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Drinks Atlas: Greek Wine

It’s hard to believe that the Greeks were latecomers to the modern wine world, given that they were some of the earliest wine drinkers in recorded history. After all, the mythological Dionysus was the god of wine not only for his rambunctious partying habits, but also for discovering viticulture. However, the country’s tumultuous history put Greece behind many other European countries in the early establishment of viticulture, DOCs, and processing methods. “We went through a lot of phases,” says Dimitris Zafeiropoulos, global beverage director at Estiatorio Milos, an international Greek restaurant group whose New York wine bar serves around 100 labels of Greek wine.

Before and during Roman rule, wine flowed freely in Greece. But when the Ottoman Empire took control in the mid-15th century, strict Muslim laws resulted in the heavy taxation of wine exporters, abandonment of vineyards, and the overall discouragement of wine production. From the 1820s through the 1920s, the focus continued to shift further away from wine and largely on independence, as Greece slowly regained its land in segments. Despite occupation during World War II, followed by a civil war and a military dictatorship, by 1971 Greece had established its first official classifications, adopting a two-tier system with Protected Denomination of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI).

“Considering the region, people were growing vines because it was a great climate,” says Zafeiropoulos. “Lots of sunshine. Beautiful temperatures, especially in the islands there was a good diurnal swing, which is good for acidity.” Hundreds of grape varieties grow in Greece, and interest is growing in more indigenous varietals. Assyrtiko is native to Santorini and displays strong structure with volcanic minerality, and it can be vinified in a wide range of styles. “It doesn’t have very aromatic expressions, but it has full flavor on the palate to make wines from light to medium to full-bodied,” Zafeiropoulos says.

Today, Zafeiropoulos feels it’s an especially ideal time to spread the word about Greek wines. “I feel very confident selling them,” he says. “We’ve made great Greek wines over the decades, but now we’re at a point where I see the consistency.”

Photo by Philartphace/iStock

10 to Try

Ktima Biblia Chora “Areti”

Assyrtiko most commonly comes from Santorini, but this version hails from mainland Greece at the foothills of Mount Pangeon. “This is a bright, refreshing Assyrtiko that shows tangerine and orange notes on the palate before the zingy lemon finish that makes you want to sip again and again,” says Zafeiropoulos. Enjoy it with seafood dishes. $26.80, finding.wine

Tselepos Blanc de Gris Moschofilero

Native to the Peloponnese region, wines made from Moschofilero typically have a lighter, citrusy body. This personal favorite of Zafeiropoulos is made by Tselepos at 2,250 feet of elevation and with extended skin contact, resulting in an impressive rose-gold color, a floral nose, and notes of citrus and stone fruit. $25.99, gwine.com

Parparoussis Nemea Réserve

Athanassios Parparoussis emphasizes minimal intervention on his wines, choosing to refrain from filtration and using wild, indigenous yeasts. The result here is an expressive Agiorgitiko with violet and tobacco aromas, plus subtle hints of cherries, mushrooms, and lingering spices on the palate. “Its polished tannins can ‘hold’ a variety of meats,” Zafeiropoulos says. $53.97, winechateau.com

Katsaros Valos

Acclaimed winemaker Evripidis Katsaros studied abroad in Bordeaux and Burgundy, and Zafeiropoulos says this Xinomavro shines with full flavors of red cherries, tomato, and black peppercorns, along with well-integrated tannins—a good accompaniment for red meat and mushroom dishes. $26.60, finding.wine

Venetsanos Mandilaria

From one of the oldest wineries in Santorini, Venetsanos’ expression of Mandilaria, an Aegean-native grape, is light in color, but “firmly structured,” Zafeiropoulos notes, “with strawberries and fig aromas, and dark fruit flavors and dark chocolate.” It pairs fittingly with hearty foods like lobster pasta, pork chops, and cured meats. $44.99, astorwines.com

Ktima Gerovassiliou Malagousia

Ktima Gerovassiliou takes a modern approach to processing Malagousia, an ancient grape that has recently been revived for a wide variety of wine styles. Its flavor boasts notes of rich, sweet fruits like pear and mango on the palate, combined with a brightening balance of lemon peel. A clean finish ties it together. Malagousia is apt for pairing with the fresh flavors of spice-forward cuisines, along with seafood and poultry dishes. $21, finding.wine

Petrakopoulos Wines Classic Robola

Petrakopoulos Wines constantly experiments with grapes from its vineyards in the Cephalonia region, the largest of the Ionian islands. Robola grapes are native to Ionia, and bear resemblance in both name and taste to the Italian Ribolla Gialla variety. The grape produces a dry white wine of medium body and notable minerality. Petrakopoulos’ take on classic Robola results in a delicate character. With aromatic intensity and a lingering, citrusy aftertaste, the classic minerality of the varietal is present and welcomed. $35, finding.wine

Mikra Thira Assyrtiko

Assyrtiko is ubiquitous throughout Santorini, an island that plays home to some of the world’s oldest vineyards. Mikra Thira’s 2019 Assyrtiko embodies expected flavors of the grape, showcasing a bright yellow and green apple hue with a citrusy acidity on the palate. Herbal aromas and mineral salinity complement the flavors in this dry white wine. $50, finding.wine

Venetsanos Assyrtiko Nykteri

Nykteri is a traditional style of wine production in Greece. The process is a more involved endeavor, in which winemakers harvest Assyrtiko grapes during the coolest hours of the day. After pressing them immediately to preserve freshness, they age for at least three months in a barrel. Venetsanos Winery’s Nykteri amplifies the traditional tastes of Assyrtiko, whose bright yellow hues transcend to golden ones. A fuller body rounds out the crisp acidity, accompanied by aromas of lime and magnolias. $56.97, winechateau.com

Parparoussis Winery Mavrodaphne

Mavrodaphne is a red wine variety native to the Peloponnese region of Greece, typically highly aromatic and tannic. Although it’s common to see Mavrodaphne in dessert wine varieties, it’s also capable of producing a dry red. Parparoussis Winery’s Mavrodaphne showcases an example of such. Its 2015 vintage has a deep red hue, with intriguing notes of chocolate, mint, and thyme on the nose. The flavor is full and heavy, filled with flavors of bright red fruits, cocoa, and pepper. This one is ideal for pairing with rich meats. $42.95, empirewine.com

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