Greece has an enchanting landscape and subsoil, with many mountains, a few lowlands and only three big plains, where a great range of native grape varieties thrive. The Mediterranean climate of our country, with the strong sunshine, the long, dry summer and the impressive alterations of water, dry lands and highlands, creates the ideal circumstances for the growth and fruiting of local wine making grape varieties. The different “terroir” of wine producing regions puts its stamp on each wine's personality and offers complexity.
Viticulture and wine production constitute a large part of Greek history, culture and civilization, since the recorded history of Greek wine extends to the 7th century BC. Countless findings of the Minoan and Mycenaean Civilizations age prove that production, consumption and export of wine were growing sectors at that time. Dionysus, God of Olympus, appears to spend a lot of time enjoying wine, eating and dancing. Hesiod and Theofrastos have written manuscripts on wine production and viticulture. Homer, in the Iliad, refers to cellars filled with wine shipped to Thrace from Achaia, by sea. Over the years, wine was integrated into many religious ceremonies as it became part of Sacrament.
During Byzantine Empire Age, implementation of viticulture ceased, in contrast with the production and consumption of wine. However, at that time, it was introduced from Western Europe, the use of wooden barrel for the production of barrel aged wines. At the same time, the technique of sun dried grapes disseminated, while Malvasia (Monemvasia, a Venetian fortress on the coast of Laconia-Peloponnese) wine, the most popular of that period, was exported to France, Germany and England until the 18th century. However, during the Fall of Constantinople, in 1453, there was a decline in wine exporting, while the practice of viticulture continued.
Unfortunately, most cultivable lands were destroyed with the departure of the Turks, after the Greek revolution in 1821, with a few exceptions, such as that of Crete and certain islands of the Aegean and Ionian Sea. Muscat wines of Samos, famous since ancient times, were introduced to West and East, by the end of the 19th century. Until 1920, when phylloxera destroyed most of the vineyards of the country, nothing remarkable had occurred in the field of viticulture. The same is noticed in the following years, since house wine dominated consumption. Only the international dissemination of Retsina can be noticed this period. Although Retsina was consumed by the Athenians by the end of the 19th century, it gained fame in parallel with the tourism development of 60s. The result was that, for many years since then, Greek wine was, universally, synonymous to Retsina.
In the 70s, the Greek market of bottled wine was very limited, since there were only 4 companies prevailing: Kampas, Boutaris, Achaia Claus and Kourtakis. Sometimes later, the company of Evangelos Tsantalis was added in the list of reputable brand names. Some more notable wineries were created gradually, such as Evangelos Averoff, Porto Carras, Dimitris Hatzimihalis and, afterwards, that of Thanassis Parparoussis, Dimitris Katsaros and Kokotos family. However, the greatest development took place in the 1980s, when a lot of emphasis was given in the cultivation of vineyards and the use of proper expertise by highly skilled professionals. At the same time, modernly equipped wineries were founded, setting the standards for the production of high quality wines. Moreover, the terms of V.Q.P.R.D. (Vin de Qualité Produit dans une Région Déterminée) and A.O.C. (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) were established, according to edicts of 1971 and 1972, thus defining the wines particular characteristics. Over years, these terms were evolved either due to reconsideration of the characteristics of certain regions or due to their recent reform from V.Q.P.R.D. to P.D.O. (Protected Designation of Origin) and A.O.C. to P.G.I. (Protected Geographical Indication).
Although the decade of 1970 was considered the beginning of a new era, single variety wines (monovarietal) were not popular, since each region consumers knew just the varieties of their region. Gradually and as single variety wines begun to appear, there was noticed a dissemination of several grape varieties to a wider range of consumers and as expected, to winemakers and vine growers. The Greek varieties initially cultivated by the winemakers were: Moschofilero, Roditis, Savvatiano, Xinomavro and Agiorgitiko and the International ones: Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. In the decades of 80s and 90s, the blends of local and international varieties first appeared and over years, the native, indigenous varieties gained ground in domestic and international markets. This was not only due to the uniqueness and the Greek character (“terroir”) but also due to the impressive, large number of Greek varieties.
There are claims that the domestic varieties exceed 350, while in some countries there are no native grape varieties for wine making. To be more precise, this number is more likely to be close to 200, since some of them appear with a different name in some regions and even different vine characteristics. In any case, few of them are widely known and largely cultivated for the production of high quality wines. Among them, Aidani, Assyrtiko, Athiri, Vilana, Thrapsathiri, Debina, Lagorthi, Kydonitsa, Malagousia, Monemvasia, Moschofilero, Muscat of Alexandria, White Muscat, Plyto, Robola, Roditis and Savvatiano are the most reputed white varieties and the red ones: Agiorgitiko, Vertzami, Kotsifali, Liatiko, Limnio, Mandilaria, Mavrodaphne, Negkoska and Xinomavro. Meanwhile, on certain soils, there was noticed an excellent adaptation of some international varieties such as: Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Viognier, Semillon, Sauvignon blanc, Ugni blanc, Cabernet sauvignon, Cabernet franc, Merlot, Syrah, Mourverdre, Grenache rouge, Refosco, Carignan, Petit Verdot, Primitivo, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, Pinot noir.
Nowadays, things are different since each one of the wine producing regions of our country possesses its own microclimate and remarkable, promising wines are produced by indigenous varieties. Naoussa's wines, coming from Xinomavro, excel in Greece, while abroad it has already started their recognition, as it also happens with the Agiorgitiko wines of Nemea, Assyrtiko and Vinsanto of Santorini. The wider area of Macedonia, Peloponnese, Epirus, Central Greece, the Aegean Islands, Crete, Thessaly, as well as a large part of the Ionian Islands, the Dodecanese, the islands of the northern Aegean and Thrace, have large expanses of vineyards, producing high quality wines.
- D. Hatzimihalis, Vitivulture
- Nikos Manesis, The Illustrated Greek Wine Book
- Konstantinos Lazarakis, The Greek Wines
- Haroula Spinthiropoulou, Greek Vineyard wine making grape varieties
- Argyris Tsakiris, Greek Wines
- Argyris Tsakiris, Oenology
- Stavroula Kourakou-Dragona, Oenology Topics