Greece is often referred to as an ’emerging’ winemaking country. However, it is actually quite the opposite: one of the most ancient wine cultures in the world. As a matter of fact, Greece takes credit for spreading the art of winemaking (and wine drinking!) throughout Europe. In a word, Greece truly is one of the countries of the Wine Origins! Nowadays, the quality of Greek wine is booming and so is the demand for them in the UK and across the world.
Wine has been a part of Greek culture for centuries. Moreover, the Greeks’ love and respect for wine even gave birth to whole new forms of art. For instance, drama, which originated from Greece, was actually born from celebrations dedicated to the Greek wine god, Dionysus. Nestled between the Aegean, the Mediterranean and the Ionian seas and scattered across an array of islands, Greece boasts hundreds of native grape varieties. In addition, the country has a splendid collection of terroirs: from desolate mountains to fertile valleys, from lush forests to volcanic islands. Therefore, Greek wine comes in a dazzling variety of styles. Discover our outstanding range of Greek wines in the UK.
Minoans: The First Greek Winemakers
Greek wine dates back to as early as 4,000 BC when the first vines were domesticated in northern Greece. However, it was about one millennium later that winemaking really flourished. The first ‘professional’ winemakers were the Minoans, early inhabitants of the Crete island whose civilisation dates back to 3,500-1,100 BC. Minoans left plenty of artefacts which attest to their sophisticated wine making skills. These artefacts include huge clay amphorae, found among the ruins of the Knossos palace in Crete, as well as one of the most ancient wine presses ever discovered, aged more than 3,000 years old.
In Minoan Crete of the mid-second millennium BC, wine was produced and stored in the palaces. In fact, it was a sacred drink used for various religious rituals. Moreover, the Minoans were the first civilisation in Europe to trade wines and to keep records of production and trade. As a matter of fact, these early Cretans were skilful sailors. They set up colonies and exported their wine, as well as olive oil to the north coast of Africa, Asia Minor and throughout the Aegean islands and Mediterranean.
Greek Wine in the Ancient Times
Further on, the art of wine drinking was taken to a new level in the period of antiquity (12th-9th Centuries BC to AD 6th Century). Ancient Greeks loved wine. Men from the most respected families gathered for regular symposiums – basically, forums to discuss social, political and philosophical matters. Naturally, wine was a crucial part of these gatherings. Even the name, “symposium”, derives from the Greek word for “drink together”. Moreover, a a “symposiarch” would always oversee a symposium. It was a sort of an ancient sommelier, who would decide how strong the wine for the evening should be, depending on the agenda. Usually, “symposiarch” would serve wine mixed with water, as ancient Greeks considered drinking pure wine uncivilised. The most famous philosophers, writers and the greatest minds of ancient Greece, such as Plato, Socrates, Xenophon and Aristotle were all frequent guests at symposiums.
At the same time, the winemaking techniques were incredibly advanced. Ancient Greeks studied various types of soils, trying to find the most suitable ones for local grape varieties. They knew that lower yields produced higher quality grapes. Moreover, ancient Greek growers employed vine training with stacked plants rather than letting the vines grow in bushes and up trees. Last but not least, cult of Dionysus, the Greek God of wine, was a big part of the culture.
Simultaneously, international wine commerce experienced its most remarkable growth ever. Crimea, Egypt, Scythia, Etruria were just some of ancient Greece’s trading partners. The Greeks transported wine by sea in large clay vessels. Archeologists discovered millions of amphora pieces bearing seals of various city-states and Aegean islands. These artefacts were found across Europe, Middle East and Africa.
Alexander the Great, Admirer Of Greek Wine
In the 4th century BC, the leadership of the Greek realm passed to Macedonia, and its king Philip. Both him and Alexander the Great, his son and successor, were great admirers of Greek wine. Naturally, Alexander’s armies needed massive wine supplies. Interestingly, wine was used not only as tonic and refreshment during the marches, but also as a means of “sterilizing” water of dubious purity. Inevitably, winemaking spread to all the newly conquered territories.
Greek Wine From Romans To Ottomans
In the 4th Century, when Greece was under Roman rule, Christianity became an official religion here. Consequently, the monasteries engaged in vine growing and winemaking.
The monks preserved the local grape varieties and wine culture later on, when the Ottomans conquered the Greek territories in 1453. Unsurprisingly, the Muslim rulers saw no need in maintaining the vineyards and banned wine drinking. However, the monasteries continued to produce wine for their own needs with the official permission from the Ottomans. As such, the monks carried on making wine throughout the 400-year rule of the Ottoman Empire. Nevertheless, by the 19th Century, Greek wine almost went out of existence.
Greek Wine In The 20th Century
World War II, followed by the Civil War made the situation even worse. Many Greek vineyards were neglected, the indigenous vines abandoned. As a result, cheap bulk wine dominated the market in the middle of the 20th Century. At that time, Greek wine was largely exported to Europe where it was fortified and sold as an inexpensive alternative to Port.
Finally, in the 1970s the revival of Greek winemaking began. During that time, a handful of enthusiastic winemakers started working hard to put Greece back on the world wine map.
At the same time, Greek wine saw an influx of investment, and new state-of-the art wineries appeared. Luckily, the Greeks have come to realise that the future of their wine is in their uniqueness and authenticity. Thus, gradually, many indigenous grape varieties were revived and replanted. Thanks to these efforts, today we have a chance to taste the wines made of the same varieties as those served at Greek symposiums centuries ago.
“Nothing more excellent or valuable than wine was ever granted by the gods to man,” Plato said.
We couldn’t agree more. That is why we have sourced a unique range of fine Greek wines made of indigenous grapes and sustainably produced by small family-run wineries. These are some of the finest Greek wines in the UK.Browse Greek wines
Nowadays, Greek wine is going through an exciting era, with more and more boutique family-owned projects popping up. The new generation of winemakers value north-facing slopes and higher altitudes which moderate high summer temperatures. Thus, the best of Greek wines are fresh, well structured and well balanced. With advanced modern winemaking techniques in place, Greece offers excellent quality. Greek wines regularly receive international critical acclaim and prestigious awards. That said, the best prove of quality is the growing demand for Greek wine.
Northern Greece: Epirus, Macedonia and Thrace
This is a cooler part of Greece with relatively cold winters, rain and snowfall in the mountains. Northern Greece is particularly famous for powerful reds made of Xinomavro grape, which is nicknamed as “The Barolo of Greece.” Another grape which originates from this part of the country is the aromatic white variety Malagousia. It makes rich and complex white wines.
Aegean Islands: Santorini, Samos, Límnos
The Aegean Islands offer an astonishing variety of indigenous grapes. Santorini, the picture perfect volcanic island, is the homeland of Greece’s most famous white wine, Assyrtiko. Some of the best examples come from this hot dry volcanic terroir. Another fascinating grape comes from the island of Límnos. The variety is called Liminio and it was likely to have existed during Aristotle’s time. It makes charming wines with pronounced notes of raspberries and herbs.
Central Greece: Thessaly
Central part of the country is a rather hot and arid area. Therefore, the wines often display an abundance of ripe fruit along with a jammy character. Some of the best vineyards are found at higher elevations, for example, on the slopes of Mount Olympus, in the region Rapsani. The focus is on red wines, with Xinomavro being one of the main varieties.
Southern Greece: Crete, Peloponnese, and Kefalonia, Attica
Southern Greece with its hot Mediterranean climate is a much loved tourist destination. It is also home to beautiful aromatic white wines, along with some rich powerful reds. One of the most popular black varieties here is Agiorgitiko which originates from Peloponnese. It makes full-bodied reds with plenty of berry and spice flavours. The island of Crete is famous for pleasant easy-drinking white wines made of Vidiano grape, as well as for its lush reds blends, made of Kotsifali and Mandilaria grapes.
Greece boasts an array of unique indigenous grape varieties, each one with an ancient history. At Wine Origins, we have curated a portfolio of Greek wine with a strong focus on some of the most acclaimed native grapes.
This indigenous variety is the flagship white grape of Greece. Assyrtiko originates from Santorini, where it grows on dark volcanic soils in extreme weather conditions. It makes complex white wines with crisp minerality, tremendous freshness and a good ageing potential. These are some of the most acclaimed Greek wines in the UK… read more
Agiorgitiko is an ancient black grape variety, native to the Peloponnese island in Greece. It is the most widely planted black grape in Greece. Nicknamed as ‘Blood of Hercules’, this popular Greek variety makes exceptional full-bodied reds known for their lush fruity aromas…read more
Xinomavro is the king of Greek black grapes. This indigenous variety is the third most planted in the country. It is also one of the most internationally acclaimed Greek grapes, capable of producing sophisticated, refined wines with a great ageing potential…read more
Malagousia grape is largely associated with the country’s wine renaissance. This indigenous white grape has a very ancient history. Supposedly it originates from Central Greece. Malagousia produces excellent highly aromatic wines, which are incredibly food friendly…read more
This pink-skinned indigenous Greek grape mainly grows in the Peloponnese region, as well as in Thessaly, Attica and Macedonia. It also happens to be one of the most widely planted grapes in Greece. Roditis makes fresh and well-balanced white wines with lemon and orchard fruit flavours..read more
Vidiano is a white grape variety native to Grete. This indigenous grape is considered an emerging star of Greek winemaking. It is capable of producing beautiful and complex white wines. Nevertheless, Vidiano has only been introduced to commercial wine production over the last decade…read more
Liatiko is named ‘the rising star’ of Crete winemaking. It is an ancient indigenous variety, dating back to 3-2nd Century BC. In fact, traces of Liatiko grapes were found on the ancient presses discovered in the zone of Dafnes (Crete). Liatiko makes wines with aromas of berries and spices…read more
Mavrotragano is a rare indigenous grape originating from the island of Santorini. It became almost extinct by the 1970s and was later resurrected thanks to a handful of passionate winemakers. Moreover, today Mavrotragano is named among the most promising grapes of the Greek islands…read more
Serifiotiko is an indigenous Greek grape with a pinkish skin. It is used to produce white wines. Serifiotiko originates from the island of Serifos, hence the name of the grape. Nowadays plantings of Serifiotiko are scattered across several Cycladic islands…read more
Another obscure but highly promising grape, Moschomavro is a very rare indigenous Greek variety, almost exclusively grown in the mountainous region of Siatista in western Macedonia. The name translates as ‘black Muscat’. Moschomavro became almost extinct by the 1970’s and received a second life thanks to the efforts of Diamantis winery…read more
Mavrodaphne is a black wine grape variety which nowadays grows mainly on the Peloponnese in Greece. Historically, this grape became known for fortified dessert wine, Mavrodaphne of Patras. However, nowadays a few winemakers make dry full-bodied reds of Mavrodaphne grape…read more
Monemvasia is an ancient indigenous Greek white grape. A common theory suggests that this variety, among many others, was once part of the sweet Malvasia wine (‘Malvasias oenos’). These wines were very famous in the Medieval times. Monemvasia grape originates from the Cyclades. Nowadays, it is a very rare grape…read more
One of the most ancient indigenous Greek varieties, Limnio has been famous since antiquity. The grape originates from the island of Lemnos, however nowadays it grows mostly in Northern and Central Greece. It makes fresh, fruity medium-bodied reds with a summery character…read more