Despite the country’s truly ancient history of winemaking and ideal conditions for growing grapes, Greek wine is often overlooked in favour of its famous European neighbours. Sommelier Aurelie from our Greek taverna, Artemis & Apollo, reveals the important facts about Greek wine that tell a story of the unique varietals and exciting new wines coming out of this most ancient of civilisations.
- A Proud History
Greek wine dates back to as early as 4000 BC when the first vines were domesticated in northern Greece. Various civilisations perfected the techniques and Greece became the centre of the world of wine.
- The Nectar of the Gods
In Ancient Greece, wine was offered as a sacrifice to the Gods in times of celebration. Dionysus is the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine (and also of fertility, ritual madness and religious ecstasy) so it was he that the winemakers would worship to ensure a good harvest.
- Death and Rebirth
Greek wine almost went out of existence during the 400-year rule of the Ottoman Empire. The Turks discouraged wine consumption and winemaking. Many winemakers were forced to abandon their vineyards and through the years, with a succession of different political regimes, Greece lost its status as winemaking power. But at the beginning of the 1970s, a handful of winemakers, including Kir-Yianni whose wines you will find on the list at Artemis & Apollo, pushed hard to put back Greece back on the map as a world-class winemaking nation. Today, 80 per cent of the wineries are less than 20 years old.
- Unique Varietals
Greece has over 200 indigenous grape varietals, including Xinomavro, Assyrtiko, Agiorgitiko and Savatino. As Greece is the only country using these grapes, they produce wines that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
- The Perfect Conditions
The terroir is rich and varied, from its spine of mountains to lush valleys and mineral-rich islands. The soil is fertile and well-watered, there is plenty of sun in the summer and warm autumns for the ideal ripening conditions.
- Variety and Dynamism
Unlike many famous European vineyards which can get stuck in their traditional ways, winemakers in Greece are dynamic, always looking for ways to improve their methods to get the best result. Increasingly we are seeing organic and bio-dynamic vineyards producing even more exciting and better-quality wines. Only good quality wine ages well and many of the country’s red wines show good potential for ageing.
Greek wines are increasingly winning major international awards. Last year’s Decanter World Wine Awards gave Greek wines one Platinum-Best in Show, two Platinums and nine Golds. Among them, Karamolegos Assyrtiko 2016 from Santorini was honoured with the Platinum – Best in Show award, with a near flawless score of 98 out of 100. This is the gem in DWWA crown and an award given to only 49 wines out of 17,000.
At Artemis & Apollo we have the most extensive selection of Greek wines in the city. Stop by our taverna on Moon Street in Wan Chai and try a glass. Here are four of my favourites:
Xinomavro Alta Naoussa Thymiopoulos 2015
Pair with the Steki Tou Ilia lamb chops, served by the kilo.
The wine is elegant and complex with beautiful expressions of mulberry, dark cherry and overripe fruit. It balances nicely with the natural fattiness of the meat and enhances the flavour of the seasoning.
Gaia Agiorgitiko 2017
Ideal with the Spit-Roasted Meats and Hot Mezze.
A pleasant red wine, juicy with crunchy berries and medium-bodied.
Dougos Winery, ‘Old Vines’ POD Rapsani 2015
Goes very well with the Lukaniko sausage or works with any of the grilled meats.
The Rapsani wines have an amazing nose with dark fruits macerated in alcohol, and a gamey character; vegetal and spicy. It is a unique blend. The tannins are very dry but still young. I can see huge potential for ageing – I cannot wait to try the wine in five years’ time.
Karamolengos A. Winery ‘Assyrtiko 34’ PDO Santorini 2017
It is excellent on its own or to accompany the Grilled Octopus or Calamaraki.
I love this pure, refined white which comes from a beautiful terroir in Pyrgos on Santorini Island.
It has long minerality, all around ripe stone fruit and hints of grapefruit zest, lemon and other citrus fruits.
For more Hellenic inspiration, discover the humble origins of the Greek taverna or how time and place shaped Greek cooking or for another story of the rejuvenation of an ancient winemaking power, read about the history of Lebanese wine.