Ask a Sommelier: a Beginner’s Guide to Greek Wines

Greece's Best Sommelier for 2016, Aris Sklavenitis, pours out some wisdom...

Why are Greek wines garnering ever more attention from oenophiles around the world? For those who hail from countries such as France and Italy, are they worth becoming acquainted with? Aris Sklavenitis, who was recently named Best Greek Sommelier for 2016 by the Panhellenic Association of Sommeliers, believes that several of Greece’s domestic grape varieties are worthy rivals to their international counterparts and could help raise the global standing of Greek wines. Shortly before setting off for Argentina on a Malbec tasting trip, Aris – who at the age of 28 is the youngest ever winner of the “Best Sommelier” title, spoke to us about the trends, strengths and pairing potentials of Greek wines.

Why should I try Greek wines?

Greek wine is increasingly becoming more outward-looking. Wine guides in previous years, after France, Spain, Italy and other traditional wine-producing countries, would have an “others” section that included Greece. Now we have a section of our own; it may not have many pages, but it exists. Greek wine is of a very high standard and offers exceptional value for money. Assyrtiko and Xinomavro in particular are the equals of quality varieties abroad and can become the vehicle that takes Greek wines beyond the country’s borders. 

Where should I begin?

Malagouzia, Vidiano or Moschofilero are very romantic wines. Also try wines from Santorini, which are more mineral, with confidence. Rosés, such as those from Agiorgitiko grapes, are also a perfect place to start. For reds I would suggest a Xinomavro – sharp with intense tannins. After these, one could try a red Agiorgitiko, a Mavrotragano from Santorini or a Mavrodafni either from Kefalonia or the Peloponnese. Finally, if one is partial to sweet wines, perhaps a label from Limnos or a Vinsanto from Santorini.

What is the recent trend among Greek producers?

For years it has been Malagouzia. Every winery now has a Malagouzia. Another recent development is the emergence of the rosés. Wineries are making light-colored wines which are similar to those of Provence. They are easy to drink and of course more economical – yet another reason to buy them.


I would buy a bottle of wine and drink it with my loved one

On the Acropolis, with a panoramic view of Athens.

My favorite winery to visit in Attica

The most organized in my opinion is the Papagiannakos winery which has also won awards for its architecture. I also like the Milonas estate which is a new winery that is under development. There are several just outside Athens, and interestingly… only 20 minutes from the airport. So they provide a good opportunity for a tasting if you have a few free hours before your flight.

My wine list would definitely include the following

Aged white wines.

I would like to go on a wine-tasting trip to

The south of France, to the Rhône region, Burgundy and elsewhere.

There are now quite a few wine bars in Athens. Do you think it is just a passing fad?

No. Wine as an important part of going out has been lacking in Greece. For years, oenophiles did not really have a place to go to drink wines, so they enjoyed them at home. And when they did go out they would have to pay 50-60 euros for an average bottle of wine at a restaurant. Now, wine bars provide the opportunity to go out on a daily basis – either inexpensively or not, depending on what one chooses. Some are more akin to restaurants, others serve only finger food, while at others one can sit all day. It was a need, not a trend and that’s why I think they will endure.

Is retsina back?

When people hear the word “retsina”, most have in mind a Greek taverna with low quality barrel wine and pre-cooked dishes. But if you try a bottled retsina from a good winery you will definitely change your mind. Instead of ouzo, you can accompany the mezes of a Greek taverna with a good bottled retsina and it will be a perfect match. If you see a retsina from wineries such as Papagiannakos, Milonas, Markou, Tetramythos, Kechris, Gaia… buy it. You won’t be disappointed!

What is it about wine that captivated you?

The fact that it is alive, it is like a person. It differs from all other alcohol-based drinks because it has an arc of life. It is born, it reaches its peak and then it dies. I am intrigued by the fact that if I try a bottle now, in two months, in one year and in 10 years I will be drinking something different.


Assyrtiko for whites.

Moschofilero for rosés.

Xinomavro for reds.


GREEK SALAD Greek salad has raw onion. And I imagine that if you are in, say, a taverna you will have ordered some other mezes, in which case you could have a retsina, which is strong and will help mask the pungency of the onion.

MOUSSAKA This is quite a rustic dish and fairly rich – it has béchamel, potato, eggplant, mince, spices and is cooked in the oven. Because there is an aromatic profile, I would go for an aged wine – a dry Mavrodafni or a Cabernet.

LAMB WITH OREGANO Here we have a fatty dish with herbs in the form of the oregano. For this reason I would look for a wine that has acidity and tannins. The fat in the dish will soften the wine’s tannins a little and the acidity of the wine will help cut through the fat. So a Xinomavro would pair well.

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