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Description to Greece

The parliamentary republic of Greece in south-east Europe with its capital Athens covers 131,957 km². It borders Albania and North Macedonia to the north, Bulgaria to the north-east and Turkey to the east. The country is located on the eastern Mediterranean and is geographically made up of the Greek mainland at the southern end of the Balkans, the Peloponnese peninsula (separated from the mainland by the construction of the Corinth Canal) and numerous islands.

Griechenland - Landkarte, Flagge und Wappen

The mainland accounts for 106,915 km², 25,042 km² (just under 19%) are spread over 3,054 islands, 87 of which are inhabited. The most important island groups in terms of viticulture are located in the Aegean Sea (e.g. Crete, Lesbos, Limnos, Mykonos, Paros, Rhodes, Samos, Santorini, Thasos) and in the Ionian Sea (e.g. Kefallonia, Corfu, Lefkada, Kythera, Paxos, Zakynthos). Viticulture is practised on the mainland and on numerous islands. Most of the wine-growing areas are located near the coast.

History

The history of Greek viticulture began with an affair between the supreme god Zeus and the beautiful Seméle (daughter of Harmonia, goddess of harmony), which led to the birth of Dionysus, the god of wine, joy, grapes, fertility and ecstasy. Ancient Greece and, based on archaeological finds, the island of Crete in particular, is regarded as one of the "cradles of European wine culture". Viticulture already existed in the Mycenaean culture in the 16th century BC (Mycenae = north-eastern Peloponnese), as indicated by amphorae that have been found.

Griechenland - Szene aus Platons Symposion und Amphore 500 v. Chr.

Antiquity

Wine was an important part of the drinking culture of everyday life. This was also expressed in the symposia, a drinking event accompanied by witty conversations, jokes, songs, music, games and performances. The painting shows the famous work "Symposion" by Plato (428/427-348/347 BC) with, among others, the participants Aristophanes (450-380 BC) and Socrates (470-399 BC). The Greeks were also among the very first to attach great importance to wine as a valuable commodity. In the Iliad, Homer (8th century BC) already mentions wine as the house drink of the heroes described. The historian Hesiod (~750-680 BC), the philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC), the naturalist Theophrastus (370-287 BC) and the physician Galen (129-216) also dealt with wine and viticulture.

Colonisation campaigns

On their colonisation campaigns in the Mediterranean, the Greeks brought their grapevines and wine culture to Sicily, southern Italy (known as Oinotria ), southern France and the Black Sea. Many methods were adopted by the Celts and Romans. The Roman poet Virgil described the diversity of grape varieties: "It would be easier to count the grains of sand in Greece than the different grape varieties." The famous harbour town of Monemvasia on the Peloponnese peninsula was used extensively in the late Middle Ages under the rule of Venice as a transshipment point for sweet wines from the Aegean, which were shipped from here to many European countries. The Ottomans ruled the country from the 15th to the mid-19th century, during which time wine lost its importance due to the Muslim ban on alcohol, and was only continued on a relatively small scale on most of the islands. Therefore, some knowledge was preserved.

Modern times

It was not until some time after independence was gained in 1830 and the Turkish influence was pushed back that people in Greece once again began to professionally engage in viticulture as an economic factor and reactivated numerous vineyards at great expense. Among the pioneers were some Germans, such as Gustav Clauss, who founded the huge Achaia Clauss winery in 1861, which still exists today. By the end of the 19th century, the vineyard area had doubled, but when phylloxera finally reached Greece in 1898, much of it was destroyed. Reconstruction was relatively slow because the demand for Greek wine had also fallen sharply in the meantime. Greek viticulture did not experience a renaissance until the end of the military dictatorship in 1974 and Greece's accession to the European Union in 1981.

Climate & Soil

Despite its strongly maritime character, Greece has a very high proportion of mountainous terrain. The soils of limestone, granite and volcanic rock and the prevailing Mediterranean climate with short, mild, humid winters and hot, dry summers have a favourable effect on viticulture. The often dry autumns usually produce fully ripe grapes with relatively low acidity. Most of the wine-growing areas are located near the coast with moderating sea breezes. In order to give the wines more structure, vineyards are deliberately planted at high altitudes. The extended vegetation cycle allows the vines to build up more extract and achieve higher acidity levels. Another effective method of slowing down the ripening process is the deliberate planting of vineyards on north-facing slopes.

Regions & growing areas

Viticulture is practised, often on a small scale on a few hectares, throughout Greece on the mainland and also on all the larger islands. The appellations (POP, formerly OPAP and OPE) are marked in red on the map above:

Aegean (with Cyclades)

Epirus

Ionian Islands

Crete

Macedonia

Peloponnese

Thessaly

Thrace

Central Greece

Grape variety index

In 2022, the vineyards covered 95,922 hectares and the wine production volume was 2.1 million hectolitres. Large quantities of table grapes and sultanas are also produced; the most important variety is Korinthiaki. There are around 300 indigenous grape varieties. The list of grape varieties with the top 50 (Kym Anderson statistics):

Grape variety

Colour

Synonyms / Greek name

Hectare

Savatiano white Aspro, Dobraina Aspri, Kountoura Aspri 10.268
Roditis white/pink Alepou Roditis, Arilogos Roditis, Kanellato 8.463
Agiorgitiko red Aghiorghitico, Aghiorgitiko, Mavro Nemeas 3.270
Liatiko red Aleatiko 2.633
Muscat d'Hamburg red Moschato Amvourgou, Moschato Tyrnavou 2.288
Xinomavro red Mavro Naoussis, Pipoliko, Xinogaltso 2.135
Cabernet Sauvignon red - 1.929
Assyrtiko white Assirtico, Assyrtico, Asyrtico 1.770
Mavrouda red - 1.658
Muscat Blanc / Muscat white Moschato Aspro, Moschoudi 1.568
Merlot red - 1.393
Kotsifali red Kotrifali, Kotsiphali, Kotzifali 1.338
Romeiko red Loïssima, Romeïco, Romeiko Mavro 1.131
Moschofilero white/pink Fileri, Moschophilero 1.088
Syrah red Shiraz 1.042
Mandilaria red Amorghiano, Dombrena Mavri, Kontoura 932
Roditis Kokkinos white Rodites Kokkinos 828
Muscat d'Alexandrie white Apostoliatiko, Moschato Alexandrias 773
Sauvignon Blanc white - 727
Chardonnay white - 673
Vilana white Velana 650
Athiri Aspro white Athiri, Athiri Lefko 577
Mavrodaphne red Mavrodafni 324
Fokiano red Fokiana, Fokiano Kokkino 212
Trebbiano Toscano white - 211
Limnio red Mavro Limnio 176
Robola white Robola Aspri 152
Malagousia white Malagouzia 126
Asprouda white Asproudi 120
Garnacha Roja white Grenache Gris 114
Moschomavro red Moschato Mavro, Moschogaltso, Xinogaltso 113
Monemvasia white Monemvassia 81
Alicante Henri Bouschet red - 60
Vertzami red Lefkada, Lefkas 60
Kakotrygis white Kako Tryghi 28
Thrapsathiri white Bechleri, Begleri, Beghleri, Dafnato 27
Pamid red Pamidi, Pamitis 23
Tempranillo red - 22
Goustolidi white Augoustelidi 19
Negoska red Mavro Goumenissas, Negkoska 17
Debina white Dempina, Ntempina, Zitsa 14
Sémillon white - 11
Cabernet Franc red - 10
Dimyat white Yapalaki, Zoumiatiko 6
Asirtiko Red red - 5
Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso red - 5
Krassato red Krasata, Krasato 5
Cinsaut red - 4
Riesling white - 1
Mazuelo red - 1
Verdeca white Lagarthi, Lagoyrthia 0,3
Silvaner white - 0,3
Stavroto red Ampelakiotiko, Ampelakiotiko Mavro 0,2

Wine law

Following the French model, the Ministry of Agriculture introduced controlled designations of origin for the best growing regions in 1972: Maximum yields per hectare, certain grape varieties with a preference for autochthonous varieties, minimum must weight, ageing regulations and sensory tests. Enriching the must with sugar is permitted, but may increase the alcohol content by a maximum of 2.5% vol. Sweetening may be added before and during fermentation up to a maximum of 25% of the must sugar. Acidification is also permitted and is often practised due to the rather low-acid grapes. Controls are carried out by the KEPO (Central Committee for the Protection of Wine Production).

Wine categories / quality levels

In August 2009, the EU wine market regulation came into force for all member states with fundamental changes to wine designations and quality levels (see also Quality system). The traditional terms OPAP, OPE and OKP can still be used alternatively, but most winegrowers use the new term POP:

  • Oinos (formerly Epitrapezios Oinos or table wine) = wine
  • PGE = Topikos Oinos or country wine
  • POP or alternatively OPAP, OPE, OKP = quality wine

Oinos / Οίνος

Wines without narrower designation of origin. This lowest quality level usually involves blends from different growing regions.

PGE (Prostatevomenis Geografikis Endixis)
ΠΓΈ(Προστατευόμενης Γεωγραφικής Ένδειξης)

Country wine with a protected geographical indication. There are around 80 country wine areas, which can cover an entire region, district or municipal area. One well-known area is Agioritikos on the "Holy Mountain" on Athos (Chalkidikí).

POP (Prostatevomenis Onomasías Proelefsis)
ΠOΠ(Προστατευόμενης Ονομασίας Προέλευσης)

Quality wine with protected designation of origin. Alternatively, the old designations OPAP, OPE, OKP are also permitted.

OPAP (Onomasía Proelefséos Anotéras Piótitos)
ΟΠΑΠ (Ονομασία Προελεύσεως Ανωτέρας Ποιότητος)

Maximum yield, minimum alcohol content, ageing time in barrel and bottle, etc. are prescribed for these quality wines with a "higher quality designation of origin". OPAP wines were labelled with a red band until the 2015 vintage.

OPE (Onomasía Proelefséos Eleghoméni)
ΟΠΕ (Ονομασία Προελεύσεως Ελεγχόμενη)

These quality wines with a "controlled designation of origin" are subject to the same conditions as OPAP wines. In addition, however, there are higher requirements regarding the sugar content. This means that sweet wines from the historical areas of Kefallonia, Limnos, Patras, Rhodes and Samos are labelled. They are either "natural sweet wines" fortified with ethyl alcohol or "naturally sweet wines" made from dried grapes, which correspond to a Trockenbeerenauslese. OPE wines were labelled with a blue band until the 2015 vintage.

OKP (Onomasía Katá Parádosi = Traditional Appellation)
ΟκΠ (Ονομασία κατά παράδοση)

A special predicate for origin-protected wines produced using traditional pressing methods. There are only two of these, Retsina and Verdea, which is produced on the island of Zakynthos.

Kava (Cava)

The term (cellar or "cellared") for a top-quality wine that has been stored for a longer period of time. White wines must be aged for two years (at least 6 months in barrels and 6 months in the bottle), red wines for three years (at least 6 months in new oak or 1 year in used oak and 2 years in the bottle).

Reserve (Epilegmenos) and Grande Reserve (Idika Epilegmenos)

Only authorised for quality wines (OPAP and OPE). Reserve applies to white wines aged for two years (6 months in barrel and 6 months in bottle) and to red wines aged for three years (same minimum). Grande Reserve applies to white wines aged for at least three years (e.g. 1 year in barrel and 1 year in bottle) and to red wines aged for at least four years (e.g. 2 years in barrel and 2 years in bottle).

Producers

The preference for resinated wine, especially retsina, which accounts for around 10% of wine production, is an age-old Greek tradition. Sweet, partly fortified dessert wines are produced on almost all Aegean islands, the best known of which is probably Samos from the island of the same name. The anise-flavoured schnapps Ouzo and the brandy Metaxa, flavoured with a secret blend of herbs (including rose petals), are also well-known. Major producers include Achaia Clauss, Biblia Chora, Boutari, Calligas, Cambas, Domaine Carras, Gaia, Hatzimichalis, Katsaros, Kechri, Kourtakis, Malamatina, Mercouri, Oenoforos, Papaïoannou, Parparoussis, Pavlidis, Skouras, Spiropoulos, Tsantali and Tselepos. Others are listed in the areas.

Map: By Pitichinaccio - own work, CC BY 3.0, Link
Flag: Public domain, Link
Coat of arms: Public domain, Link
Symposium: Deur Anselm Feuerbach - Google Art Project, Publieke domein, Skakel
Amphora: From Andokides painter - Public domain, Link
edited by Norbert F. J. Tischelmayer 2/2018

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