An exploration of the unique wines of Greece
Greek wine possesses a unique allure. This may stem from its rich history, extending over four millennia. Or it could be attributed to the generally evocative images of the country that are conjured: Idyllic islands framed by blue-green waters, olive groves, and a bounty of culinary delights- such as thick yoghurt and honey, grilled meats, and an endless array of regional specialities.
Likely, it's a combination of both.
Despite this perhaps monocultural (albeit appealing) image often associated with the Greek landscape, from a wine perspective, the country's terroir is incredibly diverse. It encompasses mountainous, high-altitude regions to maritime conditions along the coastal areas of the Peloponnese, the abundant sunshine and varied soils of Crete to the rich-clay of Macedonia, the granite of Thessaly, and the volcanic terrain of Santorini; each producing wines with distinct and authentic character.
Greece is home to over 200 native grape varieties. Assyrtiko, originating from Santorini, is perhaps the jewel in the crown for white wine, with its cool citrus and saline mineral character, perhaps reminiscent of Chablis. Whereas perhaps the best known red Xinomavro, in the right hands, can exhibit characteristics often compared to fine Nebbiolo.
The ancient Greeks revered wine as a gift from nature and celebrated it across art and culture. Such veneration was expressed in religious icons and mosaics adorned with symbols of the vine and wine, as well as in the words of philosophers and poets.
Significantly fast-forwarding to the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Greek wine industry began to modernise in accordance with a narrative that is perhaps familiar in our era: A transformation that prioritised quantity over quality! One almost wishes to write a piece of text about Greek wine without having to say the word, Retsina.
Maybe one day we will…
After decades of the word being synonymous with the Greek wine industry, in the 1990s, exports of other styles began to take off. With makers training their sights on international markets, international varieties began to feature for a time, before this most recent rediscovery of their indigenous gems took precedence once again.
Another positive turn in such industry transience, was through a resurgence of winemaking techniques of the past, in addition to the embracing of organic and biodynamic techniques. Recognising the value of sustainable agriculture and the importance of soil health, many vineyards have now moved away from synthetic pesticides and fertilisers.
Greek wine sales are now soaring in various international markets, and premium Greek wines are now being featured in upmarket restaurants globally.
Discover Greek Natural Wine with our Mixed Case
Stay tuned for our brand-new, premium, mixed case, available from Monday 14th August. The two wineries featured present very differently, but do share fundamental similarities in ethos. The Ligas wines are trendy, much sought after in natural wine circles, and have a distinctly modern edge. The wines of Sclavos emanate history and heritage, with the content of their bottles retaining a more traditional (but equally delicious) feel. However, the respect for soil health, nature and quality grape growing is thoroughly equal amongst them.
Since ancient times, the region of Pella, situated in northern Greece, not far from the border with Macedonia. Jason Ligas and his sister Meli continue the work of their father THomas and have succeeded in turning the normally dull Roditis grape into something very special. Thomas Ligas converted to natural farming in the 80s after being influenced by, and closely following the ideas set out by the Godfather of permaculture, Fukuoka. By these methods reducing the grape yields, the terroir is more strongly expressed. The soils are loam and sand with excellent drainage. The result is stunningly fresh and complex wines, all of which carry a unique personality and expressive aroma which makes Ligas wines truly recognisable in a crowd.
The exceptional winery is the jaw-droppingly beautiful hills of Kefalonia, was established in 1017. Evryviadis Sklavou planted the first vines and began the family legacy of wine production before his grandson Spyros took over in 1990. Spyros had the foresight to convert the beautiful vines of Mavrodaphne and Vostilidi (also called Bostilidi) to biodynamic viticulture and now his children are driving the winery forward into the 21st century.
The vineyards have expanded over the years with plantings of indigenous grapes like, Moschato, Moschatela, Robola Kefallinia, Tsaousi, and Zakynthino. The current vines have an average age of 70 years.
Although they operate a state of the art modern winery, all vineyard and wine making activities are 100% natural and following biodynamic principles. The wines are simply delicious, full of character and a unique flavour and charm that one always finds in Greek wine. The prices are also exceptional considering the low yields, natural production and sheer quality of the wines.