Greece has an image more of sun-drenched holidays by the sea than of quality wine. When thinking of Greek wine, how many of us are guilty thinking that all Greek wine is retsina, best drunk the local taverna? With only 3% of production exported, it comes as no surprise that these wines are a well-kept secret!
Greece and its islands have many unique red and white grape varieties and a wide variety of styles.
Retsina, the original wine of the ancient sea-farers, was made with Aleppo pine resin, used to coat and seal the amphorae, and later barrels, for shipping wine on sea voyages. Drinkers got used to the taste and resonated wines became the norm, the strong flavours covering any wine faults.
Today, modern, more elegant versions are now appearing, such as Kechris ‘Tear of the Pine’, from vineyards near the northern port of Thessaloniki. Round creamy fruit, balanced by zesty citrus acidity and notes of thyme and resin, create an elegant wine, perfect to accompany the varied flavours of Greek meze food.
The island of Santorini is home to ancient vines grown on barren, windswept, volcanic soils, traditionally coiled up into baskets to shelter the grapes. Hatzidiki makes amazing white wines with searing acidity and power from Assyrtiko grapes. Sun-dried Assyrtiko makes lusciously sweet vinsanto.
Once part of the Venetian Maritime Empire, the Ionian island of Cephalonia is home to the variety Robola de Cephalonia. From vineyards perched on stony cliffs overlooking the sea, producers, such as Gentilini, make wines with honeyed apple and nut fruit and firm acidity.
One of my favourite red varieties is Xinomavro, which unappealingly translates as ‘sour black’. Kir Yianni’s ‘Ramnista’ from the northern region of Naoussa, not far from Mount Olympus, can show Burgundian elegance with silky tannins, and fresh cherry and strawberry fruit in lighter years to deeper dark black fruit in hotter vintages; a fine wine for the Olympian gods.
An unusual and unique wine style is Mavrodaphne of Patras. Sweet like tawny port, this fortified red wine is aged for up to 10 years in barrel. Rich and raisined, it is perfect to finish of the meal with a slice of sticky, nutty baklava.
This article was written for Bespoke Yacht Charter by Elizabeth Gabay MW – A long-time lover of the wines of southern France, and based in the hills behind Nice, Elizabeth is currently immersed in all things rosé for a forthcoming book on pink wines around the world. Other passions are the wines of Hungary, the Mediterranean, unusual grape varieties and history. She writes about for various journals and websites, including her own – www.elizabethgabay.com