Exploring Traditional Greek Wine Varieties

Since Estate Wines was established in 2000, owner Peter Papanikitas has strived to provide Australian consumers with some of the best Greek wines produced in the world. Today, the company is the exclusive Australian distributor of four renowned Greek wine brands: Alpha Estate, Boutari, Domaine Sigalas and Lafazanis.

It’s always a great cultural experience to sample varietals that are indigenous to certain parts of the world. The Greeks are not only passionate about growing fruit that is unique to their region, but the quality of wine produced is putting them on the map for viticulture excellence.

But getting a handle on Greek wines can challenge even the most dedicated connoisseur. A bewildering number of indigenous varieties grow in the country in a multitude of microclimates. Exploring these wines is well worth the effort however, and many restaurants are benefitting from the added breadth and depth which they give their wine lists.

But what really are these exotic grapes and how do they compare to some of the more widely recognised varieties?

1. Malagouzia

Malagousia Greek Grape VarietyThe Malagouzia (or malagousia) grape produces a highly aromatic, elegant wine with a full body, medium acidity and fresh aromas of exotic fruits, citrus, jasmine and mint. In the 1970’s, Malagouzia was a white variety known to very few and thought to be extinct. Today however, it is widely considered a world class grape, producing outstanding aromatic whites, full of vibrancy and complexity.

Similar to: Riesling

Food matching: Dry Malagouzia: greens, salads | Sweet Malagouzia: fruit desserts

2. Xinomavro

Xinomavro Greek Grape VarietyThe wines made from the dark-skinned Xinomavro (or Xynomavro) grape are known for their superb ageing potential and a rich tannic structure. The word Xinomavro itself is a conjunction of the Greek words, acid and black, and as the name would imply, these wines are often characterised by a high acidity. They often display complex aromas combining hints of red fruit, olive, spices and dried tomatoes. Best enjoyed after 5 years of ageing, although some varieties from the Naoussa region can be enjoyed light and fresh in their youth. Xinomavro is also a versatile grape and often appears as rose or the base for sparkling wines.

Similar to: Aged Xinomavro is often compared to the great wines of Burgundy and Barolo.

Food matching: Braised lamb with roast vegetables

3. Moschofilero

Moschofilero Greek Grape VarietyMoschofilero grapes have a pink-grey coloured skin and produce a very light, highly perfumed wine. These wines generally have a crisp character and beautiful floral aromas of rose and violet with hints of spice. The grape’s wild and exotic floral intensity, along with its tangy crispness, offers a unique character and profile that explains why wine lovers are embracing this grape with such enthusiasm. Ideal as an aperitif or with food. It is used in the production of still, sparkling and dessert wines and can have similar characteristics to muscat.

Similar to: Often compared to European Muscat, Moscato and Pinot Grigio or Vermentino.

Food pairing: Fresh fruit / fruit-based desserts

4. Assyrtiko

Assyrtiko Greek Grape VarietyA multi-purpose wine, indigenous to the Island of Santorini but now widely grown throughout Greece. It has the unusual quality of maintaining high levels of alcohol and acidity at the same time, making it one of the few white grapes of the Mediterranean that also possess long ageing potential. It yields dry, full-bodied white wines with citrus characters mixed with an earthy, mineral aftertaste. In Santorini, Assyrtiko is blended with Aidani and Athiri to make sweet Vinsanto wine, a darker wine with characters of fig, coffee, kirsch and chocolate.

Similar to: Chablis, Pinot Grigio

Food pairing: Sydney rock oysters

5. Athiri

Athiri Greek Grape VarietyThe Athiri grape is one of Greece’s most ancient Greek grape varieties. Athiri grapes are medium-small in size and have a relatively thin skin and a sweet, fruity taste. Wines produced with the Athiri grape are aromatic, generally high in acid but low in alcohol, making them suitable for blending with other varieties. The lean structure and subtle palate make Athiri wines suitable to accompany a range of dishes. This is a grape to be consumed young, within two to three years from vintage.

Similar to: Dry riesling

Food pairing: Sashimi / salt & pepper squid / green mango salad

6. Agiorgitiko

Agiorgitiko Greek Grape VarietyAgiorgitiko is one of Greece’s most widely planted grapes, producing wines which stand out for their deep red colour and aromatic complexity. Soft tannins in combination with balanced acidity make this grape suitable for the production of a range of styles of wine – from aromatic reds to extraordinary aged reds and even pleasant, fruity rosé wines. Most often, the wines have a low acidity, and are soft and fruity on the palate. The grape is often planted in dry, infertile soils, thereby concentrating fruit sugars in the grapes.

Similar to: Merlot

Food pairing: Red, full-bodied, oak aged styles are extraordinary with grilled meats and medium-bodied styles are the perfect accompaniment to stews, pasta dishes and cheeses.

7. Roditis

Roditis Greek Grape VarietyAs the name implies, Roditis (also rhoditis) is a rosé coloured grape, producing elegant, light white wines with citrus flavours and a pleasant aftertaste. The variety is most commonly found in the Peloponnese region, and thrives on the high altitude, mountainous slopes. It is a versatile grape and often used as a blending agent, and is combined with Savatiano to produce Retsina.

Food pairing: Saganaki / eggplant dip / prawn dumplings


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