Not many years have passed since the time when everyone in Greece was drinking bulk produced Savatiano. Indeed, it could justifiably be described as our national variety. It is certainly the most widely planted, particularly in Attica, where it was used – especially in the past – as the base wine for retsina.
A good glass of Savatiano, made with modern winemaking techniques, possesses distinct aromas of yellow fruits and grains, a round mouth with freshness, concentration and length. In its finest versions, we have seen it age and mature remarkably well.
You can taste one such enjoyable example of barrel-aged Savatiano (along with a few other different vinifications of the variety) at Papagiannakos Winery outside Markopoulo. They also have long experience with Savatiano at Strofilia Estate in the area of Anavyssos, where the vines grow near the sea and the wine produced from them have unparalleled finesse and delicate citrus aromas.
Strofilia Estate: Patitiria, Anavyssos, Tel. (+30) 22910.41650, strofiliawines.gr.
Monday-Friday 10.00-15.00 by appointment. From €20 per person.
Papagiannakos Winery: Pousi-Kalogeri, Markopoulo, Tel. (+30) 22990.25206, papagiannakos.gr.
Monday-Saturday 08.30-16.00, Sunday by appointment. From €18 per person.
Known for its minerality, the kind that is theoretically heightened by the volcanic soil of Santorini, which is the center of cultivation of the variety and where it has PDO status. However, one can also taste this characteristic, to a lesser or greater extent, in versions from grapes grown in other areas of Greece. In any case, charismatic Assyrtiko is one of the country’s most adaptable varieties, a veritable chameleon that thrives well in many different terroirs.
The general characteristics of the variety include a low-key nose with notes of lemon, tea and herbs, as well as crisp acidity that gives it a refreshing bite on the palate. Assyrtiko ages extremely well and maturity flatters it in particular. It is very interesting to try its various versions from many good wineries around Greece, beginning with those of Santorini, which are all open to visitors*. This will allow you to experience its different expressions and understand its typical varietal features.
At Vassaltis Vineyards you can taste what is perhaps the most modern vinification approach to Santorini Assyrtiko in different versions and pick your favorite. The finest, in my view, is Gramina, a complex wine made from a vineyard of 100% Assyrtiko at the village of Vourvoulos. But it is certainly worth trying a very fine Parian version of Assyrtiko at Moraitis Winery, not to mention some of the good wines from northern Greece, such as Tarsanas, made from grapes grown in vineyards of Amyndeon and vinified in oak barrels at the Kir-Yianni Estate in Naoussa.
Vassaltis Vineyards: Vourvoulos, Santorini, Tel. (+30) 22860.22211, vassaltis.com.
Daily 11.00-20.00, preferably by appointment. From €20 per person.
Moraitis Winery: Naoussa, Paros, Tel. (+30) 22840.51350, moraitiswines.gr.
Outside the summer period, by appointment only. From €8 per person.
Kir-Yianni Estate: Yianakohori, Naoussa, Tel. (+30) 23320.51110, kiryianni.gr.
Daily 10.00-15.00, by appointment. From €5 per person.
A variety which, despite becoming virtually extinct, is today regarded as the sweetheart of Greek vineyards and is cultivated all across the country. Highly versatile, it expresses itself differently depending on the terroir of each region, revealing numerous and quite distinct facets. Of particular interest is the orange and sweet vinification, though not so much in the aged version. In the glass you will find an exciting array of aromas, from jasmine, lemon blossom, peach, apricot and lime to mango, pineapple, passion fruit, green bell pepper and green tea. In the mouth it has a medium body and moderate acidity.
Vangelis Gerovassiliou cultivates and vinifies one of its most typical and enjoyable versions at Ktima Gerovassiliou in Epanomi, Thessaloniki. You may also wish to try the delightfully fragrant Malagousia at Lykos Winery on Evia, as well as the explosive, elaborate version by Argyriou Winery from vineyards planted in the foothills of Mount Parnassus.
Ktima Gerovassiliou: Epanomi, Thessaloniki, tel. 23920-44567, gerovassiliou.gr.
Monday, Thursday, Friday 10.00-16.00, Wednesday 13.00-19.00, Saturday, Sunday 11.00-17.00, preferably by appointment. From €1.5-3 per 40-ml tasting glass.
Lykos Winery: Malakonta, Eretria, tel. 22290-68222, lykoswines.gr.
Daily 10.30-16.30, by telephone appointment. From €9 per person.
Argyriou Winery: Polydrosos, Parnassos, tel. 22340-29616, argyriouwinery.gr.
Daily 10.00-20.00, by telephone appointment. From €12 per person.
The souvenir from Corfu
The fragmented vineyards of Corfu are home to a number of indigenous varieties that attract interest but are not noted for high wine grape production, at least not until recently. Kakotrygis, for instance, is an extremely rare white Greek variety, indigenous to Corfu, which most probably does not grow anywhere else in the country.
The first, recent, notable examples of its vinification reveal a wine with a delicate lemony character, full mouth, without striking aromas but with finesse, strength and a bright future. Most wines produced from Kakotrygis are consumed on the island and you can try some noteworthy versions on visits to the wineries listed below.
Pontiglio Winery: Lefkimmi, Corfu, tel. 26620-22866, pontiglio.gr.
Tuesday-Saturday 09.30-14.00, by appointment. From €5 per person.
Nicoluzo Estate: Ano Korakiana, Corfu, tel. 6943-777728.
Monday-Saturday 11.00-14.00, by appointment. Visits are free of charge, for a tour and wine purchases.
Borovino Wine: Lefkimmi, Corfu, tel. 6974-913285, borovinowine.gr.
Visits by telephone appointment, at no charge.
Livadiotis Winery: Meliteioi Halikouna, Corfu, tel. 26610-76381.
Daily, by appointment. Visits are free of charge.
Not just sweet
We may have associated it with the average quality sweet wines of the Patras carnival, but what many don’t know is that Mavrodaphne also yields serious, multidimensional, dry red aged wines. It has a PDO designation when the grapes are grown and vinified in the region of Patras and on Kefalonia, either in a dry or sweet version.
The common characteristics shared by quality Mavrodaphne wines are complexity and concentration, both on the nose and in the mouth. The color of the wine is near-black, while the dense aromas bring to mind forest fruit, mint, spices, tobacco, licorice, chocolate and coffee, dried plums and black currants. Mavrodaphne wines have a high alcohol content and medium acidity, with a piquant finish and slight bitterness. Not many winemakers produce it, but those who do offer unique pleasures.
In Patras, at the Parparoussis Winery, be sure to try the dry Taos and the sweet Mavrodaphne. At the historic winery of Achaia Clauss they have been making Mavrodaphne with passion and expertise since 1861; don’t miss the sweet Mavrodaphne Grand Reserve, made from grapes picked in the 1979 harvest. Good island versions include the robust biodynamic Orgion from the Sclavos winery on Kefalonia, and the spicy Eclipse in a modern, dry vinification of the rare Mavrodaphne of Kefalonia grape variety courtesy of the Gentilini Winery at Minies, which is left to mature in French and American barrels for 12 months.
Gentilini Winery: Minies, Kefalonia, Tel. (+30) 26710.41618, gentilini.gr.
Easter Week – September, daily 12.00-20.00, 1-20 October, daily 11.00-18.30, preferably by appointment. From €5 per person.
Sclavos Wines: Kechrionas, Kefalonia, Tel. (+30) 26710.92215, sclavoswines.gr.
Open to visitors all year round for retail purchases and May-September for tours and tastings. Monday-Saturday 11.00-19.00, by telephone appointment. From €10 per person.
Parparoussis Winery: Bozaitika, Patras, Tel. (+30) 2610.420334, parparoussis.com.
Visits, by appointment, are free of charge.
Achaia Clauss: Petroto, Patras, Tel. (+30) 2610.580100, achaiaclauss.gr.
Daily 11.00-18.00. From €5 per person.
In the realm of Nemea
Produced in red, rosé, dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet and sweet versions. They have even dared a sparkling vinification and the fresh wines are now just as popular as their aged counterparts. Top quality Agiorgitiko reigns supreme in Nemea, but the grape is cultivated throughout the Peloponnese, while some experimental plantings have also been undertaken in other areas of Greece.
However, it has PDO status when grown and vinified in the district of Corinthia and northwest Argolis, around the wider region of Nemea. A young Agiorgitiko is redolent of red fruits, but as the wine matures, its aromatic bouquet is enhanced by spices, nuts, ripe and dried fruits, dark notes of coffee and leather. Agiorgitiko wines have medium acidity and are rich, with high quality, ripe tannins that make them suitable for long ageing.
At Domaine Skouras they have considerable experience in its vinification and produce some fine wines that are not only worth trying, but also ‘forgetting’ in your cellar. Their Megas Oenos, for example, which literally means ‘Great Wine’, is exactly that, an exquisite blend of Agiorgitiko (80%) and Cabernet (20%). You can also taste other versions of the variety at the many notable wineries of Nemea. At Semeli Estate, which offers perhaps some of the best organized wine experience programs, you can savor an outstanding single-vineyard Agiorgitiko, the Nemea Grand Reserve, while taking in a panoramic view of the Nemea vineyards as far as Ziria.
Semeli Estate: Koutsi, Nemea, tel. 27460-20360, semeliestate.gr.
Daily except Tuesday 10.00-14.30 and weekends 11.00-15.30, by appointment (phone 6985-161414 or email to [email protected]). From €12 per person.
Domaine Skouras: 10th km Argous-Sternas Rd., Malandreni, Argos, tel. 27510-23688, skouras.gr.
Monday-Friday09.00-17.00 and Saturday 10.30-18.00, by appointment. From €9 per person.
Elegant and delicate
Thanks to its exceptional finesse, this red variety of Crete can sit comfortably on the shelves of white wines in terms of all aspects of food pairing. A fresh Liatiko can even accompany fish, while its serving temperature is relatively low, around 8-13oC. Whether as a single varietal or in blends, Liatiko yields red, white and sweet wines in the PDO zones of Dafnes, Sitia, Malvasia Sitia and Malvasia Handakas-Candia.
Most wines of this Cretan variety are relatively light colored, with notes of ripe fresh fruits and sweet spices on the nose. The mouth is full, with high levels of alcohol and buttery tannins. The sweet wines made from sun-dried Liatiko grapes are usually fortified, of the port type, and are generally regarded as the best expression of the variety when compared to the dry versions.
Excellent quality Liatiko wines include the fruity Kompsos, a dry red from Karavitakis Estate, and the noble red Petali with silky tannins from Diamantakis Winery. At Doulufakis Winery you will have the opportunity to taste three versions, one of which, Dafnios is an exemplary dry vinification. Also of particular interest are Helios, a spicy sweet wine, and Amphora, a natural wine vinified in clay amphoras.
Karavitakis Estate: Pontikiana, Platanias, Chania, Tel. (+30) 28240.23381, karavitakiswines.com.
Daily except Sundays, 10:00-18:30 from May to October, and the rest of the year by telephone appointment. From €9 per person.
Douloufakis Winery: Dafnes, Heraklion, Tel. (+30) 28107.92017, douloufakis.wine.
Monday-Friday 10:00-15:30, by appointment. From €8 per person.
Diamantakis Winery: Kato Asites, Heraklion, Tel. (+30) 28108.61137, diamantakiswines.gr.
Monday-Friday 09:30-16:30, by telephone appointment. From €7 per person.
A rare treasure
An extremely rare red variety of Evia which is vinified by only a handful of producers, but with excellent results.If you find yourself in the vicinity of Vriniotis Winery in northern Evia, don’t miss the chance to taste one of the very few – if not the only – single-varietal versions. The wine has a deep rubycolor and complex aromas of cherry, sour cherry, betel, almond and spices. The palate is smooth and well structured, with integrated tannins, a high alcohol content and long aftertaste, which make it an ideal pairing with game and spicy yellow cheeses.
At the Vriniotis estate you will hear the story of the forgotten variety of northern Evia, which was almost lost to phylloxera in 1950 and revived half a century later by the winemaker Kostas Vriniotis, who had rescued some old vines. Two very successful blends of Vradiano and Merlot are produced by Gikas Winery at Spata and Avantis Winery in Halkida.
Vriniotis Winery: Gialtra Aidipsos, Evia, Tel. (+30) 22260.32429, vriniotiswinery.gr.
April-November daily 10:00-18:00 and the rest of the year by appointment. There is also a wine bar, open 18.00-23.00. Free tour, wine tasting from €6 per person.
Gikas Winery: Kiafas Ave., Spata, Tel. (+30) 210.663.4595, gikaswinery.gr.
Monday-Friday 09:00-17:00, and weekends by appointment. From €15 per person.
Avantis Winery: Mytikas, Halkida, Evia, Tel. (+30) 22210.55350, avantisestate.gr.
Daily 11:00-17:00 by appointment. From €7 per person.
For the discerning
Avgoustiatis is another very rare red variety, cultivated on small plots in the western Peloponnese and in recent years, on an even more limited scale, on a few islands. The variety ripens relatively early, typically in August (which explains its name), and produces quality wines that are suitable for ageing up to around five years. The wine usually has a deep, vibrant, dark red color and intense aromas of ripe red fruit and Mediterranean herbs.
Often left to mature in a barrel, it has a round mouth with a velvety texture, medium body, fine grained tannins and moderate to high alcohol. Single-varietal versions of Avgoustiatis are extremely difficult to find and highly prized by connoisseurs. At Grampsa Estate on Zakynthos and the beautiful Mercouri Estate next to the sea at Korakochori just outside Pyrgos, at two wineries separated by the Ionian, you can try two Avgoustiatis wines that are so similar and yet… so different.
Long before Muscat of Alexandria reached Limnos and became the predominant variety on the island, the red Limnio, whose local name is Kalambaki, monopolized the island’s wine market. Despite this, apart from Limnos (after which it is named), Limnio is cultivated widely in the Maroneia region of Thrace and elsewhere, especially northern Greece. With PDO status when originating from Limnos and the Slopes of Meliton, it is interesting to note that this grape was frequently mentioned by ancient Greek writers, including Homer and Hesiod.
Limnio wines are moderate in color and elegant in aromas and flavors, particularly fresh herbs and forest fruits. On the palate they exhibit medium acidity, silky delicate tannins, a clean taste, breadth and moderately high alcohol. Single-varietal Limnio wines are usually much lighter in style and are generally not barrel matured. However, the variety is frequently used in blends with international red varieties to add character and definition. They can be aged, but are also very pleasant when drunk fresh. Rosé aficionados will find it vinified together with white Muscat of Alexandria. In its different versions, Limnio is produced by all the Limnos wineries listed below.
Union of Agricultural Cooperatives of Limnos: Aghios Nikolaos Port, Myrina, Limnos, Tel. (+30) 22540.22296, limnoswines.gr.
In summer, daily 07:30-15:30, and by appointment whenever there is interest. Visits are free of charge.
Chatzigeorgiou Estate: Karpasi, Limnos, Tel. (+30) 22540.31082, chatzigeorgioulimnos.gr.
Daily 09:00-16:00 except Sunday, and by appointment at other times. Visits are free of charge.
Garalis Winery: Aghios Dimitrios, Limnos, Tel. (+30) 22540.61884, oinopoieio-garalis.gr.
Visits are free of charge, by telephone appointment.
Limnos Organic Wines: Kaspakas, Limnos, Tel. (+30) 22540.22270, limnosorganicwines.gr.
Daily 09:00-14:00, weekends by appointment. Visits are free of charge.
From the rugged mountains
Grown in the high mountain vineyards of Ioannina, Vlahiko is an old red variety with a strong character, which produces enjoyable wines with PGI Ioannina status. Low temperatures, reduced sunlight hours and frequent rain are the conditions in which these vines grow. The resulting wines have very distinct aromas of red fruits of the forest, with a bright but not deep ruby color, discreet and very fine tannins, high acidity characteristic of mountain wines, and a full, velvety mouth feel. Single-varietal versions are extremely rare, while in the past, local winegrowers blended Vlahiko with the indigenous white Debina variety to produce the traditional semi-sparkling wine of Zitsa.
One version, slightly more modern but still retaining rustic character, is Paleokerisio, a wonderful revival of the old wine of Ioannina, a blend with Debina from Domaine Glinavos. The same winery produces another semi-sparkling wine, more delicate and elegant, the rosé Lady Frosyni. An outstanding single-varietal Vlahiko – Rossiu di Munte, which means ‘red of the mountain’ in the local Vlach dialect – is produced by Katogi Averoff winery from grapes grown in mountain vineyards and left to mature in 300-liter French oak barrels. It is most probably the only single-varietal red version of the variety, a limited edition wine with all the coolness of the mountains, pleasant acidity, soft tannins and aromatic peppery notes. You can try it at the Katogi Averoff winery, after first enjoying a unique wine tourism experience that combines art and hospitality with a guided tour of the barrel room and cellars.
Wineries open to visitors comply with all the health protection measures for Covid-19, as introduced and updated by the Greek government. Face masks must be worn during visits and tours. Indoor tastings are available only for visitors who have been vaccinated or have undergone a recent test, otherwise outdoor areas are used. Visitors will be required to show proof of vaccination or a 72-hour negative rapid test.
*At wineries operating in summer destinations, visiting hours are adjusted in winter. Visitors are therefore strongly advised to check by phone in advance.