There is so much emotion and honesty in Greek food and wine. Few countries can match Greece’s history but even the future of Greek wine is set to stand out from previous generations, thanks to a new group of winemakers and grape growers coming through. Greece has a gastronomic DNA few countries can match.
I witnessed this first hand during a trip to Greece last year. The village of Dafnes is about 30 minutes’ drive from the city of Heraklion on the island of Crete. High in the mountains, surrounded by rolling hillsides cross–planted with grape vines, olive trees and grazing sheep, we ate a meal that for me captured the spirt of Greek wine.
To be honest, I don’t remember as much about the wines themselves, but more what went with them. The best tomatoes I have ever eaten, shortly followed by the best green melon.
The intensely briny dolmades, no bigger than your pinky finger, the lamb served ‘Flintstones-style’, huge and on the bone, from stone grills built into the walls of people’s houses. We sat in the town square as the sun went down with what felt like the entire village. Music, laughter, and food were everywhere.
That’s Greek wine for me. It’s part of a lifestyle and an ingredient in a recipe for life that the Greeks do better than most. Now with more Greek wines coming to the rest of the world, finally we have access to that key ingredient.
Varieties, Regions and Styles
Assyrtiko from Santorini
Postcard-perfect backdrops are nothing new to the winemaking fraternity of Santorini. But what is changing is the growing demand from sommeliers and wine buyers for this light- to medium-bodied dry white, with whip-cracking acidity and a dry, savoury mouthfeel.
Malagousia from Macedonia and Attica
Medium- to full-bodied white wine that can be as bold as chardonnay in texture and mouthfeel. Oak adds to the wine’s complexity and richness. It should be drunk young and shouldn’t be overly chilled.
Xinomavro from Naoussa
This is the king of wine in northern Greece. Wines can vary from light- to medium-bodied and savoury, to fuller bodied, dense, astringent wines with deep, dark flavours and gum-humming tannins.
Agiorgitiko from the Peloponnese
Greece’s most successful red variety – pronouncing this wine makes you feel like you have a mouth full of marbles. The dense, fruity, softly textured wines are consistent and eminently drinkable.
Three things you need to know about Greek wine.
1. Their ‘smashability’ will surprise you – but go for whites and rosés – these are wines wound tight with acidity, freshness and have a signature long lean palette feel. Reds are beautiful but need the gutsy flavour of local food to polish their rich tannin and high acid profiles
2. Pronouncing the regions and varieties of Greece can be like talking with a mouth full of marbles. Learn to spell phonetically to build confidence when ordering Greek wines. For instance, Assytirko – is A-see-ear-ko and Xinomavro is Zeno-mah-vro
3. One of the fascinating things about Greece is that nearly 90 percent of all its grape varieties are indigenous and unique to Greece. This, combined with the fact that eight out of every 10 wineries are less than 25 years old, translates into wines that are not only serious in their approach to quality but unique in terms of the raw materials used.