Some Old World countries just don’t get the wine love they deserve– and we’re here to change that. For May’s edition of The Grand Tour, I want to transport us to a place where the sun is hot, the topography is diverse, and a slew of underrated, high-quality wines are produced. From the mountainous hills of Macedonia to the saline-tinged sea breezes of Santorini, we’re bringing you four of our favorite wines from Greece, just in time for springtime sipping.
Everyone dreams of going to Greece at least once in their lifetime, and it’s no surprise why. The country’s rich history, dramatic landscapes, and insanely laid back lifestyle are all reasons to be captivated by this breathtaking, one-of-a-kind place. Greece is one of the oldest wine-producing countries in the world, with viticultural roots dating back more than 6,500 years. Greek mythology even has its own god (Dionysus) dedicated to wine! When it comes to wine culture, Greeks take their juice pretty seriously.
Greece’s wine growing areas are broken down into a handful of different regions. With this month’s TGT, we’re touching on some of our my personal favorites. First, there’s Macedonia, which encompasses Amyndeon, Epanomi, Goumenissa, and Naoussa. Located in northern Greece, this mountainous region is dominated by rolling green hills, grazing goats and livestock, and a rugged terrain– the complete opposite of what comes to mind when one thinks of the sunny Cyclades Islands! Nemea sits to the south, located in the heart of the Peloponnese. This appellation is perhaps Greece's most important for red wine, thanks to thought-provoking bottles made from the Agiorgitiko grape. And then there’s Santorini, the crown jewel of the Aegean. If you were to use one word to best sum up the topography of Greece, it would definitely be diversity.
Greece’s large size and vast topographical differences lead to a number of different microclimates, allowing for an array of grape varieties and wine styles to be produced. To the north, Macedonia experiences a rather continental climate, with vineyards located on steep slopes. Nemea's terroir ranges from flat plains around the village, to mountainous terrain across the west and north. The area's best vineyards are situated at high altitudes, some of which reach up to 2,600 feet above sea level. Gravel soils and large diurnal temperature swings keep acidity high, giving way to fresh, drinkable reds. Santorini’s sunny days and salty air allow for ideally ripened fruit with thirst-quenching tinges of saline-driven acidity.
Most of Santorini's vineyards are very old, as they were never affected by phylloxera, thanks to the island's volcanic soils. Because of the strong sun and powerful sea breezes, vines in Santorini are often head-trained, meaning they're pruned in basket-like bushes low to the ground, shielding fruit from dramatic weather influences.
Regionality plays a huge role in the grapes grown across Greece. In the north, the powerful and robust Xinomavro reigns king, vinified into savory, bone-dry reds or complex, traditional method sparklings. Nemea is known for its Agiorgitiko production, a grape that’s vinified into fresh, food-friendly reds or, depending on the vintage, satisfyingly sweet dessert wines. In Santorini, it's all about Assyrtiko, the island's sweetheart white grape. Vinified varietally or blended with Athiri and/or Aidani, these island-influenced whites are some of the most thirst-quenching bottles on the market, perfect for pairing with fresh seafood or salads on a warm spring day. These wines are sure to make your palate salivate!
Hopping on the next flight to Greece isn't always a feasible option, though with these four bottles, getting a taste of the country's unmatchable diversity has never been easier. We can't wait to join you on the ride!
Dustin Wilson, Master Sommelier
Domaine Karanika ‘Brut Cuvée Spéciale’ NV, Macedonia
Domaine Karanika’s organically farmed vines sit on the Amyndeon Plateau in the heart of northwestern Greece. The vineyard has old vine Xinomavro, Assyrtiko, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Limniona, and the estate firmly believes in minimal intervention in both the vineyards and the cellar, allowing the natural beauty of the region to shine through every cuvée produced. The ‘Brut Cuvée Spéciale’ NV is a Blanc de Noirs, produced entirely from ungrafted Xinomavro vines via the traditional method. The wine ages 12 months on its lees, followed by riddling and disgorgement by hand. Sharp, zesty, and bright, this bottle of bubbles is sure to give your other go-to sparklings a run for their money.
PAIRING IDEAS: High acid and delicate bubbles make this insanely refreshing sparkling wine the perfect match for fresh seafood, fried snacks, or simple aperitifs on the patio.
Mitravelas Estate 'Red on Black' Agiorgitiko, Nemea 2018
Founded over a century ago, the Mitravelas’ roots run deep in Nemea. The winery has come a long way since 1913, moving from small ‘bulk wine’ production to quality focused cuvées that highlight Nemea’s signature grape, Agiorgitiko. Fruit for ‘Red and Black’ comes from a mixture of clay, limestone, and sandy soils, and is fermented in steel for over two weeks. The final wine is fruit-forward and vibrant, showing notes of cherries and red currant with smoky undertones.
PAIRING IDEAS: This versatile bottle of red can either be drank on its own or served alongside lamb, various stews, or all things grilled– served slightly chilled, of course!
Karamolegos Winery ‘Feredini’ Assyrtiko, Santorini 2017
Artemis Karamolegos’ passion for winemaking came from his beloved grandfather, who pushed him to create his namesake estate in 1952. About 15 years ago, Artemis decided to implement modern technology within the winery while continuing to use traditional winemaking practices learned from generations before him. Artemis is a huge supporter of the cultivation of indigenous Cycladic grape varieties, particularly Assyrtiko. Fruit for his ‘Feredini’ cuvée comes from 150-year-old vines rooted in volcanic soils, creating a mineral-driven white wine full of white flower, citrus, and pear flavors. One month of maturation on the fine lees adds texture and complexity, creating a layered, mouth-filling cuvée.
PAIRING IDEAS: The citrus-driven acidity and salty, mineral undertones make this wine perfect with raw bar favorites, especially when drenched with freshly squeezed lemon.
Kokkinos Estate Xinomavro, Naoussa 2014
Stavros Kokkinos invested in his first Xinomavro vineyards almost 20 years ago and slowly grew his holdings to 3.6 hectares, all of which are farmed biodynamically. The winery is located just one mile outside of Naoussa, with vineyard sites occupying some of the best growing areas in the region. Fruit comes from three different plots of sandy, clay-loam soils, and is aged 12 months in French oak and 12 months in bottle prior to release. The final wine is approachable and aromatic, showing flavors of strawberry, sour cherry, herbs, and tobacco, with bright acidity giving way to a lasting finish.
PAIRING IDEAS: This savory bottle is absolutely delicious when served alongside braised meats, lamb, or hearty pasta ragu. Lovers of Nebbiolo, watch out– you may be hooked!