Grapes of Greece You Need to Know

Grapes from Greece, and ultimately wines of Greece, are starting to hit the US Marketplace.  With over 300 native varietals, we have listed for you the basic ones you will find in restaurants and shops like ours.  Being comfortable ordering a bottle of wine will be easier when you know a little bit about what you are ordering.

1)  Assyrtiko

Indigenous to the island of Santorini, this is a bone dry white wine with very mineral and crisp pronounced acidity. The volcanic soil provides protection against disease (phylloxera had no chance surviving) The abundant sun and warm temperatures are responsible for the grape’s maturity and naturally high alcohol. In the evenings though, temperatures drop drastically, thus relaxing the grapes and contributing to the varietals piercing acidity. Here lies the unusual fact for a wine from the warm (even hot) Mediterranean region: A grape that retains high alcohol as well as elevated acidity at the same time. When young, the lemon, citrus profile along its pronounced mineral notes compare it to a Chardonnay (Chablis style). As it ages (5 plus years), it turns towards a dry Riesling with complex bees wax (petrol) notes. 

2)  Malagousia

Grown throughout the Greek mainland, the grape’s floral and herbal notes are followed by soft acidity. When young and with alcohol levels under 13%, its similar to a cross between Chardonnay and Semillon. As it ages, and with higher alcohol levels it becomes similar to a dry Muscat (aromatically).

3)  Moschofilero

Grown mostly in the Region of Pelloponese, this indigenous grape makes a dry white wine with amazing flavors.  Crisp and fresh, with some spicey undertones but very fruit forward.  Its main character flavor reminds of rose gardens.

This highly aromatic grape with floral overtones (roses), crisp and lean profile, can be very similar to a cross between Muscat and Sylvaner (Alsatian area). It's also not very different from a Pinot Gris (Moschofilero’s skin is pink), but it is more aromatic and mineral. The varietal produces white as well as rose wines.

4)  International Whites

Chardonnay

This grape can be found in most of the styles you already know.  Some are heavily oaked, while others are fresh and simple.  

Sauvignon Blanc

This grape with most of its success in cooler climates of Northern Greece has had tremendous influence.  Try the blends... We can't stress that enough!

5) Robola

This grape is Western Greece’s answer to Santorini’s Assyrtiko. Grown mostly on limestone areas at its home on the island of Kefalonia, it maintains a medium body and elevated acidity. Lemon zest, citrus notes are characteristic of this varietal. The finish can be long and persistent. In its youth, it will remind us of a Chablis, or even a Sauvignon Blanc (New World style). As it ages it moves into Riesling flavor profile territory (especially the oaked renditions).

6) Agiorgitiko

One of the most popular Greek red varietals, agiorgitiko is dominated by red fruit, a plummy profile and medium acidity, and soft tannins. It is easy to confuse it with Merlot. The best expressions are in the area of Nemea in the Peloponesse region. But be for-warned, Agiorgitiko is a chameleon. When young,and produced with grapes in the valley, it has a Beaujolais demeanor (lighter color, fruit forward). If the grapes come from the surrounding hills and mountains (2,000-4,000 feet), from low yielding, non irrigated vineyards, the resulting wines are higher in alcohol (13.5% plus), denser with dark fruit, heavier tannins, and more complex; at this point they remind us of a right bank Bordeaux (Merlot), with some Cabernet Sauvignon added. Some styles, can also be compared to Zinfandel (but with lower alcohol).

7) Xinomavro

Considered the King of the Greek varietals, xinomavro thrives in North Western Greece, especially in the areas of Naoussa, and Amyndaion. These wines are characterized by their medium ruby color, olive and tomato like profile, high acidity, pronounced tannins, and their ability to age for a very long time. The weather in this part of the country turns more continental with warm summers, and very cold winters (temps can drop to 0-5 F). The area can experience higher than normal rainfall, and frost is not unusual as late as May. With these conditions and varietal profile, xinomavro is easily compared to the Nebbiolo grape of Northern Italy (think Barolo and Barbaresco). Color-wise is closer to Burgundy (Pinot Noir). Just like its Italian counterparts, decanting for a while (2-4 hours), is highly recommended.

8) Vradiano 

This is a dark skinned grape grown in Central Greece on the isle of Evia. "Vradiano yields pink and red, dry and sweet wines of smooth, fruity character, with a nose of wild flowers, damp leaves, Eucalyptus and red fruit and a palate of intense cherry, raspberry and gooseberry, with mild acidity. Wines from Vradiano require aging to reach their prime, when they are ideal to fully enjoy them with strong meat such as wild boar or Greek black pork, recipes with wine sauce and aged cold cuts". (credit to I Love Greek Wine. for the description)

9) International Reds

Cabernet Sauvignon 

When grown in Greece, this grape is superb.  There is very approachable and maybe considered "slightly" softer, but the still ageable and all the taste of the Cabs from other parts of the world.  Blended with the Greek Varietal -Agiorgitiko, there is a harmony of flavors like no other.

Merlot

Either stand alone or blended, Merlot has seen great success in the Greek vineyard.   Typically, classic Bordeaux style reigns.  But once again when blended with a greek varietal, the merlot lends its extra body, fruit, and color.  A Xinomavro/Merlot Blend will knock your socks off!

Syrah

This has achieved great success when grown on Greek soil.  Usually the winemakers age in French or American oak. Wines being produced are definitely polished, with slightly higher alcohol, and fruits that are sun-kissed and fresh! Most are in the New World Style.  These can be found as stand alone, but are extremely good when blended with a Greek Varietal.  I urge you to try the blend.  You will find the familiarity you already know but with a kick or twist when the greek grape is added.