Understanding (and Pronouncing) the Indigenous Grapes of Greece

Greece has a 4000 year history of winemaking, but only 40 years of modern winemaking, making it a New Old World wine region. With Greek winemakers today being educated in Bordeaux and at UC Davis, the quality of Greek wine has improved vastly and people are starting to take notice. But, one of the biggest challenges is understanding (and pronouncing) the indigenous grapes of the area.

There are over 500 wine producers in Greece, mostly family-owned and with small holdings. There is no mechanical farming, everything is done by hand. Wines are produced by organically grown grapes. Grapes are grown throughout the entire country and 28 regions have attained Protected Designation Origin (PDO), the Greek equivalent to the DOC in Italy and the AOC in France.

At a recent seminar, we tasted six wines from six regions in Greece, beginning to understand the grapes and what region of the country they are from.

Greek Wines

PDO Robola of Cephalonia

Robola is a dry white wine from the Island of Cephalonia in the Ionian Sea. Similar in style to Sancerre from France, Ribola has a crisp leanness with notes of lemon and bright acidity and minerality.

PDO Mantinia

Moschofilero is a white wine from Mantinia/Peloponnese, located at the southernmost tip of mainland Greece, near the Ionian Islands. Moschofilero has similar aromas to Gewurztraminer and Muscat but is served dry (no residual sugar). There are rich aromas of roses and citrus fruits and on the palate it is bright, crisp and fresh. Due to the pink skins of the grapes, the wine will have pink tones to it, but it is not a rosé.

PGI Epanomi

Malagousia is a white wine from Epanomi/Macedonia in Northern Greece. With soils that consist of shist over limestone, the resulting wine has a high zing with complexity. Similar to Muscat and Pinot Blanc, the wine has aromas of apricot and lime

PDO Santorini

Assyrtiko is grown in Santorini, which is shaped by a volcano, the caldera and the Aegean Sea. The volcanic soil means that the viscous insect phylloxera could not survive, so the original vines date back hundreds of years. It is very windy on the island and the trees are bent over and gnarly so the winemakers create baskets with the vines and the grapes grown underneath, hidden from the wind. The resulting wine from Assyrtiko has floral and citrus note and salinity in the finish.

PDO Nemea

Agiorgitiko comes from from Nemea/Peloponese in the South of Greece. This grape produces a deep color, concentrated wine with aromas of tomato leaves and red fruits.  This grape is also used to make dessert wine, as well as rosés.

PDO Naoussa

Xinomavro is from Naoussa in Northern Greece. It is the only grape grown in Naoussa. Similar to Nebbiolo, Xinomavro has notes of asphalt, licorice, lavender, dried flowers and light red fruits. On the palate, the tannins and acids are balanced and the wine is elegant with good structure.

There are many more indigenous wines of Greece to learn about. Hope to taste more soon!