From the assiduous efforts of Greek vintners, Greek wines presented at international competitions have won significant awards, making a dynamic appearance in markets abroad, with the result that Greece is regaining the reputation her wines had in antiquity. Today, although the international environment is in danger of becoming enologically monotonous through the popularity of a small number of selected varieties of grapes, Greek varieties are being cultivated which have nothing to fear from foreign ones.
Wine – producing regions
Unquestionably the most traditional variety of the region is the Xynomavro. It is a grape over a large area in northern Greece. This excellent red variety, with its choice flavor can be found in Amyntaio, Goumenissa and Naoussa.
The vineyards of Naoussa occupy a total area of about 700 hectares, on the slopes of Mt. Vermion at an altitude of 150-300 metres, providing an ideal continental climate. The oldest producer of bottled Naoussa wine is Boutari, a company whose local history began in 1879 with a winery at Stenimachos. The other major producer is the house of Tsantalis. The tradition of the Tsantalis family in the winery-distillery field began in 1890, when it began to grow vines in Eastern Thrace, to make wine and distill ouzo and tsipouro. Evangelos Tsantalis, the founder of E. Tsantalis S.A., moved to Thessalonica after World War II ended (1945), and set up his distillery in the centre of town. With particular care and affection for his work, he created the family’s first winery in Naoussa in 1970.
Some 40 km northeast of Naoussa, near the Yugoslav border, Goumenissa has been subject to enological influences from Naoussa and from Meleniko in Bulgaria. Today, its vineyards cover about 150 hectares at an altitude of 250 metres, on the slope of Mt Paiko. The wine of Goumenissa is “softer” than that of Naoussa; its main bottler is the Boutari company.
The vineyards of Amyntaio are on the other side of Mt Vermion from Naoussa, at almost double the altitude (650 m). The variety grown in the region is the Xynomavro. Today about 550 hectares are cultivated and the broader region includes Amyntaio, Aghios Panteleimonas and Xinomero.
Traditional products from Siatista are wine and fur. Wine reached a high point in Siatista when the French were buying it by the barrel late in the 19th and early in the 20th century to replace Bordeaux wine when the vineyards of France were devastated by phylloxera. In addition to Xynomavro, the variety grown in the region is the Moschomavro which is used as a base for sun-sweetened wine of Siatista.
From the written testimony of the ancient Greece we learn that Halkidiki, and in particular Mendi and Skioni, was known for its wines. More recently the wine of Arnea on the central body of Halkidiki has become known. Today the enological situation in Halkidiki is excellent The peninsula of Halkidiki has three fingers, Athos, Sithonia and Kassandra. Mount Athos, on which the celebrated monastic community is located, is the easternmost of them, with a long tradition in wine-making. The Tsantalis distillery grew rapidly and in 1971, moved to new premises of 5000 sq.m on Monasteri St. In that same year Evangelos Tsantalis realized one of the great dreams of his life, to revive an Athonite vineyard. In the dependent monastery of Chromitsa in the Russian monastic community of Aghios Panteleimon, a long forgotten tradition was revived through the recultivation of the vines.
The vines are grown at an attitude of 300 m. and occupy about 100 hectares. They include the following varieties: Limnio, Athiri, Roditis, Grenache Rouge, Assyrtiko,Cabernet Sauvignion, Xynomavro. This same vineyard produces the Aghioritikos (i.e Athonite) local wine.
Wines from Mount Athos, Macedonia, Rapsani and the traditional distillations of Macedonian tsipouro and Olympic Tsantali ouzo, are leaders on the Greek market and hold high positions on the demanding European market as well.
On Kassandra, the westernmost finger of Halkidiki, the cultivation of grapes has declined as urban spread has advanced.
Regarding the middle finger of Sithonia, there are some important things to stress. What is characteristic of this region is 450 hectares of vineyards, one of the largest in Europe. It is near the community of Neos Marmaras. This is the Carras domain which extends to an altitude of 140 – 350 metres, on sloping ground, which abuts on the sea. It is surrounded by a pine forest, in an environment of unparalleled natural beauty. On the Carras domain, Greek and French grapes have been planted in separate areas on te basis of the requirements of each variet. Here we can find Roditis, Limnio, Cabernet Sauvignion, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Syrah, Crenache, Athiri, Asyrtiko, and others.
In Drama we can find the domain of Constantinos and Frederic Lazaridis, in Epanomi, the vineyards of E. Gerovasiliou and in Vertisko that of Anestis Babatzimopoulos.
We do not know when viticulture began in Epirus, as ancient sources on the subject have disappeared. Today the region has been developed enologically only in Zitsa and Metsovo.
The most important variety of grapes in the region is the white Debina. Apart from this, they are the red varieties Vlachiko and Bekari, which are used together with Debina in the production of rose wine, the traditional wine of the region. In the designation zone there are about 120 ha. in the villages of Zitsa, Protopapa, Karitsa, Ligopsa, Klimati, Gavrisio. Under the name Zitsa, dry white wines are brought to market with a balanced subtle fruity flavour as well as sparkling or semisparkling wines all of which are based on the Debina variety.
Standing in dense, evergreen forests at an altitude of 1150 m. is the beautiful, traditional Epirot town of Metsovo. Its vineyards were all but totally destroyed years ago by phylloxera. In 1964, the Averof family began to reintroduce vines to Metsovo, with a view to making dry red wine. For this reason, they preferred Cabernet Sauvignon, instead of a local Vlachiko grape.
The Thessaly plain today presents great hopes for the development of Thessalian wine.
Three red varieties are cultivated around Rapsani: Xynomavro, known from Macedonia, Stavroto and Krasato. Recently the cooperative winery of Rapsani devolved to the Tsantalis company.
Apart from Rapsani, which produces red wine, Thessaly has a designation of origin fro white wine, which is produced in Anchialos, a community just a few kilometers south of Volos, on the shores of the Pagasitic Bay. The designated zone includes Anchialos, Mikrothebes, Aidini and Kroki. The vineyards cover 400 hectares at a low altitude, some extending down to sea level. The Roditis and Savatiano varieties are also included in the designation of origin.
The most significant vine-growing villages in the region are Messenikolas, Moschato and Morphovouni. The region’s characteristic variety is the red Messenikola. Today there are about 70 hectares devoted to this variety at an altitude of 250-300 metres. Savatiano is also grown.
In terms of area, the largest vineyards in Thessaly are located in Tyrnavos, covering a total of about 3800 hectares. Today the main variety cultivated is Muscat. The designated Tyrnavos grape-growing region includes the vineyards of Tyrnavos ad Ambelona, as well as those of the communities of Platenoulia, Dendra, Deleria, Rodia, Argyroupoli and Doumasi.
From the point of view of quantity, the geographic region comprising Sterea Ellada and Evia is the first in wine production. The most significant enological feature of Sterea Ellada is unquestionably the predominance of one particular wine, the popular retsina. If one wanted to define retsina, one would call it a dry, white resinated wine produced from Savatiano grapes. During the 1960s, the Kourtaki company took decisive steps to develop the quality of this much sung wine.
The exceptional climate of the region, in conjunction with the sea and the mountainous terrain around it, helped in the development of the vineyards. Wine production in Atalanti is identified with the Atalanti farm of Dimitris Hatzimichalis. The Hatzimichalis farm came into being in 1973 with the purchase and cultivation of 9 hectares (90 stremmas) of vineyards in the Atalanti valley. The vineyards kept growing, with the result that today they cover 100 hectares, while at the same time a modern winery has been established on the farm which includes tanks, bottling installations and cellar. The farm’s cellars contain more than 1000 oaken barrels with a capacity of 228 litres each, of French origin. Many varieties are grown on the farm such as Cabernet Sauvignion, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Carignan, Xynomavro and Limnio for red wines, and Chardonnay, Robola, Athiri, Savatiano, Roditis and Arintho for white.
Attica is divided into three viticultural zones:
1) Mesogia, which is bounded by Mt. Hymettus and Mt Penteli on the coast abutting on the Aegean. This zone is the largest.
2) Northern Attica, including Mt. Parnitha and Dionysos
The Savatiano turned out to be the variety most adaptable to the soil of Attica. Nevertheless Cabernet Sauvignon has begun to be grown with satisfactory results. Another variety that can be found is Roditis. In Kantza we find the Cambas winery, part of the modern history of Greek wine, as well as new facilities, such as that of the Vassiliou farm at Koropi, which focuses especially on quality bottled wine. It also functions as the cultural nucleus for the broader region, organizing important art exhibitions, etc. on its premises.
Thebes is divided into four viticultural zones:
1) the slopes of Mt Helicon at an altitude of 200-400 m, where Savatiano and Roditis are mainly grown. Here the designation Theban Local Wine has been awarded.
2) On the slopes of Mt Cithaeron at an altitude of 350 m. Here it is chiefly the Savatiano, Assyrtiko and Roditis varieties that are grown. Approval has been granted for a designation of Local Wine from Cttes de Cithaeron, a white wine blended from Savatiano, Roditis and Assyrtiko grapes.
3) On the plateau at an altitude of 550 m. and in the vineyards of the Dervenohoria.
4) In the viticultural zone of Arma and Asynthia, where, apart from Savatiano, the red varietes of Grenache Rouge, Carignan and Syrah are grown.
Evia is separated into three main viticultural zones from north o south: the Gialtra region in northern Evia, the Lilanti plain in the centre, and southern Evia, mainly in the region of Karystos-Marmari. In these regions, the Savatiano variety is cultivated almost exclusively.
From the enological point of view, the Peloponnese has two important characteristics: 1) It is the most varied region in Greece in terms of terrain. In its interior there are indigenous varieties of grapes, and in the northwestern and western Peloponnese, one can identify the influence of the Ionian Islands. 2) The Peloponnese produces large quantities of wine, accounting for 25% of total wine production in Greece.
The vineyards in the Nemea region are at least 500 years old. In antiquity, the reputation rested with the nearby valley of Flioun, with the Fliasio wine. In the region of Nemea, the choice red variety Aghiorgitiko is grown, which obviously derives its name from the village Aghios Giorgios.
In the viticultural zone of the region, which covers some 500 hectares at an altitude of 650 metres, the Moschophilero variety is uniquely favoured. The popularity of Mantinia wine is today on the rise. The oldest winery with its own vineyard is that of the Cambas company. Later other wineries were created, those of Nasiakos, Spyropoulos and recently that of Tselepos.
The province of Achaia has been a traditional producer of wines for centuries. The total of its vineyards covers about 4000 hectares. The region of western Achaia produces Mavrodaphne liqueur wine from the variety of the same name. It should be pointed out that the firm Achaia Claus, with an uninterrupted presence of 140 years in Patras, produces choice aged Mavrodaphne wine: Apart from Mavrodaphne, two other wines are marketed: Moschato Patras and Moschato Rio. Sideritis, another variety of grapes, is also grown there.
As early as the 7th century BC, Rhodes was a major wine-producing centre. From that day to this, its enological history has seen great fluctuations. In 1928, the Caor company was established. Its contribution has been incalculable if one considers that it absorbs almost the island’s entire grape production. Among the varieties encountered are Kykladitii and Mandilaria. Another important variety is the white Athiri. Caor is chiefly known for the production of sparkling wine using the champenoise method.
Although Limnos in the home of the “Limnian grape” mentioned continually from the 2nd century AD, today things have changed. The Limnio is still being grown to produce rose and red wines, but it has been even more successful in its transfer to Halkidiki, to the Cttes de Meliton. Today the white Muscat d’Alexandrie grape is dominant on Limnos.
In Paros, and in all the Cyclades generally, the viticulture and wine making tradition goes back to time immemorial. However, up to three decades ago Paros produced only white wine for blending. The upgrading began during the 1970s primarily spurred by tourism, causing the wine industry to flourish in recent years. The varieties we meet are the Mandilaria and Monemvasia.
The wines of Santorini cannot be compared with any other wines in Greece or Europe because they are unique. The main factors contributing to this uniqueness are the soil and the climate. The most important variety on the island is the famous Assyrtiko, but we can also find the white varieties Athiri and Aidani. The boutari company plant is considered one of the sights worth seeing on the island. Three traditional wines are characteristic of Santorini wine production: Brusco, Nikteri, Visanto.
Samos today produced a wide variety of sweet wines. It is indeed typical that the Catholic Church ceded the right to Samos to produce wine for the Holy Eucharist. Among its wines are Samos Sweet, Samos Grand Cru, which is exported mainly to France, and Samos Nectar.
Whatever is related to wine on the fragrant island of Chios is restricted to about 100 stremmas in the Kourounia region, where the wine of the same name is produced from the Mandilaria variety which the local people call the “Winegrape”.
Icaria today has about 100 hectares of vineyards. Historically it can lay claim to the most ancient designation of origin, the so-called Pramnio wine.
The Ionian Islands off Greece’s western coast have certain specific features which affect their evolution from a viticultural point of view, with significant differences from one island to another.
Centuries ago there were many vineyards on Zakynthos. Viticulturists had supplied the island with many varieties of grapes. As early as 1600, 34 varieties of grapes were reported by name as being grown on Zakynthos. Three centuries later, at the beginning of the 19th century, there were more than 80 varieties on the island. Today we find the characteristic wine Verdea.
It is believed that the wine-growing superiority of Cephalonia among the Ionian Islands is due to the persistence of viticulturists in growing the Robola variety. Today Robola is grown on about 1400 hectares. The Calligas company has its own vineyard in the village of Rozata. Of the remaining varieties grown on Cephalonia, the following are worthy of note: Tsaoussi, Kozanitis, Zakynthino, Perahoritiko, and Thiniatiko.
Practically speaking there is no wine production on Ithaca today. A local variety is Thiako.
Today, about 1500 hectares are cultivated, most of them with the Vertzami variety.
The most important varieties of grapes grown on Corfu are the white Kakotrygis and the red Petrokorythos. One can also find Robola, Kotanitis, Phidia, Skopelitiko, Mavrodaphne, Muscat white, Martzavi, and others.
Crete, known for centuries to the West by the name Candia, produces about 20% of all Greek wines. With a virtually ideal climate and soil, it has all the features necessary to make it the top region for wine production, and not only in Greece. The oldest winery that has been discovered in the world is at Archanes in Crete. It is said to date back to the Minoan age and proves that Minoan wine-making was technically the most advanced of its time.
In the Temenos valley, the villages of Upper and Lower Archanes, together with a few others, determine the region of production of a dry red wine bearing the name Archanes. In this region, with a viticultural zone of about 50 hectares, at an altitude of some 700 m., we find the red variety Kotsifali.
In the Peza valley, 18 villages constitute the Peza viticultural zone. In terms of varieties, we find Kotsifali here too, as well as Mandilaria and white Vilana.
In the Sitia region, the red variety Liatiko dominates in a zone of 700 hectares.
Daphnes is a region in central Crete, far from Sitia but close to Archanes and Peza. Its vineyards cover 400 hectares on the foothills of Mt. Psiloritis.
A region of Crete known for its wines is Kissamos at the western end of the island. Kissamos produces a dry red wine from Remeiko variety.