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Discover more about the wine regions Zitsa, Nemea and Santorini in Greece.!
Indigenous Grapes of Greece A Journey through Diversity
You probably know Greece as a travel destination. And rightly so. An incredible diversity of landscapes, abundant heartwarming sunshine, refreshing sea breezes, awakening smells, inviting food and most importantly a long thread of connection with an eloquent and often dramatic past, history in continuous evolving mode, all that have made up for a one-off place. Yet there is more to it, a surprising element that adds to this fascinating mosaic of a traveller’s experience. The wealth of living species, flora and fauna ecosystems in Greece are remarkable, making up for the most amazing natural biological laboratory! In particular, grape varieties in actual cultivation are quite possibly the most condensed per surface measure, not only numerically but also in terms of diverse origins. Hold your breath at well over 300 named grape varieties and many more yet unnamed!
This is the most celebrated Greek grape, certainly most widely known than any other variety outside Greece and with the longest commercial history in modern Greek wine chronicles. It has in fact become an International grape by now, as it is also cultivated in Clare Valley, Australia, where the first non-Greek Assyrtiko was bottled in 2014, as well as in California with the first bottling dating in 2015 and there are current plans by a leading Stellenbosch estate of having it planted in South Africa. The power and commercial potential of Assyrtiko have become obvious since the 1930s when at its native Santorini island it was used for the much solicited Vinsanto wine that had a steady demand for exportation.
Savatiano leagues second in importance by many, as it is the most cultivated white grape variety of Greece, the grape associated with the historic Attican vineyard and very closely with the unique Greek wine style of Retsina (wine flavoured with pine resin). Savatiano’s name derives from the Greek word Σάββατο which defines Saturday or the seventh day of the week and this in turns comes from the Hebrew word שבת or Shabbat. The word was adopted by the Greek populations of Orthodox faith and in variations by other Orthodox Christian populations in the early Byzantine times and it could be that the grape has a similarly long history. It is planted mostly in central Greece, though recently there are plantings also in Northern Greece and the Aegean islands. Other local names of the grape include Dombrena or Doumpraina Aspri, Tsoumprena, Perachoritis, Sakeiko and Kountoura Aspri.
If Assyrtiko is the most known and celebrated Greek grape abroad, Agiorgitiko is by far the most known and appreciated by Greeks themselves. It produces fruity, heartwarming red wines, usually matured in barrels for anything between 6 and 24 months, although the range of barrel maturation has extended recently from none to over 24 months. Bearing in mind that Greeks consume more red than white wine and the brand name of the appellation zone of Nemea has been the strongest within the Greek territory, as also the largest PDO region, it comes as no surprise that in the most remote parts of the country, in mainland as well as on the islands and interestingly within other reputable wine-producing zones, the red wines of Nemea are easily available and have loyal followers.
Agiorgitiko offers an all-round proposal when choosing a Greek red wine. With taste characteristics around red fruits, plum, cherry and sour cherry, layers of spice and generally soft tannins, it produces approachable wines. It doesn’t require ages to smoothen out and offers a rather international flavour palette (in particular Southern European) to which many wine drinkers are used, thanks to French, Spanish and Italian wines. Yet, there is a number of styles of Agiorgitiko to be explored, not only from Nemea, with Agiorgitiko plantings just under 4000 hectares but from the rest of Greece as well, from Macedonia to Crete, including sweet and barrel matured Amarone-style wines. A pleaser of a grape that is and so well matching everyday cuisine, especially dishes containing tomato, onion and garlic, ingredients at the core of Greek cooking. No hesitation or second thought here and with a few experimental examples to explore, too!
This is the shining star of the Greek vineyard! An intriguing grape, that needs good care when growing and thought it might be susceptible to wet weather in the vineyard, when healthy, harvested appropriately and treated with a focus in the winery hits admirable heights of body and complexity. Moreover and thanks also to its tight tannins and high acidity, it is suitable for long ageing. If you are a cellar fanatic, there is no better Greek grape to invest your patience on. It is obvious from Xinomavro wines of 30 or more years of age available today, that the potential of slow transformation of flavours, increasing complexity and better integration with time is huge.
In view of these powerful taste elements that the grape exhibits, some winemakers choose to under express it, so the result is a more straightforward, approachable, yet appetising wine. In any form, there is something truly unique about Xinomavro, a stark personality of a grape that can not be confused with any other. And with only four PDO regions growing the grape, the largest and most significant of which is undeniably Naoussa, there is a good incentive to explore the different versions of wine it can produce, either in mono-varietal forms or in blends with other local and often relating grapes. Herein lies indeed another strength of the grape, as the styles of wine Xinomavro can produce are truly diverse, from Pet-Nat to properly sparkling wines and from rose and light reds to bold reds, worth of long ageing and even botrytised sweet wines produced in special years. Xinomavro might not only be the most unforgettable of Greek grapes but also the most diverse!
Wine Business during the Coronavirus Lockdowns
The wine industry has been hit hard by COVID-19, as most of the European countries had to close their borders and restrict free movement, whilst the United Kingdom has now started following suit. Bars and restaurants were the first businesses that had to comply with the new regulations, in order to safeguard their employees and customers and in a very frantic way due to the high rate of spreading of the new virus. According to Spiros Malandrakis, industry manager for alcoholic drinks at Euromonitor International, another, a major rethink is on the horizon around drinking habits, as consumers reorient their lives around staying indoors and avoiding pubs and bars.
Whilst the government, big industry stakeholders and smaller businesses are all taking steps in their capacity to ensure the financial consequences of this crisis will be addressed efficiently and become soon overcome, we pledge to continue our work in bringing you the most representative and innovative Greek wines available and make Greek wine accessible to all.
In these times of uncertainty in the wine industry, as well as any other industry in the world, we are all ready to make the changes required in order to adapt to the new demands and the new ways consumers relate to drinks. If there were rumours at the beginning of 2020 about new generations changing our perspective on sustainability and the drinks business, we are definitely now at the tipping point. The world is about to change and the wine business, too. We are all prepared, in anticipation and so happy to be sharing this with you.
If you are tired of life, then do not bother with Greek wine! 14.03.2020, MM
Speaking of culture, there is aplenty associated with Greece and Greek wine. Greece is where wine drinking evolved from a casual act of consumption to a cultural event and social ritual in the Symposia(). Wine drinking rose to levels of religious worshipping and the first and most popular god of wine (*) throughout history was invented by the Greeks, became known worldwide by the name of Dionysus and transferred to the Romans by the (yet Greek) name of Bacchus. Greeks were the first Cru classifiers, the first Sommeliers and one of the most fervent wine traders of human history. But most importantly, Greeks have never ceased tending vines and making wine over the last 6000 years. Under the Ottoman rule, they were willing to be subjected to taxation, in order to keep going with all things that identified them, including winemaking. This inimitable continuous tradition in winemaking, both in times of complacency as well as adversity, is one of the most fascinating elements of Greek wine. Thanks to that cultural wealth and together with the impressive technological changes that the modern era has introduced, the potential of Greek wine is undeniable.
(**) Other Ancient Greek Wine deities include Methe, the personification of drunkenness, Acratopotes, one of Dionysus companions and drinker of undiluted wine and Amphiktyonis, the goddess of wine and friendship between the nations.