Greece is one of those wine regions that fascinates me, simply because the tradition of winemaking is so old. I’m one of those people that gets joy out of studying wine because it takes me into different cultures and different cultures’ histories. I kind of wish this section was a bit bigger in the WSET text book. But, I guess that gives me more room to dive deeper either on my own time or, dare I say it, in pursuit of my WSET Diploma??
Interestingly, I was listening to a podcast interviewing a winemaker from Greece, and he said that around 2008 or 2009, the Greek wine industry collectively decided to market three key grape growing regions that each have a specific wine grape associated with them. This, they thought, would be easier for consumers to digest, instead of bombarding them with the 200 grape varieties native to the country—not to mention the scattered plantings of international varieties as well.
But it is, of course, the native varieties that are the most successful wine grapes of Greece, with its hot, arid climate. Greece, in general has a hot, Mediterranean climate. But, of course, those regions closest to the sea will be moderated by its cooling effects; inland areas are moderate by altitude and strong winds. Rainfall is overall low, causing water stress and even drought conditions on the eastern side of Greece, as it lies in the rain shadow of a mountain range and is not in proximity of any viable water for irrigation.
Now let’s take a look at those key wine regions and grapes…
Located in northern Greece, the vineyards in Naoussa are planted at altitude, thus the climate is significantly cooler than the surrounding valley floor. The PDO for red wines is made exclusively from Xinomavro—a grape variety often compare to Nebbiolo: it’s high in tannins and acidity, with a medium color that fades to a tawny; these wines tend to lack fresh fruit flavors in their youth, but develop complex spice and earth notes as they age.
Shoot down south and we find the Nemea PDO, a PDO for red wines made exclusively from Agiorgitiko. Grapes are planted at altitude, with the best fruit coming from the mid-slope, producing wines that have a deep ruby color, high levels of smooth tannins, low acidity, and sweet spice and red fruit flavors. But grapes are planted all along the hillsides. Those planted in the higher slopes (read, cooler climate) will have higher acidity and less structured tannins. It’s noted that these wines do well as a part of a blend or for a rosé program, but not as a stand-alone varietal red wine. Grapes planted on the lower slopes (read, warmer climate) will be quite jammy. These grapes tend to produce simple, early-drinking wines.
You know I love a good VOLCANO FACT: The island of Santorini is a volcanic island. Here, the winds are so strong that the vines are trained in a kind of bird’s nest formation.
The grapes grow inside the basket, protecting the fruit from the vicious winds.
Santorini is a PDO for both red and white wines, made in both dry and sweet styles. But the grape to know: Assyrtiko, traditionally produced as a dry white wine with perfumed aromas and concentrated flavors of ripe citrus and stone fruits and maintaining a natural high level of acidity.
Vinsanto is a late-harvest sweet wine produced from Assyrtiko. These guys are sun-dried for up to 14 days; the wines age in oak for a minimum of 2 years. So you can imagine the resulting wines will be lusciously sweet, but this is balanced by the grape’s natural high acidity.
Pretty quick overview, no? How familiar are you with Greek wines? Are you able to source them locally or do you have to order them special? Any that you would recommend?
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