About the Region
The Greeks have been making wine for about 6,500 years, and spread the arts of vine-growing and winemaking around the Mediterranean. For much of the 20th century, about the only Greek wine found in America was likely to be retsina, an ancient style of white wine, make primarily from the native savatiano grape, flavored (and preserved) with pine resin; it is an acquired taste at best. More recently, a wide range of good Greek table wines has appeared on the market. Though international varieties like cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, chardonnay, traminer, and sauvignon blanc are making inroads, the overwhelming majority of wine grapes cultivated in Greece are ancient varieties found nowhere else. These include not just savatiano, but assyrtiko, moschofilero, athiri, and robola for white wines, mavrodaphne, xinomavro, agiorghitiko, and mandilaria for reds. (Sometimes Greek and imported varieties are blended; assyrtiko and sauvignon blanc can be successful, for instance.) The main Greek wine regions are the Aegean Islands (including fabled Santorini, source of excellent whites), Crete, Central Greece, Epirus, the Ionian Islands, Macedonia, and Peloponnese. The character of Greek wines varies tremendously according to grapes, terroir, and winemaking style, of course, but many of them, in various ways, suggest wild herbs, exotic spices, fragrant blossoms, and minerals.