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The Spirits of Greece

As the wine industry grows in Greece, so does the amount of left-over skins, seeds, and stems from the production. It takes about 5 hectares of grapes to produce about 10,000 bottles of wines, which leaves tons of recyclable material. Most viticulturists and winemakers, prefer to reuse the material in their biodynamic cultivation, by drying it out and blending it in their fertilizers, but most will actually sell off their left-over material to distilleries for the production of apostagmata, a process where the ingredients are boiled in a pot still, which then evaporate and drip into a separate container converting into a spirit base.

At this point, this is what we call ‘apostagma’, which has been produced throughout Greece for centuries. Examples of apostagmata are tsipouro, raki, ouzo, rakomelo, ouzo, and more. The significant increase in wineries throughout Greece has led to plenty of skins ready to be converted into apostagmata. And since the demand of apostagmata has increased over the years, we are now seeing an increase in distilleries.

Even though apostagmata are clear in color, you can sense that grape that is produced from as the aromas linger over the glass. The Moschofilero apostagmata release hints of zesty and citrusy aromas that lead into very clean and crisp flavors with a slight tingling sensation on the finish. The Agiorgitiko apostagmata will release a more berry bouquet, indicating nuisances of a red grape, and providing also very clean and smooth flavors.

As the industry evolves, we have begun to see the introduction of barrel aged tsipoura that take on a whole new dynamic. This new category is very new to seasoned palates of apostagmata, so it may take a bit before it becomes an acquired selection. Stylistically, they tend to have sweeter aromas with a hint of spice and rounder textures on the finish. We are beginning to see more selections entering the market and we recommend trying one. Some recommendations are: Tsililis Dark Cave 5 year, Katsaros Oak Aged 5 year, Lazaridis Methexis 10 year, and Parparoussis 6 year.

Apostagma is a great drink to enjoy with friends while socializing and accompanied by a refreshing glass of water or is a great pairing with a variety of different ‘mezedakia’. Spirit pairings with food have become very popular in some of today’s finest restaurants, but it is very common in almost any taverna in Greece.

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The ‘Perfect’ Pairing

It always seems that in our challenging lives, we are always trying to achieve perfection. We always strive for the ideal match for everything that involves our world. We want to make sure we pair the right shoes with the appropriate outfit, the top schools for our studious children, the best investment tools for our current financial status, or the most flavorful wine to pair with our savory dishes.

Throughout the years we tend to follow trends and fashions that assist us in making our ultimate decisions. As the wine industry continues to blossom, so does the interest and knowledge of today’s consumers. The constant exposure to today’s wines and cutting-edge cuisine continues to keep us on our toes with exciting approaches and ideas. We have come a long way from the standard white wine with fish and red wine
with meat rule.

It all starts in the kitchen with our culinary leaders of the world. Today top-rated chefs are experimenting and utilizing ingredients that most never knew existed ten years ago. The convenience and availability of acquiring exotic and unique ingredients has opened the doors to new and innovative cooking methods. The ultimate goal is to extract enjoyable and pleasant flavors as much as possible. Even though some of these ingredients such as saffron, truffles, ginger, and balsamic vinegar to name a few have been around for centuries, we are now beginning to see their popularity. Take these simple ingredients and apply creative cooking methods and you’ll be amazed of the resulting flavors.

At the same token, passionate and talented winemakers are producing wines with amazing characteristics and structure. Modern technology has produced phenomenal results for the wine industry in terms of quality and achievements. But many have begun turning to old world methods of producing ‘good’ wine, that is meant to be accompanied with food.

According to past time (gastronomy) etiquette, wine must be accompanied by every meal or course. The obvious approach of pairing our fish and poultry with white wine and our meats with red wine has been overlooked for the even more obvious reasons, flavor profiles. As winemakers spend endless hours in their vineyards and wineries trying to extract the ultimate flavors in their wine, chefs are formulating which ingredients to add to their next masterpiece. One of the most important elements here is to understand the nature of each entity’s achievements. Understanding the wine along with understanding the food is critical when it comes to pairing the two.

The formula can be broken down to a very simple method for pairing. Keep in mind that wine has a natural element of acidity that contributes to the structure of the wine. Wines that have a higher level of acidity, the lighter and sharper it’s going to be. The lower the acidity, then the wine becomes heavier and rounder. These basic acknowledgements of the wine, whether it is white or red, will assist us in deciding which dishes to pair or vice-versa. For example, if we decide to open a bottle of light bodied red such as Xinomavro or Agiorgitiko, or light bodied whites, such as Roditis or Moschofilero, we can pair it with hearty vegetable salads, rich savory soups, grilled fish with pronounced seasoning or fish stews, varieties of poultry, and practically any flavorful mezedakia. Both the light bodied whites and reds can pair very nicely with any of the above mentioned dishes cause of structure and acidity levels. The acidity of either can cut through oils, spices, and fat of the food to create a harmony of flavors. Another great example is pairing a fresh and crisp Assyrtiko wine from Santorini that pairs well with grilled lamb chops. The lemony and citrus flavors of the Assyrtiko tango eloquently with the sizzling and zesty flavors of the grilled chops. There is plenty of acidity to break through the chop and create that finger licking effect. A similar effect can be applied when pairing a light bodied red wine with ‘psari plaki’. The flavors of the fish prepared with braised tomatoes and onions pair very well with the berry flavors of the red wine. The tones of spice in the red wine play very well with the spices of the fish dish. Once again, we are pulling out similar flavor profiles from each component.

For white wines we are looking for characteristics of citrus, zest, creaminess, along with either flavors of apricot, pears, and apples to pair with dishes that have similar flavor qualities. When it comes to red wines we are looking for elements of spice, fruit berry flavors and tannins to also pair with dishes that tend to have similar profiles. Once we can identify the two we can begin pairing and you will be amazed at the outcome. One rule of thumb that I go by is never be afraid to try it even if you think it might not work. Some of the best pairings I have experienced is from taking chances.

So for this upcoming Thanksgiving feast, I would definitely consider richer and bolder whites such as Malagousia for your turkey. If you are considering offering a ham and possibly some lamb, then a crisp rosè would definitely pair well. Now, if you must have red during the feast, then I would consider any Xinomavro for the bird. Regardless, of what you mind, give it a shot and discover new flavors and results.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us!

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The Fabulous Four: Greece’s Leading Wine Regions

As the French have enriched us with their outstanding wines based on the region they come from as opposed to the grape they are produced from, I also see this as a fit for wines produced in Greece. Most grape varieties grow and perform better in their ideal terroir or region. Characteristics and expressions of wines are primarily based on the grape varieties they are produced from. The flavor profiles and structures are also mainly due to the result of the grape variety amongst other elements. Obviously, a winemaker can alter and/or modify flavors and elements. But for a particular variety to express its identity, it has to hail from its origins or natural habitat. The elements of climate, soil composition, and elevation are the main factors in determining a grape’s quality and expressions. A grape variety can be grown in various different regions and will most likely different results in each. The amount of rainfall, sunlight, minerals and nutrients, have an impact on a grape’s cultivation. Each region has its own unique composition of the mentioned elements. I have examined and researched Greece’s four main winegrowing regions that produce their native grape varieties to levels of high quality due to their unique growing environments. Nemea: Agiorgitko, Mantina: Moschofilero, Santorini: Assyrtiko, and Naoussa: Xinomavro.

This AOC located in the northeast corner of Peloponnesos has a gentle beauty to which the abundance of vineyards only contributes, especially along the valley and slopes of Ancient Neméa. Considered to be one of the most important wine regions to Greece’s wine culture, Nemea could potentially be the gateway to the international market. Simply loaded with rich history, amazing archaeological sites, solid wine traditions, and a current haven for aspiring winemakers. The indigenous variety that grows here is Agiorgitiko or also known as St.George (named after a small village in Nemea). Agiorgitiko produces medium bodied wines of deep cherry color along with an aromatic fruity bouquet, and flavors of exotic berries and spices. For productions to acquire the appellation qualifications and status, the wine must be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of 12 months. There is tremendous agreement that no matter what its potential may be elsewhere, the Agiorgitiko is perfectly adapted to Nemea, especially to the middle of three zones of different elevations, the so-called ‘semi-mountainous’ zone, at elevations of between 450 and 650 meters, where the overlap of ideal conditions result in good fruit, acidity, body and color that meet the current high expectations for serious wine in world markets. The region of Nemea has a typical Mediterranean climate that consists of hot summers, mild winters, long autumns, which is pretty consistent from year to year allowing the Agiorgitiko grape to reach full maturity when harvested.

Featured Wineries: Palivou Estates, Domaine Tselepos, Gaia Estates, and Domaine Skouras.

Just south of Nemea, is another note-worthy region that is best known for its white variety Moschofilero, known as Mantinia. Situated in higher elevations, Mantinia has longer growing seasons, which makes it very challenging for winemakers to balance sugar levels. The appellation Mantinia, calls for at least 85% Moschofilero, which can be blended with the local variety, Asproudes. More importantly, Moschofilero from the region of Mantinia, showcases the best expressions of citrus fruit, elegent acidity, and aromatic bouquets. The climate in this mountainous terrain is cool and fresh during the summers, with adequate rainfall during the growing season. Many negociants have flocked to Mantinia in search of its high quality Moschofilero that could also become the white variety to push Greece’s wine culture into mainstream acceptance. It has all the friendly characteristics that Westerners look for in a simple and pleasant wine.

Featured Wineries: Nasiakos Winery, Domaine Tselepos, Troupis Winery, Domaine Antonopoulos.

Arguably the most unique wine region in the world. Situated on a volcanic island in the Cyclades, Santorini has been growing grapes from the same root stock for centuries. Santorini produces some of the finest and interesting wines in the world, thanks to its unique terroir that consists of a porous terrain that is rich in pumice and lava stone, plenty of sunshine, and barely any rainfall during the year. Vines on Santorini, which are shapes like wire baskets to protect themselves from strong winds, drink from moisture absorbed by the ground or from overnight mist or dew from temperature changes between dusk to dawn. The native grape variety of Santorini, Assyrtiko, is also considered Greece’s best white grape. Due to its high sugar and alcohol levels to compensate its spare fruit and minimal aromas, it is usually blended with aromatic varieties such as Aidani and Athiri. Santorini is also known for its award-winning sweet production called Vinsanto. A process that requires ripe Assyrtico grapes to lay out in the sun until dried like raisins and then undergoes a long and slow fermentation, and then barrel aged for a period of years. The results are an amazing rich and concentrated sweet wine with flavors of figs and honey.

Featured Wineries: Santo Winery, Domaine Sigalas, Hatzidakis Estates, Argyros Estates, Gaia Estates, and Koutsoyianopoulos Winery.

Considered to be the crown jewel of the Makedonian wine region, Naoussa received its appellation status in 1971. Home of the noble grape variety Xynomavro, which many speculate has strong roots and origins to Pinot Noir. Naoussa overlooks the central plains of Makedonia. The soil composition is mainly limestone, clay, sand, and loam. Naoussa tends to have a cooler climate with some tricky winds during the growing season that make it challenging for growers. The Boutari family has alot to do with Naoussa’s success and reputation. Unlike some of Greece’s other fast-growing regions, Naoussa’s development is slow and steady for the last 30 years. Naoussa is still dedicated solely to the variety Xynomavro that produces quite complex wines, but if made well can be compared to some great Burgundian reds and maybe even some reds from Barolo. Xynomavro, a very temperate variety, usually lacks color and consists of high tannins and acidity that typically need food to be enjoyed best.

Featured Wineries: Kir-Yianni Estates, Vaeni Winer, Karydas, and Thymiopoulos Winery

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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!

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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

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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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The Best Wines of 2021: Moschofilero

Skouras 2019 George Skouras Moschofilero (Arcadia)
#28 Enthusiast 100 2021

We are proud to share the news that the Skouras Moscofilero was selected as the top 100 wines of 2021! We love how fresh and exciting this wine can be, and glad to see it’s recognized again for its magnificence.

We love pairing moscofilero with light seafood, spicy foods, and salads. This is a bright and aromatic wine with a ton of character and liveliness. Hope it brings you some joy this holiday season!

“This Moschofilero starts with a rich, fragrant nose of jasmine and rose, but its flavors are poised and pert in style, with a spin of bone-dry acid framing its refined citrus and spice flavors. A beautiful example of the variety’s versatility and character.” – Susan Kostrzewa

See the article >

DESIGNATION: George Skouras
VARIETY: Moschofilero, Greek White
APPELLATION: Arcadia, Greece
WINERY: Skouras
IMPORTER: Diamond Importers Inc

Buy a bottle of Skouras Moschofilero

Johnny Livanos, Sales Manager for Diamond Wine Importers, is a 3rd Generation Greek American and expert on all things Greek. Coming from a multi-generational New York restaurant family, Johnny joined the Diamond Wine Importer team after having years in the restaurant business selling Greek wine. Running Greek restaurants, such as Molyvos and Ousia in NYC, as well as Zaytinya in Washington, DC, Johnny gained a tremendous knowledge and passion for sharing the joys of Greek wine with the world. This led Johnny to also launch his own gin brand, called Stray Dog Wild Gin, which is distilled in Northern Greece with a medley of wild Greek botanicals.
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Winter in the Greek vineyards

Photo credit: Lyrarakis vineyards in Crete

Does it snow in Greece?” That was one of the most common questions I would get when I was a student at BU in Boston. The answer is “Yes, it does snow in Greece, as it is a mountainous country, covered by almost 2/3 of its area in hills, mountains, and large mountain summits.” Greece is known as a summer holiday destination. True, our islands and coastline welcome more than 30 million travelers each summer. Some winter travelers, mainly from continental Europe, have discovered the joy of winter in Greece – low temperatures, snowcapped mountains, ski resorts, beautiful traditional mountain villages and charming hotels with open fireplaces.

Many vineyards are located in slopes of hills and mountains, throughout the country. Some of these vineyards are located 2,200 to 2,500 feet above sea level! To name a few: Mantineia and Nemea in the Peloponnese penninsula. There, in slopes reaching well over 2,500 feet, the Moscofilero grape produces aromatic, crisp white wines. Further north from Mantineia, in the famous region of Nemea, home to the Agiorgitiko grape. On the western side of Nemea, in Asprokampos and Koutsi, the Agiorgitiko grape produces some of the finest red wines with ageing potential and the fragrant aromatic rose wines of the same grape.

Further north, on our Way to Thessaloniki, we find beautiful vineyards in the slopes of mount Olympus -Rapsani is a well known region producing the Rapsani blended red wine and a few more notable wineries in the area. In Northern Greece, Florina and Amyntaio are the northern most vineyards in Greece. There, altitute reaches 2,000 feet above sea level. The local star grape variety of Xinomavro produces red and rose wines with high acidity, healthy tannins and ageing prospects. Amyntaio is also the area where most of the sparlkling wine is being made.

Many islands that are the perfect summer destination, have mountainous vineyards that set their wine production apart: Samos island with its floral dessert Muscat wines, Crete (as shown in above picture), Kefalonia, Robola white wines.

The highest vineyard in Greece is found in Metsovo at the Katogi Averoff estate. There, at an altitude of almost 4,000 feet, the Averof family have been cultivating vines since 1959, mostly the white Traminer and the red Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, the grandfather Averoff brought the first Cabernet Sauvignon vines from France in the 50’s and they produce award winning wines to this day.

A few years back, I participated in a tasting of the Katogi Averoff wines with Alexandros, the grandson of Evangelo Averoff and the current CEO of the estate. When he was asked what is the greatest challenge growing and tending vines in such high altitude, he answered: “The brown bears. They come down from the forest and munch on the sweet Traminer grapes! It is impossible to keep them away!”

This picture has stayed with me and every time I recall it, it puts a smile on my face.

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The Wine Bar Culture in Greece

Along with the Greek wine renaissance, we witnessed the arrival of the modern meeting place, a new ‘steki’, namely the wine bar.

Even from the early 2010’s we welcomed the first wine bars in the capital and in Thessaloniki. At about the same time, Greece went into a serious economic recession. Monthly salaries and pensions were severely cut, making Greeks more cautious on how and where they were spending their money. Wine, fitted nicely in the new budget as it was half the price of their usual hard liquor or cocktail consumption.

Wine bars fast became the new meeting point -after work with colleagues, meeting up with friends, romantic dates -wine is a good ice-breaker! Women felt more comfortable and safe in the wine bar environment to have a drink, midweek with their friends. In most central wine bars, visitors from other countries would seize the opportunity to taste Greek wines by the glass. Often they would do a tasting of 3-4 different wines and choose, delightfully, their favourite Greek wine! They new wine discovery would become their ‘go-to’ wine for all their social meetings in Greece!

Soon as, locals and visitors alike, discovered the new and improved wines of Greece, drinkers became wine lovers: they started attending special tastings, winery presentations, “meet the winemaker” events and gradually they were training their tasting palate. The more they learned about wine, the more they enjoyed this divine drink! Soon, the wine bars started extending their ‘by the glass’ wine list, offering wines from single varieties and exclusive labels from boutique wineries. Most wine bars now offer a good selection of wines, both Greek and International labels. The ‘meze’, the food offerings have been upgraded, pairing nicely the wines on the lists.

In all large cities across the country, Athens, Thessaloniki, Heraklion, Patras, Volos, and the Greek islands, one can find a number of wine bars of excellent ambience aesthetics, good vibes, warming atmosphere. Most are in central locations, near hotels and on squares. All offer both inside and outside seating, accessible with public transportation. The crowds tend to be a mix of professionals, students, travelers, foreigners, all ages and the stay open well pass midnight. Next time you visit Greece, make certain you visit a wine bar and experience this special wine drinking culture.