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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.

NEMEA
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.

MANTINIA
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.

SANTORINI
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.

NAOUSSA
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