Although Greece played a pivotal role in the spread of wine throughout Europe, during modern times it was not until the 1980s that Greek wines became known for anything other than super-sweet Muscat or the oft-maligned Retsina (a wine infused with pine resin). Fortunately, when international tourism to Greece began to flourish in the 1970s, Greece was able to show off its variety of delicious wines from throughout its unique climates and terroirs.
Greece is well-positioned in terms of climate for superior viticulture. The coastal and island areas have maritime climates, graced by an abundance of sun and tempered by cooling ocean breezes. Many inland areas are warm without being problematically hot, and some inland areas are also at elevation. The country is also largely free from many viticultural plagues, such as hail, fog, and snow.
Greece grows vines throughout its varied terrain and geography. Some of Greece’s most well-known wines hail from the Aegean Islands, including the gorgeous volcanic island of Santorini. Many of Greece’s island wines are white, due to the fierce and cool winds. Greece’s mainland typically has warmer temperatures and less maritime influence, and accordingly produces more red wines. The Peloponnese peninsula shares characteristics of both the islands and the mainland of Greece, and produces both red and white wines.
Although most producers in Greece still work with indigenous grape varieties rather than more internationally popular grapes, there are delicious wines here for drinkers of every style. The white wines, predominantly made from Assyrtiko, Athiri, and Moschofilero, can range from lean and crisp, to floral and fruity. Many Greek whites are also marked by a distinct minerality and saline character that is highly evocative of the Greek coastlines. The red wines also range from light to full-bodied, and the most popular grapes are Agiorghitiko (fortunately also called St. George) and Xinomavro. And, for those who enjoyed Greece’s sweet wines and Retsina before their other wines became popular, Greece still produces those wines as well!