We often have wine lovers as guests who, when visiting Greece, they are not aware of the fact that they can enjoy exquisite local wines at a wine bar or a restaurant. When they do, they are pleasantly surprised to discover, not only that Greek wine exists, but also offers great diversity and world-class quality.
Why is it that you don’t hear so much about Greek wine
Only recently serious effort have been put to promote Greek wine, despite the fact that Greeks have been making wine for millennia and wine is an integral part of our lifestyle and culture. As a small, mountainous country, wine production is limited, covering mostly the needs of the local market. Many Greeks make and drink their own house wine, (that, 10 out of 10 times, they will present it to you as the best in the world 🙂 Box wine is on offer at the tavernas, where the food is simple yet tasty; the fish is fresh, the lamb is tender, the cheese is homemade, but the wine ranges from simply ok to seriously oxidised. Most of the Greeks are happy with that, and still consider bottled wine a bit fancy and are not used to pay extra for it. But you, as a traveller, if you don’t go to a restaurant or wine bar, you will never get to taste the potential of Greek wines and go back home with the wrong impression. On top of that, Greek wine earned its bad fame in the ‘60s and ‘70s when “retsina” was served to tourists. Back then, people added pine resin into white wine to cover any faults and presented it as our national drink you cannot miss. Actually, resinous wine in Greece has a long story. Ancient Greeks used pine resin to glue the lids of vessels carrying wine to their colonies. The resin gave its distinctive taste to the wines and slowly people started liking it. In the last years, many winemakers honour their ancient roots and produce high quality retsina that can compete internationally. But most importantly, retsina pairs nicely with more assertive Greek tastes other white wines “shy away”, like intense flavours of garlic, spices and herbs.
A new era for Greek wine
Lately, the mentality of people has changed and more and more learn how to order and taste fine Greek wines. The most important role was played by the talented and hardworking Greek winemakers who raised the bar of Greek wine quality very high. Another credit should be given to the wine bars who “democratised” wine drinking, in a sense that they offered wine tastings by the glass, without customers having to purchase a whole bottle instead. Wine bars gave a new, unpretentious breath of fresh air in the Athens bar scene and the trend picked up quickly, providing an affordable alternative for Greeks to enjoy wine without paying a fortune.
Our favourite Greek wines for wine tasting
In a more and more homogeneous wine world, Greece offers around 200 indigenous varieties to refresh your wine-loving palate with their unique character and diverse terroir, and still of great value for money. Here’s a few to start with:
Greek white wines
- Born in Santorini: In some of the world’s oldest vineyards, volcanic, ungrafted and pre-phylloxera.
- Born a survivor: Grown in Santorini’s unfriendly environment, therefore…
- Sought after: Because of its resilience and ability to keep acidity even in hot and dry climates.
- Born to conquer the world: Enchanted winemakers “kidnapped” it to plant it all around Greece and as far as Australia.
- Gastronomic wine: Reveals its true potential when paired with food, from freshly-caught fish by the seaside to semi-wild lamb at the mountains of Greece.
- An islander. Coming from Kefalonia island in the Ionian Sea.
- Nicknamed. “Vino di Sasso”, wine of stone, as it grows on the barren slopes of Mount Ainos.
- Good acidity, minerality and salty aftertaste.
- A proud Cretan.
- Saved in the nick of time. Thanks to visionary winemakers believing in its potential.
- Fruity with peach and apricot notes.
- Beauty comes with age. Oaked can last more than 5 years.
Greek red wines
- An eccentric diva. Only for true wine enthusiasts who enjoy idiosyncratic wines.
- Tomato and olives. Characteristic aromas and flavours that give it away in every blind wine tasting.
- Crazy for protein. No Greek meat-based recipe intimidates it. Make sure you pair it with giouvetsi, Greek lamb, spetzofai, moussaka, pastitsio, to enjoy the best Greek food and wine pairing of your travels.
- Adorable love story, as it is said to be named after the beautiful black (mavro) eyes of a renowned winemaker’s fiance, named Daphne, who died at young age.
- The beauty and the beast. Mavrodaphne was used to make sweet, cheap wine, and after being scorned for many years, vintners discovered the true beauty in her to make excellent dry wines.
- Loves chocolate. The good, dessert version of Mavrodaphne pairs excellently with dark chocolate.
- The “Blood of Hercules”. According to the myth, the grape grew where the hero’s blood spilled on his effort to kill the Nemean Lion.
- Versatile. Produces different types of wine, from sparkling to rose and dessert reds.
- Merlot lookalike. Many compare it to the French star, because of its mellow and fruity character.
Extra: One famous dessert
Vinsanto of Santorini. Not a fan of sweet wines? Think again. Aging for at least 24 months, this complex wine still keeps its acidity even after years, without ever getting cloying. Pairs nicely with strong flavoured cheeses, just as a good Madeira or Sancerre would. But where on earth would you better enjoy a sweet wine with Greek baklava?
Bottoms up! Did we whet your appetite for more Greek wine? What about an Athens wine tasting and bar hopping? Better privately? Send us a message. We would be more than happy to arrange a delightful evening for you and your loved ones.