IWR recently returned from a two-week trip of winery visits and tastings in Northern Greece, the Peloponnese and Crete. We also conducted a comprehensive tasting of the wines of Central Greece, including Epirus, Thessaly and the Ionian Islands. In this brief report, we would like to share with our subscribers and readers, some of what we learned on our visit. We also share plans for our future work on Greece.
Although Greece has produced wine since antiquity, most of the wineries operating today were established during the past three decades. Thus, the Greek wine industry is relatively young, but it’s learning fast how to craft high quality premium wines. We tasted many fine wines that are as good as any in the international market.
In many of the wineries we visited we met a new generation of young and enthusiastic winemakers like Evangelia Palivou in Peleponese, (pictured right) who have been trained in Bordeaux, Beaune, Montpelier, and UC Davis as well as Athens and other wine schools in Greece. Many are the sons and daughters of veteran winemakers who have passed the baton to their children or are sharing responsibilities for winemaking with their children. A quiet revolution is taking place both in the vineyard and the winery with the introduction of new techniques and a firm commitment to quality and authenticity.
Greece is producing exciting wines from its indigenous grapes. In every major region in Greece, we visited growers and winemakers are focusing on their indigenous grapes. Some of these grapes are unique to their region, while others have been adopted from neighboring regions. The indigenous grape varieties we found most promising include whites like Assyrtiko, Malagousia, Roditis, Savatiano, Moschofilero, Mavrodaphne and Vidiano and reds like Xinomavro, Agiorgitiko, Limniona, Kydonista and Mandilaria. In addition, wines are being made from numerous other locally indigenous varieties.
Many of the wineries we visited are successfully blending indigenous grapes with international varieties. For example, Assyrtiko is being blended with Sauvignon Blanc, Malagousia with Chardonnay, and Kydonista with Syrah. Local varieties such as Xinomavro and Negoska are also being blended. In addition, owing to the variety of microclimates in Greece, indigenous grapes take on interesting and often unique nuances from their terroir which can be different from their original terroirs (e.g. Assyrtiko from Santorini.
Many of the wineries we visited are experimenting with Greece’s indigenous varieties to determine how well they grow under local conditions and what kind of wine they make.
Pre-Phylloxera Xinomavro at Alpha Estate
Research on Xinomavro appears most advanced with the identification of several promising clones identified through field trials over the past several years. However, experimentation is underway with many other local varieties. This involves selecting the best sites, managing the varieties in the vineyard, and selecting the best methods of vinification. Likewise, some wineries are experimenting with the use of amphoras to produce orange wines from indigenous grapes.
We also found noteworthy that virtually all the wines produced in Greece today, with the exception of some big reds, have low to moderate alcohol levels and are high in natural acidity. This is due to the growing conditions in Greece, which offer high elevations or cooling seaside breezes. Most vineyards are cultivated by sustainable and organic methods.
While most Greek wineries mainly produce for the domestic market, an increasing number are exporting their wines to Europe, Canada and the United States. The highest quality producers export a high percentage of their production. Regional producer’s association like the Wine Producers of Northern Greece assist their members to develop contacts in export markets. The Wines of Crete association helps its members to attend major international wine fairs like Prowein. The Association also recently organized a visit to Cyprus for its producers .
Winemakers Gather to Show us Their Wines in Crete
We owe a debt of gratitude to the Greek Trade Commission in New York and to the well-managed producers associations in each major region of Greece. These associations, with the support of the Greek Trade Commission, helped develop our itinerary, put us in touch with their members, and facilitated our visits to the wineries. These producers’ associations have also established wine routes for wine tourists in their region and organized domestic wine events to promote the wines of their members.
Within the coming months, the IWR will be producing reports on the wines of Greece covering Central Greece, the Peloponnese and Crete. We will also publish articles updating our previous report on Macedonia and Thrace. The principal goal is to enhance our readers’ understanding and appreciation of Greek wines; there are many wines worthy of consumers attention and regard.
These report and articles will be helpful to the producers in Greece and their importers and distributors in the US and Europe to educate their consumers and market Greek wines. As we’ve already noted, there are many exciting wines being crafted in Greece today, and wine enthusiasts will receive them enthusiastically if given the opportunity to taste them. Greek wines are also quite affordable.