Wine and Grape
Greece has 28 Appellations of Origin
Debate exists regarding the number of distinct cultivars inhabiting Greece. Until recently, it was common to hear estimates in excess of 300. With the advent of genetic testing, it seemed reasonable to assume that a consensus would be reached. This may yet happen, but rather than resolving the question, research on the genetic makeup of indigenous varieties has created more divergent estimates.
The relationship between indigenous Greek varieties and foreign varieties has been the subject of speculation for years. Theories based on historical and ambelographic analysis have suggested certain relationships, but only genetic analysis has created a reasonably sure method for establishing the pedigree of the World’s -and Greece’s- Vitis Vinifera grapes. Efforts are underway in several countries, including Greece, to establish compatible databases that document the microsatellite markers used in making such genetic comparisons.
The process of sorting out the identities of Greece’s wine and table grapes reinforces efforts at varietal preservation that had begun during the last century with the establishment of cultivar collections in Greece as well as American, French and other collections containing Greek varieties.
The Greek Vitis Database divides wine grapes into three categories based on skin color rather than on use. There are three categories; red, white and rose to correspond exactly to their categories; rouge, blanc and rose.
The success of Greece’s red wines in export markets is often thought to hinge on just a couple of red wine grapes; Agiorgitiko and Xynomavro. At just the time these varieties have begun being taken seriously outside of Greece, however, the cultivation and vinification of more obscure cultivars are stealing some of the spotlight.
Agiorgitiko is a red variety that comes from the Peloponnese and specifically from the region of Nemea in Corinthia. Many call it “Blood of Hercules“ by the red color of its grapes. Due to its ability to acclimate to different climatic conditions and to produce many different wine styles, it is characterized as a multi-dynamic variety. It has spread not only to the Peloponnese, but also to most areas of mainland Greece.
The different styles of wines produced by Agiorgitiko include: Modern, “light” wines with a strong fruity character, a low level of tannins and a light body to be consumed fresh. Wines with a rich body, aged in oak barrels. Rosé wines with crispness and pleasant aromas of red fruits, as well as sweet wines. Very often it is mixed with other varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, giving the blends acidity and fruity character.
Agiorgitiko generally has medium to deep color, relatively high acidity, moderate tannins and aromas reminiscent of red fruits, sweet spices and chocolate framed by ripe plum and coffee as wines evolve. The oak perfumes enhance the aromatic potential when the wines mature into it. It has the potential to evolve for several years in the bottle.
Avgoustiatis is a red variety grown mainly in Zakynthos and the western Peloponnese. The revival of this variety and exploration of its potential has begun in recent years.
Avgustatian wines have a relatively deep red color, a medium level of tannins and alcohol and aromas that resemble mature red fruits, herbs and spices. Aging opportunities are still being explored. We encounter both unicolored wines and blends with other varieties such as Mavrodaphne.
Krasato is native to Rapsani in Thessaly, where it is a component with Xynomavro and Stavroto in Rapsani Appellation red wines. Suitable for blending, but lacking in anthocyanins and alcohol, it is not vinified, at least commercially, in mono-varietal form. This cultivar is not widely grown but can be found farther south in Magnesia and sporadically in Macedonia.
It is combined with the varieties Stavroto and Xinomavro for the production of the red, dry wine of “Rapsani” Quality of Origin.
Kotsifali is the underdog of Greek red cultivars. Outside of Crete it doesn’t seem to garner much attention or respect. This mirrors a tendency in Greece to overlook Crete in favor of regions that have experienced more rapid and exciting viticultural growth. It may reflect, too, a market-driven shift in taste towards the “cosmopolitan” varieties associated with France and the New World.
Its wines (though not yet its status) are on the rise. The two regional Cooperatives (Arhanes and Peza) produce appellation reds of increasing quality. Two fairly large producers, Miliarakis and Creta-Olympias, both of whom have met with success creating and meeting demand among tourists and Germans, have augmented their portfolios to include conscientious, upscale versions. Lyrarakis, who produces three Kotsifali wines, the first a Peza Appellation with Mantilaria, the second a Kotsifali/Syrah blend and third a blend with Mantilaria and Carignane reveals the true potential of the grape in both modern and traditional styles.
Kotsifali is a red variety grown mainly in Crete and sporadically in the Cyclades. It is the most cultivated variety in Crete and especially in the area of Heraklion.
It is distinguished by its high alcohol content and its rich aromatic potential. However, it has a light color, moderate acidity and a relatively low level of tannins. It could be mixed with other varieties with more intense color, more tannins and acidity, most commonly Mandilari, with the purpose of producing more “complete” wines.
Liatiko is an ancient, red variety grown throughout Crete and sporadically in Evia and Lefkada. Liatiko is used for both dry and sweet wines. Dry wines are soft in color, relatively high alcohol, moderate level of tannins and aromas of mature red fruits and sweet spices that evolve in aromas of dried fruit and herbs. Sweet wines made from raisined grapes have tile color, complex aromas of dried fruits, raisins, skin, caramel and herbs, and have great aging potential.
Limnio is universally believed to be the ancient variety Limnia, mentioned by both Polydeuctes and Hesiodos. It is considered to be one of the oldest Greek varieties. The name denotes its origin on Limnos (where it has the local synonym Kalabaki or Kalambaki) in the Aegean Islands. On Limnos itself, the grape diminished in importance with the rise in dominance of Moskhato Alexandrias, the only cultivar on the island to achieve appellation status. Limnio plays a more significant role in the local wines in the Rapsani district of Thessalia, where it is known as Limniona. Limnio vines are are hardy and late-ripening, producing herbaceous wines of the considerable body (alcohol) and extraction. Modern vinifications include its blending with Cabernet at Domaine Carras in Halkidiki and in the Meritage wines of Niko Lazaridis and Kosta Lazaridis. Limnio also ameliorates Cabernet in Tsantali’s Metoxi Chromitsa from their Mt Athos vineyards.
It gives pleasant wines with moderate alcohol, moderate body, medium to high acidity, soft tannins and aromas reminiscent of red fruits, sweet spices and herbs. It shows to benefit from its short stay in oak barrels and has the potential to evolve for a few years in the bottle. Very often we find it in blends with other native and international varieties.
Mandilaria is a red variety grown in almost all of the islands of the Aegean Sea, most of which are on Crete. We meet it with many names in the various regions, such as Mandilari in Crete, Amorgianos in Paros and Black Koundoura in Evia. It is a bright variety (often called Bafra), moderate acidity, a high level of tannins often referred to as “rough”, relatively low alcohol and moderate-intensity fragrances reminiscent of black fruit, skin and spices. Wines produced by 100% Mandilaria need time to soften their tannins. Mandilaria vineyards are planted at low elevation, but often with northern exposure and exposure to ocean wind. The grapes are thereby subject to a long growing season during which alcohol achieves favorably high levels in concert with favorable acidity. On Chios, Mandilaria grapes are sun dried for a week, pressed and vinified into a sweet mavro (black) wine, known locally as “Kourouniotiko”.
In Crete most of the times we meet Mandilari with Kotsifali in order to enhance the aromas and the alcohol and to moderate its tannins, in Paros mixed with the white variety Monemvasia and in Rhodes with international red varieties. In Santorini it is used for the production of sweet roasted red wines.
Vlachico is a red variety that thrives in cold climates. It is almost exclusively in the prefecture of Ioannina in Epirus.
It gives wines of medium color, relatively high acidity, moderate alcohol, moderate level of tannins and aromas reminiscent of herbs, red fruits and spices. Typically the wines mature for a while in oak barrels. Although the potential of this variety is still explored, it is believed that wines have the potential to grow into the bottle for a few years.
It is often blended with the local variety Bekari which gives color, alcohol and tannins to the blend.
Voudomato is a red variety of Santorini wine grapes. It is grown to a very small extent.
It gives soft-colored wines with high alcoholic strength, moderate acidity, with fruit and flower aromas. Because of its high sugar content, experiments are made to produce sweet wines with satisfactory results.
Vradiano is a rare red variety grown in Central Greece and especially in Euboea. The effort to revive the variety began in northern Euboea and the Vrinioti Winery. Its potential is still being explored.
The wines usually have a moderate color, medium body and aromas of red and black fruits, rose and sweet spices.
It gives monobic wines but also blends with international varieties such as Syrah for both red and rose wines. There are also attempts to produce sweet wines from the variety with very remarkable results.
Romeiko is a red variety grown in Crete and especially in the Chania region.
It is a variety that gives wines with soft color, high alcohol and low acidity. From this variety is produced the traditional dry wine “Marouvas” in Chania, a wine with strong elements of oxidation (in the style of dry Sherry), which is consumed locally. In recent years, some sweet wines have been produced from the raisins of the variety with very good Cretan wines.
Syrah is one of the most fashionable red varieties, with plantings growing steadily both abroad and in Greece. It is the 5th most populous red variety in the world. Its origin is a source of disagreement with Sicily, Persia, and southern France.
Mavrodaphni is a red variety that is widely cultivated in the Peloponnese, particularly in the Achaia region and in the Ionian Islands.
Its name has been linked to the sweet wines produced in the Patras region. Nevertheless, extremely sweet wines are produced, which are aged for many years in oak barrels and show aromas of dried fruits, herbs, coffee, chocolate with nuts and caramels.
In recent years, the variety is also distinguished for the production of remarkable dry wines, both in the Peloponnese and Kefalonia. These are deep-colored wines, relatively high alcohol, aromas of red and black fruits, laurel, herbs, and rich-body spices and aging. They have very good synergy with the oak.
Near extinction not long ago, Mavrotragano is a local cultivar on Santorini that is in the midst of revival by some of that Island’s most earnest producers. Like Cabernet, its bunches contain small grapes. The variety, because it naturally achieves high sugar levels, was traditionally used in the production of sweet wines. Because low yields are inevitable (no other option exists on Santorini), quality is easily maximized.
The wines produced are deep in color, complex aromas of black fruits, chocolate, coffee, herbs and earth, with a high level of tannins but not aggressive. Although the producers are still experimenting with the variety, it seems that the wines have the ability to age and develop nicely over time.
Negoska (or Negotska), an important variety in Macedonia, derives its name from the Slavic word for Naousa, Negush, and is believed to be a close relative of Xynomavro. Negoska is nevertheless associated at present more with Gomenissa, where its higher sugar content and riper, berrylike fruit are ideal for rounding out the more austere Xynomavro in Goumenissa OPAP reds. The appellation stipulates an admixture of Xynomavro with a minimum of 20% Negoska. It is a variety that is usually found in blends and is rarely vinified on its own. It gives deep, high-quality wines with moderate acidity and tannins. Its aromas are reminiscent of forest fruits, chocolate and cinnamon.
Stavroto is found mainly in Rapsani in Thessaly, where it is a component with Xynomavro and Krasato in Rapsani Appellation red wines. A cultivar of little character it is suitable for blending only. It is not widely grown and is at the northernmost of its traditional range of cultivation in Rapsani.
|Sykiotis comprises 10-15% of plantings in Anhialos, Thessaly. Elevation at this location is nearly at sea level and wines are typically “parched” (to borrow a description from Miles Lambert-Gocs). The name of the grape derives from the Greek word for fig. Sykiotis can also be found in Makedonia and Evia.|
Xynomavro is one of the two most highly regarded of the Greek red cultivars (Agiorgitiko being the other). It is ubiquitous in Maψedonia, but is best known for the role it plays in the wines of Naousa. It is the sole variety permitted under the Naousa and Amyntaio appellations and one of two (with Negoska) under the Goumenissa appellation.
Limniona is an indigenous variety of Thessaly and especially the region of Tirnavos. The efforts to revive and enhance the variety began in 2000 mainly by the Zafirakis Winery and other producers followed. Now there are about 200 acres of vineyards planted with Limniona.
It is a late variety that seeks a warm climate, like that of Thessaly. It gives elegant wines with moderate color intensity, moderate to high sharpness, relatively high alcoholic strength and aromas of red fruit, herbs and spices. Although the possibilities of aging are still being explored, however, the variety seems to evolve well over time.
Black Kalavrytinos is an indigenous red variety of the Kalavrita region and the Aegean Sea in general. It is a variety of wines with moderate color, moderate tannins, medium body, vivid acidity and aromas that resemble red and black fruits, flowers, herbs and spices. Wines of this variety seem to have the potential to evolve for a few years in the bottle.
We find it in single-walled wines as well as in blends of native and international varieties.
Black Mesenicola is a small variety grown in Thessaly and mainly in the area of Lake Plastira. It is believed to have taken its name from the Venetian official Messier Nicolas during the Frankish rule.
It gives wines of relatively soft color, moderate body, and a moderate level of tannins and aromas of red and black fruits. The possibilities of aging wines from black Mesenicola are still being explored.
It gives red dry PDO wines Mesenicola with Syrah and Carignan.
Moshomavro is a red variety that is mainly grown in Macedonia and especially in the region of Kozani. It gives light red wines, with moderate color intensity, cool acidity, soft tannins and pleasant aromas reminiscent of muscat, red fruits and sweet spices. It is usually mixed with other varieties, such as Xinomavro.
Muchotaro is a rare red variety, which is located in Boeotia and specifically in the Mouso valley. Characteristic of this variety is low yields. In recent years, however, considerable effort has been made, mainly by the Mouso Estate to revive and exploit it.
Muchotaro wines have relatively high acidity, soft tannins and aromas of black and red fruits, herbs and vegetation. The possibilities of wine aging by Muchotaro are still explored.
Fokiano, a variety of rich history, is connected with the Aegean islands and especially with Samos and Ikaria. Forgotten in our days, an effort by Ikaria’s producers to revive it is now taking 70% of the small vineyard of the island. It gives wines with low color intensity, relatively high alcoholic strength, fruity aromas, medium to high acidity and rich tannins.
Many on the periphery of the wine trade in Greece lack faith in Greek white wines generally. It is often said that Greece’s red wines are naturally superior to her whites. Not true. The winemakers themselves, thankfully, harbor no such illusions, exhibiting pride and the consistent pursuit of excellence in their white wine vinifications. In our travels we encountered greater numbers of enologists believing their red wines perpetually in need of tweaking. Perhaps this is because standards for red wine tend to be more rigorous, particular or pretentious.
This variety is found in the Cyclades, a subgroup of the Aegean Islands, most notably on Santorini and Paros. Far lower in acidity and sugar than the Asyrtiko, with which it is usually blended, it contributes to its wines somewhat exotic floral aromas. It plays a secondary, but important role in Santorini, where it is featured in dry and semi-dry blends with Asyrtico and Athíri within the AO zone of Thirassia and in Vinsanto. It gives wines with relatively high alcohol, moderate acidity and aromas of tropical fruits, herbs and flowers.
Another likely component of Malvasia, Athiri is planted and vinified widely, not only on the Aegean Islands, but places on the surrounding mainland as far north as Halkidikí and as far west as Lakonía in Peloponessos. Although impossible to prove, there is a general consensus among historians and writers, this is the same grape known as Theriaki in Ancient times. Vinifying to round, rich wines of considerable alcohol, but little acidity, this grape, with its amiable fruit, augments the fruit of the strong, but somewhat thin, Asyrtiko without significantly lowering its overall alcohol. Traditionally it was employed mainly as a component in varietal blends, the exception being on Rhodes, where a fortuitous combination of geography and microclimate produced character and quality deserving of mono-varietal versions. On Rhodes it is also vinified in Greece’s only methode champenoise sparkling wine. Increasingly, however, other mono-varietal production is gaining in popularity. Tsantalis now produces a stainless steel fermented Athiri in which brief skin contact helps produce a clean, fruity and aromatic wine likely to find favor in the U.S.
Asyrtiko is the most recognized Greek white variety both inside and outside Greece. It comes from Santorini, where soil and climate conditions favor the production of exquisite dry and sweet wines. The potential of this variety is great, with the result that it is cultivated all over Greece, and cultivation efforts are also underway in other wine-producing countries such as Australia.
It is a multi-dynamic variety, giving many different styles of dry (fresh, aged, overcooked Nectary-flavored Retsina), sweet (Vinsanto) and sparkling wine.
More generally, Asyrtiko wines have high acidity, high alcohol, full body, complex aromas of citrus, green apple, peach and mineral when they are fresh that develop into honey, kerosene and mushroom aromas as they age. The variety has very good synergy with oak barrels and has great aging potential irrespective of the use of barrel or not, due to its very high acidity.
Begleri is a white variety found on the islands of the northern Aegean and mainly in Ikaria. Its roots are probably in Syria. Its land is limited and the wines produced by this variety are scarce.
It is a variety that gives pleasant wines with moderate to high acidity, moderate alcohol, moderate body and fragrances of citrus, tropical fruits and minerality. The possibilities for aging these wines are still being explored.
Daphni is one of the oldest white Greek varieties cultivated in Crete and mainly in the Heraklion region. The variety had almost disappeared in the 80s. Its revival was mainly due to the Lyrarakis Estate. Today, after many experiments, excellent wines are produced, making many people talking about a charismatic variety.
It is a late variety that, as dictated by its name, the wines have intense aromas of laurel and white fruit, moderate body, moderate alcohol level and aftertaste of sweet perfumes. The possibility of aging Daphne wines is still being explored.
This cultivar, native to both Epirus, in northwest Greece, and Albania, was traditionally blended with the red Bekari and Vlachiko grapes to produce a semi-dry, sparkling rosé as well as single varietal versions. In spite of the tradition, neither of these two red grapes made the cut when the Zitsa appellation was issued in 1971. Some versions of single-varietal Debina wines are still slightly carbonic and some still off-dry. Green apple aromas come up time and again in descriptions of the wines, but acidity – even from high elevation grapes – is somewhat more moderate than might be expected. It produces wines that are also of moderate alcohol, but having distinct, spicy aromas and refreshing character.
Lagorthi is a white variety grown in the prefecture of Achaia and especially in Kalavryta. The harvest is usually done in mid-September.
It is a variety with a low alcoholic strength that does not easily exceed 11.5% alcoholic degrees. It produces wines with intense aromas of fruits, mainly citrus, flowers and plants, with relatively high acidity and a light body.
It is a variety with a strong aromatic character reminiscent of exotic fruits, citrus, flower aromas, green peppers and herbs. It has moderate acidity, a high alcoholic degree and shows very good synergy with oak. Wines can age for 4-5 years. The sweet wines of this variety are also worth mentioning.
Monemvasia is thought to be the original variety (or part of a group) that produced Malvasia (also known as Malmsey or Madeira) when the trade in this genre was centered in the eponymous medieval port town on the southeastern coast of the Peloponnese. Although not likely true, lore has it that name Malvasia is a Venetian bastardization of Monemvasia. By the 1400s, Malvasia production had been largely co-opted by Crete and other Aegean islands. As the port’s influence declined, so did the production of the wine. By the beginning of the fifteenth century, emigration resulting from Ottoman occupation had sealed the fate of wine production in the area. This cultivar grows almost exclusively now on Paros in the Cyclades (Aegean Islands), but genetic analysis by Mihalis Boutaris proves strong relatedness between Monemvasia and the varieties Moschofilero and Asprouda Mykinon, two modern inhabitants of the region close by the ancient port. Parenthetically, his research also found a strong likelihood of a relationship between Monemvasia and Gouais Blanc, now shown to be a parent, with Cabernet Franc, of Chardonnay. Monemvasia has common features with several other grapes supposed to have been utilized in the production of Malavasia, in particular; early ripening, powerful aromas, low acidity and high sugar.
Moschato Alexandrias is the Muscat Gordo Blanco, the Lexia of Australia, the Hanepoot of South Africa, Moscatel de Alejandria of Spain, the grape of Moscatel de Setubal of Portugal and the variety used to produce golden raisins in California. It is a type of Muscat generally considered inferior to Moscháto Aspro, but which nevertheless seems to have found some kind of ideal environment on Limnos. There, the variety comprises 70% of production and has earned the AO status for both dry and sweet versions, the latter available in both fortified and unfortified versions. It favors dry soil (against rot) and low elevation (for sugar concentration), although plantings in other regions, particularly Makedonia, suggest potential in other environments. It is certainly common in every wine region in Western and Eastern Europe under a wide range of synonyms. On Limnos it is vinified in a number of styles, including fortified and unfortified dessert wines and dry wines. Despite its unfavorable reputation, Greek winemakers seem nevertheless sufficiently intrigued with the variety to continue attempts to mine its potential.
Vidiano is a white variety that is found in Crete mainly in the prefectures of Rethymno and Heraklion, and it is one of the most remarkable native varieties of the region that has revived in recent years. Most producers operating on the island are vinifying Vidanos alone or mixed with other local or international varieties, with the result that plantings are constantly growing despite all the difficulties it has in cultivating.
Produces high-quality wines with moderate acidity, with complex aromas reminiscent of peach, apricot, melon honey and herbs. Initially the first samples were tanks’ wines, they did not mature at any stage of production in oak barrels. Although Vidiano’s aging potential is still explored, it is believed to be able to evolve for at least 3-4 years in the bottle.
Moschofilero is widely cultivated in the Peloponnese and mainly in the Arcadia region. Although it is a rosé variety, it is used to produce white wines and some rosés. It is the most aromatic of the family of Fillers that it belongs to. It matures late, mid-October.
Moschofilero wines have relatively high acidity, moderate to light alcohol, light body, and citrus, peach and rose flavors. These wines should preferably be eaten fresh to maintain their freshness. Due to its high acidity the variety is used for the production of sparkling wines, using the traditional method (Champagne method), thus enriching its aroma with dough flavors. We rarely find wines from Moschofilero that have been fermented or matured in a barrel. It is often mixed with other varieties such as Roditis and Savvatiano giving pleasant aromas, acidity and freshness.
Moschofilero is the basic variety from which the white PDO wines are produced. Mantinia
Moschato Aspro is the classic (and classical) Muscat for which the wines of Samos are renowned and which comprises the sole variety permitted under the OPE Muscat of Samos appellation. Widely grown at present and, it is supposed, in ancient times (though maybe not on Samos), the grape produces a surprising variety of wines, even on Samos island alone.
Samos Muscats fall into two main categories: Glykó (vin doux) and Imíglyko (demi doux). The Glykó is made from skinless must arrested with pure grape spirits to a total alcohol level of 15%. The Cooperative of Samos has a monopoly on grape supply, but other companies (Boutaris, Kourtakis) produce appellation Samos Glykó as well.
Samos Cooperative’s Imiglyko is fermented to completion without the use of spirits. The must ferments on the skins briefly to extract aroma without extracting tannin. Though similar to Glykó on the nose and palate, the resulting wines have considerably (nearly three times) less residual sugar.
Samos also produces aged versions utilizing these two processes. Anthemis corresponds to the fortified Glykó, though with slightly lower sugar content. Aged in oak for three to four years, it aquires concentrated aromas, a complex amber hue with light caramel on the palate subdued by pleasant, well-balanced acidity. Samos Nectar (like Imiglyko) is naturally fermented. Must contain high sugar levels is fermented for about three months until the alcohol reaches approximately 15%. It is also aged in oak for roughly four years, acquiring an orange hue, powerful toffee aroma and velvety sweet texture on the tongue. Wine writers, past and present tend to wax poetic in their descriptions of this, perhaps the most esteemed of commercially produced Greek wines.
Plytó is yet another cultivar revived by the Lyrarakis brothers on Crete. Careful low-yield farming and typically thoughtful vinification create a highly unlikely wine, given Crete’s southern location. Vineyard elevation is healthy, at over 400 meters, but cannot alone account for the acid spark the wine displays. Clearly, such green fruit is built into the grape. Their version has world-class structure – sufficient roundness to balance acidity and a mild dose of minerals. Whether or not other producers will jump on the bandwagon, the Lyrarakis’ have demonstrated that Plyto has the capability to produce wine that is competitive with both European and New World versions of more common varieties.
Robola (a/k/a Rompola) is a traditional cultivar of the Ionian Islands. A naturally low-yield grape, it is expensive to vinify. It is thought to have been in production in the Ionian Isles for close to 700 years and produces wines of considerable variation, depending on location and elevation. Until genetic analysis proved otherwise, it was assumed to have been a transplant or clone of Ribolla Gaia of Friuli (a/k/a Malvasia of Venice) from neighboring Italy. Likely it is a Greek cultivar with an Italian name received during the Venetian occupation of the Islands. At its best, the variety produces wines of healthy acidity and notable citrus. It is a component grape, with Goustolídi, Pávlos and Skiadópoulo, of the traditional Ionian blend known as Verdéa, which, in keeping with a theme, is the Italian name for a style traditional to both Italy and Greece, likely having ancient Greek roots.
Roditis is grown mainly in the northern Peloponessos but is widely, if sporadically, present as far north as Macedonia. Roditis is actually a family of closely-related clones varying in skin color from pink to red. Typical Roditis vineyards contain a stew of these various clones, although serious producers have developed a preference for isolating and vinifying distinct clones on the basis of quality or character, the most highly regarded being the Alepou. Perhaps no Greek cultivar can produce so wide a range in quality as Roditis. Many factors can swing the pendulum. Low elevations, high yields and ambivalent winemaking result in feeble, if not embarrassing wines. High elevations, northern exposure and mitigating winds from the Gulf of Corinth make the areas of Patras and Egio in the Peloponessos naturally favorable environments for the culltivation of the variety. Antonopoulos (in Patras) and Oenoforos (in Egio) utilize low-yield fruit and state-of-the-art equipment and philosophies to eke out the utmost acidity and most refined features of the variety to create New World styles. Paraparousis (also in Patra), is the standard for a more staid, but elegant Roditis. Tsantalis, in Makedonia, has a long history of Roditis vinification. The quality of their endeavors has improved steadily especially during the last five years, a period during which this large outfit adapted quickly to meet the ascending standards of the internal Greek and export markets.
Savatianó accounts for more than 15% of Greece’s total vineyard area. It is a forgiving and productive grape, resistant to disease and well at ease in the harsh and dry climate of Central Greece—including Attika, the region where its name was synonymous, until recently, with cheap Retsina. Low in acidity, Savatianó is a bit of a blank canvas. High-yield farming creates fruity, but often nondescript bulk wines, perfect in past times for concealment beneath heavy doses of resin. Often grassy, sometimes peachy or citrusy, careful low-yield farming can produce wines of impressive–though not particularly refreshing–character. On one end of this spectrum, Chateau Mátsa in Attika makes a rather exquisite, dry, mono-varietal Savatianó from old-vine grapes. On the other end, Aléxandros Megapános has created a version so high in dry extracts, levels rival red wine. Little rainfall during the vintage we tasted (2000), super-low yields of under 500 kilos per stremma and Megapanos’ extreme pursuit of varietal expression combine to make a fully vinified Savatianó of such fruitful concentration it is difficult to comprehend that its initial attack of glycol is not caused by residual sugar.
Siderítis is a late-ripening local variety of the northern Peleponnesos prone to achieve both healthy acid and alcohol levels. Thanasis Parparousis produces a classic, mono-varietal version popular among Greek cognoscenti called The Gifts of Diónysos. Though masterfully tamed in the hands of Parparousis, it displays a near culinary level of spice that hints at reasons for the more traditional use of the grape in blends with less gregarious white cultivars.
A cultivar believed to be of Egyptian origin, Tsaoúsi has been culivated widely throughout the Mediterannean and the Balkans, including in Algeria, Turkey, Bulgaria and Northern Greece. The grapes produce wines of moderate acidity; timely harvesting is the key to sustaining healthy levels. Like so many ancient varieties, it produces mildly fruity wines whose noses tend towards honey. At present it is most commonly associated with Kefaloniá, where it has figured prominently in local wines, gaining renown in the 1980s when Nicholas Cosmetatos blended it with the more crisp Robola to create the most elegant and international Greek whites of their time.
Vilana is the chief white cultivar in Iraklio Prefecture in Crete and the only variety permitted under the Peza OPAP appellation for white wines. Vilana produces fresh, low alcohol wines perfectly suited to quaffing in their region of origin. Despite the appellation, however, Vilana wines can display a wide range of quality. They are prone to oxidize and quality is greatly affected by vineyard elevation, orientation and yields. At its best, Vilana produces Granny Smith fruit on the nose and mouth. Less conscientious treatments can be pleasant and light, but a bit mushy and nondescript as well. The Lyrarakis brothers were the first to cultivate the variety for commercial production during the sixties. They remain on the cutting edge, producing a classic OPAP (100% Vilana) that has won the affection of both well-heeled Cretans and tourists. Their estate white Cuvée Grand Colline shows Vilana at its blending best with Sauvignon blanc and Sylvaner.
An old native cultivar of the Ahaïa region (Peloponesse), Volitsa is being cultivated and vinified by Oenoforos in nearby Egio. According to Oenoforos enologist Tassos Drossiadis, only high elevation vineyards produce worthy fruit. The first release of wines from this grape, he believes, can be expected with the the 2001 vintage.
Thrapsathiri is a white variety that due to its drought resistance is cultivated throughout Crete with the best examples coming from the area of Lassithi. The wines of Thrapsathiri show a medium to full body, with moderate levels of aromas reminiscent of citrus and herbs.
The variety requires particularly careful vinification because it is easily oxidized. It participates in the white PDO Sitia wines along with Vilana and at very low rates in Candia PDO and Malvasia Candy.
Kydonitsa is a white variety grown mainly in the region of Laconia. Although ‘forgotten’ until a few years ago, it comes out vigorously in the wine scene, producing pleasant wines with fruit flavors, with the characteristic of the quince (in which the name of the variety – cydonia), moderate acidity and moderate alcohol.
It participates in the production of sweet PDO Monemvasia-Malvasia wines.
Plito is a white variety grown in Crete and mainly in the Heraklion area, and there are some plantations in Eastern Crete. It reaches dynamically on the island’s wine map, cultivated mainly by the producers that are active in Heraklion.
It gives wines with high alcoholic strength, moderate acidity and pleasant aromas of fruits, especially citrus fruits. Very common in blends with other local varieties.