There was a time when Greece was at the cutting edge of the arts, mathematics, philosophy and, yes, winemaking. Keep in mind: this is the country that gave birth to Dionysus, the mythological god of wine and merriment. Today, Greeks all over the world still revel in and revere their homegrown wines, which are no longer treated with pine resin before bottling. What’s more, more international grapes are being planted instead of local varieties with unpronounceable names. State-of-the-art equipment is replacing ancient tools, and modern winemaking is in the hands of men and women trained at wine colleges. The biggest change, though, may be the growing awareness in the rest of the world of the good-value red and white wines from the cradle of civilization.
the key players
Despite our multicultural heritage, most Canadians tend to shy away from Greek wines in large part because the names on the labels are completely foreign to them. But it's pretty easy to learn a few key buzzwords, and once you do, you’ll be way ahead in the game. As with most countries, it all boils down to grapes and their origins.
Crete More than 3,000 years ago, the Minoans built a wine production and distribution system capable of supplying Knossos. The island is home to Boutari’s Skalani estate.
Drama Bordering Bulgaria in the northeast of the mainland, this is where the Lazaridis family now produces outstanding reds and whites.
Naoussa Wines from the northern mainland region tend to have more body and complexity. Home of the Xynomavro grape.
Nemea Soft, lush, rustic reds hail from the hills and valleys of the northeastern Peloponnese peninsula. Locally, Nemea wine is called the "blood of Hercules."
Patras The region produces clean, crisp, fruity, mineral-laden whites due to the soil's limestone content. Perfect with seafood.
Samos The best wines are sweet, made by drying muscat grapes in the sun before fermenting into luscious nectars.
Santorini This tiny, windswept volcanic island yields white wines with striking body and taste. Ideal with fish and seafood dishes.
More and more, international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc are appearing on labels. However, there are also many traditionalist winemakers who promote wines created from native varieties, as well as modernists who prefer to blend the two.
Agiorghitiko (pronounced ah-yor-ye’-tee-ko)
Greece’s signature red -- what Carmenère is to Chile and Zinfandel is to California. With flavours of red fruits and baking spices, and a smooth, satiny finish, it's hard to dislike. This red is great with most grills, roasts and stews. Modern blends with Cabernet Sauvignon have more body.
A white grape grown on the island of Santorini that delivers a wallop of
powerful fruit flavours, together with bracing minerality. It's amazing with grilled fish.
Kotsifali & Mandelaria
The two primary red grapes of Crete are frequently blended to compensate for each other’s shortcomings. Kotsifali has a pale colour and light body but is very fruity. Mandelaria is deeply coloured, tough and slightly vegetal on
its own. When the two grapes are combined, the results can be rather exceptional.
Of minor interest for now as a dry wine, but when turned into a sweet, fortified dessert wine, the results are extraordinary. Tastes of raisins, dates and figs. Delicious with pastries, butter tarts, pecan pie and almond biscotti.
Particular to the Mantinia region, the sublime pink-skinned, white variety yields wines of delicacy and fine aroma. Sometimes blended with Roditis, which adds body.
A widely planted white grape that develops elegant grass and citrus aromas like those of Sauvignon Blanc.
The tannic black grape of Naoussa. Traditionalists use the variety on its own, while modernists blend it with Merlot to boost fruit, body, softness and charm.