Even if you can't live under the Greek Sun, you can still enjoy Greek wines. This is glossary to help you understand and recognize the grapes you are going to love! Bring a bottle of their wines to your hosts and you will be a welcome guest forever!
Agiorgitiko (a-gee-or-GHEE-tee-ko): The king of red grapes in the Peloponnese, gorgeous Agiorgitiko is cultivated in Nemea. Its wines, dark, deep, rich and ripe are crowd pleasers. Deep red in colour with loads of cassis and blackberry flavour. Rich, mature, velvety taste and luscious texture. The supple young version is fruit-forward and will reward early enjoyment. However, there is enough big structure to support long-term cellaring (5-10 years).
Assyrtiko (a-SEAR-tee-ko): A startling Greek white grape, Assyrtiko is the dominant grape of Santorini that has successfully migrated to Halkidiki, Epanomi, Drama, Mount Pangeo, in Macedonia and the Peloponnese. It maintains a high acidity even in fully ripeness. With crispy acidity and excellent minerality, its wines are rich and refreshing. The aromas suggest citrus, lemon blossom, orange zest and grapefruit.
Athiri (a-THEE-ree): This is another white grape, common to the islands of the southern Aegean and Halkidiki, in eastern Macedonia. Its wines have lovely floral aromas and a good mouth-watering attack that wakes up the palate.
Debina (de-BEE-na): A white variety from Epirus whose wines place emphasis on the fruit. They are noted for their refreshing acidity and for the aroma's finesse, which is reminiscent of green apple and pear. Debina offers a high potential for the production of effervescent wines.
Kotsifali (ko-tsee-FA-lee): A red Cretan grape, Kotsifali produces wines that are wonderfully juicy with bright red plums and a good grip on the palate. It is usually blended with another island red grape, Mantilaria.
Liatiko (Lee-A-tee-ko): An exclusively Cretan grape, Liatiko is considered one of the oldest Greek varieties. It matures in July, hence its name, which is a transliteration of "Juliatiko." Liatiko is a variety with high alcohol potential that best demonstrates its qualities when sufficiently ripe.
Limnio (Lee-mnee-O): Limnio is an ancient red grape varietal native to the island of Lemnos. It was mentioned by Aristotle and other ancient writers. Today it is cultivated not only in Lemnos, but also in Halkidiki, and northern Greece, where it produces lovely, silky red with the exotic perfume of wet violets and cherries.
Malagousia (Ma-la-ghoo-zee-A): This fine white Greek variety was saved from oblivion thanks to the acumen of several Greek producers who believed in its potential. Critical praise and consumer excitement have proven them right. Malagousia wines have strong fragrance, complexity and verve... haven't I forgotten anything? Long, slightly peppery finish. Another Greek wine to try when you want to branch out and experiment.
Mantilaria (Man-dee-la-ree-A): This red Aegean variety flourishes on the islands of Paros, Rhodes and Crete. It has an unruly character and is usually blended with other Greek varietals that soften its rougher qualities and add fine notes to its clearly earthy tones. Mantilaria is blended with Monemvasia in Paros, and Kotsifali in Crete.
Mavrodaphne (Ma-vro-THA-fnee): This familiar aromatic grape is usually cultivated in the vineyards of Patras and Kefalonia. Most of its yield is used to produce the strong, sweet, high-grade, aged red wine that bears the same name.
Moschofilero (Mos-ko-FEE-lai-ro): This variety is known as a blanc de gris, meaning that its skin colour can range from light pink to deep purple. It is cultivated on the plateau of Mantinia and in the southern Peloponnese. Moschofilero produces wines with notes of rose, mint, and lemon (see p. 24).
Muscat: A large and famous family of grapes that is cultivated under various names in almost every single wine-producing country. Equally expansive is the variety of its wines that range from aged sweets to fresh, fruity effervescents, all of which are notable for their fine and impressive aromas. In Samos the White Muscat gives pretty fruity, sunny and charming sweat wines. Appealing, brilliant deep straw in colour. Fragrant with honey, apple and pear. Superb full-bodied, dense and concentrated. You haven't lived if you haven't tried a Samos Muscat wine. It's the ultimate after-dinner as-the-sun-is-setting-sitting-by-the-sea wine.
Robola (ro-BO-la): This white grape, cultivated on the Ionian island of Cephalonia, is one of the most elegant Greek varieties. Its wines are fresh, with sunny notes of lemon.
Roditis (ro-THEE-tees): Wines from this variety are made throughout almost all of Greece, but with best results near Patras in the western Peloponnese, in parts of Macedonia, and in Thessaly. When its yields are controlled and it is carefully vinified, Roditis gives us light and inviting wines that exude the freshness of citrus, apple and pear.
Savatiano (sa-va-tee-a-NO): The most ubiquitous grape, Savatiano is found in Attica and throughout the whole of central Greece. Along with Roditis, it is the main grape used for the production of Retsina.
Vilana (vee-LA-na): An old Cretan variety, Vilana is a sensitive white grape which, when cultivated with care to produce modest yields, offers pleasant wines with flowery and fruity aromas.
Xinomavro (xee-NO-ma-vro): A red grape, it is the prime variety of northern Greece and is cultivated widely from the slopes of the central Greek mountains to the ranges of Pindos. It is the grape of P.D.O. Naoussa, Goumenissa, Amyndeon, and Rapsani. Xinomavro has a distinctive, dark-red colour and an acidic taste even when ripe. Its name means "sour black." When young, Xinomavro wines are unyielding, but they soften with time and age beautifully, acquiring a unique complexity and palate that yields successive waves of cherry-tomato, plums, violets, lilies… -whatever you are looking for, you will probably find it in here eventually. The wines can be a touch tannic but will smooth out with an hour or two of decanting. ■