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Discovering Crete

Crete is the largest island in Greece and is also the second largest wine producing region in the country. There are over 60 wineries and the majority of them are practicing organic farming and biodynamic production. In the last twenty years, there has been an abundance of discovering thought to be extinct grape varieties that farmers and viti-culturists are bringing back to life. The revitalization of Crete’s wine industry is thriving and progressing immensely.

Crete lies in the heart of the Eastern Mediterranean. Its climate is typically Mediterranean, though not everywhere. Large altitude differences, the steep gradients of the Cretan mountains and the fragmented relief create a mosaic of local microclimates. The island’s orientation, its oblong shape, its high mountains and the fact that it is surrounded by the sea, exposed to strong winds, blowing all year round from every direction, all have a decisive impact on local microclimates. These various microclimates allow the indigenous grape varieties to perform well in those specific areas. And because of these microclimates most wineries are practicing dry farming and the remaining require very little irrigation.

Crete is like a wine ark carrying marvelous indigenous varieties as well as foreign ones which have adapted very well to the local terrain with very positive results. Local white varieties include Vilana, one of the island’s top white wine grapes, Vidiano, Dafni, Thrapsathiri, Malvazia di Candia (Malvazia of Chandakas), Muscat of Spina, and Plyto. Red varieties include Kotsifali, Mantilari, Liatiko, Tsardana and legendary Romeiko. Cretan varietals and blends made of local and foreign varieties (mostly French) are PGI Crete labels.

Cretan vineyards cover 12.8% of Greece’s wine regions and hold the 3rd place among the 9 viticultural areas in the country. The Geographical Indications for Cretan wines are as follows:

PDO Sitia, PDO Malvasia Sitia – Lasithi
PDO Peza – Heraklion
PDO Archanes – Heraklion
PDO Dafnes – Heraklion
PDO Handakas-Candia & Malvasia Handakas-Candia – Heraklion

Here are some selections of wines from Crete that you can explore and have them delivered right to your door.

MRS. Red Blend by Manousakis Winery

Douloufakis Liatiko

Douloufakis Vidiano Dafnios

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Retsina Rising

Retsina, (a white wine fermented with an inclusion of pine resin) has been part of Greek wine culture for centuries. It has also been a well traveled wine thanks to Greek merchants that sailed the world over the years. But because of its unique and obscure flavor profile it wasn’t as well liked in the modern world. To debunk all of the myths that have been floating around about retsina, I’ll give you the short version of its creation. As Greek merchants were setting off for their voyages around the world, they would load up their ships with all of their supplies and necessities, which included wine. The clay vessels that carried that wine would be stored down below in the ships. In order to seal the containers of wine air tight, they created an adhesive that consisted of pine resin and tar. But since the lower levels of the ship would be extremely hot during travels, the adhesive would melt and drip into the wine. Despite the wine being tainted by pine resin, they would drink it regardless since it was their only supply out at sea. Over the years, it became an acquired taste for Greeks and ended up becoming the national wine for decades during the 20th century.

Retsina’s production was mainly bulk wine making and was relatively low in quality. Most tourists visiting Greece during the 70s and 80s were introduced to retsina at the local tavernas around the country. That was their first impression of Greek wine. Not the best example but it was traditional at the time. At the same token, as the vast migration of Greeks to the U.S. during the 50s and 60s started to settle, importers began shipping in retsina to supply that demand. At one point during that time, retsina actually was one of the top wines being imported into the U.S. to supply all the Greeks throughout the U.S.

But as the development of Greece’s wine industry was ramping up during the 90s, we began to see a rapid decline in retsina production. As the generation of that era began to go away, the new generation had no interest in retsina and it became scarcely available in the U.S.

As the progression of Greek wine production has evolved into world class selections, we are starting to see a resurgence of innovative and pioneering practices of featuring local varieties that showcase their uniqueness. And now, a growing number of winemakers are experimenting with bringing back restina but at a high quality production. Retina was typically produced by Savatiano, the most planted grape variety in Greece. Savatiano was adaptable in any environment and could easily grow in most parts of Greece. This was ideal to produce bulk wine that could be sold cheaply.

Now wineries such as Mylonas in Attiki and Troupis in Mantinia are taking retsina to a higher level. Both wineries farm organically and produce clean wine without any synthetic sugars, additives or chemicals. Mylonas is using a high quality Savatiano and Troupis is using Assyrtiko that’s unfiltered for their restina. Both outstanding productions that will really change your perception of retsina. The flavor profile of both of these wines are refreshing and crisp, herbal notes, with a touch of pine, along with floral aromas and a clean finish.

Try this retsina from our platform and enjoy! https://www.greekazon.com/products/mylonas-savatiano

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The ‘Scotches’ of Greece – Barrel Aged Tsipoura

I am pretty sure we’ve had an experience or two of some homemade tsipouro or raki that felt like razors on the way down. Or maybe, our parents smuggled a bottle or two in plastic Coca Cola bottles from the ‘Horio’ on the way back home. But since then, the production of these distillates have progressed into award winning productions that can compete with any other world class selections like Grappa, Scotch, Tequila, and even Cognac.

The evolution of high quality spirits production from Greece has progressed immensely over the past ten years. Prior to this evolution, Greece was mainly known for ouzo on a global scale. Now, producers are experimenting and exploring with various indigenous botanicals, grape must, and barrel aging methods that take tsipouro and raki to another level. The recent methods of barrel aging these distillates have developed aromatic and very smooth results.

You can now sip these barrel aged tsipoura like a fine single malt Scotch. Producers from all over Greece, are starting to include barrel aged tsipoura to their offerings. Producers such as Domaine Lazaridis, Katsaros Distillery, Parparoussi’s Winery, Tsililis Distillery, and more have taken the lead in these productions. There is one other production to keep an out for that is making some noise as the most refined selection, called Ambelon. Ambelon makes small batch production with probably the smoothest textures and flavors and ranges in the $400 per bottle range.

Stin Ygeia Sas!

Visit our collection of barrel-aged tsipoura on Greekazon.com

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The Roaring Red of Greece

One of the most recognized Greek mythological stories is when Hercules slayed the Nemean lion. That story was based in the historical region of Nemea, the homeland of the noble red grape, Agiorgitko. Nemea is nestled in the northeast corner of Peloponnese and has an ideal ecosystem that produces well structured and robust grapes. Surrounded by a collection of mountains, hills, and valleys, Nemea is what I consider the Napa of Greece.

Agiorgitiko, which is also referred to as St. George, named after a Byzantine church in Nemea, has come a long way in the modern world of wine making. In the last thirty years or so, it was producing rather lighter style reds with resemblance to Gamay (a French variety from Beaujolais) to elegant reds with ample fruit components and great balance. Agiorgitiko is typically produced in two styles: the first, it’s fermented in stainless tanks which produces a fresh and vibrant red wine with immense aromas of fresh cut berries and the second, it’s produced according to the appellation laws of Nemea, aged in oak barrels for a year, which produces a rather firm and robust wine. Lastly Agiorgitiko is often blended with other local varieties that provide signature styles of the different winemakers of today.

Either style of Agiorgitiko you decide to drink, you will be welcomed by inviting aromas and flavors. A wine that can be enjoyed with sipping and good parea, along with a great selection at the table with a variety of dishes.

Check out our wine section on Greekazon for great Agiorgitikos, like the one below:

https://www.greekazon.com/products/anemos-red

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The Orange Side of Wine

As the world of wine continues to evolve, our curiosity also continues to grow. The selections of varieties and new styles of wines are increasing at record levels that haven’t been seen before. One of those new styles of wines that are hitting the wine programs at many restaurants and wine bars are “Orange Wines”. But don’t let the term fool you, these wines are not made from oranges. (Phew!)

In fact, these are wines produced from white grapes. The production of orange wines dates back to thousands of years ago. The process here is that once the white grapes are pressed into the selected vat for fermentation, they leave the skins in as well. Normally, the skins are removed before fermentation for white wine production. When the skins are left in during the fermentation, it alters the color and texture of the wine. The wine begins to develop darker hues of color leaning towards a bruised apple or a tint of orange. At the same token, during fermentation, compounds are being extracted from the skins, which create richer and bolder textures.

The results of this process is that orange wines become fuller in flavor and composition. They express very unique flavors and textures. For those that have not tried one yet, we highly recommend expanding your palate and trying one. You should definitely take your time in letting the flavors develop on your palate and you should definitely have some salty and savory snacks to accompany the wine.

We provided a link to an orange wine that is being featured on our platform below for you to experience.

Koukos Winery Electra Orange Wine

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The Show Must Go On!

Greece’s largest wine exhibition, Oenorama is finally BACK! After being suspended due to the pandemic, founder and organizer, Konstantinos Stergides anxiously waited to finally host this amazing expo that he started in 1994. The support and attendance levels to Oenorama continued to grow over the years and positioned it to become one of the most instrumental expos in Greece showcasing the development of wine productions from wineries around the country.

This year’s Oenorama will showcase over 250 wineries and over 2,000 wines to discover. There will also be several interesting speciality sections such as Wine Revelations: a hall dedicated to rare and obscure wines and Oenotechnica: a section where exhibitors will be presenting winemaking equipment, consumables, and a variety of other services.

Oenorama started as a small-scale trade show that has evolved into a multi-level communications platform that provides a diverse experience for consumers, wine producers, members of the trade, and the media.

Oenorama will once again be hosted at the conveniently located venue, Zappeion Megaron in Athens with access to public transportation, hotels, and restaurants. The expo will be held from March 12th to the 14th. For tickets and more information you can visit their site at

oenorama.com

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Dodecanese Islands: Food & Wine Treasures

Twelve Islands, a cluster of sizable islands located in the southeastern corner of the Aegean sea. Each of these islands-jewels feature its own gastronomic heritage, shaped by economic constraints and limited resources. These islands remain isolated and self-sufficient for most part of the year. The majority of visitors arrive in the summer months. So, they rely on themselves to produce sustainable food.

On islands like Kalymnos, where most food comes from the sea, recipes feature seafood – fresh or preserved. Kalymnos is world renowned for its sea sponge fishing, having a tradition in training the best divers. When they would dive for sponges, often times they would bring up to the boat fish, sea urchins, various crustaceans and let them dry in the sun -with a bit of salt. “Bonito” is such a meze from Kalymnos.

In other islands -Rhodes, Karpathos, Kasos, Patmos, that are more mountainous, there are more farmers and shepherds than fishermen. Between the 12th and 16th century, inhabitants had to move inland and live on the mountains to protect their families and belongings from pirates that were roaming the Aegean Sea. In these islands, we have dishes that feature beans and pulses, cheese, traditional pasta made from wheat flour -“Makarounes” from Karpathos, “Pitaroudia” from Rhodes.

Each island has an array of indigenous flora and edible greens. In the island of Astypalea, they cultivate Krocus flowers and make aromatic saffron and sweet potatoes. Capers grow wild in all the islands and are featured in many dishes. Wines are made in Rhodes, Kos and Lipsi. Rhodes holds the largest production of sparkling wines in Greece. In recent years, on the island of Lipsi, they revived an old vine variety, the Fokiano grape. It produces a sweet wine that used to be sent exclusively to the Vatican.

Each of these islands, Nisyros, Patmos, Astypalea, Karpathos, Kos, Kassos, Leros, Lipsi, Symi, Rhodes, Halki, Kalymnos have their own history, people, traditions, waiting to be discovered.

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Drinking Responsibly

As we are all aware of the moral obligation to drink responsibly for the obvious reasons of safety to ourselves and others, it should also include the environment.  We rarely think of what impact do wineries and companies have on their ecosystem and community from their day-to-day operations.  Have you ever thought, as you’re sipping your favorite wine, if that winery is being environmentally responsible in their practices?  If not, then we definitely need to begin thinking this way.  You would think that a winery being an agricultural operation would be environmentally responsible by default.  But there is always that but!  Here are some questions to always keep in mind when thinking about environmentally responsible practices for wineries:

  • Are they using clean and renewable energy?
  • Are they using glass for their bottles?
  • Are their labels from recycled paper? Is there plastic in their labels?
  • What type of glue are they using for their label?
  • What type of corks are they using? If they are using natural corks, are they contributing to replanting cork trees?
  • What type of barrels are they using? New oak, old oak? Do they contribute to replanting oak trees?
  • Is their supply chain green? Short circuit distribution or large distribution 
  • Farm to table movement?
  • Do they use recycled cardboard? Regular cardboard? Wooden box? Is the wooden box chemically treated?
  • Do they recycle their leftover wine must to other operations to convert into a different product?
  • Is their machinery updated and efficient?  
  • Is their pay rate to their staff more than reasonable?
  • Do they offer jobs to locals in their community?
  • What is the ratio of their operation manual vs. automated?
  • Do they purchase supplies and materials from local vendors?

These are just some questions that come to mind when I think of being environmentally responsible from a winery standpoint.  I truly believe when you are aware of the wineries that make efforts to operate environmentally responsible, the better you will feel about the wine you are drinking. Here are some wines from our collection that are produced from environmentally sustainable practices. We highly recommend you try these, and we believe you will feel better about the wine and yourself from the first sip.

https://www.greekazon.com/products/alexakis-kotsifali-syrah

https://www.greekazon.com/products/skouras-moschofilero

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Winter: what happens in the vineyards?

Harvest in the Greek vineyards finishes by November: even in the northern vineyards of Greece -Naoussa, Amyntaio, Drama -they have picked even the last parcels of Xinomavro and Cabernet, Merlot grapes. The months from December, to early March, mark the “winter dormancy” period of the vines.

The leaves quickly turn brown and fall. By Christmas time, the vineyards are bare -only the wooden trunks and the shoots are left on the trellis. The green shoots that carried all grapes and leaves, now turn to wood and are called canes. The vine begins its ‘downtime’: it switches from the photosynthesis mode, to merely storing carbohydrates that will help the plant begin the next growth season.

One of the main concerns that vine growers face in winter is frost- especially in higher altitude vineyards with continental climate. Pruning, on the other hand, is the most important maintenance task in the vineyard during the winter.

In Greece, tradition and religion are very much intertwined: on the 1st of February, we celebrate Saint Trifonas – the patron saint of the vineyards. In most of the paintings, he is holding the cross on one hand and a pruning sickle on the other. On his name day, vineyards workers have the day off: they will attend church service and receive holly water. They will then bless their vines with it, sprinkling some water straight on the vines for good luck. Pruning will start the following day, depending on the area and the weather conditions.

Pruning is done by hand and by expertly trained personnel. It is considered one of the most important jobs on the vine as it will determine next year’s grape yields and wine production. In the most traditional wine producing regions, we see older, more experienced men pruning.

In a Greek proverb, the vine is quoted saying: “Βάλε νιους και σκάψε με, γέρους και κλάδεψε με” which roughly translates to: “Ask the young men to dig me and old men to prune me.”

As the vineyard enters a quiet time to gather its strength, let us all take the time to nurture ourselves, collect our thoughts and get ready for the New Year 2022. Wish you all a great year, full of good wine, good food and good company to share it with! Cheers!

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Off to a Clean Start

As we bid farewell to 2021, we welcome 2022 with as much optimism as possible. And as we continue to navigate our lives with all the challenges we are facing today, we at Greekazon & Greek Wine Club have decided to change directions in featuring and advocating for wines made from cleaner practices. After endless days of extensive research on the subject of wine production on a global scale, we have been astonished at some of the practices that are allowed today. We have made a promise to ourselves and to you that we will continue to make efforts to bring you wines from Greece that are made in the most natural way and with very minimal intervention. Our initiatives will include interviews from winemakers in Greece that are practicing organic and biodynamic farming along with sustainable practices. We will also feature monthly articles and social media posts on the education and awareness of better practices for wine production in Greece.

As we continue to make efforts to eat clean and make better choices for our meals, we should also take the same approach when it comes to wine. Greece is becoming a leading force in Europe’s wine industry by making huge efforts to produce cleaner wine. Now, just to clarify the term, clean wine, in simple terms it means wines that are produced with the least amount of chemicals and synthetics from farming to production.

We look forward to a better 2022 with all of you. Let’s raise our glasses and toast to #drinkingclean and #drinkinggreek!

Drink clean with us with the following wines!

Koukos Winery Electra Orange Wine

Mylonas “Naked Truth” Savatiano

Skouras Salto Moschofilero