The wineries of the Greek islands
[I]t is the wine that leads me on,
the wild wine that sets the wisest man to sing at the top of his lungs,
laugh like a fool
it drives the man to dancing...
it even tempts him to blurt out stories better never told.
― Homer, The Odyssey
It seems wine-drinking has always been exalted as a fun and mind-altering activity, with its laughs, songs, and blunders, enjoyed by humans universally in the same intimate way, regardless of the passing of the eons.
From ancient Greek symposiums to new wine-making technologies and wine tourism, there is just something really special about wine!
It wouldn’t be excessive to say that early wine production, dating back to the 6th millennium BC, played at least some part in the rise of civilization during the Neolithic period.
It had only been a couple of millennia since humans changed from their nomadic lifestyle to permanent settlements, and water, as much as milk, were ridden with fatal diseases and unsafe to drink.
Fermented grape juice, however, with the bacteria-fighting properties of alcohol and high caloric content, managed to keep societies nourished and hydrated, presumably while also keeping their spirits high!
But how did it all start?
Although the practice of wine-making seems to have spread as a wave during antiquity from East Asia to the rest of Europe, wine culture has been strongly linked to Greeks either through their philosophical texts, such as Plato’s Symposium, or through their Dionysian cults which became popular throughout the Mediterranean from 1600 BC until year 1 AD.
Greek god of wine, Dionysus, according to Greek mythology, was the first one to invent viticulture at his imaginary birthplace of Mount Nysa, and the one responsible for spreading the craft of wine-making to the people of Anatolia.
Amphora, Wine Storage Jar
by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin
Historically, the vast amount of wine-carrying amphorae unearthed throughout the Mediterranean landscape as well as seascape from variably located shipwrecks, truly suggests a vibrant wine trading economy in the region.
And although Greeks possibly learned the practice of wine-making from their Armenian or Phoenician neighbors due east, they managed to advance winery and establish a monopoly in wine-trading for centuries.
It seems the Minoans and later the Mycenaeans of Crete played an important part in this, using viticulture as a means to grow their economy and introducing the practice of wine-making as well as their indigenous vines to other parts, such as Egypt, Sicily, southern France, modern-day Italy, and Spain.
From various references by Homer, Herodotus and others, like Aristotle, ancient Greek wine varieties were quite popular and regularly distributed across the Mediterranean.
Especially well-liked were wines coming from Lemnos, Lesbos, Chios, Kos, Crete, Lefkas, and many others.
And despite the fact that it is these same varietals that are still cultivated today, ancient wine must have tasted much differently!
By various historic accounts, spices, herbs, and fruits, were used to sweeten the taste of the fermented grape juice that was stored in jugs lined inside with tree resin (later linked to Greek Retsina), and sealed with a layer of gypsum.
GREEK WINE VARIETIES
It seems the Mediterranean climate and rich soil of the Greek peninsula, create unique conditions for hundreds of wine varieties that grow here.
Included are international ones, such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, which are often mixed with local grapes to produce idiosyncratic wines such as Limnio.
It is the local grape varieties however that produce some of the best wines worldwide, and an absolute must-taste for every wine-connoisseur.
Below we have selected the 5 top ones for which you should look on your next trip!
This rare white grape variety, indigenous, but not limited, to the island of Santorini, yields one of the best wines worldwide, the Vin Santo. With the vines of Santorini being considered the oldest in Europe, the Asyriko grape grows in the arid volcanic soil, giving truly unique wines of terroir.
Either oaked, fresh, or aged, the Asyrtiko is famous for its crisp acidity, and high levels of alcohol.
It is best paired with sea-food, poultry, or pasta.
First ranked: Estate Argyros Vin Santo 20 Years Barrel Aged, Santorini, Greece
Local to the Peloponnese peninsula, this reddish grape variety produces one of the best Greek white wines, notable for its freshness, its flowery aroma, and its medium to low levels of alcohol.
The Moschofilero vines grow in the cold soil of the hill of Mantineia, and the wine best accompanies sea-food, vegetables and salads, as well as cheese.
First ranked: Semeli, Thea Mantinia, Protected Designation of Origin Mantineia, Greece
Although Malagouzia was considered extinct during the 70s and very little was known of it, today it is widely regarded as a world-class grape variety thanks to the hard work of university professors, top growers and oenologists.
Vines of the Malagouzia variety give exquisite dry white wines as well as some amazing sweets.
It is best paired with sea-food, vegetables and salads, white meats and poultry, as well as spicy foods.
Origin of this variety is considered to be the west side of central Greece (Aetoloakarnania) which is known mainly for the production of sweet wines.
First ranked: Ktima Gerovassiliou Single Vineyard Malagousia, Epanomi, Greece
Agiorgitiko (Black/Mavroudi Nemeas).
The Agiorgitiko grape variety is considered truly multidimensional and characteristic of Greek red wines, with flavors of red berries oozing through the body of the fresh ones, while violets, chai, and tobacco prevail in the aged.
Nemea, Agiorgitiko's main Point of Designated Origin in the Peloponnese, is one of the largest wine-producing territories in Greece, its vineyards stretching for 20.000 acres across and 900 metres above sea level.
This is precisely the reason why the Agiorgitiko grape variety can yield such diverse wines, ranging from dry to sweet reds and sometimes even to some interesting sparkling ones.
A glass of Agiorgitiko pairs wonderfully with red meats, vegetable dishes, as well as cheese.
First ranked: Gaia Anatolikos, Sweet Red, Nemea Greece
Although Mavrodaphne is commonly linked to the area of Patras, the rarest varieties of this Greek desert wine can actually be found on the island of Kefalonia.
Best drank aged, Mavrodaphne is unique in its combination of flavours, like berries, black cherries, eucalyptus, chocolate, and coffee.
In recent years the Mavrodaphne grape variety has been experimented with, yielding some interesting dry wines that are paired great with red meat, pasta, and some more gourmet dishes like peppered fillet, or fish cuts with sweet wine sauce.
As a desert wine, Mavrodaphne is best enjoyed after a piece of tiramisu, chocolate souffle, or some mocha mousse.
First ranked: Gentilini Eclipse, 2017, Cosmetatos, Kefalonia, Greece
WINERIES TO VISIT IN GREECE
With Greece having over 4.000 years of wine-making tradition, the wineries and vineyards you can visit here are scattered practically everywhere, producing hundreds of local, lesser known varieties.
Combined with the hospitality for which Greeks are famous, as well as the savory local delicacies that can be found in each place, wine tourism around Greece might just be the perfect concept for your next yacht-charter expedition.
Greek wine map
The vineyards of the Ionian sea, stretching from sea-level to 800m of altitude, produce some of the best Greek grape varieties yielding exquisite wines from points of Protected Geographical Indication.
Greek wine regions
Kefalonia is the main point of origin of the Robola white grape variety which despite its vulnerability to phylloxera, which requires barren and mountainous grounds, is highly productive.
PDO wines of Kefalonia are generally regarded as elegant and refined, with a local character, that will surely be appreciated by lovers of wine culture.
Visitors of Kefalonia should not forget to also taste a rare variety of Mavrodaphne that is exclusively produced there -the Thiniatiko.
While on your yacht-charter expedition to Kefalonia, drop by and say hello at the Gentilini Winery, the Kefalonian Robola Wine Cooperative, or the Melissinos Winery, and learn more about the variety as well as the techniques used in its production.
The island of Zakynthos has a truly rich wine-making tradition, producing dozens of local varieties from its 4.500 acres of vineyards.
Such varieties are the Goustolidi, the Katsakoulias, and the Robola Black, to name a few.
Exclusive to the island of Zakynthos and an absolute must-have is also the white wine PGI Verdea, the island’s traditional, multivarietal wine to which you can be treated upon your visit at the Grampsas Winery, the Art & Wine Winery, or the Ampelostrates Horse Vineyard, among many others.
Lefkada produces white and red wines of Protected Geographical Indication made from local varieties such as the red Verjami, the white Vardea, but also the international Muscat White variety.
The island’s vines grow on its mountainous slopes, reaching 600m and generally produce fresh, dry whites, and deep reds with good acidity.
If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Lefkada, don’t miss out on visiting the Lefkaditiki Gi where red and white wines are made from local varieties using modern techniques.
Some excellent wines of Protected Geographical Indication come from the few vineyards of Corfu, using local varieties like the white Petrokoritho, Muscat, Robola, and the red Kakotrygis, and Mavrodaphne.
Corfiot wines are generally fragrant and mineral when white, and full-bodied with finesse when red.
If your sails ever bring you to Corfu, it’s worth visiting the Theotoky Wine Estate, a domain of organic farming on the west side of the island where the exceptional Couvée white, red, and rosé wines are made and bottled.
Central Greece & Attica
Savatiano is the main variety cultivated in the vineyards of central Greece, along with Roditis, as well as a couple of international varieties, covering approximately 50.000 acres of land, half of which belong to the region of Attica.
Grapes of this variety are mostly used for the production of common white table wines with flavours of citrus and grass being prevalent. Savatiano is also the variety traditionally used in the making of Retsina.
On the east coast of Greece, between Evia and the mainland, you can moore at the small marina of the Atalanti Bay, in order to visit the Papoutsi Estate. There, local and international varieties are being cultivated like Chardonnay, Malagouzia, Asyrtiko, Roditis, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, yielding some truly savoury red and white dry wines.
If however you prefer to moor at the spacious marina of Volos, you can easily pay a visit to the Grappa Vino & Aperitivo Winery, located within walking distance, or ride up to the Globos Winery just a couple of miles away.
And if you are into hiking or simply in the mood for a bit of adventure, you can find a safe spot to drop your anchor in the Pagaseticos Bay, and get to the Milea Winery in Argalasti where white, red, and rose varieties of organic farming are being cultivated at 700m of altitude.
Sailing south towards Evoea, you can visit the the Lykos Winery where you will have a chance to tour the vineyard and taste wines from the Malagouzia variety accompanied with local delicacies!
Local to Attica, in the region of Mesogaia, are the Papagiannakos Winery as well as the Gikas Winery, where the hot and dry climate is perfect for the vinification of the Savatiano and Roditis varieties.
Growing from the sea level all the way up to the base of Mt. Kyllini at 800m, the exclusively red Agiorgitiko grape variety produces the red wines PDO Nemea - one of the largest PDO zones of Greece covering approximately 7,500 acres of the Peloponnese.
Close to Corinth, the Bairaktaris Winery is open for tours and tastings of their best Agiortgitiko, but also Moschofilero, Malagouzia, and Muscat White wines.
Stretching for 2.500 acres across the center of the Peloponnese, the vineyards of Mantinia are where the Moschofilero is chiefly cultivated, giving characteristically aromatic dry, white wines.
Sailing from the Saronic to the Argolic Gulf, you can moor at Paralio Astros, and make an excursion to Mantinia near Trikala, where you will have a chance to visit many scenic vineyards and wineries, like the Tselepos Estate, the Troupis Winery located at the heart of PDO Mantinia, and the Domain Spiropoulos, located at 800m of altitude, and carrying over a century of wine history.
Thanks to its mild climate, Achaia produces quite a diverse collection of varieties, depending on the altitude of cultivation.
Growing at the hills of Egialia, at mountainous conditions, is the white Roditis variety, which yields the only dry white wine of the region with the indication PDO Patras.
At lower altitudes, at the vineyards of Patras, the globally exported Mavrodaphne variety is commonly cultivated.
At the same climactic conditions, a rare Muscat White variety thrives, known to experts as Muscat blanc a petits grains.
Visitors of the area should definitely consider visiting the Tetramythos Winery in Ano Diakopto, where they may taste quality wines of organic farming.
Another site worth touring is the Rouvalis Winery where the gravity-flow type of infrastructure was first established in the area.
The island of Santorini, apart from being one of the most picturesque and cosmopolitan of the Ionian sea, is also the main point of origin of the exquisite Asyrtiko white grape variety which yields world-class wines of terroir.
First-time visitors but regulars too, are welcome to tour the Boutari Winery, the Argyros Estate, the Venetsanos Winery, and the Koutsogiannopoulos Winery among many, walk among the Asyrtiko vineyards, learn some amazing wine history, and of course taste their best wines paired with complementary platters of local goods.
One of the largest islands of the Aegean, b produces some of the best dry white wines from its 1.250 acres of limestone soil.
In its vineyards the Muscat of Alexandria variety is mostly cultivated, along with the local Limnio variety, an ancient Greek cultivar, which is produced more scarcely.
There, visitors can drop round and see the Garalis Winery where they can taste distinguished wines of both varieties cultivated on the isalnd.
Covered in 4.400 acres of Muscat vines, Samos produces unique sweet wines, with the most traditional one being the Vin Doux, a vin de liqueur usually served as an aperitif, made by the United Winemaking Agricultural Cooperative of Samos.
Visitors of the Vakakis Winery may also have a chance to taste some top-quality white, red, and rose wines from their organic vineyards of Muscat, Asyrtiko, and lesser known local varieties.
Grown in the sandy soil of the island, and the strong meltemi winds, the vineyards of Paros contain mostly Greek varieties like the white Monemvasia and the red Mandilaria, giving the light-bodied wines PDO Samos.
If you’re ever there, it’s worth visiting the Moraitis Winery, a family-run establishment producing some of the best organic Monemvasia wine you’ll ever taste!
The vineyards of Rhodes are cultivated chiefly around Mt. Attavyros, reaching an altitude of up to 2.600m.
Rhodes has two Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) wines:
PDO Rhodes refers to white wines made mainly with Athiri, and to rosés, and reds made with Mandilaria for the most part.
Rhodes also produces PDO Muscat of Rhodes, a refreshing sparkling wine made from white Muscat.
The Kounaki Winery is the ideal place to fully taste the crispiness of the Rhodian whites as well as the plummy notes of the red ones, so don’t forget to make a stop!
KAVAS YACHTING & WINE
Kavas, being a genuine admirer of this Mediterranean gem that is Greek wine, offers to his clients a bottle of one of the most refined varieties from the Papoutsis Estate to accompany their journey.
Using exclusively organic methods of farming, George Papoutsis and his spouse Despina, both oenologists, produce exceptional dry, red and white wines, which you are welcome to enjoy at their winery located just 2km outside of Atalanti.
Greek Wine Tasting
Greek summertime is here, and the vineyards around the Greek islands are heavy with grape varieties of wine, once again.
Visiting Greece's vineyards and wineries will definitely tug at the heart of oenophiles, but will certainly be a world of fun for the casual tourist as well!