Greece is

Greece boasts the world’s longest recorded history of winemaking (6,500 years) and is credited with being the first area to develop sophisticated techniques for the cultivation and production of grapes.

The Greek 4th-century BC writer Theophrastus left a detailed record of some of the Greek influences and innovation in the realm of viticulture and grape growing. One important technique was study of vineyard soils and matching them with specific grapevines. Homer wrote that Laertes, father of Odysseus, had over 50 varieties planted in different parts of his vineyard. Another way to control yields for the better concentration of flavors and quality, rather than increased quantity; contemporary economics favored high yields for most crops, and intentionally limiting agricultural output was far from common practice in the ancient world. Theophrastus also detailed the practice of using suckering and plant cuttings for new vineyard plantings. The Greeks also practiced vine training with stacked plants for easier cultivation and harvesting, rather than letting the grapevines grow untrained in bushed or up trees.

Those techniques, along with Greek indigenous grapes, were the seed that spread to the rest of Europe and ultimately led to today’s development of the art and science of winemaking.

Ancient Greeks had a rich wine culture not found anywhere else, centered around Dionysus, the God of the grape harvest, wine and love for life.

Due to the unique geography of Greece, the country presents a remarkable range of micro-climates and local variations. From alpine and mountainous microclimates, to hot, arid and volcanic islands.

 

MOUNTAINOUS
Greece is the third most mountainous country of Europe, covered in mountains by 80%. It features a rugged terrain, with steep cliffs, deep gorges, and jagged peaks. Its average terrain altitude compares to Alpine regions.

Central and Western Greece are the most mountainous, with many canyons and karstic landscapes, such as the Meteora and Vikos gorges. Vikos is the deepest canyon in the world as a proportion to its width, and third deepest in the world in general. 

The main mountain range of Greece, the Pindus range, is an extension of the Alps. Pindus divides the country in the more humid and green West side, and the more arid and dry East side.

 

COASTAL
At the same time, Greece has the longest coastline of the Mediterranean basin (8,350 miles), and 10th longest in the world. A highly convoluted coastline, which wraps around approximately 6,000 islands approximately, and is itself mountains with multiple cliffs that rise out of the sea.

 

MEDITERRANEAN

Greece mainly features a Mediterranean climate, with certain parts of volcanic (certain islands), continental (northern inland), or mountainous (high altitude around the country) climates.

Diurnal temperature variation is significant, with high temperatures during the day, and colder nights with mountain & sea breeze at night. 

Annual rainfall varies greatly between the different geographical sections. In some of the islands and part of the mainland in the western part of Greece, the rainfall is about 46 inches, while in the region around Athens it is only about 13 inches. In the greatest part of the country, however, the average annual precipitation is considerably above 20 inches.

 

ROCKY

The soils of Greece are supposed to be among the oldest in the world. A large majority of them have never received any commercial fertilizers or green manure and very little, if any, animal manure. The productivity of most of these soils is at present quite low (the average yield of wheat for instance, is only about 11 bushels to the acre, and this yield is produced only once every two or three years). The system of farming that most farmers follow consists of cropping the land one year and leaving it idle, or fallow, one or two years.

The Greek soil mainly consists of solid infertile limestone rock (mountains). This limestone is remarkable for its uniformly high purity. In about 50 samples collected from different parts of the country and analyzed, the relative purity ranged from about 90 to 100 per cent with most samples showing about 98 per cent calcium carbonate.

There are also pockets of volcanic soil (islands of Lemnos, Santorini, Milos, Nisyros), clay in the few plains (Thessaly, Macedonia, Thrace), alluvial along the coast, and igneous in the North. 

In terms of texture, the greatest majority of the soils of Greece are of fine texture, consisting of clays, silts, and loams. There are practically no pure sandy soils in Greece. Even on most of the mountain tops, mountain slopes and hills where stones and boulders are very abundant the fine earth consists usually of clay. This fine texture of the soils may be partly indicative of their long age.

Places rich in clay are the ones that developed a more significant  amphora-making tradition.

 

CONDUSIVE TO NATURAL FARMING

The main agricultural industries of Greece are grapes, raisins, olives, and citrus.

The mainly dry and windy climate, with rugged and steep slopes, and lack of large arable land, is conducive to small-scale natural and organic farming, and part of the reason that Greece never developed a mass-scale modernized farming foundation.

Elevation, northern winds, and proximity to sea, mitigate the extreme heat of the Greek climate. This leads to stressed vines with impressive phenolic ripeness, which also maintain their aromatic intensity and acidity.

Due to the dry climate, Greece developed a particularly long tradition of dessert wines from sun dried grapes (botrytis posing no threat). 

 

SOURCES

  • https://eurekamag.com/pdf/038/038899766.pdf
  • http://projects.cbe.ab.ca/senatorpatrickburns/agriculture.html

White Grapes

ASSYRTIKO (Ah-Seer-Tea-Co)

Assyrtiko is the “queen” of Greek grapes, and is indigenous to the island of Santorini. Santorini hosts many ancient Greek varieties, and has been called the “Jurassic park” of Greek grapes. The Assyrtiko variety has perfectly adapted to the arid and windy conditions of the volcanic Santorini island, and maintains an impressively steely minerality, despite the hot and dry Mediterranean microclimate.

 

MALAGOUSIA (Mah-Lah-Ggou-Zia)

Malagousia is an ancient grape, lost in the depths of ancient Greek history. It originates from the mountains parts of Aetoloakarnania in Greece. It was saved from extinction a few decades ago, and spread all over mainland Greece, including some islands. It is known for its impressively idiosyncratic and intense aromatic character with mainly tropical and floral notes, its oily texture, and a round full body with adequate acidity, giving us world class white and orange wines.

 

SAVATIANO (Sah-Vah-Tiah-No)

Savatiano is the indigenous grape of Central Greece and the Attica region, which is the location of Athens, the capital of Greece. It is also the most planted grape of Greece, which makes sense, since it is indigenous to the most populous region of the country and can reach very high productivity levels. Because of this feature and its traditional participation in the misunderstood retsina wine, Savatiano was not thought of as a high quality winemaking grape. Its lack of primary aromas led many winemakers to manipulate it into something that is against its nature. However, if this – perfectly adapted to the most arid and dry region of Greece variety – is farmed in limited yields and vinified naturally, it features unique nutty and ripe secondary aromas, remarkable stability, and a crunchy texture.

 

VIDIANO (Vee-Thia-No)

Vidiano is the up and coming star of the many indigenous varieties of Crete. Considered an ancient local grape, many consider it the next “Assyrtiko”, with an acidity almost as impressive for the warm Mediterranean island, and a recognizable peachy aromatic expression. Vidiano vineyards are still very limited and its vinification capabilities are still in an explorative phase.

 

ROBOLA (Row-Bow-Lah)

The Queen of the Ionian sea, Robola, has been proven to be the same variety as “Ribolla Gialla” of Italy and “Rebula” of the Balkan coast. Indigenous to the island of Cephalonia, Robola is believe to have traveled north along the coast to Slovenia and Friuli during the 13th century by the Venetians. It shows an extremely maritime character, with loads of salinity and an unrefined texture, when vinified naturally.

 

MUSCAT OF ALEXANDRIA / MOSCHATO ALEXANDRIAS

Part of the largest and most ancient family of grapes in the world, Muscat of Alexandria is believed to be indigenous to the general Eastern Mediterranean, although there are more specific theories that place its point of origin in either Egypt, or the eastern Aegean islands. Nevertheless, its center of farming in Greece is the arid and volcanic island of Lemnos, in the northeastern Aegean sea, which provides ideal conditions for its ripening. Muscat of Alexandria is a recognizably Muscat grape, characterized mainly by its more “grapey” notes. It gives us pleasant aromatic white and orange wines, with mild acidity. Also called “Zibbibo” in southern Italy and northern Africa.

Pink / Gray Grapes

RODITIS (Raw-Dee-Tees)

Roditis is an ancient Greek grape, considered indigenous to the northwestern coast of the Peloponnese. Its name means “rosy”, apparently due to the pink color of its most identifiable and quality clone, the “Fox” Roditis. Roditis is the second most planted grape of Greece and until today it is considered a lesser of a grape. The reason is its extremely high yields, and partial participation in the misunderstood low-quality retsina wine of the past. Recent vinifications from low yields in higher altitude vineyards, have shown promising results. In wine, Roditis is very aromatic, mainly with citrusy notes, and a juicy and fruity body. One complaint from winemakers is its short duration of its aromatic intensity. Skin contact vinifications have shown much better extraction and longevity of its aromatic character, leading to quality idiosyncratic wines.

 

MOSCHOFILERO (Maw-Skow-Fee-Leh-Row)

Moschofilero is part of the highly prone to mutation “Filery” family of grapes. It is also its most aromatic expression, with the “Moscho” part hinting to its “perfumy” character. Moschofilero is a gray-skin grape, which is believed to coincide with the ancient Greek references to the “smoky vines” (Kapneia Ampelos), which were describing a clonal variety of the area with a “smoky” color. Moschofilero is almost exclusively vinified in fresh white wines, which have a characteristic floral aroma, sharp acidity, and a lemon burst on the palate. It can also produce rosé and sparkling wines, which its birthplace of the Mantinia plateau in the Peloponnese is ideal for (a rare example of a borderline Alpine terroir in the south of Greece).

Red Grapes

XINOMAVRO (Ksee-No-Mah-Vrow)

Xinomavro is considered the “king” of red Greek varieties. Notoriously hard to farm and vinify, it is also called a “diva”. Its name is a combination of the words “xino” (“sour” or “acid”) and “mavro” (“black”), which gives a hint to its untamed and tannic character. Indigenous to western Macedonia and the towns of Amyndeo and Naoussa, Xinomavro prefers humidity and bears low yields. It expresses itself through notes of mushroom, canned tomatoes, gooseberries, dark fruit, and olives. The palate is usually structured with unforgiving tannins, framing a medium body. The color tends to a brick red and deteriorates rather quickly.

 

AGIORGITIKO (Ah-Your-Yee-Tee-Co)

Agiorgitiko is indigenous to the largest winemaking and PDO region of Greece, Nemea (Peloponnese), to which it is almost synonymous. Until recently, it was rarely found outside of Nemea. There, it produces a variety of different types of wines (making it a poly dynamic grape), from fresh or aged reds, to fruity rosés, to semi-sweet reds. It is cultivated in a range of altitudes, depending on the end goal. Agiorgitiko is probably the same variety as the “Phliasian Wine” that became popular in the ancient Greek world through the Nemean games. It is known for its very dark color, fresh fruity aromas, powerful but silky tannins, and higher acidity and volume. A round, powerful wine, with a lot more potential to explore.

 

LIMNIONA (Leem-Nio-Nah)

Limniona is another old grape of Greece which went almost extinct until its elegant and floral character (a rarity among Greek red varieties) was rediscovered. Indigenous to the area around the rural town of Karditsa in Thessaly, it is now rapidly spreading around mainland Greece. Its silky and sexy character makes it irresistible, and it is expected to lead to many sought after wines in the future.

 

LIMNIO (Leem-Nio)

Not to be confused with “Limniona”, although genetic analysis has shown a distant relation between the two, Limnio is the indigenous variety of the volcanic Lemnos island. It is almost the oldest referenced grape in the world, as it has been described by many ancient writers and philosophers as “Lemnia Ampelos” (Lemnia vine), such as Homer, Aristotle, and Hesiod. Limnio (meaning “from Lemnos”) has been growing on the volcanic and arid terrain of Lemnos for thousands of years, having achieved a unique adaptation to this particular place, and showing tremendous expression of place. It gives dry wines with grippy but playful and powdery tannins, low to medium alcohol, and notes of dry herbs on the nose and palate, which is also the main vegetation of the island.

 

MAVRODAFNI (Mah-Vrow-Thuf-Nee)

Mavrodafni, together with Vertzami, has the highest concentration in anthocyanin out of any Greek grape. Its name means “Black Laurel”, which points back to a romantic love story between the man who popularized it as a sweet fortified wine, Gustav Clauss of Achaia Clauss, and a local Greek brunette girl called “Daphne”. Others claim that the name comes from its dark color and some notes reminiscent of laurel herbs. Before this story, which took place in the late 19th century, its name was probably “Tsiggelo” or “Tsiggeli” (“hook”), which today is used to distinguish its higher quality clone (the lesser one called “Renio”). Mavrodafni is considered indigenous to the Achaia region of the Peloponnese, and the Ionian island of Cephalonia right across from Achaia, although developed into different clones. Other than the famous and synonymous fortified sweet red wine that is widely famous and historic around Greece, Mavrodafni gives us very recognizable and elegant red dry wines with herbal, umami, and small fruit notes on the nose, a silky texture, and a characteristic bitter aftertaste.

 

VERTZAMI (Vehr-Tzah-Mee)

Vertzami is the other highly dark grape, together with Mavrodafni, which is why it has been historically used as the “painting” grape in field blends. Indigenous to the island of Lefkada in the Ionian sea, Vertzami is considered a noble Greek grape, giving dark wines of higher alcohol, powerful but well integrated tannins, and characteristic deep aromas of ripe black fruits. It has an affinity for oak, and it maintains a youthful expression for many years.