You may be surprised to learn that Greece has an estimated 300 indigenous grape varieties!

Of course, winemaker and consumer attention is focused on what are commonly referred to as the big four: Xinomavro, Agiorgitiko, Moschofilero and Assyrtiko, but other interesting grapes like Malagousia have also attracted a following. Crete has its own indigenous varieties: Vidiano and Liatiko.

Here’s a little bit of information about each of these varieties.

Xinomavro (ksee NO ma vro) – This red grape variety from northern Greece has been called a cult wine in the making. It is widely considered Greece’s finest red wine and often invites comparisons with the famous Barolo wines of Italy’s Piedmont region. Much like Nebbiolo, Xinomavro tends to be tannic in youth, but becomes more elegant with ageing. The best examples of Xinomavro have extraordinary depth and complexity. Typical aromas include black olive, spices, earth, and dark fruit.

Naoussa, a green and lush region that sits at the base of a mountain range, is the most important appellation associated with the variety, but Nemea, on the Peloponnese peninsula, also makes impressive Xinomavro.

Agiorgitiko (ah yor YEE ti ko) – Native to Greece’s Peloponnese peninsula and one of its oldest varieties, this fragrant, versatile grape makes suave, full-bodied, fruit forward reds with supple red plum and berry flavours and plush tannins. Agiorgitiko means “St George’s Grape”, and is probably named for a chapel near Nemea. It’s also associated with the Ancient Greek half-god Heracles.

The higher-altitude vineyards of Nemea, where some of the semi-mountainous vineyards are between 450 and 650 metres above sea level, insure a long growing season, allowing the fruit to ripen slowly and retain enough acidity to create balanced, well structured wines.

Moschofilero (mos ko FEE le Ro) – A very aromatic white grape variety form the Peloponnese. Often compared to Gewürztraminer, it possesses a distinctly floral nose and a palate of lychee, rose, and exotic spices

santorini-assyrtiko-grapesAssyrtico (ah SEER tee ko) – Native to the wind-swept volcanic island of Santorini in the Aegean Sea, Assyrtico is widely considered Greece’s most iconic grape variety.  Naturally high in acidity, it is used to make fresh, minerally and often complex dry whites as well a sweet dessert wine known as Vinsanto (ie. wine of Santorini).

Some Assyrtico vines are up to 70 years of age and, unusually for Europe, are grown on original root stocks, which are more than 300 years old. The Assyrtico vines are trained to weave themselves into ground-hugging, basket-like shapes which act as a protective balls around the fruit, sheltering the grapes from the harsh wind and often scorching summer heat.

Malagousia (mah la goo ZYA) – Nearly extinct in the 1970s, this white grape variety thrives in northern half of Greece. The grape’s revival was spearhead by the visionary Vangelis Gerovassiliou, who studied with Bordeaux’s famed oenologist Emile Peynaud. Today Malagousia is capable of making aromatic, fresh and pure-tasting whites typically displaying mineral-infused melon and ruby grapefruit flavours. Some critics argue that Malagousia may one day rival Assyrtiko in quality because of its versatility across a range of terroirs.

Vidiano– An ancient, fairly obscure white-wine variety from the Greek island of Crete in the eastern Mediterranean. Vidiano produces wines lemony green in colour with intense, complex aromas of ripe peach and apricot complemented by hints of aromatic herbs and minerality. Sometimes Vidiano is fermented in barrel to give added weight and complexity to the moderately acidic wine.

Liatiko – An ancient black-skinned grape variety grown on the Greek island of Crete. While only a handful of producers now make Liatiko wines, the variety was once very popular during the Middle Ages when Crete was under Venetian rule. Wines made for Liatiko wines have distinct—often floral and delicately spicy—aromas, fresh to moderate acidity and soft tannins. They are capable of ageing gracefully to produce pale coloured, complex wines.

by Merrill Witt, Editor