: ΜΕΤΑ 2011, Pieria Eratini (Pieria Malagouzia), Mithymneon Portokali - Yiannis Lambrou (Lesbos Hydiriotiko), Tatsis Rhoditis (Goumenissa).

Tides have also turned for some rare Greek varieties, some of which we may have never heard before and some, lost in time and forgotten, have “flourished” again due to the efforts of devoted Greek winemakers. As such, it is worth looking for: Villana, Vidiano, Limniona, Liatiko, Kydonitsa, Plito, Mavrotragano, Monemvasia, Negoska.

A bottle of good white wine in the liqueur stores costs between €20-30, and a bottle of red €25-40.

The most important indigenous Greek wine grapes

White varieties

Assyrtico: The finest white grape from the Island of Santorini, and possibly the cheapest top white wine in the world. Mineral with high acidity, ages well. Try to distinguish an aged assyrtiko to a Chablis Grand Cru.

Malagousia: Aromatic, with a scent of ripe peaches, apricots and green pepper.

Moschofilero: A sweet, aromatic grape, the Greek Gewurztraminer!

Red varieties

Agiorgitico: Rich, deeply coloured, ages well.

Xinomavro: Greece’s answer to Barolo, needs time to develop.

Someof the top producers

Aivalis, Alpha Estate, Antonopoulos, Arghyros,
Biblia Chora, Boutaris,
Driopi, Douloufakis,
Gaia, Gerovassiliou,
Hatzidakis, Hatzimichalis, Katogi Strofilia, Katsaros,
Kir-Yanni, Manousakis, Mercouri, Papaioannou, Pavlidis, Samos, Sigalas, Skouras, Sklavos,
Thimiopoulos, Tselepos.

My favourite

White wines

Alpha Estate: Sauvignon Blanc
Antonopoulos: Chardonnay Anax
Argyros: Vareli Assyrtico, Ktima
Biblia Chora: Ovilos
Boutaris: Kalisti Reserve
Gaia: Τhalassitis, Wild ferment Assyrtico
Gerovassiliou: Chardonnay, Malagousia
Hatzidakis: Nihteri, Louros
Katsaros: Chardonnay
Kir-Yanni: Samaropetra
Manousakis: Roussanne
Mercouri: Malvasia
Sigalas: Nihteri, Cavalieros
Skouras: Viognier Eclectique
Sklavos: Robola

Red wines

Aivalis: Monopati
Alpha Estate: Xinomavro Unfiltered, Alpha 1
Antonopoulos: Nea Dris
Avantis: Collection Syrah
Biblia Chora: Ovilos
Boutaris: Classic Grand Reserve, 1879
Driopi: Agiorgitico
Gaia: Agiorgitico
Gerovassiliou: Avaton, Syrah 
Karydas: Xinomavro
Katogi Strofilia: Ktima Averof
Kir-Yanni: Diaporos, Blue Fox
Manousakis: Syrah
Mercouri: Refosco
Papaioannou: Mikroklima, Terroir
Sigalas: Mavrotragano
Skouras: Solera aged Labyrinth,
Megas Oinos
Thimiopoulos: New age Xinomavro
Tselepos: Kokkinomylos

Sweet wines

Vinsanto: Sun dried grapes from Santorini. These wines have the complexity of olorosos and Tokajs. Top producers: Argiros and Sigalas.
Mavrodaphne: Sweet fortified wines.

Best old like Banyls.

Muscat: Sweet wines from Samos island.

Good and fairly priced

Let us recommend to you some good and fairly priced Greek wines that are easy to pair, fine-bodied and naturally refreshing for an all-hours allure.

Ktima Alpha: Malagouzia
Zafirakis: Paleomilos
Skoura: Armira
Avantis: White
Gaea: Moshofilero
Semeli: Yiorti
Tselepos: Mantinia
Vivlia Chora: White
Pavlides: Thema White
Kyr-Yiannis: Samaropetra
Theodorakakos: Kydonitsa

Wine resto

By the Glass
This hot spot for wine lovers offers one of the most updated and exciting wine lists in the city, in a cozy beautiful atrium. You may choose from 250 different wine labels including Greek and international varieties. More than 50 of them are served by the glass. They also serve coffee, spirits and food. From early in the morning till late at night.  
Syntagma: 3 G. Souri & Philellinon Str., +302103232560

Wines from Greek producers, good prices and tasty side-dishes with cheese and cold cuts. Every day from 18:00 till late. Syntagma: 2 Fokionos & Petraki Str., +302103239406

Kiki de Grèce 
Don’t be fooled by the size of this small wine bistro – it serves over 50 Greek labels by the glass, making it a prime spot for wine lovers. In addition, there is a large map of Greece displayed in the restaurant that honours the many local products on its ever-evolving menu.  Syntagma: 4 Ipitou Str., +302103211279

Materia Prima
This authentic bar is always filled with happy faces appreciating a glass of good wine. The extensive wine list includes labels from celebrated Greek wineries as well as an excellent sample from wine producing regions around the world. If you fancy beer or spirits more, you’ll find the list updated for you too, on a weekly basis. Open from 17:00 in the afternoon. Mondays closed. 68 Falirou Str., Koukaki, +302109245935

his is one of the best places in the Historic Centre of Athens that offers a wide variety of fine wines from all over the world, from over a decade. Every single one of them is carefully selected by the hands of the two-time winner of Best Sommelier of Greece, Aris Sklavenitis.Syntagma: 45-47 Voulis Str., +302103229374

ith an excellent choice of wine for true wine lovers, this charming and full of character wine bar turns every sip into a delightful journey. The wine list reveals the versatile temperament of carefully selected native Greek varieties, some classic and unconventional, others new and diverse coming from small boutique wineries, limited edition labels, fine wines of mild intervention or from organic vineyards. Their unique scents and aromas are best brought out when in perfect match with the elegant dishes from Vinif3ra’s new-age Greek cuisine. Monastiraki: 4, Agiou Filippou str., +302103227504

Warehouse Assemblage
Just a few minutes from Monastiraki Square, this is one of the newest Athenian wine spots where you can taste a variety of Greek and International wines and also buy them. All of them pairing with the crafted dishes on their menu. Syntagma: 8 Mitropoleos Square, +302103253503

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