The Real Scoop on Greek Wines

Take’s advice that wine cannot be separated from Greece. After all, Greece is home to the second-oldest grape wine remnants discovered, and boasts the world’s earliest evidence of crushed grapes. Its wine-making roots trace back over 6,500 years. In fact, Greece established part of Italy as a vineyard, naming one Italian peninsula “land of vines”; Greece may also have introduced viticulture to both Spain and Portugal.

While Greek wines can be hard to pronounce, the work is worth it. Since Greeks still believe that wine and food should go together, Greek wines are specifically made to pair magnificently with food. They are relatively low in alcohol with crisp acidity, which makes them a perfect pairing for a wide range of cuisines. Choose a Greek wine you like, and take a sip of history.

For Evan Turner, sommelier and self-proclaimed “Greek food and wine crusader,” Greek wine runs in his blood. Here are five Greek grape varietals he believes you will want to know about: The Real Scoop on Greek Wines.

The A-to-Zs of Greece and its Wine

Small motorboat at clear water bay of Loutro town on Crete island, Greece

As you can read in Wine Enthusiast magazine’s article about Greek wine, wine and Greek culture are as intertwined as the twin serpents found on the Greek god Hermes’ staff, the caduceus. From the Aegean Islands to Thessaly, Greeks have been enjoying the purple fruits of their labor for over 6 millennia.

It was so highly regarded that ancient Greeks worshiped Dionysus, the god of wine. In fact, Greek philosopher Plato once noted, “Nothing more excellent or valuable than wine was ever granted by the gods to man.” Of course, more than just a pairing for fish or lamb dishes or a way to complement tzatziki, wine was also considered a cure for one’s ills. This included helping balance humors, thought to be the cause of all ailments.

The diversity of Greece’s micro climates — from high altitude vineyards to remote volcanic islands and a diverse range of soils — helps support a number of different types of grapes for a variety of different styles of wine. Production in the Peloponnese region of southern Greece dates back to the time of the legendary poet, Homer. Of course, Ulysses, the main character of his epic, The Odyssey, used wine to make the one-eyed Cyclops drunk so that he could escape from him.

Some 3,000 years later, wine making traditions in Greece continue and appeal to people far beyond the country’s borders. Many of the more than 300 indigenous grape varieties, that were once only known domestically, now have wine fans everywhere acknowledging its “Greek wine to them”, as well.

Whether it is a dry white wine from Assyrtiko or the great god Zeus, Susan Kostrzewa reveals the rich and passionate relationship between Greece and its wines, food and culture in her piece: The A-to-Zs of Greece and its Wine.

A Wine Lover’s Guide to Peloponnese

Wine Enthusiast magazine says the Peloponnese region was once the land of gods; now, it is simply paradise. The Peloponnese, a small peninsula in southern Greece, is perhaps best known historically for Paris of Troy’s elopement with Helen, queen of Sparta, which triggered the Trojan War, for being the place from which the Argonauts sailed in search of the Golden Fleece, or for being conquered by the hero Pelops, from which the peninsula gets its name.

But the infamy of the Peloponnesian legends has long since given way to the fame of its food and drink. The olive tree, Greece’s most important tree, grows nearly everywhere. While its fruit defines the whole of Greek cuisine, another fruit – grapes – defines Greek drink. From crisp fruity whites, to elegant dry roses, to full body reds and delicious sweet wines, the Peloponnese has a wine to please your palate.

In the Peloponnese, you will find a range of many different styles of wine to satisfy everyone’s taste and filoxenia (hospitality), all in a place that is simply like nowhere else on earth.

Learn about a few off-the-beaten-path places in the Peloponnese that hold the best places to explore the unique produce and wine Greece has to offer: A Wine Lover’s Guide to Greece’s Peloponnese.

Pork Tenderloin with Honey and Ginger

The Wines of Greece website has some great recipes for pairing your next meal with Greek wine. Generally, red meat and red wine pair well together because the higher tannins in red wine contrast with the rich high fat content of the red meat. The higher acidity of white wine complements white meat in much the same way a splash of fresh citrus juice might. Flavorful white meats are to be matched with full-bodied white wines.

The flavor profile of a dish can often be much more complex than simply light or dark meat, and the wine pairing more so. How do you pair a dish with the sweetness of honey and the saltiness of soy sauce with dry, semi-dry and off-dry white wines? For a dish that is heavier on the savory/salty side, you could try a Greek Traminer or Gewurztraminer.

This recipe comes from Ettore Botrini who has mastered the art of creating unique food and wine pairings to help people enjoy one of the greatest pleasures in life: sharing food at a common table with those they love. His two-Michelin-star restaurant “Etrusco” is surrounded by a beautiful green garden, from which Ettore selects vegetables, flowers and fruits to create his menu. As a result, the food served is not unlike a fine wine: simple, subtle and bursting with natural Greek flavors, like this Pork Tenderloin with Honey and Ginger.

We love this spicy beef ravioli

How about a wine that’s perfect for a spicy beef ravioli?  Soon after Renato Mekolli emmigrated to Athens at the age of 10, he started working as a dishwasher to help his family. One day, he accidentally broke some of the dishes that he was cleaning. Assuming he was fired, Mekolli became upset and left the restaurant. However, the chef at the restaurant had recognized Mekolli’s natural culinary talents, sought him out and encouraged him to go to culinary school. Now, many years later, Mekolli is an award-winning chef at Vassilenas, an historic Greek restaurant in Athens.

One of Mekolli’s signature dishes is fresh homemade ravioli stuffed with beef and spicy red sauce. The recipe is as simple as it is delicious: shells made from flour, eggs, olive oil, salt and pepper, and an oxtail filling with carrots, onions, garlic, tomatoes, red wine and seasoning.

When pairing wine with beef ravioli and red sauce, Mekolli suggests a complex, acidic wine such as Xinomavro from Amyndeo, Naoussa, Goumenissa or Rapsani.

Homemade ravioli is always delicious, but when paired with Greek wine, it is divine. Be sure to check your local wine shop for Xinomavro to take your ravioli dinner to the next level.

Find the recipe here.

Discover Debina and Athiri Wine

While Debina and Athiri grapes are both Grecian varieties used to make white wine, they come from extremely different climates. Exploring these two varieties can give wine samplers an impression of the diversity of Greek white wine, and a taste of the difference between the continental and island flavors.

Debina grapes originate from Zitsa, one of the coldest wine regions in Greece. While summer in Zitsa is warm and breezy, winter often drops fluffy blankets of snow across the vineyards. These temperature variations particularly suit Debina grapes, allowing them to retain their acidity and create outstanding sparkling and dry white wine. The crisp, clear essence of Debina is akin to the flavors of a fresh orchard, leaving lingering fruity sensations across the palate.

Athiri is a white wine grape that is native to the Aegean Islands. For centuries, Athiri grapes have been cultivated on the rugged islands to produce dry white wine, much to the enjoyment of Greece and the rest of the world. Athiri’s bright, zesty character pairs well with Greek flavors such as olives, capers and tomatoes. Athiri’s modest, unobtrusive flavors make it an excellent choice to become acquainted with the dry white wine of the Aegean Islands.

Learn more about these and more up and coming grape varieties from Greece.

Eight Greek wine regions to sample

For thousands of years, wine has been an essential part of Greek culture. Historians estimate that Greece began creating wine around 4,500 BC, making it one of the first places in the world to produce the drink. Today, Greece has eight unique wine regions, each of which is well-respected by critics around the world.

Many people believe that to get the full Greek wine experience, you must travel to Greece and visit the vineyards where the wine originates. An easier place to start is your local wine shop. Look for wine from each of the eight major regions: The Aegean Islands, Central Greece, Crete, Epirus, the Ionian Islands, Macedonia, Peloponnese and Thessaly. This will give you a broad overview of the flavors and aromas you can expect to find in Greek wine.

Once you have acquainted yourself with the basics of Greek wine, you will find that there are countless varieties to explore. There are currently more than 300 varietals of wine being produced in Greece, making it one of the most diverse wine countries in the world. Once you enter the world of Greek wine, you could spend years exploring it. Greek wine is as satisfying as it is diverse, however, and it is worth every minute of exploration.

Learn more about some of the top Greek wine varieties.

Explore the Wine Route of Dionysus

Do you ever find you yourself daydreaming about a wine vacation? Perhaps you should look towards the birthplace of great wine, Greece, where vintners have had thousands of years to perfect their craft.

When embarking on a Greek wine tour, there is a nearly endless supply of wines to sample from all over the country. A great place to experience these wines is the Wine Route of Dionysus. This wine route is named after the Greek god of wine, Dionysus. Many boisterous festivals have been held in Dionysus’ honor, and historians credit these festivals as being a major force behind the development of Greek theater.

On the Wine Route of Dionysus, merrymakers travel through Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, enjoying the beautiful scenery and the delicious wine. During the tour, there are countless opportunities to enjoy Greek culture and history. This is the perfect vacation for someone who wishes to experience the joys of Greek wine country.

Next time you daydream about a wine vacation, imagine it in Greece. Picture yourself on the Wine Route of Dionysus, touring vineyards, sampling world-class wine, and talking to winemakers in their natural element. Then, when you are done daydreaming, book a plane ticket and come experience Greek wine in its native country. It will be the trip of a lifetime.

Wines of Greece has a website packed with information about Wine Route of Dionysus.

You’ll also find another website with great information at the tourism website of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace.

The sublime wonders of Diane Kochilas’ spanakopita lasagna

If you’ve never heard of Diane Kochilas, you just haven’t been watching enough television.

The queen of healthy Greek cuisine, Diane is a chef who has been on “The Today Show,” “Martha Stewart,” the Food Network, CNN and more – in addition to starring in Greece’s number one cooking show, “What’s Cooking Today, Mom?” – preaching the wonders of her authentic, seasonal, delicious Greek food.

She’s won awards for her cookbooks, she regularly consults on Ivy League school menus, and she and her husband host a yearly food retreat on the idyllic Greek island of Ikaria, where people basically never age – so when Diane says she has a favorite recipe, we sit up and listen.

Spanakopita and lasagna aren’t often said in the same breath, but this better-together recipe gave us one of those a-ha moments – we can’t believe we didn’t think of it first!

A traditional filling of spinach, onions, feta and other Greek cheeses gets layered with lasagna noodles, then smothered with creamy Béchamel sauce. A little nutmeg sprinkled to taste, and we’re goners for this cross-cultural twist on an old favorite.

Check out the full recipe at Diane’s website, and don’t forget to sign up for her email list for more authentically amazing Greek recipes like this one.

Pairing Delicious Greek Dessert Wines with Delectable Desserts

Enjoying a delicious dessert is a great way to spend the evening. Many desserts can also be paired deliciously with wine – especially Greek wines, which are known for their sweet choices.

The most noble of sweet wines is Samos. Pairing this honey-like wine with holiday pies is one of our best recommendations. If your dessert contains fruit, drinking a glass of Samos will enhance your dining experience.

You are a wine lover, so why not try a glass of Vinsanto? Santo stands for Santorini, which will recall strong images and amplify the emotion in your banqueting table. The intense flavors of nuts, dried fruit and caramel give this wine a truly unique blend. A salty cheese, i.e. a Roquefort, or a chocolate dessert pair splendidly with this wine choice. If you have never had either, try them for yourself.

Mavrodaphne of Patras is a sweet red wine with a thicker, flavorful, luscious taste. If you have a sweet tooth and love chocolate treats, choose a glass (or a bottle) of Mavrodaphne of Patras to pair with it.

No matter what delectable desserts you like to enjoy – we like many! – there is a Greek dessert wine to pair with it.