A wine tasting safari in Greece

Cruising a sea of insular wines
by Maria Netsika

Setting sail for the Greek islands where the sun is warm, the seas are crystal clear, the moon is red and the north wind cools the vineyards. Our "wine" sailing tour will take us to the islands of the Aegean archipelago and the Ionian sea..

A unanimous decision: "First stop: Lemnos"
The tailwind gently blows. Sailing southwards, the first stop is Lemnos. The island is known for its aromatic white wines; the dry Lemnos and the sweet Muscat of Lemnos. Both P.D.O., made exclusively with Muscat of Alexandria grapes. To accurately record the profile of the dry wines of Lemnos, one only needs to refer to their attractive, fine aromas of rose and mint and their light, pleasant taste. When it comes to the sweet wines, aromas are more profound and more intensive. The flavour is exuberant, finishing with a very pleasant, fruity aftertaste. Lemnos, however, also hosts vineyards where the red grape Limnio is grown, giving beautiful, red wines.

The golden wines of Samos
Our next port is Samos, a mountainous island offering an ideal environment for agriculture. On the slopes of the island's two mountains, on terraces starting from sea level to up to 800m, the locals grow the aromatic variety White Muscat (Muscat Blanc à petits grains). The quality of sweet wines of Samos (P.D.O.) is well known and their reputation has long crossed the Greek borders. This was achieved thanks to the ideal ecosystem, on one hand, and the centuries-old experience in winemaking, on the other. For the production of Samos vins doux and vins doux naturels, grapes are harvested at high maturity and the fermentation is stopped by the addition of alcohol, while vins naturellement doux are made from overripe or sun-dried grapes. Wines are released when still fresh, just a few months after vinification or after maturation in oak casks to develop their bouquet. All of them seduce us with their glowing golden colour, explosive aromas and tender, honeyed taste. One should not overlook, however, the elegant, dry Samian wines.

From the ancient "Melantanon" wine to present day wines of Kos
The wine cruise brings us down to the south-eastern edge of Greece. Sailing among the Dodecanese Islands cluster, we arrive at Kos. The attempt to revive the island's long winemaking tradition is carried out by cultivating the Greek varieties Athiri, Assyrtiko and Malagousia, along the international varieties Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache Rouge, Syrah and Tempranillo, in order to produce excellent wines (P.G.I.).

Hic Rhodus!
Pull anchors! Our next port is Rhodes. Rhodes owes the reputation of its wines to the island's perfect climate, with many sunny days. The island enjoys the most sunshine throughout Greece. Enter significant rainfalls in a well concentrated period to arrive at a favourable climate for viticulture.
The vineyard of Rhodes, in small and scattered plots, is divided in two zones differentiated by altitude. In the privileged high altitude zone, on the slopes of Mount Attaviros, viticulturers grow their vineyards in terraces. As the island has never experienced the phylloxera disease, some of these vineyards are 50-60 years old! The grapes grown here are Athiri and Mantilaria, the most common varieties of the Aegean sea. Along with them, we meet the White Muscat and one of its clones, the Muscat Trani. The wines produced (P.D.O. and P.G.I.) are white and red, dry and fresh with rich colour and structure. It should also be borne in mind that Rhodes was the first Greek area to serve local sparkling wine to Greeks. Today, this tradition, strengthened with expertise and modern technology, gives us sparkling wines with finesse and character.

Santorini's wine charms
Entering the waters of the Cyclades to board unique Santorini. Coming here once is enough! You are a life-long prisoner of the island. The beauty is breathtaking, the charms uncountable. We will rejoice in one of them: wine.
Vineyards in Santorini are seen along almost the entire road network. Your gaze is drawn to them, even when you do not want to look. Lying low in a typical basket-like shape, they are nothing like the tall and strong vines found in most areas. The dominant grape is Assyrtiko; white, maintaining its fairly high acidity even at full maturation. From that grape, winemakers make the dry P.D.O. Santorini. Lively and bold, it is recognized by the zesty acidity, the generous alcohol content and the robust citrus aromas with their metallic aftertaste. A unique set!
Along its dry wines, the island has a long tradition of sweet wines, called Vinsanto (P.D.O.). To produce a Vinsanto, grapes are laid under the sun to dehydrate, to shrivel and thus increase their sugar content. Vinification and aging in oak barrels produce a sweet wine with a golden colour, soft, velvety taste and aromas reminiscent of figs, honey, chocolate.

Landing on wine-producing Crete
Wherever we find ourselves in «leventomana» [the hero-breeder] Crete, it is worth enjoying the delights of its famous healthy nutrition. Only to be escorted by Cretan wines. Despite its southern location, Crete is ideal for viticulture, which is why the island produced one fifth of Greek wines. The Cretan vineyard is considered one of the most traditional of Europe and is found on the northern side. Not by chance, of course. The island may be famous for its mild and healthy climate, but the five-month long summer, which makes it so popular with tourists, does not necessarily favour crops. The summer drought is not easily defeated. So growers set up their vines behind the mountainous backbone of Psiloritis, to protect them from the burning southern winds, on the valleys and slopes cooled by the Aegean breeze. This is why the majority of vineyards is located in the north central part of the island, around Heraklion, as well as around Sitia, in the easternmost part of the island. Indigenous varieties Vilana, Kotsifali, Mantilaria, Liatiko, Muscat, Dafni and Plyto are grown alongside foreign Syrah, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot. They produce a wide range of wines, white, rose and red, dry and sweet. And the legislator was quite generous allocating quality indications to the island. Count four P.D.O.: Archanes, Peza, Daphne, Sitia - and another four P.G.I.s.

Kefalonia, the land of Robola
Our cruise ends in the Ionian Sea. The island with the cosmopolitan capital, the incredibly beautiful beaches and breathtaking natural attractions, is a doll serving us an ethereal white wine with an aroma of lemon and flowers, delicate metallic flavour, lively acidity and a body able to balance with such acidity, offering a delicious harmony. Meet Robola of Kefalonia (P.D.O.), made exclusively with Robola grapes. (p. 16)

Our wine cruise has come to an end. Clink your glasses and try once again the insular wines of Greece. The flavours are a legacy that will awaken our summer memories, even in the dullest days of winter.

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