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The Greeks didn’t actually invent wine, but some of the earliest written references to the precious liquid are in the Homeric epics, The Odyssey and the Iliad. Here, the seas around Greece are referred to as “wine-dark” and the classical poems are full of stories of ordinary people being possessed by the nectar of the Gods, with occasionally good but more often than not disastrous results.

Greek wine is often associated with Retsina. For many of those reading this, their first experience of Greek will have been a large 2 liter bottle of Retsina drunk in youthful innocence in a Taverna or on the beach, often with the kind of dire consequences that afflicted the epic heroes of old. Nowadays, the range of Greek wines has diversified, and the country’s wines include fresh floral white wines and subtle reds with intense flavours. Exports are still limited, but growing.

Macroeconomic Overview

Greece has a population of just 11 million people. The country is a member of the European Union, but after the financial crisis, its relations with other EU members have been clouded by the enforced austerity that was required in the wake of the crisis to service the country’s debt. The country’s GDP is around $189 billion, and around half of the country’s trade is with the EU.

Viticulture, Climate and Terrain

Greece has a hot maritime climate, with most rainfall in the west of the country and the eastern side being subject to extended periods of drought. Because of the dry climate, olives have always been the mainstay of the agricultural economy. Although grapes are grown all over the country, it is in the north and western regions that they thrive, especially in the slopes of the Northwest mountains and the Peleponnese. Islands also have more rainfall, with Santorini and Crete growing some significant crops.

Phoro of red and white grapes in back of truck

Black Grape Varieties

 

Greece has its own indigenous varieties of grape, and planting of international varieties is limited. In the Naoussa region, the Xinomavro grape is widely planted. It is often compared with Italy’s Nebbiolo, and it has long ageing potential. In the Nemea region in the Pelopponese, Agiorgitiko is produced. These grapes have high tannin, moderate acidity and unusual herbal flavours. It is often used for Rosé wine making but it produces some great red wines.

Photo of bunch of black grapes hanging on vine

White Grape Varieties

White grape varieties include Assyrtiko, which is grown on Santorini. This has fresh zesty floral flavours.

Photo of bunch of white grapes hanging on vine

Regional Analysis

Northern Greece

Naoussa

In the far northwest of the country, in the province of Macedonia and near the border with the country Northern Macedonia, this region is known for the Xinomavro grape. The slopes here reach a height of 400 meters above sea level, and vines thrive in these cooler climes. The reds produced here are deep red in colour but they tend to tawny when aged for a few years. Rather than the fresh fruits of cooler climate wines, these wines have stewed fruit flavours that develop complex spice and earth notes when aged.

Central and Southern Greece

Nemea

This region is in the centre of the country, and is recognised for its plantings of the Agiorgitiko grape. Nemea l

Is in the northern Peloponnese near the Corinth canal, which links the mainland and the capital Athens with the peninsula. Here, the slopes range from 200 meters to around 900 meters above sea level, with the usual variation in climate associated with such a range of altitudes. The middle slopes around 400-500 meters make the best wines, including some excellent rosé wines that can be drank in regions many tavernas.

The Islands

Crete

Crete is a large island to the south of the mainland, and home to the Minoan civilisation which flourished two thousand years ago. Red wines are grown from the ancient Liatiko grape, with indigenous varieties such as Kotsifali, Romeiko and Tsardana. The white wines are fresh and floral, generally made from the Vilana varietal although more recently, the Vidiano grape has been in the ascendancy. The most popular international varieties are Syrah, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon for reds, and there are also plantings of Muscat for making sweet white wines.

Santorini

This island uses the Assyrtiko grape to make fresh, elegant white wines that are redolent with floral notes, stone fruit and have medium to high acidity.

Located in the southern Aegean around 200 km south of the mainland, the island was known as Thera in ancient times and is thought by some to be the original location of Atlantis, an island of beauty that vanished below the ocean thousands of years ago. The crater from the huge volcanic eruption that struck the island in 1600 BC is still visible.

The volcanic soil provides suitable ground for growing vines that are hardy and drought-resistant. The island also suffers from high winds, so a special training system is used in which the tops of the vines are grown downwards into baskets that protect them. The arrangement allows the grapes to ripen inside the protection of the basket, which shields them from the wind.

As well as making elegant dry white wine, Assyrtiko is also used to make lusciously sweet Vin Santo. The grapes are harvested late and then sun dried. After an initial fermentation of two weeks, the wine is matured in oak for two years and develops complex caramel and nut flavours.

Statistical Data
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Consumption Trends
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Trade Outlook
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