An Introduction To Greek Wines With Five Native Grapes

Thursday 27th June

This June has seen the first championing of Greek Wine Month in the UK. Elif Suzmecelik, Deputy Store Manager in our Bath store, has provided us an overview of why increasingly wine from Greece is seen as a contender against the more renown wine making regions.  


Once we knew them as uninspiring flabby whites, infamous retsinas, and heavy reds, Greek wines are making a significant comeback in recent years, pleasing both wine enthusiasts and casual drinkers. Along with its diverse climates, Greece has around 300 native grape varietals that give us unique wines perfect for those seeking something different. From a crisp Moschofilero with its enticing aromas from the Peloponnese to a savoury, robust Xinomavro from Naoussa, there is something to try for every wine lover. 

 

Greek winemakers are actively adapting to climate change to ensure the future of their wine production. The country’s temperate climate, small-sized plantings and old vines create ideal conditions for sustainable farming and today nearly 50% of Greek wines are produced by organically certified or in-transition vineyards. 

 

Amathus Drinks, founded by the Cypriot origin Georgieu Family, offers an impressive selection of wines from all around the country, showcasing the diversity of modern Greek viniculture.

Here is a quick guide to help you explore Greek wines, from deciphering and pronouncing the grape names to understanding their general characteristics and pairing ideas.


Dry Refreshing White: Assyrtiko (A-Seer-Tee-Koh)

Alternative to: Chablis, Albarino, Dry Riesling
 

Originating from the scenic island of Santorini, Assyrtiko is a white grape that gives us some of the top-notch white wines of Greece and has gained recognition across the globe. These wines have unique minerality and crisp acidity coming from a terroir formed by volcanic soils and the arid climate of Santorini. Conditions are so challenging for grapes that they are trained as baskets (kouloura) to survive.

 

While Santorini is home to some of the oldest vines in the world and produces the most renowned Assyrtiko wines, after gaining popularity the grape started to be widely grown in mainland Greece, such as the Peloppennese. These regions produce different styles, but all maintain Assyrtiko's signature refreshing qualities.

 

If you are after something extra special, check out the skin-contact orange wines from Assyrtiko or the bolder style, locally named “Nykteri”, where grapes are picked later than usual in the growing season and the harvest is done by hand at night (hence “nykteri”, coming from the word for ‘night’ in Greek), then aged in barrels. As it ages, it develops more complex flavours, such as tropical fruit and honey. This ageing potential also shows its quality in the sweet wines of the island, known as Vinsanto of Santorini.

 

What to pair with


Assyrtiko is often described as having a steely acidity, rich minerality with vibrant citrus notes and a touch of salinity. This makes it an exceptional pairing for seafood, especially grilled fish and oysters.

Kouloura trained vines of Artemis Karamolegos on the volcanic soils of Santorini

Wine to try


Aromatic Crisp White: Moschofilero (Mos-Koh-Fee-Ler-Oh)

Alternative to: Gewurtztraminer, Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio
 

A white wine with pinkish skins from Mantinia PDO in the Peloponnese region. It is often light-bodied, and highly aromatic, with floral and citrus notes, making it a refreshing choice. The region's cool climate, with significant diurnal temperature differences, helps preserve the grape's natural acidity and aromatic qualities. 

 

This varietal is known for its floral bouquet, almost like walking in a garden of blossoms, such as rose petals, citrus, jasmine and hints of spice. On the palate, Moschofilero is crisp and refreshing, with flavours of lemon, pear, and a touch of lychee. Perfect for sipping on a warm day, elegant without being too serious.

 

What to pair with

A great picnic wine! Perfect just as an aperitive by itself with its light, fragrant profile.

Try it with tuna tataki or sushi, spinach pies and dishes, salads like tabouleh or mild fish curries.

 

Ktima Spiropoulos Vineyards in Mantinia, Peloponnese

  

Wine to try


Full-Bodied White: Malagousia (Mah-Lah-Gou-Zya)

Alternative to: Viogner, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay

 

Malagousia, once nearly extinct, has experienced a resurgence thanks to the dedication of Greek winemakers. This grape is celebrated for its aromatic richness and balanced acidity and is used to produce both fresh, unoaked wines and more complex, oak-aged versions. Typically medium to full-bodied wines, deliver stone fruit flavours and citrus zest aromatics, including peach, apricot, lime, and orange as well as floral notes and dry herbs. 

 

This white varietal is grown primarily in northern Greece, particularly in Macedonia and Thessaloniki but is also becoming increasingly popular in Southern regions such as Evia. The Mediterranean climate here, with warm summers and mild winters, is ideal for this grape.

 

For those looking for a wine that combines aromatic richness with vibrant flavours, Malagousia is an excellent choice.

 

What to pair with

Its full-bodied yet fresh profile makes it an excellent match for a variety of vegetable dishes like moussaka, chicken bakes, fish stews, particularly monkfish.

 

Looking towards Halkidiki peninsula near Thessaloniki from Porto Carras Vineyards

  

Wine to try


Fruit-Forward Red: Agiorgitiko (A-Yor-Yi-Ti-Koh)

Alternative to: Merlot, Rioja (Joven or Crianza), Primitivo, Malbec

 

A versatile red wine from Nemea, known for its deep colour, fruity flavours, and smooth tannins. It can be enjoyed when it's young or aged.

 

Sited on the northern border of the Morea Peninsula. From the picturesque region of Nemea in the Peloponnese comes Agiorgitiko, a red varietal known for its deep colour, fruity profile, and smooth tannins. Nemea enjoys a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild winters, ideal for grape growing.

 

Agiorgitiko, which translates to "St. George’s" is the most widely planted native varietal in Greece. It is renowned for its versatility therefore capable of producing a range of styles, rich rosés, light and fruity reds, and also bold and tannic reds with great ageing potential. 

Young Agiorgitiko wines exhibit bright red fruit flavours, such as juicy cherries and raspberry, with soft tannins with refreshing acidity. As it ages, the wine develops richer notes of dark fruit, spice, and a hint of chocolate. 

 

What to pair

Its versatility makes it a great match for barbeque parties (especially when it’s served chilled), lamb stews, dolmadakia, meatballs in tomato-based sauces. 

 

 

Organic vineyards of Papaioannou in Nemea, one of the leading producers of the Greek wines’ renaissance 

  

Wine to try


Full-Bodied Red: Xinomavro (Ksee-No-Mav-Roh)

Alternative to: Nebbiolo/Barolo, Monastrell, Chianti Riserva

 

Xinomavro, which literally means “acid black”, is a red varietal often compared to Italy's Nebbiolo. It is predominantly grown in the regions of Naoussa and Amyndeon in northern Greece. Forget about those nearly tropical Greek images; this mountainous region has a continental climate with warm summers and cold winters that result in significant daily temperature variations, which contributes to the complexity of the grapes.

 

Wines from Xinomavro are renowned for their robust tannins, high acidity, and great ageing potential. On the nose, Xinomavro offers aromas of red fruits, tomatoes, olives, and spices, with earthy undertones. As it matures, it can develop more nuanced flavours of leather, tobacco, and dried fruits. It’s a compelling choice for those who appreciate a wine that evolves beautifully over time.

 

What to Pair

Given its structure, Xinomavro pairs wonderfully with rich meats, such as lamb or game. I'd personally pair it with haggis. 

Skins of Xinomavro grape give its unique tannic structure to the wines (photo from Wines of Greece)

  

Wine to try

And What of Retsina?

Retsina is a traditional Greek wine that has been infused with pine resin, an ancient practice dating back over 2000 years. Originally used to seal wine containers to prevent spoilage, the resin imparts a unique flavour profile to the wine. Retsina is primarily made from indigenous Greek grape varieties Savatiano and Roditis which contribute to its fruity, crisp, refreshing character. Like the region’s new generation wines, modern retsinas are a lot nicer than what you might have remembered from holidays past!

 

So next time you feel adventurous and decide to expand your palate, consider going for a Greek wine, these excellent value wines might just become your new favourites!

Wine to try