A journey through Greece via its famous wines and olive oils

March 19th, 2020
A journey through Greece via its famous wines and olive oils

Greece is a land like no other, with around 6,000 islands experiencing a wide variety of climates and topographies. The Hellenic archipelago is a top-rated travel destination because of its stunning land and seascapes, whitewashed cube houses, ancient archaeological sites, and delectable cuisine. Also world-renowned and highly sought-after? Its wines and olive oils.

Many Greek wines are blended in varying quantities with imported grapes like merlots and chardonnays to achieve flavours that are more familiar to most people from around the world. As for olive oils, each Greek region produces oil varieties that have unique flavour profiles. If you're island-hopping in Greece, soak up not just the islands' culture and surroundings. Savour the distinctive wines and olive oils that each of the islands produces.

Northern Greece

Northern Greece is comprised of the Epirus, Macedonia, and Thrace regions, sharing borders with Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Albania, and Turkey. It’s a wet region compared to the rest of Greece, making it an excellent location for certain varieties of grapes such as the Debina, the Malagousia, the Xinomavro, the Assyrtiko, and the Roditis.

Debina grapes, which grow comfortably in the cold Zitsa area of Epirus, are usually made into sparkling wine and other white wines with a delicate floral, citrusy flavour. Out west in Macedonia’s Naoussa and Amyndeo regions, the limestone-rich clay soil (called marl) is perfect for growing Xinomavros.

Hailed as the “Barolo of Greece,” Xinomavros wines have dark cherry, licorice, allspice, and tomato notes, and are known for their bold fruit flavours and heavy tannin content. Malagousias offer a rich white wine with peach, lime, lemon, and orange notes — almost like a mix of Viognier and chardonnay.

Aegean Islands

The Aegean region is comprised of the Cyclades, Sporades, and Dodecanese island groups, totalling to around 30 islands of varying size. The arid climate and volcanic soil in the area are consistent with the rest of the Mediterranean, which makes this group of islands a great spot to grow renowned Assyrtiko and Limnos grapes, as well as Rodos and Samos olives.

Aegean wines have noticeable tannins and a rather high volatile acidity (VA), which normally make wines too sour for most consumers. Despite this high VA, however, Aegean wines like Assyrtiko, Muscat Blanc, and Limnio have a seductive, complex bittersweet flavour that actually goes well with the acidity. The Limnio is said to have likely existed since Aristotle’s time, as the climate, grapes, and winemaking processes have remained consistent for over 2,000 years.

The region is also known for its Koroneiki and Throubolia olive varieties that typically grow on the islands of Samos, Ikaria, and Dodekanisos. Known from its sweet taste and aroma, Samos olive oil is produced from a mix of the two, from olives that have been allowed to fully ripen on the branch. The region is also known for Rodos olive oil, which is produced under consistently monitored temperatures, and is known for its green color that fades to golden-yellow as it ages.

Central Greece

Central Greece is comprised of the Pindus and Agrafa mountains and its surrounding areas. The general climate in the area is very similar to that of Napa Valley and Sonoma, making it a great location for cabernet, sauvignon, merlot, and Syrah grapes. Its wine blends — local grapes mixed with imported strains — are reminiscent of Rhȏne wines, as the mountainous terrain of Central Greece lends itself to the development of the grapes’ flavour on the vine.

The notorious Savatiano grape — Greece’s most planted but formerly most hated vine — can be found throughout Central Greece. For a long time, these grapes were used to produce the most uncomplex, garden-variety wines, which were easy to overproduce. Fortunately, producers are now taking the Savatiano seriously, and well-made versions currently being produced are very similar in taste and texture to the finest Chablis and Burgundies of France.

Southern Greece

Lastly, Southern Greece — comprised of Crete, Peloponnese, and Kefalonia — enjoys the humid and unchanging environment characteristic of the Mediterranean. Its vines are typically of the Vidiano, Mavrodaphne, and Agiorgitiko types, producing some of the sweetest and most approachable wines in the country.

Vidiano whites are easy to drink, with touches of melon, pear, and red apple paired with a somewhat oily mid-palate. Mavrodaphne reds are very sweet, leaving tones of raisins and milk chocolate on the back of the palate after a sip. Finally, Agiorgitiko reds are full-bodied and leave lovely flavours of raspberry, currants, and plums with a touch of nutmeg and some subtle bitterness.

Olive strains from the region are even more spectacular; some of the world’s most in-demand olive oils come from here. The three most famous types are the Zakynthos, the Olympia, and the Kalamata. Zakynthos olive oil is made of olives from the island of Zante, in the middle of the Ionian Sea. These olives are harvested around November, and are pressed using traditional olive mills, making for rather small batches. It has a deep green colour and a robust, fruity flavour.

Olympia olive oil is derived from cold-pressed Koroneiki and Kollyrei olives, and has a notable fruity flavour, thick viscosity, and slightly spicy-bitter notes. Lastly, the world-famous Kalamata has an intense green-yellow color, slight bitterness, and mild pungency.

Have your fill of the best olive oils and wines Greece has to offer when you join our upcoming Island-Hopping in Greece tour in 2021. It’s never too early to sign up, as slots are filling up fast. Contact us today to secure your spot in this exciting tour.

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