It’s 4pm, the summer sun is still hot, the sand on the beach even hotter – and the taverna is calling. Time to gather up the beach bag, muster family and friends and find a table in the shade. From the wicker-seated chair the view is still idyllic. The electric blue sea sparkles. On the menu is fresh Greek mezze and incredible wine. It’s the start of another endless evening of eating, drinking, talking and dreaming on the Aegean. Summer in Greece.
Which island is on your list for this summer? And which wines? It is a truly marvelous thing to pair great wines with a Greek summer vacation. You will discover some wine varieties you’ve never heard of before. And you will be seduced by the heady combination of incomparable locations, unforgettable food and the wonderful wines produced by Greece’s new generation of winemakers. Please, please, please forego the carafes of cheap plonk – seek out the good stuff to make the most of your summer in Greece!
Santorini And Assyrtiko As A Starting Point (of course)
No place is more visually emblematic of summer in Greece than Santorini. And no wine is better known internationally than Santorini’s native Assyrtiko white. Widely recognized as one of the great white wine varieties of the world, Assyrtiko is blessed with a charging acidic core. However its real substance comes from the flavours and minerality that make it a nuanced raw material for talented wine makers to create unique expressions. Assyrtiko should be one of your go-to varieties whether you are pairing it with Santorini’s famous fava bean dishes, tomato keftedes or grilled calamari.
Greek Classics – History And Wine On The Peleponnese
The Peloponnese is a massive and historic wine and beach destination all to itself. From the thriving tourist city of Napflio to the perfect beaches at Elafonisos and Messinia on the south coast to the antiquities at Mycenae and Olympia. What wine shall we drink with our Peleponnese summer? The local varieties help to define the region and bring a delicious liquid harmony to the rich history and beautiful scenery of the place. The Moschofilero grape makes a vibrant and aromatic wine, full of character on its own but also a charming partner when blended with varieties like Assyrtiko, Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. And if lamb is on your dinner menu at the taverna then make sure to find a good quality Agiorghitiko red – a wine worthy of this legendary region.
The Peleponnese most famous wine region is Nemea, home to one of Hercules most famous labours. The neighbouring PDO wine region of Mantinia is likewise a place of both profound history and profound wine. These regions are home to some of my favourite Greek winemakers. They benefit from the high altitudes in the mountainous interior. Look for Semeli Estate, Domaine Skouras, Gaia Wines and Papaioannou Wines. Aivalis Winery makes the incomparable Le Sang de la Pierre red from the Agiorghitiko grape and Yiannis Tselepos of Ktima Tselepos is passionate about making great Moschofilero, having helped rescue this native Greek variety from extinction.
The Best Secret On The Aegean – The Sporades Islands
Those who have discovered the islands of Skopelos and Alonissos will invite only their closest friends to share these places. Those who have discovered the more famous sister island of Skiathos will invite everyone they know to share the party. Whether you prefer the sublimely sedate or the wildly frenetic, there is nothing in Greece like the Sporades islands. Verdant green forests rising from laser blue waters cut horizontally by a white line of stone and small beaches along the coast. Remote enough to keep tourist hordes away but accessible enough for a one or two-week vacation that is authentically Greek.
Skopelos is the emerald jewel of the Sporades. Not too crazy, not too quiet. Just right – just perfect. Although Skopelos was famed for its wines in antiquity the wine growing industry is just now re-establishing itself. The potential is enormous given the variety of terroir on the island and the locals are planting vineyards and making wine. Ask about local wines when you are there.
I recommend Ta Kymata in Skopelos town for its exquisite, traditional food and excellent wine list. In the impossibly perfect fishing village of Agnontas try Korali restaurant for the mussels saganaki (or other wonderful fish dishes) and terrific range of Greek rosé wines. The tables perch just above the beach and the fishing boats sway a few meters off the shore. In Glossa town make sure to book ahead at the famous Agnanti restaurant so you have the best table for the gorgeous sunset over the neighbouring islands. Top locals tip – the best margaritas outside of Mexico are served at sunset at Aphrodite’s bar on the cliffside below the Kastro in Skopelos town.
Thessaloniki And The North
The wines of northern Greece are becoming particularly prized internationally. And Thessaloniki is a gastronomic destination with a warm grit and a charm. You may be passing through on your way to the beaches of Halkidiki or perhaps on a tailor-made travel experience with Joysters to the most authentic corners of this undiscovered part of Greece. Take the time to soak in Thessaloniki during your summer in Greece – and to soak in some of the best wines in the world.
Thessaloniki is a walker’s and a foodie’s delight. Every street is an adventure. And some of the best and most innovative Greek chefs are at work here. We particularly liked Sebriko at Fragkon 2 and also To Elliniko at Str. Kallari 9. Ask your waiter for the best wines from the region – and seek out the outstanding wines of Ktima Gerovassiliou including their utterly marvelous white Malagouzia. For the perfect pairing with a traditional “mezethes” appetizer platter, try Gerovassiliou’s superb rosé from the local Xinomavro grape.
Perhaps most important of all, seek out great examples of one of the world’s great red wines – Xinomavro from the nearby Naoussa and Goumenissa regions. If one were to spend a week just sampling Xinomavro it would be substance for one of the greatest wine holidays on earth! Try particularly Chatzivaritis Estate, Ktima Kelesidi and Domaine Dalamára. And a parting secret – if you can get your hands on a bottle of Limniona from Domaine Karanika grab it!
A Little Greek Madness In Crete
As Zorba said “A man needs a little madness – or else he never dares cut the rope and be free”. This is how it is in Greece. And nowhere more so than in Crete. Crete is a country to itself, full of people of great independence and creativity. The Cretans are bursting to cut the rope and express themselves. You will find this lust for life and exuberance in the conversations, in the parties, in the eating and in the drinking. Life is lived in Crete. And whether it is tsiporo (the traditional Greek aguardiente) or wine, the drinks are there to lubricate life.
Fittingly, the wines of Crete are usually made with the traditional endemic varieties. They are special to this place. There are very expressive white varieties like the fragrant Vidiano and the slightly herbal Dafni. There is also the very cheerful and racy Vilano grape, perhaps the most popular. And for a step into something more exotic and haunting, Crete’s Muscat of Spina is attracting the attention of sommeliers. For reds there is the brawny and boisterous Mandlari – a perfect example of the Cretan personality. I’m a big fan of the Nostos wines from Manousakis Winery and also the wines from Douloufakis Winery.
Coming And Going – The Vineyards On Athens’ Doorstep
In the crush of a hot day in Athens, as you rush to visit the Acropolis and the Plaka, you might overlook the wineries that are scattered through the nearby, rolling countryside. This is Attica, one of the cradles of winemaking. And the new generation of winemakers is doing some truly outstanding work. Don’t listen to the old hippies who visited Greece in the 70’s and complain/reminisce about cheap retsina wine. There is a whole new quality winemaking revolution going on. You can find it between your downtown hotel and the airport. Two of the best are Domaine Papagiannakos in Markopoulo and Mylonas Winery nearby in Keratea. Both produce thoroughly modern wines with freshness and brightness that pairs perfectly with summer in Greece. The local Savatiano grape continues to outperform its humble origins and the Malagousia and Assyrtiko varieties find a perfect home here as well.
And for a tremendous wealth of additional information on visiting Greece check out Matt Barrett’s Guide to Greece and the Greek Islands here. Matt also has a great Guide to Greek Wine linked here.
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Photo of taverna in Crete courtesy of Albrecht Fietz. Photo of taverna table courtesy of Dana Tentis. Kastani beach, Agnanti restaurant, Skopelos Kastro taverna and Thessaloniki courtesy of Dimitris Vetsikas. Athens Acropolis by Leonhard Niederwimmer