Greek Wine

Greece – the mountainous, Mediterranean country in the sun-drenched southeast of Europe – is often considered the birthplace of Western civilization. Archaeological evidence suggests that wine has been made in some parts of Greece for more than 4000 years.

References in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey confirm that viniculture was prevalent here by the 8th Century BC. Wine's importance is also evident in Greek mythology. Dionysus (the Greek god of wine) appears in legends from every part of Greece, from the plains of Attica to the Aegean island of Chios.

An Assyrtico basket vine on Santorini

From the 4th Century onwards Greece's tumultuous history as part of the Byzantine Empire meant that winemaking did not flourish as it did in neighboring Italy. As a result, Greece's importance in the modern wine world is far less than one might assume, given its early success. In the late 20th Century, however, Greek winemaking showed signs of revitalization, supported by modern winemaking techniques and a generation of motivated, quality-focused producers.

The modern face of Greek wine combines the traditional with the modern. Native Greek grape varieties such as Assyrtico, Agiorgitiko and Xynomavro are found alongside such famous international (French) varieties as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The portfolio of 21st-Century Greek wine includes everything from fresh, citrus-scented whites and sparkling rosé to lusciously sweet reds.

Geographically speaking, Greece consists of its mainland and numerous islands. The Greek mainland covers the southern edge of the Balkan Peninsula, jutting into the Mediterranean Sea between southern Italy and Turkey. It is flanked to the east and west by the Aegean and Ionian seas respectively.

This has a strong influence on the country's various mesoclimates; the islands and extensive coastline bring a maritime influence to the otherwise Mediterranean climate. The climate veers towards the continental in mountainous far north, along the borders with Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria. The Greek landscapes vary from rugged mountains and lush river valleys to flat coastal plains and tiny, barely inhabited islands.

Viticulture can be found in virtually every corner of Greece, although its scale differs significantly from region to region. The preferred styles also vary considerably. In the northwest (Greek Macedonia) rich, tannic wines made from Xynomavro are favored.

The Peloponnese Peninsula in the south complements its Agiorgitiko based reds with fresh, highly acidic whites made from Moschofilero. The Aegean Islands are internationally famous for the dry Assyrtico-based wines of Santorini and the sweet Muscat-based wines made on Rhodes, Samos and Limnos.

No description of Greek wine would be complete without reference to Retsina. This distinctively Greek, resinated wine style is said to have developed when pine resin was used as an airtight sealant for wine storage vessels. Today, Retsina is made by choice rather than necessity, through the addition of pine resin during fermentation.

Modern-day Retsina wines mostly come from Attica. They are typically based on the white grape Savatiano, although Roditis and Assyrtico are also used by some producers.

Retsina serves as a link to the past, a reminder of how important Greece was in the development of European wine culture. Even the Romans prized Greek wine above their own, as shown in the prices realized for Greek imports).

The Malvasia trade of the Middle Ages was a golden age for the Greek wine industry. It involved a complex set of grape varieties named after the Peloponnese area of Monemvasia. The wines became a major export to Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul).

Monasteries were granted tax exemptions and frequently gave land to the industry. This set up a period of viticultural prosperity that would last until the arrival of the Ottoman Turks.

From the 15th Century, much of Greece was ruled by the Ottomans, whose Muslim religion forbade the consumption of wine. This meant an era of downturn for Greek wine production; vineyards were ripped out, banned, forgotten or planted to more lucrative crops such as raisins. Some remained, but the Ottoman rulers imposed heavy taxes on Greek wine production. This period is often cited as the reason that Greece's wine industry is not as well developed as those of France or Italy, despite its long history.

The Greek War of Independence from 1821-32 plunged the country into turmoil. Winegrowing did not resume until well into the later 19th Century. During this time, the phylloxera outbreak ravaged the vineyards of Western Europe. This turned attention to Greek wines, and the country saw a surge in viticultural activity. Unfortunately, the two World Wars and Greece's own phylloxera blight proved devastating to the country's wine industry in the mid-20th Century.

It was during the 1960s that the industry began to pick up and modern winemaking techniques and technologies were employed by Greek wine producers. In 1971, an appellation system was introduced to mimic the great wine regimes of France and Italy. It formed part of Greek preparations for entry into the European Union.

Regions of historical significance were among the first to be granted appellation status. Conditions were imposed on the varieties to be used and often on the altitudes required for cultivation.

The Onomasia Proelefseos Anoteras Piotitos (OPAP) and Onomasia Proelefseos Eleghomeni (OPE) are the two principal designations for quality wine in Greece. They cover dry and sweet wines respectively. At the lower level, the PGI-level Topikos Inos (local/country wine) and Epitrapezios Inos (table wine) cover larger areas and a wide array of wine styles and grape varieties.

The early 21st Century has been a tumultuous time for Greece, with political instability and an enormous debt crisis threatening the entire economy of Europe. However, full-bodied red wines made from Agiorgitiko and Xynomavro showcase the potential of Greece's indigenous grapes.

Meanwhile, the wine regions of Naousa, Nemea, Mantinia, Samos and the island of Santorini continue to provide a benchmark for the rest of the country to aspire to.

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Most Popular Greek Wine

Based on search frequency, updated monthly
Wine Name
Avg Price
Domaine Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko, Aegean Islands, Greece Assyrtiko 2,265th 91 $37
Estate Argyros Assyrtiko, Santorini, Greece Assyrtiko 2,556th 91 $36
Gavalas Santorini, Aegean Islands, Greece Assyrtiko 3,342nd 89 $27
Alpha Estate Vieilles Vignes Single Block Reserve Xinomavro, Amyndaio, Greece Xinomavro 5,184th 90 $27
Estate Argyros Cuvee Monsignori, Santorini, Greece Assyrtiko 5,290th 92 $44
Biblia Chora Ovilos White Assyrtiko - Semillon, Macedonia, Greece Rare White Blend 5,290th 90 $29
Santo Wines Assyrtiko, Santorini, Greece Assyrtiko 5,549th 88 $25
Metaxa Private Reserve Brandy, Aegean Islands, Greece Brandy 5,791st 87 $75
Artemis Karamolegos 'Pyritis' Santorini Mega Cuvee Assyrtiko, Greece Assyrtiko 5,881st 92 $42
Thymiopoulos Vineyards Young Vines Xinomavro, Naoussa, Greece Xinomavro 6,824th 88 $18
Gaia 'Assyrtiko by Gaia' Wild Ferment, Santorini, Greece Assyrtiko 6,889th 90 $33
Skinos Mastiha Spirit, Chios, Greece Eau-de-Vie 6,933rd $30
Tselepos Classic Moschofilero, Mantinia, Greece Moschofilero 6,977th 88 $15
Ktima Gerovassiliou Single Vineyard Malagousia PGI Epanomi, Macedonia, Greece Malagousia 7,021st 90 $22
Metaxa Five Stars Brandy, Aegean Islands, Greece Brandy 7,604th 87 $25
Gaia Thalassitis, Santorini, Greece Assyrtiko 8,059th 90 $31
Metaxa Seven Stars Brandy, Aegean Islands, Greece Savatiano 8,410th 87 $30
Nico Lazaridi Mayiko Bouvo Magic Mountain Red PGI Agora, Macedonia, Greece Cabernet Franc - Cabernet Sauvignon 8,763rd 88 $33
Garalis 'Terra Ambera', Limnos, Greece Muscat of Alexandria 8,763rd $25
Domaine Sigalas Kavalieros White, Santorini, Greece Assyrtiko 8,810th 91 $46
Vassaltis Assyrtiko, Santorini, Greece Assyrtiko 9,568th 90 $31
Kir-Yianni Estate Ramnista, Naoussa, Greece Xinomavro 9,652nd 89 $25
Kechris 'Tear of the Pine' Retsina, Macedonia, Greece Assyrtiko 9,885th 90 $21
Domaine Glinavos 'Paleokerisio' PGI Ioannina, Epirus, Greece Debina 10,805th 88 $25
Domaine Sigalas Santorini Barrel-Fermented Assyrtiko, Aegean Islands, Greece Assyrtiko 10,956th 90 $37
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To see how Wine-Searcher uses average pricing and professional wine critic scores on this page, please see Average Wine Prices and Wine Scores. To find out about popularity, please see Wine Ranks.
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