Agriculturally, Greece is no Garden of Eden. Its geography is mountainous and its growing season short. Yet wine grapes thrive there. The rocky soil drains well. Overall cool temperatures keep grapes small. The resulting skin-to-pulp ratio produces high levels of tannins, which age into refreshing tartness. Cabernet and other international varieties are sometimes added to smooth the native grapes' rougher edges.
Vineyards carved from the mountainside are necessarily compact. They produce distinctive vintages due to the microclimates found at different altitudes and in different regions. For instance, a vineyard in the central district of Nemea located at 1,000 feet (300 meters) may get milder winters and produce more mellow grapes than a neighboring vineyard at 1,500 feet (450 meters).
We set out on our survey of some of Greece's main wine-producing regions in the North with Macedonia. This landlocked area experiences comfortably warm summers and decidedly cold winters. The soil of fine clay and limestone grows two dominant grape varieties: the dark, tannin-rich xynomavro (zee-NO-mahv-ro) and its sweeter cousin, negoska.
Farther south is the central region of the Peloponnese. The soil here is mostly rocky, although finer, sandier deposits collect in the valleys. The more moderate Peloponnese climate produces more tempered grapes. agiorgitiko (ah-yor-YEE-ti-ko) is honored among Greek oenophiles, called "lion's blood" for its deep red color. It appears in many a dry wine. In contrast, the lightly blushed moschofilero (mos-co-FEE-le-ro) is favored for dry white wines. Meanwhile, the red malagousia and white rhoditis are more citrusy, but still not sweet.
Sprawled across the Mediterranean are the Greek islands, including Crete, Rhodes, Samos and Santorini. The soil here is volcanic, rich in ash and somewhat heavier than that of the mainland. It holds water better, sustaining the vines in this dry climate. The islands' mild winters and hot summers produce sweeter grapes. They are prime producers of muscat, a grape used to make raisins. However, their dominant grape, assyrtiko (ah-SEER-ti-ko), is widely considered the finest Greek variety for making dry white wine.
With so many regions and varieties, how can you find the best Greek wine for you and your friends to try? Check the next page for tips on choosing a Greek wine.