If you’re thinking of embarking on a wine tour of Greece or would like to learn more about the country’s famous grape varieties, this is your ideal starting point. The article that follows is as rich as a wine tasting and combines basic information on ten famous Greek vineyard “zones” and their respective archaeological sites to get a more complete picture of the destinations.
So, let’s delve into the Assyrtiko, Vidiano, Agiorgitiko, Xinomavro, Robola, Moschofilero, Malagousia and Debina wines, and explore the famous Flotilla fresco in Akrotiri, Santorini, the palace of Knossos on Crete, the Stadium at Nemea and the ancient theatre of Mantineia, in the Peloponnese, the oracle of Dodoni in Epirus, the archaeological site of Dion and the early Christian monuments of Thessaloniki, in Macedonia.
Over the centuries, Santorini has suffered from the eruptions of its unpredictable volcano. Nevertheless, the success of its wines is due to its volcanic soil, as well as to the prolonged sunshine, the wind, the lack of rain and the method of pruning the vines in the shape of a coil.
The PDO wine-growing zone includes areas of Santorini and the neighboring island of Thirasia. The flagship of the local vineyard is Assyrtiko, followed by varieties such as Aidani, Athiri, Mavrotragano and Mandilaria. Santorini has also built a strong name for itself in the field of wine tourism, with several wineries to visit. At Domaine Sigalas you will not only taste famous wines from great vineyards but also exquisite spirits. Estate Argyros has new facilities that make it one of the great architectural constructions of the island. Don’t leave without tasting the great twenty-year-old Vinsantos and the fine Assyrticos from the Monsignori series. Art Space, with its dry, sweet and organic wines, combines wine with art, since the winery is connected to an exhibition space.
Excavations have brought to light a 20-hectare Aegean maritime center in the south of Santorini, which was first inhabited in the Neolithic period and flourished during the Bronze Age. Akrotiri had urban planning, a drainage system and trade relations with the Minoans, Epirots, other Aegean islanders, Egyptians and Syrians. Among the most extraordinary findings is the fresco of Thira (also known as the Flotilla of Akrotiri), a scene depicting a coastline, a harbor, a river and some ships, dating back to ca. 1600 BC, which is considered to be an early type of map.
Archaeological Site of Akrotiri, Tel. (+30) 22860.819.39. Mon, Wed, Thu 8:30-15:30, the rest of the days 8:00-18:30, ticket at €12.
In the prefecture of Irakleio, in central Crete, in an area where the Minoan civilization flourished and where a Minoan winepress dating back to 1600 BC was found (Vathypetro), today there is fertile soil for a quality Cretan wine, which combines traditional varieties with modern techniques. The prefecture of Irakleio has built a strong reputation as a wine production destination (PGI Irakleio, PDO Archanes, PDO Dafnes, PDO Peza). Douloufakis Winery produces wines from local and foreign grape varieties: Vidiano, Vilana, Kotsifali but also Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Syrah. Lyrarakis Winery also invests in local grape varieties, including Melissaki, which was transplanted from the foothills of Psiloritis to a family vineyard to produce a special dry wine. At Domaine Paterianakis they have chosen organic farming, cultivating Cretan and French grape varieties to create matching blends.
Archaeological Site of Knossos
Knossos is the most famous Minoan palace and is located on the hill of Kefala, just 5.5km from the city of Irakleio. Autumn is an ideal time to visit the site without suffering from the heat and observe the remains of the great ancient city that was initially inhabited by hunter-gatherers in the Neolithic Period and that later, at the height of its glory, in the Bronze Age, hosted a civilization with rare characteristics ̶ pluralistic, extroverted, sophisticated and peaceful ̶ described by some scholars as the “Pax Minoica” (the Minoan Peace).
Archaeological Site of Knossos, Tel. (+30) 2810.231.940, open daily 8:00-17:00, ticket at €15.
Nemea is located in the Peloponnese and is only an hour and a half from Athens, which is why it is ideal for one-day wine tours. The famous Agiorgitiko grape variety is cultivated in the PDO Nemea zone. One of the most famous wineries in the area is Semeli Estate, with wines that are suitable for the autumn and winter table. One of its pluses is the neutral carbon footprint certificate that the winery has received, which is confirmation of its stance on environmental issues. Domaine Skouras is one of the most recognizable names among the wines produced in Nemea. One of its standout labels is the aged Megas Oenos (PGE Peloponnese), a blend of Agiorgitiko (80%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (20%). Palyvou Estate, apart from Agiorgitiko, deals with varieties such as Roditis, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
Archaeological Site of Nemea
Many wineries surround the archaeological site of Nemea. Here, wine and antiquities are one. Nemea is mythologically known for Hercules’ fight with the lion, while historically it is famous for the Nemean Games, the sports games held in the Stadium, which you can visit after first passing by the impressive temple of Zeus.
Archaeological Site of Nemea, Tel. (+30) 27460.227.39, open from 1/10 to 30/10 daily 8:00-18:30, ticket at €6.
Kefalonia is considered an established wine destination in western Greece. The PDO wines of Robola, Muscat of Kefalonia and Mavrodafni of Kefalonia are all produced on the island. You can stop by Oralios Gaea, the Vine Growers of Robola of Kefalonia Cooperative, consisting of around 300 vine growers, to indulge in the island’s most famous variety, Robola. At Sclavos Wines they love Mavrodafni of Kefalonia and other local varieties (Vostilidi, Tsaousi), which they cultivate using a biodynamic method. At Haritatos Vineyard you’ll also find wonderful vinifications of Mavrodafni and Vostilidi.
Haritatos Vineyard, Kladata, Tel. (+30) 6976.108.768, tasting at €20.
Vine Growers of Robola of Kefalonia Cooperative ̶ Oralios Gaea, Omala Winery, Tel. (+30) 26710.863.01, from €8.
It is worth going on a boat trip to the Melissani Cave, an archaeological site different from all the others, in the sense that you will not see history here. Instead, you will hear about it. The boatmen will tell you how people once worshiped the god Pan here. Usually, the worship of the goat-legged god is found in bucolic landscapes, but archaeological research has brought to light findings that attest to the worship of Pan in Melissani ̶ among others, a disc depicting the god among dancing Nymphs.
Melissani Cave, Tel. (+30) 26740.229.97, open daily 10:00-14:00, ticket at €8. Closed from November.
Drama has achieved something that in most other wine destinations requires a great deal of effort: to come out united, with a single wine identity. It is not a certain variety or a specific winery that plays the leading role, but Drama itself, its terroir and the work of the winemakers who build its brand name. With PGI Drama, PGI Agora and PGI Adriani wines, the region produces some recognizable wines. At Pavlidis Estate you will find the Thema Trilogy (white, rosé, red) together with Emphasis Tetralogy, consisting of four different varietal wines, while at Wine Art Estate special wines such as Nebbio are produced from the red Nebbiolo grape variety of Piedmont.
Archaeological Site of Philippi
Near the wineries of Drama, in the prefecture of Kavala, you will find the archaeological site of Philippi. An important ancient city that comprises a series of monuments, Philippi was the site of an epoch changing battle in 42 BC that marked the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic. While walking around the archaeological site, you’ll be able to clearly see how the Classical and Hellenistic years are followed by the Roman years, which turn into what we call Byzantium.
Archaeological Site of Philippi, Tel. (+30) 2510.516.251, open daily 8:00-18:00, ticket at €6.
The Mantineia vineyard is located in Arcadia and is known for the PDO Mantineia zone, in which the Moschofilero grape variety is grown. Moschofilero produces white, rosé and sparkling wines. The new generation of Tselepos Winery vinifies this variety, giving it resistance over time, while also dealing with other grape varieties (Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Sauvignon, among others). Ktima Spiropoulos applies organic farming practices and produces, among other things, a white, dry, varietal Moschofilero from an altitude of 650m, which matures in wine lee. Kalogris Winery has been engaged in organic farming for about 40 years and produces white wine from Moschofilero (PGI Arcadia), as well as rosé and red wines.
Archaeological Site of Mantineia
The archaeological site of Mantineia is famous for its fortification wall, its ancient theater, the temples of Zeus and Hera and the bouleuterion (council house).
Archaeological Site of Mantineia: open daily 8:30-15:30 except Tuesdays, free entrance.
In the region of Florina, in Macedonia, there are some of the northernmost vineyards in Greece. Here, the PDO Amynteo and PGE Florina zones have been established and the dominant variety is Xinomavro. Alpha Estate has loyal friends and is an established brand name in the wine industry both within and outside of Greece. Besides Xinomavro they also produce Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Dimopoulos Estate has a two-storey winery on the outskirts of Konti Karydia region, which is homonymous with one of its labels, the red dry Konti Karydia (50% Xinomavro, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Montepulciano).
Archaeological Site of Petres
The Via Egnatia was 746 Roman miles (1,120km) in length, built in the 2nd century BC by the Romans to unite Durres with Byzantium, crossing, in today’s terms, Albania, North Macedonia, Greece and Turkey. The ancient road also passed through the area of Petres, where there was a Hellenistic city of the same name, which later flourished thanks to the road ̶ as it happens, many of today’s urban centers in the region are adjacent to the road. It’s worth stopping by to see this not widely known archaeological site up close, which is located right next to the lake of Petres.
Archaeological Site of Petres: Tel. (+30) 23850.282.06 (selection 4), open daily 8:30-15:00 except Tuesdays, ticket at €3.
Ktima Gerovassiliou, a major name in the field of wine, is located south of the city of Thessaloniki, in Epanomi. This is one of the cases where the winery surpasses its vineyards in reputation. More people know about Gerovassiliou wines than PGI Epanomi wines, which are the same thing. It is worth trying Malagousia Gerovasiliou, either in a varietal or in a blended version. Ktima Gerovassiliou Wine Museum is also very interesting, hosting rare accessories related to winemaking (corkscrews, amphorae, viticulture and barrel making tools, and so on). Nearby you’ll also find Domaine Florian with the family boutique winery, where they love classic and organic wines and have nice event ideas (like the “Cigar and Wine Experience,” a cigar and wine tasting event).
Monuments of Thessaloniki
If Athens ran the 100m dash on the world historical track, leaving its mark within a few centuries of prosperity, Thessaloniki ran a marathon. It is the longest-lasting and most enduring metropolis that Greece has known. At the same time, it is a city identified with some of history’s most tumultuous events, as can be seen from its monuments. The Arch of Galerius (probably 4th century AD), the Galerian Complex (3rd century AD) and the Rotunda (temple or mausoleum, probably dating back to 4th century AD), three of the most important monuments of modern Thessaloniki, were created at a pivotal time, when the Roman empire was beginning to fracture into pieces (Tetrarchy), in order to survive.
Monuments of Thessaloniki: Rotunda, Tel. (+30) 2310.204.868, open daily 8:00-20:00 except Tuesdays, ticket at €6.
The Galerian Complex, Tel. (+30) 2310.269.622, 10:00-16:30, at €4.
Pieria is a wine-producing zone located at a geographical border: between Mount Olympus and the Aegean Sea, between Thessaloniki and Larissa. It has been influenced by the mountain and the sea, by the culture of Thessaly and Macedonia. On the wine side there is PGI Pieria, an umbrella that includes various varieties (such as Malagousia, Assyrtiko, Xinomavro, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Trebbiano and Merlot). Kourtis Winery is probably the most outgoing winery of Pieria, with wines from classic Greek (Assyrtiko, Xinomavro, Agiorgitiko) and several international grape varieties. In addition, the people of the estate are very hospitable, which is equally, if not more important than the quality of the products. In terms of group promotion, the Olympus Wines Tasting Room, in Litochoro, is really interesting; here, you can taste wines from three wineries in the area (Mythiko Vouno, Papagiannoulis Winery and Kourtis Winery).
Archaeological Site of Dion
A thousand years, from the 5th century BC until the 5th century AD, is how long the life of Dion, the holy city of the Macedonians, which today is a large archaeological park near the coast of Pieria, lasted. It features an archeological trail through nature, where headless statues, mosaics and columns with Ionic capitals emerge amid running water, trees and birds.
Archaeological Site of Dion: Tel. (+30) 23510.534.84, open daily 8:00-afternoon hours, ticket at €8.
In the prefecture of Ioannina, wine is a (semi) mountainous affair, with two main wine-growing zones characterizing the region: PDO Zitsa and PGI Ioannina. The first is based on the Debina grape variety and produces white wines (dry, semi-dry, sparkling), the second includes various varieties (Debina, Vlachiko, Bekari, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.), which produces different types of wines (white, rosé, red, dry, semi-dry, sparkling, semi-sparkling). In the village of Zitsa you will find the visitable Zoinos Winery, with wines and spirits from Debina, Vlachiko, Bekari, and others. At the other end of the prefecture of Ioannina, in Metsovo, you will find Katogi Averoff, a modern winery that offers a unique wine tourism experience. In fact, the vineyards of Katogi are the most mountainous in Greece (an altitude 950m-1,050m).
Archaeological Site of Dodoni
On the route between Zitsa and Metsovo, south of the city of Ioannina, there is Dodoni, an ancient cult center of Zeus, which was known both for its oracle and for the impressive theater dating back to the 3rd century BC.
Archaeological Site of Dodoni: open daily 8:00-18:00, ticket at €8.