Greek wine

Ancient Greek varietals are being used to create entirely contemporary wines. In Greece, wine is firmly ingrained in the fabric of everyday life and is regarded as a crucial component of the country’s cultural heritage.

The country has a long history of viticulture and is one of the oldest in the world. Early as the 17th century B.C., references to consumption and cultivation can be found in literature and historical writings. Indigenous wine types formerly popularized by Hesiod and Aristotle are still made today.

Greek wine

For more than 4,000 years, wine has played an essential role in the everyday lives of Greeks. From the 2nd millennium B.C., evidence of thriving wine culture and trade on Greek islands such as Crete and Santorini and the mainland Peloponnese region has been discovered.

While wine had various religious and therapeutic reasons in ancient times, it was also an essential part of intellectual gatherings called symposia,’ where people would dine and speak while sipping wine with a Greek sommelier, or Aenochooi, attending to their every need. Although it was commonly known that wine was high in nutritional content, it quickly became a prominent part of their diet and way of life.

As a result of the social and political upheaval caused by successive Roman, Byzantine, and Turkish occupations, the mythical old varieties of Greece were hampered and sometimes even stopped from being commercialized. Despite this, local wine production and demand for unique wines have persisted throughout the ages.

Greek wine’s oldest varietals are gaining popularity worldwide, thanks to the efforts of enthusiastic sommeliers and wine historians, as well as an increasing number of forward-thinking vintners dedicated to preserving and improving these liquid relics of the ancient world.

Several millennia-old grape varieties can be found among Greece’s more than 300 indigenous grape varieties. Assyrtiko, Limnio, Robiola, and Liatiko are four varieties that have garnered widespread notice for their world-class quality and their traditional and modern styles that are compatible with 21st-century tastes. Take a look at this fascinating slice of the past with us.

Assyrtiko

Over 3,500 years have passed since the first harvest of the smoky, salty, and cellar-worthy white wine produced by Santorini’s moonscape-like volcanic vineyards. Santorini’s vineyards, planted on sandy, nutrient-poor soils resistant to the phylloxera pest that ravaged grapes around the world, were spared. These conditions facilitated the establishment of rich vineyards, which are more than 150 years old. In fact, the island is home to some of the last remaining self-rooted vines in Europe.

Traditional practices such as the koulouri, in which plants are tucked into a basket around the grapes and protect them from the island’s robust and intense sun and blowing sand, are still practiced by producers. In addition, the approach reduces the amount of water required by the vines. First-time visitors who are not accustomed to the untamed and sparse aspect of these highly sought-after plots are taken aback by the results.

Other remnants of the island’s past viticulture, such as dry stone and petrified lava barriers constructed to delay erosion caused by the island’s fierce winds, can still be seen today. They serve as a link between the island’s thriving present wine culture and its long and illustrious heritage.

Although wine has a long and illustrious history on the island, Assyrtiko’s profile is higher than it has been in centuries, thanks in large part to its distinct, terroir-driven character.

The Cyclades’ severe climate has adapted Assyrtiko to perfection, according to Spinthiropoulou, who describes it as “a one-of-a-kind variety with a really peculiar character.” Santorini’s environment has high acidity and a high concentration of phenolic compounds. These two components provide a fragrant character paired with unyielding structural integrity.

However, while this flinty, full-bodied expression of Santorini may be the most faithful to the island’s ancient character, the grape has also proven successful in other regions. It is becoming increasingly popular in Attica, northern Greece, the Peloponnese, and the island of Crete. It is also currently being grown in nations such as Australia, Italy, and South Africa.

The softer, fruitier flavor of Assyrtiko is enhanced in these more nutrient-dense soils and under less traumatic growing conditions, making it more approachable to a broader spectrum of palates. It does, however, retain its characteristic acidity and minerality, which distinguishes it from other international wines.

The 300-year-old winery specializes in single-varietal expressions of the grape, and it offers unoaked, oaked, and wild-ferment bottlings. Its next endeavor will be bottling made from vines that are 150 years or older.

Other growers on the island, including Sigalas, Gaia, Argyros, Vassaltis, and Hatzidakis, have contributed significantly to the grape’s international success. Experiments in underwater aging and library tastings suggest that it has the potential to become one of the world’s most outstanding ageable white wines.

Historically, the grape has been used to make Vinsanto, a sun-dried dessert wine made from white grapes grown on the island of Santorini, which must contain at least 51 percent Assyrtiko according to local law, that dates back to the 12th century.

Despite having no connection to the Tuscan Vin Santo, the Venetians gave “Vino di Santo,” who controlled the Mediterranean trade routes throughout the Byzantine era. Later, in 18th-century Russia, it became famous for its delicious flavors, including warming spices and vivid fruit. Elegant designs from manufacturers such as Argyros, Gaia, and others have been relevant to contemporary tastes in recent years.

When Gavalas creates Vinsanto, Assyrtiko is blended with smaller amounts of the native types Aidani and Athiri to create a unique mixture.

Adaptability has also been demonstrated by producers such as Santorini’s Santo Wines, which produces sparkling wines, and Kechris Winery, which creates an enticing retsina made from the grape.

The worldwide wine industry, according to Gavalas, is now “very open to distinctive and rare wines.” “We’re talking about a white wine with qualities that are difficult to find in many other wines,” said the author of the article. It is in our power to ensure that the high level of this variety continues to be maintained.”

Spinthiropoulou concurs with this statement. “Indigenous, native types can present a challenge to consumers who are accustomed to drinking other Greek wines,” she explains. “Assyrtiko appears to be our entry ticket into the worldwide market,” says the producer.

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