Greek Wine 101: Get to Know These Varieties and Bottles

The land of Zeus is in the middle of a modern-day wine renaissance.

By Timothy Malcolm August 9, 2019

Wine and lamb chops? Find us a better combination.

It’s possible you’ve gone an entire lifetime drinking wine from everywhere but Greece. But considering winemakers over there are really getting their stuff together, and you actually might be able to find some of these bottles in the wild, this is the perfect time to go deep into the land of Zeus.

Robert Smith, executive wine director at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, has been tasked at refining the wine selection at Yia Yia Mary’s, Pappas's popular Greek restaurant. Recently, I asked him about the wine he’s now offering at Yia Yia Mary’s, along with a few things the average wine drinker should know about Greek booze. (We also ate very well—succulent lamb, octopus, a dip sampler, and calamari.)

Five things you should know about Greek wine:

1. Exposure is everything.

Because you don’t see as many Greek restaurants out there (as opposed to, say, Italian restaurants), you may not see as many Greek wines out there. But importers are now getting more products onto American shelves and wine lists. All of this means that consumers may not be as intimidated by the long, confusing names of brands, native varieties, and regions. “Trying to wrap your head around the Greek varieties or some of the areas these wines are from is a little intimidating,” says Smith. But with more exposure, more comfort. 

2. We’re in a second modern wave of great Greek wine.

Smith says from the 1980s to the early '90s, a bunch of Greek winemakers who trained in Bordeaux, Dijon, and other outstanding winemaking regions were pushing good product into America and elsewhere. “There’s another [wave] and some of them are their kids,” says Smith about this new era of Greek wine. “They’re looking to make a mark.” 

3. Greek winemakers are getting back to the earth.

In the '90s, says Smith, Greek winemakers were working with international varieties (Cabernet, Chardonnay, etc.) and creating big wines not very indicative of the Greek experience. These days, however, winemakers are pulling back, focusing more on native varieties and terroir, which means crisper and cleaner flavors. “Wines aren’t quite as in your face,” says Smith. “Wine doesn’t have to be big or extracted to be really expressive.”

4. Whites slightly over reds.

You’ll probably find slightly more Greek whites than reds, and generally they’re not so potent. “Most of the varieties have kind of a crisp, not so heavy, lower alcohol profile to them,” says Smith. “It makes them really great with food.” Just imagine what an acidic, briny white tastes like with fresh seafood.

5. These are Greek wines you should know

The first name is probably George Skouras, who was among those in the first modern wave of Greek wine and has been producing killer sippers for decades. “This is a great buy for the money,” Smith says about Megas Oenos, meaning “grand wine.” A blend of Greek red variety agiorgitiko and cabernet, it’ll give you a spicy and fruity melange of flavors, from cherry to red currant to clove. It’s a great everyday red. 

Looking for a fine introduction to Greek whites? Seek out Sigalas’s Assyrtiko. This is a wonderful expression of the most famous Greek white grape variety. “He’s the master of assyrtiko,” says Smith of Paris Sigalas, who started his winery in 1991 at his family home. Later, he built a larger facility in Oia, home to the famous caldera of white homes. This wine is crisp and briny, with a citrus brightness on the nose. 

One more: Try Agiorgitiko by Gaia from Gaia Wines, which has locations in Nemea and Santorini. This full expression of the red grape agiorgitiko, aged in oak barrels, is a fantastic dinner wine, great with red meat. “You don’t have to think too much as you drink it,” says Smith, who finds berries on the nose and a well balanced, smooth taste.

Of course, you can find all these wines at Yia Yia Mary's.

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