A guide to the different wines to be found around the country, from the Cyclades to Crete, plus the vineyards to visit and the food to enjoy them with
Greece’s climate and terroir result in the production of some outstanding wines. Sharing a carafe of house wine over homestyle food is very much a part of holidaying in Greece, while visiting vineyards and sampling wine in the winery where it was crafted is a great way to explore this idyllic land.
Santorini’s volcanic soil, low rainfall and sunshine are factors in producing quality wines. They include minerally white wines and bottles proudly referencing the island’s Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).
The Aegean island’s soil is too acidic for phylloxera, tiny pests that destroy vines, meaning you can see vines of prodigious age while touring vineyards. The long-established Estate Argyros and modern Vassaltis Vineyards are among those that welcome visitors, along with Venetsanou, Boutari and Gaia. Look carefully and you’ll see vines trained into shade-casting basket shapes.
Assyrtiko grapes produce crisp, full-bodied white wine. Relax while sipping a glass accompanied by a plate of fava dip and freshly baked pitta bread. Afterwards, try pairing a glass of the island’s Vinsanto dessert wine with baklava or a chocolate-based dish.
In Paros, visit the Asteras Winery or the Moraitis Winery, near Naousa, to see a vineyard set in sandy soil typical of the region. The island’s PDO was established in 1981. It’s unique as Greece’s only appellation permitting use of a white grape varietal in red wine production – featuring indigenous varieties such as Mandilaria and Monemvasia among others.
Revithada, a chickpea stew finished with lemon and olive oil, pairs well with Paros’s white wines. So too does gouna, a traditional dish of sun-dried fish grilled with herbs and lemon juice. Karavoli, snails in a garlicky sauce, are ideal with the island’s red wine. Wherever you visit, experiencing Greece means good food and wine.
Epirus, in Greece’s northwest, is known for its undulating mountains and verdant landscapes. The region’s winemaking is concentrated around Metsovo (and the Katogi Averoff Winery) and Zitsa (which has the Zoinos Winery and Estate Glinavos), with PDO Zitsa being the only wine in Epirus to have the highly-valued PDO badge – and the only one in the whole of Greece to be given to a white sparkling wine.
Once visitors have had their fill of the local drop, they can visit some of the region’s fascinating sites, including the monastery of Prophet Elias in Zitsa, which Lord Byron visited in 1809. While there he sampled the wine and declared it among the best in Europe. He even included the monastery in his epic poem, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.
Northern Greece’s Halkidiki region is famed for organic, vegetable-rich cuisine. Locally landed seafood also features. The region’s traditional diet, of which an occasional glass of wine is part, is reputedly a factor in locals living lengthy lives. Tzikas’ Family Winery near Kassandreia welcomes visitors to its organic vineyard to taste wines, while the Petralona and Tsantali wineries are also worth visiting.
The region encompasses the autonomous Mount Athos region. Monk Epifanios of Mylopotamos, a renowned chef, reintroduced winemaking to the peninsula after phylloxera devasted vines during World War Two. Vines in the Mylopotamus vineyard grow on the lower slopes of Mount Athos and Limnio grapes provide the eponymous Epifanios red wine with body and minerality.
Driving or cycling the Peloponnesian wine routes enables visitors to admire landscapes in a region that produces nearly a third of all Greek wine. With seven PDO appellations it presents wine-loving visitors with variety and quality.
The Mercouri Estate – 40 minutes’ drive from Olympia, the site of the ancient Olympics – was established during the 1860s and is a reason to visit the western Peloponnese. The Monemvasia Winery reproduces a version of Malvasia, a wine that was popular during the Middle Ages, while Lafazanis in Nemea and Domaine Skouras in Argos are also firm favourites of oenophiles.
The region’s succulent goat stew pairs well with red wines made with Agiorgitiko grapes. Grilled octopus is lifted by aromatic white wines crafted from the Moschofilero varietal.
Crete is home to four wine-producing PDO appellations: Archanes, Dafnes, Peza and Sitia. Look for vintages produced using indigenous grapes. Sip white wines made using the Vidiano or Thrapsathiri varietals with roasted rooster. Red wine crafted from Mandilari grapes pairs well with rabbit stifado, a stew slow-cooked with onions and garlic.
Crete’s rugged interior commonly receives a covering of winter snow. Touring vineyards is a reason to head inland through villages with palpable rustic traditions. The Idaia Winery at Veneratou is in a region dotted with the remains of ancient winepresses: evidence of Greece’s lengthy winemaking heritage. Visiting the Diamantakis Winery highlights the adoption of modern equipment and practices.